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Customer experience is changing the way that business leaders are leading their people, processes, and systems to meet the needs of arguably their most important asset, their customers. Smart business leaders must understand, embrace, and champion strategic change management – this will help ensure that customer experience initiatives succeed and have the desired impact for their organizations, employees and customer.
Strategic change management can help organizations control the potential implications (such as resistance and concerns) of a customer experience transformation. Designing and delivering customer experiences that are engaging, relevant, and persuasive is a key competitive advantage for organizations. As improving customer experience becomes a more important element of corporate strategy, executives will be faced with the decision of how to commit their organizations to a broad-customer experience transformation. Realizing that customer experience is a strategic imperative, and allocating resources and attention capture the benefits of a customer experience program is a great start. However, the real challenge is developing an effective change management initiative that provides the structure and knowledge to be successful.
Many books and articles have been written on change management, but the one that stands above the rest is ‘Leading Change’ by John Kotter. Kotter defines change management as “a set of basic tools or structures intended to keep any change effort under control.” The goal is to minimize the distractions and impacts of the change, while maximizing the potential the change intends to bring.
Transforming an organization toward a customer-centric culture requires a holistic and in-depth understanding of the organization’s people and structure, processes, and great communication to be most effective.
People and Structure
At the heart of any customer experience transformation are an organization’s employees. Real and lasting change only occurs when employees alter their thinking, beliefs, and habits. While it may be easy to recognize the need for change, putting it into practice is an entirely different story.
Change can be difficult, and is often met with resistance. This resistance takes many forms, including: unwillingness to learn new systems, disagreement with management decisions, and uncertainty over changing job requirements and outcomes.
It takes effort to change and people need to believe the value is greater than the sacrifice and believe they can make the change. This means engaging people in understanding why the change is needed to reduce confusion and concern. It also means engaging people in contributing their insights into what should change so that they have a sense of ownership of the change.
Internal roles and responsibilities will change as team structure; employee interaction and workload is affected to be directed more toward serving customers. The quality (skills) and quantity (resources) must be evaluated and addressed to ensure the right strengths are in place to lead the change. Proper training and development will familiarize employees with the change and will increase clarity and acceptance.
Planning for the change and sequencing capabilities, functionalities and processes is critical for the success of the change initiative. Establishing roles, relationships, interdependencies and functions of the steps to delivering great customer experiences will eliminate uncertainty of responsibility and will ease the transition of the change.
The final and most important aspect of strategic change management for customer experience is communication. Kotter has identified an eight-step change management plan, which results in powerful communication and collaborative execution of the customer experience transformation:
1. Establishing a Sense of Urgency – Get leadership buy-in and help them understand that the sooner the focus is placed on customer experience, the sooner the organization will benefit.
2. Creating a Guiding Coalition – Establish a cross-functional core team of people that steer customer experience change efforts within the organization.
3. Developing a Change Vision – Develop a customer experience vision that is inspirational and aspirational that guides and develops strategy and future courses of action.
4. Communicating the Vision for Buy-In – Communicate early, often, and ongoing to ensure everyone understands the intention and importance of the customer experience transformation.
5. Empowering Broad-Based Action – Remove obstacles that encumber or disempower people to do what’s right for customers.
6. Generating Short-Term Wins – Plan for achievements that are attainable, and visible, and recognize and reward employees who are involved in the changes to make things better for customers.
7. Never Letting Up – Change systems, structures and policies that don’t fit the customer experience vision, and reinvigorate the process with new projects, themes, and change agents.
8. Incorporating Changes into Culture – Ingrain the customer experience transformation into the DNA of the organization by basing policies, procedures, processes, language, hiring, training, and decisions based on what’s best for the customer.
Well-planned and well-executed change management initiatives are imperative to the success of a customer experience transformation. Empowering people in the design and delivery of the change will not only create a more customer-centric culture, but will go a long way in ensuring that the changes are sustainable and rewarding over time.
To learn more, check out CMC’s Strategic Change by Design online course modules.
About the Author - James Grieve CMC, MBA
James Grieve is a Certified Management Consultant and partner in Nucleus Strategies, a Kelowna-based consulting firm that specializes in working with businesses in a variety of industries to design great service experiences that delight customers and improve business performance. For over 20 years James' consulting career has been well balanced among: strategic planning, marketing strategy, project management, change management, B2B and B2C sales, customer experience design, and business development, with emphasis on building, nurturing, and sustaining client relationships.
He can be reached at 778.214.6010, or firstname.lastname@example.org.