The Leadership Spirit Needed to Win
"Find a way, or make one," advised Hannibal as he led legions in his conquests of mountains, countries, and armies. His leadership has stood the test of time. It embodies the fundamental spirit of leadership in setting a
direction and challenging the troops during the conquest. A similar spirit of leadership is required in companies that set out to win customer loyalty.
Truly understanding what customer's value and then executing to deliver that value requires the courage of conviction. They may not need the physical resources required by Hannibal when he and his troops crossed the Alps, but today's business leaders need to draw on their courage to overcome the obstacles in the road to building a differentiated customer experience. Critical, also, is an ability to engage the troops to actually deliver the experience. It is up to the leader to unleash employee power to build and execute an experience that is untouchable by competitors. Leadership also needs to ensure that the infrastructure is in place to manage the customer experience. Just as an army marches on its stomach, the customer experience runs on a current and accurate supply of customer data that needs to be owned, managed, and communicated by leaders.
The challenge for many companies is to dramatically change their organizations into customer-focused enterprises. They must create an entirely different culture. This requires leadership of the highest order. So if one is to embark on this journey, what is the leadership road map? What are the key things leaders need to do if they are going to build customer loyalty through a branded customer experience delivered through their people?
Research and client experience points to four key leadership actions as critical.
1. Understand what your customer's value and deliver to exceed what they expect. The first thing to recognize is that customers are already accomplished travelers on the road-seeking value wherever they can get it. So when Starbucks set up shop to serve a cup of coffee, brewed just right and served by "baristas" who actually knew something about their product (and their customer), it is no wonder that people pulled off the road and lined up. They were already out there looking for more value. Did they know they wanted "Starbucks" before it existed? No, but they were ready for something more than what they were getting.
- Customers buy because they expect to receive a benefit- a promise made by the organization that they will receive value. Leaders know that the brand promise is made or broken based on the interaction customers have with the company.
- Relentlessly focus on what you want to achieve
- Leapfrog current solutions
2. Bring the courage of conviction to transform the customer experience
- Look at obstacles as stepping-stones
- Avoid getting "pulled down" by naysayers and those that resist change
- Take a stand
- Communicate the case for change
3. Maintain the organizational energy - when energy wanes, pull on your own reserves and share with others, building enthusiasm through your energy
- Enroll everyone as brand ambassadors - the "power of the people" is instrumental in bringing the customer back. Think of how you would convince someone to go on a journey with you - then paint a picture of what it will be like to go (and not to go). Point the way. Everyone must understand how his or her work impacts the customer.
- Be what you want to see - lead by example. "Strategy only exists in the behavior of the company's leaders." Len Schlesinger, Harvard Business School
When Lord Marshall, CEO of British Airways, wanted the culture to change, he was the one who first changed. He was the one seen numerous times greeting the arriving flight at 5 A.M. and asking customers how their flight was.
4. Install customer experience measurement systems - On any journey, building blocks must be put in place: a road map, resources, and so on. Key building blocks on the customer experience journey not only include these but, in addition, a means of measuring progress along the way. Leaders focus on what they can control as progress is made, before they get the financial results.
- Create "leading indicators." If lagging indicators are the financial results (that is, they lag behind action that has already occurred), then leading indicators are the actions that people in the organization take every day to create a customer experience that in turn drives customer loyalty and the financial results.
- Install systems and communicate a way to run the business - a way that sometimes completely shifts the mental model of what leaders have traditionally "managed" to create business results.
With a customer-experience-based scorecard, a financial services company found that the entire agenda for business meetings has changed. Where business reviews used to be strictly about the numbers-forecasts, current sales, and so on-they are now about what customers are saying, what is happening with customer retention, and what the numbers are as a result. The entire approach to measuring and managing the business has changed. Leadership conversations have also changed. The questions leaders ask have shifted to focus on what can be done to boost customer value, satisfaction, and loyalty. But none of this would have happened without the top executive team committing to this scorecard as the way to run the business.