Forget Best Practice – it won’t get you anywhere

Forget Best Practice – it won’t get you anywhere

Gaining a competitive edge requires you to go beyond accepted norms

One of the values that I have always believed to be critical to customer experience is “the competitive edge”. If customers can clearly see that a brand offers consistently better outcomes and experiences than their alternative choices, they will buy. They will tell other people. They will be less likely to rebel. They will be less likely to be promiscuous and try out another brand simply because they can.

The concept is simple. Making it happen is a little bit harder.

Part of that competitive edge is not just a feeling that the company is a bit better, cheaper or faster – that is too subtle – and that differentiation is not always particularly obvious in everyday business life. The customer needs to feel the company is offering something sufficiently different and the outcomes created in their overall journey including the base proposition. Companies that can deliver that have a competitive edge.

So why do companies aspire to delivering best practice? It’s one of the craziest notions in business. It offers zero differentiation. If you were an athlete, you would be one of the very large group – rudely referred to by the press as “journeymen”. These are the second tier of performers, certainly competent enough but rarely making the headlines for anything. I totally respect that not everybody wants to be number 1 as long as they are profitable and contributing. This article is really designed for companies and employees who aspire to be ahead of the pack.

So, what does Best Practice really mean?

Basically, the term is a misnomer. Best practice really means “accepted good practice”. It’s been identified over several years, and it’s accepted that it’s a good way perform. It’s just not competitive enough to make a critical difference. There are plenty of companies who deliver good practice when it comes to customer experience. If those companies are not interested in getting a leg-up in their revenues, profit, market share and reputation through the customer agenda then that’s absolutely fine.

If you are applying Customer Experience (CX) improvements in exactly the same way as everybody else, then how are you going to use CX as a competitive edge? You must rely on one thing. Your own “idea bank” in the hope that your idea has not been thought of and applied by everybody else. For example, if:

  • You use Voice of Customer
  • You use traditional approaches to journey mapping
  • Customer Experience is thought of as a department
  • Customer Experience is a cost centre
  • Customer Experience reports as a subsidiary to marketing or operations.
  • Learning focuses only on achieving an accepted qualification.

If any of the above applies to your company then good luck because the customer agenda will never be your differentiator.

Making the customer agenda a genuine differentiator

How do you start thinking about moving beyond best practice to get a competitive edge? Here are some tips to get you started:

  • The tough bit is to decide on a success strategy that is different. There is no point creating a cheaper, better, faster view on what is already there. This is going to be different to each company and there will always be stakeholders who will share your beliefs and be ready to become involved. This can be great fun and be extremely motivating. It’s always worth considering individuals who are influential not just knowledgeable and senior. The more ideas and support that come from the rank and file of an organisation the easier it is to create momentum which has meaning for all.
  • Research new ideas and thinking. Every company has Voice of Customer programmes. They contribute to understanding customers, but they do not go as far as newer and considerably more insightful outcome-based thinking techniques. Companies who understand their customers better than competition have a strong potential competitive advantage.
  • Move the accountability for customer experience away from a single department to one that is shared across the whole business.
  • Create a centre of expertise, people development and knowledge to support accountable business owners. It would be critical to go beyond best practice otherwise the competitive edge would not be attained.
  • Move the reporting line for CX to the CEO. Ideally a CEO should be also be a Chief Experience Officer but if that’s not possible then CXO should be its report.
  • Measure the right things not just the KPI’s traditional to a department otherwise focus and behaviour won’t change.

The above are starting points to stretch thinking beyond best practice and, in doing so, to start to create a customer-centric culture across the whole organisation.

Charles Bennett

Founder & CEO. Charles is an acknowledged leader in customer-driven performance change using both best practice and emerging next practice perspectives. He leads, mentors and coaches in both strategic and operational initiatives. A strong believer is the potential for "supercompany performance" he innovates using next practice thinking and methods to enhance the business. He researches heavily to retain his reputation as a thought leader, which he has applied across 40 countries, multiple sectors and companies such as Citibank, Nielsen, Microsoft, Vodafone, Tracker and governments in Middle East and Asia. Contributes to business journals and often invited as a speaker or chairman to events all over the world.