Great Customer Experience Starts With Knowing the Difference Between Leadership and Management

Customer experience (CX) was a key to customer retention before the pandemic, and now it’s even more critical for retailers and brands. Since the start of the pandemic, 30% of retailers with advanced CX programs in place have seen improvements in customer lifetime value and customer advocacy, and 23% have seen increases in basket size, according to Forrester data cited by Business Insider and eMarketer.

As companies with less developed CX programs work to catch up, they need to align CX goals with other C-suite goals, build a CX-focused culture, develop and implement CX strategies, improve employee experience to improve CX, and iterate their CX program based on data and customer and employee feedback.

These tasks call for agile leadership and management. They also require companies to understand and act on the difference between leadership and management, so that leaders can focus on the big picture, managers can focus on building CX-focused teams, and everyone can learn and improve. Here’s what effective leadership and management can look like in a successful CX program.

Leaders build a customer-focused culture, managers nurture it

Whether you’re a CXO, a VP of marketing or another leader tasked with improving your company’s CX, the first step in creating a CX-focused culture is aligning CX goals with C-suite growth goals. How? Su Doyle at Forrester recommends sharing customer insights to help with growth planning so your organization can get “that product launch or cross-sell initiative right the first time.” For example, Doyle cites grocery chain Kroger’s use of customer data to grow sales of its Simple Truth brand by 15% in Q3 2020.

With CX and growth goals aligned, leaders also need to create a customer-focused culture across the organization. This starts by demonstrating empathy for the customer and encouraging managers and employees to think that way, too. Managers can support leadership’s CX culture goals by regularly talking with their team about empathy for the customer, encouraging solutions that make the customer journey simpler and better, and rewarding team members who create better experiences for customers.

Leaders set CX strategies, managers enact them

While leadership is responsible for creating effective CX strategies and keeping them up to date, it’s up to managers and team leaders to ensure that those strategies are deployed correctly. Team leaders, after all, are the ones in daily contact with customer-facing employees and those who support them.

However, managers are often so busy handling administrative work—which takes up 54% of their time–that it can be hard for them to find time to ensure that their teams are carrying out leadership’s CX strategies consistently and correctly. Leaders need to identify the administrative and other roadblocks that could keep managers from working with employees on new CX initiatives and find ways to remove those barriers. For example, delegating or automating some administrative work can free team leaders to spend more time on activities that reinforce CX activities and strengthen the CX mindset. It’s also helpful for leaders to set clear goals for managers and encourage them to set individual and team CX goals.

Leaders develop leadership in others, managers support that growth

Successful leaders understand that employee experience affects customer experience, so they work to develop leadership qualities in their managers. This may be especially important for mid-market companies. According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, there’s “a clear correlation between superior talent planning and company performance” among businesses in the middle market.

Managers can then use what they learn from leadership to develop leadership skills in their team members, to empower them to make decisions that lead to better customer experiences. For example, a retail employee without leadership training may not feel that they can leave the register to search for an item that’s supposed to be ready for in-store pickup. With leadership pointers from their manager, they may feel empowered to ask the customer to wait while they look for the item, call on another employee to check for the item, or offer the customer a phone call or text message when the item is located—and a discount for their time and trouble.

This kind of on-the-spot problem-solving by front-line workers can retain customers. Seventy-eight percent of customers surveyed by Salesforce in mid-2020 said they’ll “forgive a company for its mistake after receiving excellent service.”

Managers share feedback with leadership, leaders leverage it

Leaders often rely on website analytics, manager and team member KPIs, net promoter scores and other data to evaluate and improve their programs. CX leaders also need to encourage managers to funnel customer and employee feedback upward, so they can make adjustments that improve the experience for everyone.

For example, a grocery chain that offers curbside pickup may send text messages to customers if items in their order aren’t available and invite them to call the store to request a substitution. This personal touch may work for customers, but if employees find that answering substitution request calls makes it harder for them to fulfill pickup orders on time, managers need to share that information with the CX leader. The leader can then decide whether to make substitution requests available during the order process, automate post-purchase substitution requests in the app, or both. That change can take the time pressure off employees so they can satisfy the main CX goal—preparing customers’ orders on time.

When CX leaders align their goals with the C suite, foster a customer-centric culture, focus on talent development and stay open to feedback, they create the conditions for managers and employees to deliver better service. As CX becomes more central to customers’ buying decisions, this approach to leadership and management will matter more than ever to retailers and brands.


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