The Year of Relationships

Recently The Temkin Group came out with their annual customer experience theme — the quality that all CX activities will hang their hats on for differentiation. Last year was brilliant: the year of emotion. It turbo-charged CX efforts to focus more on how to connect with customers, not just how to sell to them (but of course connections do drive sales!). It brought the human side of customer experience front and center and continues to drive efforts.

Because I am a nerd and my work is my obsession, I had been waiting for this theme for months — like a kid waiting for Christmas — the anticipation building, thoughts of what it could be dancing in my head, my tentative plans for how I will incorporate it into the work I am doing for clients…

But, like the pink bunny suit in A Christmas Story, I was disappointed with this year’s theme — the year of purpose — as it feels so four years ago. Purpose is good, and it is important, but it is no cutting edge revelation and is already driving so many efforts in CX focused organizations. It’s just not groundbreaking and most organizations are already aware they need purpose, even if they are not yet successfully executing on it.

You have lost your magic for me this year, Temkin.

What I thought they would have pegged was that this is so obviously the year of relationships. Companies who really understand how to deliver on CX, understand that it is an output of relationships driving results; relationships between the organization and their employees, meaningful relationships with customers that go way beyond transactions, and collaborative, effective relationships internally across functions to drive speed and innovation — key requirements for CX delivery excellence.

Organization to Employee

Companies that want to drive CX are starting to understand that humans are ruining their grand visions and CX strategies. If you do not get the humans in the company on board, no matter how nifty your product or service, you are not achieving the results you could be, or worse, you are going to fail altogether. So the question becomes, how do we enable all the humans to deliver on these grand visions and strategies? What do they need to feel a connection to the customer — even when they are not customer-facing? How do we reward and promote the right behaviors that drive customer-centric behaviors? The answers to these questions span everything from organizational design to the type of people being hired to the employee experience provided by the company. The solve for this is gigantic, and not an overnight effort, but a force multiplier and a requirement for any sort of lasting, sustainable execution of CX differentiation.

Internal Team Relationships

Teams also have to be poised to innovate quickly. The only teams who do this successfully have strong relationships with one another. They can be fast because normal office politics, like turf wars, don’t get in the way of good work. Sometimes the fail here isn’t that the relationships are cantankerous — rather the absence of relationship can be the fail, especially in larger global organizations. Orchestration is required for speed, and you cannot orchestrate with a team or department you don’t have any connection to.

Customer Relationships

It seems obvious that in order to deliver great CX you should have good customer relationships. However, organizations err on the side of mis-categorizing transactions as relationships. The type of relationships companies should be striving for are transactions over time that are meaningful to your customer and that drive long-term brand loyalty, not just a great one-off NPS score. It is the difference between being a one-hit wonder like “Teach me How to Dougie” artist Cali Swag District and 15 time Grammy winner, Adele. Don’t settle for a great single hit to your customer, make them need you like a divorced thirty-something needs Adele.

To solve any problem requires looking not just at the problem itself, but all the interconnected relationships and dependencies surrounding it. Effective strategies for improvement and impact will be inclusive of the layers of relationships that inevitably envelop the thing(s) which you seek to impact. And, despite the rise of the machine and the changing role of the work humans do, there will always be a human component to solve for.

Joni Roylance is an expert in human stuff, but is excited about robots, too.