Leadership in Action: Customer Experience
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Leadership in Action: Customer Experience

Who is responsible for the customer experience in your organization?

If you think it’s only team members in client or customer service roles, that would be wrong. It’s everyone’s responsibility.

And beyond that, those we serve aren’t just outside our organizations. We can be of service to everyone we work with, whether they are true customers or partner colleagues in the achievement of our tasks and goals.

Put simply, having a customer experience mindset means that we put others first and consider our actions and decisions in that context. 

For example: I know that a project that I’m working on needs to go to a team member for input. I also know that they are going on vacation next week. It makes no difference in my timeline if I send the project to them early or on time. But would it make a difference to my colleague? Rather than thinking only of myself, I can take the time to help someone else get ahead of the last-minute rush that occurs before taking time off. That’s having a customer experience mindset.

Having a customer experience mindset means that we put others first and consider our actions and decisions in that context. 

Just like other leadership values including curiosity, agility, and personal accountability, leading with a customer experience mindset takes effort and practice.

Most leaders invite input when making important decisions. But a customer experience mindset includes understanding why team members may advocate for a certain outcome or believe that some things are more important than others. Some industries consider the customer experience mindset to be empathic at its core, or human-centered. It involves caring about not only what others want, but how our interactions with them can influence their experience.

Valuing the needs, perspectives, and experiences of others fuels innovative problem-solving and a caring culture. When we seek to understand others, whether they are customers or collaborators, we operate with a “customer experience mindset.” That mindset results in more satisfaction with our organization.

Leaders demonstrate a Customer Experience Mindset by:  

  • Listening patiently, flagging assumptions and biases, and looking for solutions to help
  • Taking time to understand colleagues and customers and what they care about 
  • Identifying, anticipating, and showing interest in meeting the needs of others 
  • Exceeding expectations whenever possible
  • Considering what’s important to others when making decisions or deciding on a course of action
  • Seeking input from those with different perspectives

Leaders do not demonstrate a Customer Experience Mindset when they:  

  • Focus on one-size-fits all solutions  
  • Act without consideration of others’ perspective or circumstance  
  • Are unwilling to act when a need arises
  • Look to place blame and act defensively  
  • Reject feedback

A customer experience mindset requires that you seek to understand concepts that you may not agree with or approaches that you don’t believe will succeed, rather than dismissing them out of hand.

Remember when we noted that service is everyone’s job? Leaders can model a customer experience mindset to others by not hesitating to jump in when help is needed. Policies and practices can only go so far to promote a culture of caring and collaborative support. But we can actively listen and solution when situations arise that may require brand new approaches.

We often attend meetings in which multiple ideas and perspectives are shared. A customer experience mindset requires that you seek to understand concepts that you may not agree with or approaches that you don’t believe will succeed, rather than dismissing them out of hand.

I recall participating in a client meeting that included ideation and suggestions from participants. One idea proposed was initially rejected. The meeting leader was not open to a concept that was a departure from current practices. However, with support from other meeting attendees, the idea surfaced again. This time, the meeting leader was persuaded to explore it more fully. Ultimately, this “out there” idea created a new pathway to a larger customer base. By putting aside assumptions and taking time to take in additional input, this meeting resulted in a valuable way forward. Without considering the input of the rest of the group, the leader in charge would have missed a great opportunity.

When we are fortunate enough to get direct customer or stakeholder feedback, whether positive or negative, we should always listen carefully to identify what each individual values. That can guide decisions we make on behalf of our customers, how we respond to problems, and also how we build on what we are doing well.

Here are four ways to develop and operate with a service mindset:  

  1. Regularly ask what other team members and stakeholders consider to be excellent service.  

One person’s five stars could be someone else’s three stars. Make sure you understand what they value about the service you provide.  

  1. Follow up on both positive and negative feedback.  

Routinely seek feedback. Follow up on all of it, both positive and negative. All feedback is information that can positively impact growth.  

  1. Seek to understand the person you’re serving first. Then explain the information you need to share.  

Display empathy for the concerns and feelings of those you serve. Never speak over someone else who is trying to express their position.

  1. Reframe thinking about difficult team members or customers from a challenge to an opportunity to win them over by understanding their needs and exceeding their expectations.  

What a triumph it is to achieve a turnaround! Can you change the perception of your company or your team by overcoming a barrier for a partner or customer? Consider yourselves to be members of the same team committed to a successful resolution.   

Often the leaders that I coach encounter a difficult internal customer who expressed displeasure with a work product. Successful leaders reframe these complaints as opportunities to excel. They use the feedback to improve a product or process to better meet the needs of the business and the expectations of the internal customer.

As you navigate the challenges of leadership, remember that embracing a customer experience mindset not only helps you and your team succeed in reaching your immediate goals. It also contributes to building a more empathic, human-centered culture that fosters success both inside and outside your organization.