“The customer is always right.”
Wrong, according to this panel. That’s how our first session of conference day 2 began. Our panelists did not agree on all topics, but on this one they seemed united on the idea that a much better mantra would be “Do the right thing for the customer.”
Seems like a subtle distinction, but it’s not. As Diana Dykstra pointed out, you can certainly have customers with unreasonable demands. What matters is that the employee does the right thing for the customer.
The panel discussed several different topics, but I’ll highlight a few of the big ones here:
First: Break the shackles of corporate policies.
Desirree Madison-Biggs of Symantec talked about how Symantec had created a “Myth Busters” website to help employees let go of old policies and corporate myths about what was and was not acceptable. From my perspective, it’s sort of like cleaning up your desktop. When you are driving change into an organization, make sure you don’t just hit “delete” on the obsolete files, but also be sure to “empty trash” and then restart the computer.
Diana Dykstra agreed. Get rid of the policy book. Her policy for employees is to do the right thing for the customer. They have 4 core values: Creating Elationships; Be the Member; Done in One; and Listen, Learn, and Innovate.
Laura Brooks commented on how action oriented and descriptive those value statements are, and I wholeheartedly agree. Don’t underestimate the power of good, descriptive language…especially when they see leaders and other team members also living it out in their actions.
Second: Hire or Train for Customer Focus, but Do It
Hire or train? We had different opinions on that. Laura DeSoto of Experian rightfully pointed out that “you’d better hope you can train for it,” because most organizations already have a lot of great employees on board, and you want to leverage their knowledge and expertise. Diana Dykstra took the other angle. At her company, they hire for it. And she admitted that when they were changing the culture, a lot of employees who didn’t fit with the new values left over time…which allowed them to bring in new people who were more naturally inclined to customer-focused behavior.
Whatever your strategy, be sure to do it. You won’t get change if you don’t invest in different hiring practices, training, or both.
Third: Get Leadership Commitment
Employee behavior follows cues from company leadership, especially when you are trying to make change happen. An audience member asked, “What do you do if you don’t have leadership on board.” And Desirree Madison-Biggs summed it up nicely in her response: you’re hosed! I couldn’t have put it better than that. Companies try to dance around this topic, especially passionate customer experience advocates at mid-management level who really want to make Net Promoter work in their organization. But ultimately, long-term success is intimately tied to having your top management on board.
Desirree made the point that showing execs the economics of promoters and detractors can sometimes help to sway opinion. But ultimately, most executives either have a belief system that lends itself to believing in customer first, or they are likely to remain skeptics. Find the right exec to spearhead this.
Fourth: Tell Stories
All the panelists agreed that stories were an extremely effective way to drive home the importance of customer-focused behaviors, both to make change happen and to reinforce behavior and culture.
Laura DeSoto told a story about Experian’s CEO, Kerry Williams, who personally followed up with a disgruntled detractor. The purpose of his call was simply to confirm that the account manager had closed the loop already, but when the customer said “no,” the next call was a personal one to the account manager. What drives change faster…a couple of stories like that, or a corporate email memo advising account managers to close the loop with detractors? You get the point. Stories matter….a lot. As do actions from top management.
Desirree Madison-Biggs explained how Symantec uses peer awards to get the stories out there. Not necessarily for “grand” heroics, but for the day-to-day heroics that represent a regular rhythm of customer focus in the operations.
For Diana Dykstra, the employees at San Francisco Fire Credit Union evaluate great customer-focus stories, and how they fit with the organization’s core values. Moreover, their entire performance review process is based on the core values, which drives home the importance of these stories to the company’s culture.
Fifth: Compensate, At the Right Time
Laura Brooks closed the session with a hot topic of debate: should you link compensation to NPS or not? We got three very different answers…from “yes, I did it right away” to “it took us 6 years,” and one smack dab in the middle.
I was waiting for Laura Brooks to chime in and break the tie…but we ran out of time. What was obvious from the discussion, and what we teach in the Net Promoter Certification, is to make sure you have trustworthy data and buy-in before taking this big step. Tying compensation too early introduces a lot of risks, including gaming, an overly strong focus on “the score” instead of changing customer experience, and the potential for a major crash and burn if the underlying response rates and data quality are not representing the customers or segments who matter most to the business.