“How do I sell customer experience / customer-centricity to the Tops?”

There is one question that I get asked time and again from the Middles (middle management) who buy into customer-centricity or people looking into selling customer-centricity related services such as customer experience.  This question is some version of “How do I sell customer experience / customer-centricity to the Tops?”  This question is often disguised as “How do we prove RoI?”

I am no magician and tell you straight that I do not have a magic potion/charm for you.   Yet,  I want to help and so let me share my thinking with you.  If that is of interest to you then read on.

Can anyone make anyone doing anything?

Can you get any adult to do anything that he/she does not want to do?  Yes?  If you think about this long enough you will find that you cannot.  Think back to Christians and the lions: the Christians chose to be eaten by lions – they were not willing to renounce their faith.  If you have studied the beginnings of Islam you will find something similar.  The first wave of Muslims gave up their homes, gave up their families, saw their mothers and fathers tortured to death and in some cases suffered death themselves.  No you cannot make anyone do anything.  And incidentally, you have never been made to do anything in your adult life.

Study human behaviour and you learn three things

Think deeply about human behaviour and you will notice three things. First, when people are in lots of pain they take action: they will pay almost any price and rarely wait to do an RoI calculation.  For example, when you have a head splitting toothache you go and see the dentist (no matter your fear of the dentist) and you pay the price. Why?  You just want the pain to stop!

Second, none of us have to be persuaded to do something that we really want to do.  Just reflect on the prominent men who have been caught with ‘their trousers down’.  Do you really think that these men did an RoI or listened to anyone who suggested an RoI?

Third, sometimes people are really keen on something yet they are either afraid or they simply have not been able to figure out how to do what they want to do.   Lets take a look at each of these options.

Pain: dial-up the volume, make it vivid, bring it from the future right into the present

It could be that the Tops, in your organisation, do not feel enough pain to make customer-centricity happen.  If they did then they would be yelling at you to get it done yesterday and if you were not up to the job they would fire you and find someone else.  So you have an opening here.

You can surface the anecdotes, stories, themes and facts that show the business impact of carrying on as you are.  What is the predictable future?  How many customers will you continue to lose?  How much are you going to have to spend to get new customers to replace these customers?  What is happening to your reputation and how will that impact future revenues and profits?  What are competitors up to and what impact is that likely to have?  What trends are going to become waves and suck you under?

Paint that ‘picture of pain’ and back it up with figures (where possible) to show the opportunity cost of doing nothing – pack a powerful emotional punch. You can find a simple and useful model in John Goodman’s book ‘Strategic Customer Service’.  There are more complicated models in Lior Arussy’s book ‘Customer Experience Strategy’.

What you will find is that it will be easier for you to highlight the problems (what is broken) and get the funds/support you need to get some/all of these fixed.  Net impact: you will drive less of your customers away and cut the amount of negative word of mouth.  This approach is not that great with opportunities – the unknown.

Move-touch-inspire: create a compelling vision of the future

A powerful way to move humans being is to infect their hearts with a vision of the future, or some noble purpose/mission, that is so compelling that they simply want to step into it right away and so get busy working on making it happen.  But how do you do that?

You can dig out an academic report and hand it to them.  You can spend much time and effort putting together an Excel sheet showing what the figures are likely to look like if the assumptions play out.  In my experience this tends not to work.

A much more powerful way is to rely on the principle of social influence / social proof.  Who is making a success of customer-centricity and is a person that the Tops admire?  Arrange for your Tops to get out of their offices and spend time with this person: enthusiasm, confidence, passion are infectious at a subconscious level.  What you want to do is to bypass the rational mind (the neocortex) and go straight for the limbic brain.  Remember what I said about famous men getting caught with their trousers down – that is the limbic brain in action.

Deal with the fear, uncertainty and doubt

Human beings are plagued by fear, uncertainty and doubt and yes that includes the Tops.  They do not want to ‘stain their reputation’ and the certainly do not want to look like and be remembered as fools.  They also want a ‘map’ to navigate by.  And if you want them to make the move then you have to deal with the fear and hand over the map.  There are plenty of maps out there – they are labelled ‘methodologies’.  So let’s take a look at the fear element.

When you are faced with fear it pays to deal with reality.  So imagine that you are asking someone to walk across a tightrope from one end of Niagara falls to the other end . How do you motivate this person? There are three options that I can think of:

  • you can make the destination so attractive, so compelling that the person is willing to act despite the fear. How many mothers would hesitate to walk the tightrope if they could see their baby on the other side heading for the edge and likely to fall down the Niagara Falls?
  • put a ‘safety net under them’ – in my Peppers & Rogers days we used to suggest pilot projects which were relatively small in scale and thus represented limited risk;
  • work on both the attractiveness of the destination and the ‘strength/reliability’ of the support that you have placed under them to catch them if they fall.

This will not work with everyone.  The fact is that some people are so paralysed with fear that they will not move.  If you insist on moving them they tend to get upset with you for your stupid, ill-considered, hare-brained ideas!  As one wise teacher used to say “You can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink!”

What would I do if I was in your position?

If you are a ‘Middle’ then let me ask you a simple question: “Why do you need to sell the Tops on customer-centricity?”  If customer-centricty was central to the Tops agenda then they would be busy selling to you in corporate videos, in town hall type meetings, in new branding etc…..And your compensation package would have been changed to ‘incentivise’ you to be customer-centric.  Get the message?  I have often said that if the CEO is not the CCO (Chief Customer Officer) then you really do not need a CCO.

If you are vendor then I have a simple message: sell ‘aspirin’ rather than ‘vitamins’ to the bulk of the ‘population’.  By all means offer and actively promote ‘vitamins’ the people who have an interest in health and ‘vitamins’ so that they can find you.  Right now we are in the early adopter phase for customer-centricity so it is going to take some time – up to another forty years – for this to take off and reach the mass market.  Mass market adoption will be drive by competitors not evangelists.

What do you think?

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant working at the intersection of strategy, customer, and technology. Combine a tendency to think strategically with a penchant for getting my hands dirty at the coalface of implementation.