The Leadership Leap

Customer Experience is fired up and ready to go. But now what? Ahead of us, the majestic third leap is beginning to transpire and it has the potential to change things for real. It is the Leadership Leap.

We’ve come a long way. Over the last decades, Customer Experience has matured in continuous leaps. In the first Recognition Leap we struggled to define the area and expertise. We gave it names and started to define an approach with tools and processes. And companies started to acknowledge it as a crucial asset. In the second Activation Leap we fought to have a seat at the grown-up table and argued that CX needed to be part of management boards and executive teams to truly activate it. Organizations installed CX officers, managers and teams. Clever capability training programs were carried out to enlighten the organization.

So, here we are. It’s been a blast. CX is fired up and ready to go. But now what? Ahead of us, the majestic third leap is beginning to transpire and it has the potential to change things for real. It is the Leadership Leap.

The first and second leaps have nurtured a crucial understanding for customer focus and experience as a competitive driver. Yet in many organizations these leaps have only yielded incremental improvement of products and services — they may make products easier to understand and use or make services smarter. There’s nothing wrong with that — if you’re not in the race to win, that is. But companies that apply CX as tool for incremental improvement will not meet the challenges of the experience economy. More importantly, they will miss out on the opportunity to deliver an experience as a horizontal and integrated part of the offering, rather than a series of isolated, delightful moments. These experiences materialize at the peak of emotional, functional, and economic value. They break through the noise and are profoundly memorable. They are the frontier.

Customer Experience-driven leadership is characterized by a new approach to metrics, non- linear and agile thinking in business development, a deep understanding of collaboration, and a true obsession with customer involvement.

To unlock this opportunity, companies just need to accomplish one tiny little detail: a complete rethink in business culture and operations. Oops. As with all major transformations, this cannot start in every corner of the organization simultaneously. It requires a change in leadership first. Executive teams cannot only have a CX representative at C-level.

“Customer Experience-driven leadership is characterized by a new approach to metrics, non- linear and agile thinking in business development, a deep understanding of collaboration, and a true obsession with customer involvement”

It is not enough to sponsor customer experience initiatives or to cheerlead outside of the rink. The leadership needs to fully embrace CX as a business philosophy and lead through example. This kind of Customer Experience-driven leadership is characterized by a new approach to metrics, non-linear and agile thinking in business development, a deep understanding of collaboration, and a true obsession with customer involvement.

In my work, I’ve lately had the pleasure to witness — and be a part of — executive teams poised to take this leap. What unites them all is a perfect storm of new customer behavior, technology, regulations, and unexpectedly fast moving competitors. They all know they need to start transformation at the top before they can ask their organization do the same. This new breed of leadership infuses guts in to the organization. Here are some different gut-infusing approaches to get there:

The barrier-centric approach
The leadership team of a leading Nordic European bank worked hands on with real challenges and real customers to learn how to master a new innovation methodology that spanned from insight to ideation and prototyping. Executives then crafted a plan, rooted in true understanding and first hand experience, to lower critical organizational barriers that stood in the way of an experience-centric approach. The management team now owns and is executing upon the plan.

The bravery-centric approach
A major international telco carried out an unconventional “hackday” with their executive team, where they mixed work with the rational parts of their brains (by learning how to code) and the emotional parts (by learning how to sing(!) together). The crescendo was a performance in front of their staff. By embracing the awkwardness, they proved how daring the organization needed to be to fully act on customers’ needs instead of task-driven organizational demands. They celebrated the unexpected.

The horizontal-centric approach
An iconic American arts and culture institution designed a lab for “the C-suite of the cultural world” — museum curators. Central to the new learning environment was the opportunity for curators to practice cross-departmental concept development. This is a cornerstone in CX Design — breaking silos and embracing horizontal opportunities broader than just isolated products and services. Prototypes from the lab were later integrated into institution workflows and products — but most importantly, the lab inspired ways to work across departments. When the curators change, the institution changes.

These are all small, but important clues to how leadership can change and how we can inspire that transformation. The long-term business effect of this is brewing in these companies. Change will take time and there are no short cuts. But one thing is for sure — this leap will be a big one.

I can’t wait to jump.

Follow Lisa at @lisalindstrm

Excerpt from the 2017 Customer Experience Outlook. Download it here: cx2017.doberman.co