Improving the customer experience: which approach, which levers to use?

Need to improve the customer experience?

Sometimes a real world example of poor customer experience comes along that allows you to explore real world challenges in improving the customer experience.  I am thinking of the  recent report on the treatment of elderly patients in the UK hospitals which has caused quite a fuss even though relatives of elderly patients have been complaining of poor treatment for many years.

Let’s say that you want to improve the customer (patient) experience.  Where do you start?  There are all kinds of opinions on the root causes that have ‘driven’ compassion out of the failing hospitals.  If you read the papers or have listened to the radio (as I have) you will notice that the finger is being pointed at the following:

  • The nurses do not care (they do not have the aptitude) and/or are badly trained;
  • The focus of hospital staff is on filling in the forms, ticking the right boxes, processing patients and not getting into trouble with management;
  • The Top are not exercising the right kind of leadership;
  • Demand exceeds resources and so expensive nurses have been replaced by cheap Care Support Workers to balance the books;
  • The focus of the hospital leadership is on hitting targets set by Central Government rather than caring for patients;
  • Elderly patients are difficult to care for and many of them should not be in hospital but in care homes…..

So where do you start?  Which levers do you use to improve the Customer Experience?

I have developed a simple model (I do not claim that this model is the truth, it is simply a construct) that helps me to answer that question:

If you are like most organisations you take the operational approach.  This means that you make changes to the People, Process, Data and Technology dimensions.  So in the case of the NHS you work on the nurses (People) – perhaps through training and performance measures; you work on the way that work is done (Process); you might introduce some new technology to improve the process (Technology) etc…  This is the default approach and leaves the bigger picture (the context) that lays the grounds for all organisational behaviour untouched.  As a result the improvements (no matter how impressive) rarely endure and in some cases the short-term improvements turn out to be the longer term cancer that degrades performance.

The road less travelled is the strategic approach.  This is where the Tops exercise leadership and ask themselves the question: what is our contribution to the behaviour, health, performance of the system?  And then they set about shaping/nudging the levers that ultimately shape the behaviour of their organisation and its destiny.  What are these levers?  I can think of four:

  • Leadership – everything that the leaders communicate through verbal and non-verbal language.  It is worth bearing in mind that it is impossible for leaders (all of us in fact) not to communicate.
  • Culture – the taken for granted ways of thinking, feeling, talking, decision making and behaving.  What (and who) is and is not considered real, important, worth discussion.  Not only what is done (and not done) but also how it is done or not done.  I think of this as the ‘operating system’ of the organisation it determines the collective ‘performance’ of all the components of the organisation.  The Tops play a huge role in shaping culture – whether by actively shaping it or by simply neglecting it.
  • Mission & Strategy – the mission (call it purpose) articulates why you exist and the strategy is the high level approach you will be using to achieve your mission.  Let’s be honest the vast majority of missions simply do not inspire anyone in the organisation or anyone dealing with the organisation.  Why?  Because the mission is simply to fulfil shareholders needs / demands.  They are the equivalent of ‘selling sugared water’ rather than putting a ‘dent in the universe’.  So the challenge is to come up with an authentic mission that makes people proud to be a part of the organisation.
  • Business Model – this is simply the configuration of elements that create value for all the stakeholders and ensure the viability and strength of your organisation.  At the heart of the business model lies the value proposition and the people (target market of customers) that this value proposition has been designed for.   How well does your business model meet the needs of the various stakeholders?  What changes need to be made in order to take into account the change in customer behaviour especially the rise in customer power?  Does your business model take into account the multiple roles that customers can play all through the value chain?

What separates the Customer Experience leaders from the rest?

As I have studied the Customer Experience leaders (Starbucks, Amazon, Apple, Zappos, Zane’s Cycles) I have been struck by the thought that all these companies did makes changes to the People, Process, Data and Technology dimensions but only as a subset of the strategic approach: Leadership, Culture, Mission & Strategy, Business Model.    That is to say any operational changes (People, Process, Technology, Data) were nested and a part of the bigger organisational context that was shaped by Mission & Strategy, Culture, Business Model and Leadership.

I have this feeling that the people who run the NHS in the UK will go for the operational levers (‘the one bad apple’ defense/approach) rather then the strategic approach.   What do you think?  What is your experience?

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant. Passionate about enabling customer-centricity by calling forth the best from those that work in the organisation and the intelligent application of digital technologies. Subject matter expert with regards to customer strategy, customer insight, customer experience (CX), customer relationship management (CRM), and relationship marketing. Working at the intersection of the Customer, the Enterprise (marketing, sales, service), and Technology.

6 thoughts on “Improving the customer experience: which approach, which levers to use?”

  1. Another model for you Maz:

    The Prosci model for change management, if you want people to change their are 5 stages to go through:

    1. Awareness (do they know what the change is that is wanted)
    2. Desire (do they want to change)
    3. Knowledge (do they know how to change)
    4. Ability (have they practiced, can they do it?)
    5. Reinforcement (what makes it stick?)

    I think that we focus too much on Knowledge and Ability, we train people, let them make changes, try stuff, but without the cultural setting (Awareness, Desire and Reinforcement) it is a waste of time.

    This model is also probably not the truth but at least it backs your theory


    1. Hello James

      Thanks for sharing your perspective and the Prosci model. And I am in agreement when you say that there is too much focus on Knowledge and Ability and not enough on ADR (Awareness, Desire and Reinforcement).

      I cannot help but think about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic – we do stuff – simply because we get satisfaction out of the work even if it is hard. Extrinsic – the carrot or the stick – which we do because we want some reward or want to avoid some punishment.

      This brings me to human beings. Are we motivated by noble purposes? I believe that we are and the way to bring about change is to inspire (Desire) through the articulation of a noble purpose and/or immersion on a task that provides intrinsic satisfaction. Reinforcement is key because we need to know that our efforts are making a difference.



  2. Hi Maz,
    I like your model. My take on this that all of these elements and interactions are important but the achilles heal is leadership. If you don’t have the right sort and it’s not visible enough then everything else is academic. With the NHS where do we start…….minister level, ceo of trust level, consultant level…..? Not sure any of them are sending the right signals. What do you think?



    1. Hello Adrian

      We are in agreement – it all starts with leadership. One person – the right person – can make all the difference. And usually that person is one who has political clout – one who can influence the levers of power. William Wilberforce is associated with and given the credit for the abolition of slavery in the UK. Yet he was not the man who came up with the idea, worked with slaves or fought for the rights of slaves. Others did that. William had the political clout to influence the levers of power.

      Yet, leadership alone is not enough. Think about the current financial crisis. The leaders cannot agree on what to do to get out of it because the business model of western capitalism is built on easy credit and people buying lots of stuff that they really do not need. Leaders are hampered from taking the necessary actions because making changes to the business model is likely to result in massive pain in the short term. All the leadership in the world will not deal with the issues of the financial mess until the business model is dealt with. Yet that cannot be dealt with if the mission and strategy of capitalism is not reinvented: not just profits (at expense of people, of the planet…) but good profits – to borrow Reicheld’s phrase. Now how do you do that with a culture that is based on extraction – using others for your short term gain. And you have to start somewhere and that is leadership – as you have pointed out.



      1. Forgive me, Maz, but I think that requires leadership and what we are seeing now are so called leaders masquerading as such. If they’re not up to the job then they should step aside.



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