Focusing On Customer Experience Is No Longer Optional

Customer Experience

Ready or not, the customer experience (CX) game is on. No matter what size or industry you may play in, you are now competing based on the experience you provide to your customers. Government agencies, this applies to you as well. So, if you’re not thinking that customer experience is something that you need to be concerning yourself with, you may be digging your organization into a hole that you may not be able to climb out of.

Why has CX become such a fundamental component of brand success?

While certain brands that have understood the power of the customer experience for many years and have continued to refine their CX delivery in new and profitable ways, the notion that all organizations need to consider the experience that they provide to their customers as a competitive driver has really only become something of note over the last decade. One primary reason for this is due to the great leaps and continuous improvements that these CX leaders make to their customer experiences which continue to raise customer expectations.

Brands like Amazon, Apple, and even Uber Eats have provided customers with the ability to engage in experiences that are designed around their specific needs and wants- and they like it. As expectations around experiences evolve those brands that are unable to deliver will undoubtedly lose the affection of their customers. This reality creates the need for organizations in all sectors and industries and of all sizes to ask themselves what they are doing to both understand what their customers want and need and what steps are they taking to be able to evolve their experiences to deliver on those expectations.

The experience that a customer has with your brand, positive or negative, can have a significant impact on your organization. Several years ago, I wrote a column about my experience at Walt Disney World- a trip that I was not looking forward to. To my great surprise, the experience that Disney created at every touchpoint that I had with their brand completely won me over. Since this experience and my reflection on it, I find myself continuously taking mental notes of the way in which my experiences with other brands live up to my expectations (or fail to do so).

A study published in 2018 by Forrester Research compared the stock prices of a sample of CX leaders and laggards to the S&P 500 and found that leaders significantly outperformed both laggards as well as the S&P. The message is clear, those organizations that are better positioned to meet and exceed the experience expectations of their customers in a consistent and repeatable way and those that are best able to adapt to the changing needs of their customers are those who will continue to outperform the competition.

The performance benefits of improving CX make it hard to ignore. From increasing customer engagement, trust, and likeliness to forgive a brand for making a mistake, to improving voluntary compliance to requests, CX has been shown to make the delivery of services more cost-effective. Oftentimes, in fact, the savings gained by improving CX delivery can make the financial arguments against the investment moot. Many organizations that embark on improving their CX delivery find that the effort becomes, in effect, a “self-funding” activity where the savings they see from improving CX delivery outweigh the investments to improve.

Who is your customer?

For many, day-to-day contact with end-user customers is rare. If this is the case for you, it doesn’t mean that CX is not important. Support, or back office, personnel may find themselves serving multiple customers though they may be internal customers. The same principles that serve organizations well when enhancing the end-user customer experience can be applied internally to your internal customers to help facilitate your interactions.

I asked David Hicks, CEO of CX advisory firm TribeCX to weigh in on what differences may exist between improving CX delivery for end-user customer versus internal customers. “There really aren’t significant differences, CX is a way of thinking. Seeking out, what is it that I do in my job that really makes a difference for colleagues/customers and then being fanatical about persistently and consistently improving on it and delivering it can benefit customers regardless of who they may be,” Hicks suggests.

CX in government agencies.

Recent research by McKinsey & Company shows clearly that government agencies, particularly those in the federal government, are lagging behind when it comes to the level of customer experience that they provide. Government organizations have their own, sometimes unique, challenges that make delivering high levels of consistent CX a challenge without a doubt. Many subject matter experts are retiring, draining critical institutional knowledge. Legislative and regulatory rules can make collecting data from customer difficult. Agencies may collect a great deal of data but a lack of integration of legacy systems can make drawing insight from this data a real nightmare. In addition, the role of CXO seems to still be something akin to seeing a unicorn in the public sector indicating that CX has not been at the forefront of managers.

What the most successful organizations do.

McKinsey’s (2018) research on the topic found that the most successful organizations do three things exceptionally well and consistently:

  1. They put themselves in the shoes of their customers. Really, truly taking a hard look at the brand experience through the lens of the customer can be tough but opening the curtain to understand the realities that exist is critical to understanding the opportunities that exist.
  2. They understand their end-to-end customer journeys.
  3. Isolate the moments that disproportionately shape the experience.

Where do you start?

Understanding that you have an opportunity to take a long, hard look at your current customer experience and committing to improve that experience over time is a good first step. David Hicks suggests that leaders begin by, “… buddying up with a front-of-house colleague for an entire day and to listen carefully to them and to the customers with whom they interact. Ask them what the single most important thing is to focus on first. This sends a powerful explicit and implicit message to your staff.”

Regardless of your sector or industry, customer experience is a factor of organizational life that is here to stay. Those that are best able to adapt to meet the changing needs of their customers and that are able to continuously increase the ease of interacting with their brand at key touchpoints are those who will enjoy a substantial and sustained differentiator over their competitors. As customer continue to get comfortable with their newfound new-found power to choose when and how they interact with brands, those that are unable or unwilling to make the effort to truly understand what their customers want and need run the very real risk of becoming irrelevant.

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com

How Government Leaders Can Stay Ahead of Security Threats

government leaders security threats

Since 9-11, there have been 156 terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, according to data from newamerica.org. And though our country is safer today due to enhanced security measures, new threats arise every day.

Rapidly evolving technology only underscores this critical need to stay ahead of the curve. Gartner estimates cyber security spending will top $113 billion by 2020, and that number will continue to climb.

But, ‘staying ahead of the curve’ is a big challenge when dealing with safety and security in an unpredictable environment. And few people understand this better than Mike O’Neil, a 22- year veteran of the New York City Police Department and the first Commanding Officer of the NYPD Counterterrorism Division.

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8 Foundational Leadership Lessons From an Air Force Veteran Turned CEO

air force leadership lessons

There are very few leadership transitions like being a newly commissioned officer in the military.

Typically, on graduation day from a military academy, ROTC program or Officer Candidate School program, young men and women in their twenties pin on second lieutenant bars and immediately find themselves in charge of huge teams and millions of dollars of equipment in one of the harshest working environments imaginable.

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5 Ways To Make Infrastructure Planning More Manageable

5 Ways To Make Infrastructure Planning More Manageable

It’s no secret that infrastructure in the United States is in disrepair. One recent study found about 60,000 U.S. bridges are structurally deficient, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It seems like everywhere we look, things are falling down around us.

These issues will only become more pressing as populations grow. According to UNICEF, about 70 percent of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2050. That urban growth means our need for dependable, efficient infrastructure is also on the rise.

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5 Steps to Successfully Implement Organizational Change

5 steps to successfully implement organizational change

The Government Accountability Office recently reported that the pilot program for the DATA Act, passed in 2014 to increase savings and transparency in federal spending, is still not up and running.

The pilot program had not yet specified a methodology or data to be collected, and its outcomes are unlikely to be scalable. To avoid missteps like these, federal agencies need a change management strategy that involves gathering evidence, meticulously outlining goals, and testing iteratively.

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Apply a Military Mindset to Make Your Business Less Fragile

Apply A Military Mindset To Make Your Business Less Fragile

From startups to the federal government, no organization is immune to the unpredictable.  We’re only halfway through 2016, and the U.S. Department of Defense is already tackling a range of complex challenges: battling the Islamic State group, combating domestic terrorism, and ensuring that key initiatives receive sufficient funding. And the impending presidential administration change will bring new priorities, regardless of who wins the White House.

Without a crystal ball, the department must develop solid strategic plans to achieve its goals this year and beyond. These techniques are based on military ideas, and you can apply them to your business, too.

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Implement Black Swan Modeling to Avoid Government Catastrophes

Implement black swan modeling to avoid government catastrophes

Black swan events are inherently unpredictable — and they’re all around us. From responding to cyberattacks, military conflicts and natural disasters to handling issues in environmental sustainability and third offset strategy, federal leaders need a new response strategy predicated on vulnerability and a willingness to explore.

Historical data cannot foresee these new and emerging threats. Major terrorist attacks on U.S. soil were never a part of our history, but 9/11 still happened. Other threats are unavoidable. In nuclear power, for instance, one industry expert describes unforeseen events as “inevitable.”

To counter these risks, federal leaders need to open their thinking to the unknown. They need to adopt black swan modeling.

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The Transcendence of Military Culture and Values

military culture and values

The United States Military culture, regardless of branch (Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force or Coast Guard), is attributed with values and behaviors of LDRSHIP: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Patriotism.  As I outlined in a previous article about our veterans, these are great values to epitomize and work towards in your own corporate culture.

What I have learned more recently is that employees in many organizations may think these values don’t currently reside there, or that they are far removed from the behaviors of the staff in general, may be surprised when they take a closer look. These organizations already epitomize, in their own way, these values of respect, belonging, loyalty, service and duty.

Here’s the experience that brought this realization to light:

Recently, in the same week, I visited both a client site of one New York City organization, and a US Navy client. Two very distinct and diverse organizations; city government and federal/defense.

As I was leaving the New York City client site, we all knew that the infamous “Fleet Week” was arriving here in New York, so we took a drive down to Fort Hamilton on the water to watch the USS New York arrive in all its glory.  As it passed under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the management and uniformed staff of Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority made it clear that they were proud of not only this magnificent Naval Ship (forged from the steel of the twin towers of 911), but of the equally as magnificent structure that Naval ship was sailing under, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge that they each manage, protect and maintain.

To quote, “A beautiful image… a naval ship on the backdrop of the Verrazano.”

Though half a century apart, both of these government assets were built with the blood, sweat and tears of Americans. Both structures represent, in their own way, cultures of pride, of strength, and service to country. The bridge keeps the economy of New York City moving and the Naval Ship keeps the citizens and infrastructure of our United States economy safe from harm.  Two distinct missions, with two similar and transcending cultural compasses, representing withstanding and honorable service to the people they serve.

Sometimes the culture you desire—that you think doesn’t exist—is already there under the surface. It just needs to be tapped into.

I encourage employees, employers, owners, executives to think about what you each define as a honorable and respected culture and then try to emulate that in your actions, decisions and behaviors within your own organization.  You may be surprised at how close your current organization is to that seemingly far off culture and values you have been seeking.

We all need perspective like this at times to see past the fog.

May we all think of the majestic naval ship sailing under our own ‘bridge’ this Memorial Day and attempt to help our teams, our departments and our organizations do more to instill the culture we all desire.

As JFK once said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”.

Many thanks in memory to those who have served for our freedom.

6 Key Steps to Influencing Effective Knowledge Transfer in Your Business

Before lifting a Black Hawk helicopter off the ground, the pilot goes through a lengthy written checklist: oil pressure, fuel pump and generator switches, safety harnesses, altimeters — on and on it goes. When I flew Black Hawks in Iraq, I didn’t dream of trying to memorize this list. That would’ve been dangerous. The best way to store and retrieve that information was a notebook.

Similarly, doctors don’t recite every patient’s medical history from memory. That’s what a medical chart is for, and it could mean the difference between life and death. In fact, the Mayo Clinic employs a sophisticated knowledge management system that captures what everyone knows and archives it

Even the transportation industry is getting in on knowledge transfer. Loriann Hoffman, vice president of talent and organization development for the New York City Transit Authority, shared with me that her organization is implementing several knowledge transfer initiatives. Safely moving more than 8 million(yes, million) people by bus or subway every weekday is no small feat, after all.

While your organization may not be responsible for people’s lives, getting the right information to the right people at the right time is still a critical component to your business’s long-term success.

What if the only person who understands a critical part of your company leaves? What if the marketing and engineering teams aren’t talking to each other except casually in the cafeteria?

Are you going to rely on that? Of course not! That’s where effective knowledge management comes into play.

Develop an Effective Knowledge Transfer System

Knowing who knows what, who needs to know what, and how to transfer that knowledge is critical — especially when so much of a company’s worth consists of information. Investing in developing an effective way to transfer knowledge may, in the least, save you some headaches and, at the most, save your business.

Here are some suggestions for implementing a system for knowledge management and transfer in your company:

1. Make it formal. While water-cooler banter is better than nothing, you need consistent, clear processes and tools. As an aviator, I’m partial to lists.

My team creates documents that clearly outline how a process works. We also use checklists and sample templates to ensure that following the process is easy. This increases the confidence of the team members who know that they’re not expected to just “figure it out” when the time comes. Even something as simple as taking notes during meetings and sharing them will keep your employees in the loop.

2. Create duplication. I’m not suggesting that you need two people for every job, but you do need to plan for the worst. Cross-training can mitigate the risk of a key person leaving with a head full of knowledge. Ensure that there are at least two people who can step in during an emergency.

For example, imagine a football team. If the quarterback is injured, another player has to step into that position. But what if no one has practiced that role? Your team probably wouldn’t win the game.

3. Train, train, train. By providing your team members with formal training opportunities, you ensure that you have duplication of skills in the system. However, if you don’t have the resources for formal training, you can try this simulation: Remove a key person from the system temporarily so the team can see what happens. If things fall apart quickly, people will be eager to figure out how to prevent that failure from happening in the future.

For organizations that have effectively transferred knowledge to others, these situations present opportunities for employees to put their knowledge into practice and build their confidence.

4. Use systems. Technology can capture key information for later generations to use. They shouldn’t have to relearn what others discovered. By standing on the shoulders of those who have come before, newcomers can take the ball and run with it rather than spinning their wheels rehashing the same ground that’s already been covered.

5. Create opportunities. Set up informal gatherings where team members can exchange information and develop networks organically. Develop communities of practice so employees can work together to find and share information. This is a great way to capture and share knowledge with a broad audience.

6. Be smart when using consultants. While a consultant can be a valuable asset, keep in mind that they’ll leave after the work is through. Make sure you plan to have their knowledge transferred to internal personnel so you can carry on once they’ve departed.

For any of these practices to make a real difference in your business, you have to communicate the importance of knowledge transfer, explain how it will be done, and, most importantly, practice it yourself.

If you can do that, knowledge transfer will be a key resource and differentiator for your organization. By continuously spot-checking to make sure the right knowledge is being captured and shared, your organization can leap ahead of competitors and seamlessly transition during the departure of key personnel.

On top of that, your employees will be more engaged in their work and have a more in-depth understanding of the systems around them. When your employees feel confident in their ability to step in and help, the different parts of your organization will move together effortlessly. With effective knowledge transfer, your organization will be healthier and happier overall.

This article originally appeared on Forbes