Leading Customer-Centric Change: Use Storytelling Techniques to Gain Top-Level Support


Leading Customer-Centric Change: Use Storytelling Techniques to Gain Top-Level Support
Illustration by Alexandra Able for Pipeline

It’s no secret that, in some companies, the contact center doesn’t always get the respect it deserves. In today’s customer-driven business climate, you’d think that customer care leaders would have an easier time getting companywide buy-in for customer-centric change. Yet, the results from the Contact Center Challenges & Priorities Report released earlier this year revealed that it remains an ongoing struggle. Contact center leaders cited poor cross-departmental collaboration and lack of understanding and respect for the center as two of the top three challenges they’re currently dealing with (the No. 1 being agent attrition).

Despite the attention to customer experience that is widely touted in corporate missions, visions and values, actions speak louder than vision statements. When it comes to resources and budget, CEOs tend to prioritize technology over people or process. A global study of CEO perceptions by Korn Ferry found that tech is becoming so central to business leaders’ thinking and execution that it occupies 40% to 60% of their priorities on strategic focus, financial investment and C-suite time. The research also noted that a key source of CEOs’ tech obsession is due to shareholder pressure to direct investment toward tangible assets like technology.

So how can you put the spotlight on all of the contributions your team makes to customer loyalty and revenue, and convince top-level executives that customer experience efforts deserve to be prioritized, supported and funded? It requires proactive and persistent sharing of customer issues and outcomes presented in a format that is relevant, compelling and memorable.

Bringing Customer Issues into the Light

C-level executives are generally too far removed from the day-to-day interactions that take place on the front lines to have a comprehensive view of the types of challenges agents deal with and the quality of service being delivered. Research conducted by customer service provider Arvato revealed that businesses tend to rate the customer experience their company delivers higher than consumers do. Eighty-nine percent (89%) of business leaders surveyed gave their customer service a grade of A or B compared with 52% of consumers. Further, 84% of business leaders said that their industries “usually” or “always” provide excellent customer service, while only 9% of consumers said that they “always” get excellent service.

Even when company leaders recognize that customer service could be better, they often will look to the latest technology to provide the solution without delving deeper into customers’ true wants and needs, or gathering insights from frontline staff.

Fara Haron, CEO of Global BPS, Arvato

“When it comes to customer-centricity in general, technology is often the most popular discussion topic among organizations,” says Fara Haron, Arvato’s CEO of Global BPS. “Communication regarding technology is crucial because businesses need to clearly identify why they are adopting certain technologies and how it will help to improve the customer experience. It’s all too common for businesses to get swept up with the latest technology buzzwords, without fully thinking through implications.”

She points to chatbots as an example. The Arvato survey found that only 6% of customers want more companies to use chatbots and 49% said that they don’t want to be served by a chatbot at all. “Instead, companies need to align on technologies that improve the customer experience,” Haron explains. “Take proactive technologies as an example—according to the same survey, 31% of customers want more automatic call-backs and 28% want more real-time order updates. Having honest conversations internally about technology and its purpose will help drive the most impactful customer benefits in the future.

“To facilitate those conversations, customer service needs a seat at the table, both at the executive level and among customer service representatives,” she continues. “On the front lines with customers every day, representatives have the richest insights which can move a company toward becoming more customer-centric. Having open channels for those representatives to share information cross-functionally and communicate with executive leadership on a regular basis is incredibly important.”

Share Stories That Grab—and Hold—the C-Suite’s Attention

Sarah Simon, VoC Consulting Director, Confirmit

Sarah Simon, VoC consulting director at Confirmit, agrees that effective communication with the C-suite is vital. However, it can be difficult to get or maintain executive support if CX initiatives can’t provide a solid ROI, she says, adding that: “Many executives demand quantitative figures, but often those numbers can be difficult to obtain for CX leaders; for instance, the database isn’t clean or the CX team is denied access to certain metrics that would allow them to pull the numbers together.”

Simon recommends augmenting quantitative reports by incorporating a storytelling approach. Just as marketers have been using storytelling techniques for years to build stronger connections between brands and consumers, savvy CX professionals are combining storytelling techniques with customer feedback and journey mapping to share strong narratives designed to trigger an emotional response in their executive audience.

In fact, good storytelling does more than provide a momentary tug at the heartstrings. Research conducted by the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate School found that powerful character-driven stories with emotional content releases a neurochemical in the brain that motivates a desire to help others, improves understanding of the speaker’s key points and allows listeners to retain those points weeks after the quantitative data is forgotten.

To use storytelling techniques to prove the value of customer-centric change, Simon suggests developing case studies (internally distributed) featuring customer “rescue or delight” stories that have emerged from process improvements based on voice of the customer data. You can also include quotes from colleagues in other departments who explain how their jobs are easier as a result of a recent initiative.

Simon describes one example in which a mortgage loan company’s customer survey feedback revealed that customers often were confused by the outbound correspondence that they received. The company had become complacent in its customer communications—the structure and format had been the same for a long time, so no one bothered to question it or review it for clarity.

The customer care and CX team, along with help from marketing, worked together to simplify wording, remove jargon, provide explanations where necessary, and present the content in an easy-to-digest format with bullets, bold type and simple language. After rolling out the revised letters, the company saw a significant decrease in customer complaints about communications.

The CX and customer care teams were then able to present the internal case study to the rest of the company as an example of using voice of the customer data to make a simple process improvement change that positively impacted the customer, Simon says. “It was a great story to emphasize what they were doing and bring a little more human touch to the VoC metrics sharing,” she adds.

(Editor’s note: To learn more techniques for demonstrating the value of CX programs, see Sarah Simon’s archived webinar, “Where Do We Go From Here? Taking Your CX Program Forward.”)

Tips for Humanizing Quantitative Presentations

You likely already have access to several examples of using VoC data to prevent churn, save a major account from leaving or boost customer satisfaction or loyalty. Simon recommends pulling four or five of those cases together into a storybook that demonstrates how your CX program has impacted the business.

A storybook can be a useful handout to accompany quantitative reports. It’s a printed booklet that contains simple, one-page case studies that illustrate the human story behind the charts, graphs and data in your presentation, and serves as a tangible reminder of your key message.

When selecting case studies to highlight, keep in mind that the C-suite is under pressure to enhance the company’s performance, and, therefore, are more likely to appreciate examples that demonstrate a positive financial outcome.

Another powerful way to bring customers to life in your presentation is to include voice recordings that convey a human response to the service issues highlighted in your data. This is an especially effective technique when there is a service crisis in parts of the organization that needs to be addressed, says Simon.

When executives are exposed to complaints and frustrations expressed by customers in their own words, it can be an eye-opening experience that compels them to spring into action, she says. “Weaving customer recordings into a presentation brings an emotional element that is more effective and impactful than just putting up the same charts and graphs that execs see every quarter.”

Practical Tips for Call CentersPractical pointer: The key to good storytelling is authenticity. The voice of the customer doesn’t have to come from survey feedback or calls to the center. Scan review sites, forums and social media for customers who are sharing personal experiences and relevant quotes to include in your presentations.

Be Proactive to Keep VoC Stories in the Spotlight

“Be proactive when communicating the return on investment of your efforts,” Simon stresses. “Don’t wait for the executives to knock on your door and ask, what am I getting for my investment in customer experience? Start digging for the feedback that you need to tell a business-compelling story that illustrates the customer experience and ROI in a more engaging fashion.”

Remember that creating visibility for CX initiatives is not a one-and-done effort. “You can’t report on it once and walk away,” she says. “Be ready to report on ROI at least on a quarterly or semiannual basis with fresh anecdotes and stories that keep the reporting alive and keep it centered on the customer.”

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