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Are you making CX too much of a hard sell?

Make it easy for your stakeholders and your job will become easier too

Selling sand to Saudis? Carrying coals to Newcastle? Or just trying to convince your senior stakeholders to focus the attentions of the company on the people who pay their salaries – the customers – and providing a much better experience for them?

Sometimes being in customer experience (CX) feels like a hard sell, but it doesn’t need to be that way.

Why so hard?

It’s one thing to persuade the board of the advantages of investing in a ritzy new system to streamline accounting, raise productivity in the back office or make you compliant with the latest regulatory requirement. These are all things that have an immediately attractive requirement where the benefits – cost saving, keeping directors out of jail and so forth – don’t require a massive feat of the imagination to get a handle on.

And they don’t require anyone to change.

That’s the problem with customer experience, particularly if you want to get significant benefits out of it. It requires a change in behaviour at the top level of the organisation as much as it does at the front line: executives who’ve been happily building a career in their organisational silos will suddenly need to work cross-functionally to find out how to identify customers’ real needs (outcomes) and then provide excellent experiences with streamlined processes to deliver them.

That’s not something people take to naturally so making the case for customer-centricity can be hard.

But sometimes we make things too hard for ourselves.


I’ve had a couple of conversations in the last few days that changed my views on how we present customer-centricity at board level.

I delivered a webinar on Bringing Customer Experience into the Boardroom for InTouch Networks to a couple of hundred aspiring consultants and non-executive directors. There were some really interesting questions at the end, including one from someone who asked how I would deal with the sensitivities of boardrooms around outcome-focused, trajectory-driven ways of working (two topics I had introduced in the session)? A great question and I was reminded of hard times I had had earlier in my career when I attempted to convince senior stakeholders of the “rightness” of my position without taking their sensitivities into consideration. It’s easy to fall into the trap with anything customer-related that it must self-evidently be a good thing to do because it benefits the customer. Senior executives won’t see it that way though because they haven’t been through the same arguments that you have to get to your point of view – and often you don’t have time to take them through the same learning process that you went on, so the simplistic “moral” argument is one you fall back on.

I found a similar parallel when talking to Danny Witter, co-founder of Work for Good. Work for Good encourages businesses to make donations to charities by connecting businesses with charities on their website. Only 2% of charitable donations are made by companies so there’s an opportunity to increase that level massively. But, like customer-centricity, it’s not an easy sell – despite being a self-evidently good thing to do.

Take it easy

What struck me, talking to Danny, is that Work for Good has done a number of things that CX leads can learn from. I’ve covered some of the return on investment considerations that CX involves elsewhere but this conversation yielded some additional insights. Here’s what Work for Good do that helps make the leap into the world of philanthropy more appealing for hard-nosed business leaders:

  • Provide advice
    The Work for Good site is a great source of advice and information for businesses considering introducing charitable giving into their commercial model. There are also tools to help you get employees on board as well.
  • Reduce legal risks
    One thing I learnt about giving from my conversation with Danny is that there’s a legal requirement for businesses to set up something called a commercial participation agreement (CPA) if they encourage the purchase of goods or services on the basis that some of the proceeds will go to charity, or that a donation will be made. Doing this can make business giving quite a cumbersome administrative task by Work for Good take away the hassle: if you sign up for the service that’s done for you.
  • Reduce admin hassle
    As you might expect from a web-based business you can be up and running in a few clicks – and it’s easy for charities to register with the site as well.
  • Play to self-interest
    Some people might argue that charitable giving should be done anonymously – certainly traditional British attitudes favour discretion over publicly promoting one’s generosity – and this might well apply to personal donations. For commercial giving Work for Good take the opposite view and emphasises the marketing and branding benefits of having their paperclip logo and other information displayed on your website.

Papa, don’t preach

In short, Work for Good – and my thoughts about the question asked on my webinar – provide some useful lessons for those tasked with selling CX to seniors. If that’s your challenge, try asking yourself the following questions:

  • Am I automatically assuming I am “right”?
    Does your zeal for improving CX mean you’re in danger of steamrollering objections or assuming that your stakeholders just lack your unique insight into the obvious benefits of CX? Are you preaching to the unconverted rather than listening to what they want?
  • Am I helping people understand?
    There’s no short cut for educating the board, but don’t send them links to a CX webinar (not even mine) hoping they’ll have the time to educate themselves. Instead, take the time to gather stories of current customers and why they’re not happy (tip: complaints are a goldmine for this).
  • Have I reduced or eliminated risks?
    Have you adequately considered any compliance of regulatory risks in what you’re proposing – particularly if greater front-line empowerment is part of the proposal – and have you taken steps to minimise this.
  • Have I reduced hassle?
    What’s the easiest part of your proposal that you could set up as a pilot or proof of concept implementation?
  • How does the proposed change play to stakeholders’ self-interest?
    Possibly the hardest question to answer – and one that we’ll explore further in future papers – but how can moving to a customer-centric culture with the attendant breaking down of barriers and perceived threats to personal empires be turned into something that furthers the company’s objectives?

Being “good” or being right isn’t enough. Thinking – like the best sales people do – about what’s in the customer or client’s interests is the way to succeed.

Nick Bush

Nick is a business advisor and non-executive director who helps organisations improve their focus and performance by developing customer-centred strategies and business plans. He has helped companies transform the way they do business through better strategies, change management and technology, with a relentless focus on the customer. Nick has worked across all kinds of business sectors from telecoms to banking, chemicals to charities - as owner of Open Chord his current focus is on helping arts and non-profit organisations to be more successful by creating a solid planning foundation that will help them grow.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Melvin Haskins

    On my frequent visits to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia I asked why there was a very large pile of bright yellow sand on the dockside. I was told that they needed soft sand to mix with the cement to lay bricks, so they bought the sand from Newcastle. I would love to have met the Geordie salesman.

    Whilst crossing Australia I could not get over the number of camels in the wild. I established that camels had been imported in the 19th century to enable explorers to cross the Victoria desert. Once cars, trains and planes had been invented they were not needed any more, so they were put out to graze. They survived so well that they multiplied to many thousand. Now, every year, around 500 camels are rounded up and sold to Arabia. Why? Australian camels are wild and because only the fittest survive, they are hardier and fitter than domesticated Arabian camels. They are used for racing and procreation.

    Finally, eskimos do buy fridges, so that they can stop liquids from freezing (milk, beer, etc.)

    1. Nick Bush

      I stand corrected (and will make a mental note to check out my analogies more closely next time)

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