The CEO's Guide To CX: Six Practical Tips For Getting Started

Stephanie Thum, CCXP

By now, almost every CEO has heard the phrase “customer experience.” Some CEOs may have considered adding a chief experience officer (CXO) to their leadership ranks. It makes sense for CEOs to have customer experience management on their minds. After all, it is the CEO’s responsibility to advocate for modern business practices that attract customers and profits.

But customer experience management is a newer management discipline. Some CEOs and leadership teams might not be familiar with the competencies and skills associated with the discipline, or they may not know exactly where to start. But you don’t necessarily need to be an expert to get going.

It makes sense for CEOs to have customer experience management on their minds. After all, it is the CEO’s responsibility to advocate for business practices that attract customers and profits.

So where do you start?

It’s fairly simple and practical. Start where it makes sense for your business. One place where many organizations get going: with data, metrics, and measurable customer experience goals.

Data and metrics can be a good place to start because chances are, you and your team already have access to plenty of customer-oriented operational data. Maybe it’s your latest application processing data, new customer numbers, website usage statistics, smartphone app downloads, fees and revenues, hiring numbers, order turnaround times, or contact center key performance indicators (KPIs), for example. You may even have some customer experience data straight from customers themselves: survey results, Yelp ratings, notes from customer roundtables, complaint letters, or feedback from a customer advisory board.

Choose five or six data points. Set some performance targets around those data points. Then, pull the data, targets, and your company’s performance to those targets into a single spreadsheet or dashboard so you can easily view the basics around your customers’ experiences. Update the dashboard regularly. Show it to others. Consider creating a customer experience advisory board that will review and triage the data, and the story behind the data, regularly.

One manufacturing company CEO I know initiated his company’s experience management efforts with sales figures, numbers of new hires, and content from online reviews. He started holding weekly standup meetings specifically about this data with a small group of company leaders: the plant manager, HR leader, and lead customer service rep. Over time, the group grew to include a few more company leaders. Together, they prioritized which changes, improvement projects, and expansion plans mattered most, based on the company’s goals and customer expectations.

So you see, you don’t necessarily have to be an experience management expert to get going. But you probably want to be prepared for a few things as the work unfolds. Here are six tips.

1. Get comfortable being uncomfortable.

I once worked with a CEO who said, “If you’re comfortable, then your performance targets aren’t high enough.” Customer data will undoubtedly cause you to bristle, worry, and cringe from time to time. If that is the case, then the data is doing exactly what it should do: trigger a desire to improve the business.

2. If the numbers aren’t great, get comfortable explaining the reasons why.

It’s never a good idea to gloss over data that tells a not-so-great story about customers’ experiences with your company. No matter if it’s stakeholders, shareholders, employees, or a board of directors – you want to tell the truth behind the customer experience data and the company’s performance to its targets. Say what you’re doing to improve the situation, and then support the change by helping to clear a path for progress for your teams.

3. Align your management teams.

Think of your management team as an extension of your commitment to creating a customer-focused culture. Communication and example are everything. Write and speak about your company’s commitment to customers at every opportunity. Ask senior leaders for customer updates at leadership offsite meetings. Your senior team’s direct reports should also be given a chance to pitch in. Encourage and give them space and bandwidth to team up with one another to address change. So much of customer experience improvement is about socializing concepts and giving people a chance to contribute. Words and actions put you on the right path.

4. Present CX as a triage tool, not a policing mechanism.

I recently encountered a CEO who was excited about hiring the company’s first CXO. It was obvious he “got it” when it came to CX. That is until he said: “Yes! They’re going to be like the police for us when it comes to customers.”

Big red flag here. As CEO, you will want to choose better words. Customer experience is about improving your business. Victories happen collaboratively, usually with a cross-disciplinary team from a variety of departments. You don’t want to present your experience management activities as policing mechanisms. Instead, encourage collaboration and talk about making changes that are good for the business, employees, and customers.

5. Keep going, no matter what.

Tenacity and patience are everything. In a past life, a company leader I worked with made it mandatory for cross-disciplinary teams to meet each week to triage client experience data. He asked me to furnish my colleagues with written reports, and we discussed the ups and downs at senior team meetings each week. That regular cadence of data sharing helped build an understanding of customers’ experiences with our business, and it led us to make changes that helped us to become more efficient. But it took time to see results.

6. When the numbers are great, celebrate! When the numbers aren’t so great, don’t point fingers.

Celebrating customer wins is just as important as correcting the direction when things are off course. A CEO I know holds a monthly coffee for employees celebrating a birthday that month. He incorporates verbal thank you messages into those gatherings. Another leader I know used to spend one hour each Friday writing emails to everyone he saw make a difference with clients over the past week.

This is just a place to start. There’s much more to the field, practice, and discipline of experience management, and I highly recommend reaching out for expert, credentialed help. The Customer Experience Professionals Association maintains a database of credentialed customer experience practitioners and consultants where you could start your search.

As CEO, your overarching commitments mean you probably won’t be in the trenches doing all of the customer experience improvement work yourself. But you can certainly lead the charge, support a start, support funding, and hold your team accountable. In the end, it’s about more than just saying you want a customer-focused culture for your organization. Show it to your staff, to your shareholders and stakeholders, and to customers themselves.

Customer experience management is a daily commitment. But the work is worth doing.

All views are mine. Follow me on Twitter: @stephaniethum. You can also find this content presented as a mini master class on Julia Ahlfeldt’s Decoding the Customer podcast.


About Stephanie Thum, CCXP

Stephanie is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP) who got her start in the customer experience profession working with the Big Four accounting firm of EY. She eventually became one of the U.S. federal government's first agency-level heads of customer experience. Her background also includes work on SAP's Catalyst team, where she counseled SAP's small and mid-sized audiences on security and CX, digital transformation, and modern-day voice of the customer practices via videos, blogs, and podcasts. Currently, Stephanie is a subject matter expert and Chief Advisor for Federal Customer Experience for Qualtrics. She is a published writer, panelist, facilitator, presenter, and speaker.