Investing in the ‘Soft Side’
28.01.2020 , by John O'Connor
Customer at the Heart

Peter Whitelaw and I wrote a book last year called Customer at the Heart. It was a fun experience interviewing CEOs and sales directors from large B2B companies across Europe and Australia.

One of the consistent messages we heard in those interviews was the importance of investing in the ‘Soft Side’. In other words, focusing on people as much as on process.

Customer at the Heart

This is a really important point: if you are responsible for running a customer experience (CX) programme in your organisation, don’t under-estimate the importance of investing in ‘Soft Side’ activities if you want to generate real long-lasting results.

This means spending significant amounts of time with both your leadership and client-facing teams planning for success.

The Importance of Investing in the ‘Soft Side’

A quick recap on the four quadrants in the Customer at the Heart model before we go any further:

1. LEADERSHIP. The most important quadrant. Good Customer Experience (CX) programmes are ALWAYS led from the top
2. STRATEGY. Good CX programmes link customer, product, operational and organisational strategy explicitly to customer needs
3. EXECUTION. Success requires properly resourced CX teams that are brilliant at executing the Strategy
4. CULTURE. Finally, Customer Excellence must become integral to the DNA of the organisation: “it’s how we do things around here”

All four quadrants are necessary for a successful CX programme. The ‘Hard Side’ quadrants of Strategy and Execution are all about metrics and processes. ‘Hard Side’ activities lend themselves to key performance indicators (KPIs) and while the activities in these two quadrants are important and easily measurable, the quadrants of Leadership and Culture are actually more critical.

In our experience, Leadership is the most important quadrant while Culture is the most challenging. And yet, here’s the strange thing: in most CX programmes the ‘Soft Side’ is often overlooked and almost always under-resourced.

Our Approach

We have a different approach at Deep-Insight. We spend a lot more time with leadership teams and sales or account teams BEFORE we think about asking our customer’s clients for their views. If you want to run a customer survey in a hurry – “I need to get the results back by the end of the month…” – we’re probably not the organisation for you.

At Deep-Insight, the first 14-16 weeks of our process are critical and must be done properly. If you don’t invest the time up-front, your CX programme will not deliver the results that Management and the Board expect from it. More than likely, it will end in failure. It’s as simple as that.

Planning & Onboarding

The first phase in our approach is ‘Onboarding’ the organisation; The very first step is to secure the buy-in from the senior leadership team to the journey that they are about to embark on. And it is a journey because cultural change takes time. The second step is to onboard the rest of the organisation, primarily the sales and account teams. They own the customer relationships and if they don’t embrace the programme with gusto, the entire programme is at risk of being seen as a box-ticking exercise.

We typically work with dispersed sales and service teams in online workshops, and always with senior leadership support and involvement. These onboarding workshops are critical to driving up response rates and completion rates, as well as delivering action and improvements.

Insights to Action

The final phase is where the rubber hits the road. The online survey is complete. We have gathered some key insights from the feedback. Now it’s time to assemble the sales and account teams again. This time the focus is on their role in ‘Closing the Loop’ with the client. This is arguably the most critical part of the entire process. The account manager – sometimes with a member of the senior leadership team – must meet the client to discuss the feedback from all individuals in that client’s organisation.

In many cases, these discussions are straightforward because everything is fine and the relationship is on an even keel. In some instances, the client may be a ‘Stalker’ or an ‘Opponent’ and a much tougher and more honest conversation is needed.

The key outcome of these ‘Close the Loop’ meetings is agreement on the appropriate actions that are needed to improve and deepen the relationship. This gets built into the Account Planning process for that client.

Investing in the ‘Soft Side’

If your CX programme isn’t working the way you hoped it would, it’s probably because you’ve under-invested in the Leadership and Culture quadrants. The symptoms will be clear: disengaged account teams; limited insights; complete absence of action.

If you notice any of these symptoms in your CX programme, do get in touch.