3 Tips For Aligning Executives Around The Customer Experience

Aligning executives around the customer experience imperative is no simple task, but it can be done.

[Editor’s Note:  This post was last updated on January 20, 2021.]

The single most important driver to the success of any customer experience (CX) strategy is executive commitment.  However, aligning an executive team around the customer experience imperative is no simple task.

C-Suiters often have competing agendas and departmental budgets to protect.  If they even acknowledge that there’s a customer experience problem, they’ll frequently point fingers at other organizational silos to assign blame.  It’s hardly an atmosphere that facilitates collaboration around something as holistic as a company’s customer experience.

Whether you’re a CEO trying to secure buy-in from your leadership team, or a CX professional trying to capture the CEO’s attention, this can be a real challenge.  It has the potential to quash a CX improvement program before it ever gets off the ground.

When you’re in the early stages of building internal support for a customer experience strategy, how do you get people to listen and act – or at least garner their attention for more dialogue?  Here are three approaches that Watermark has found effective in our work with companies around the globe:


1.  Illustrate the impact of customer experience excellence with a single chart.

Before you begin discussing the cost/benefit of specific CX projects, there’s value in getting the executive team to first focus on the macro impact of customer experience differentiation.  This can help address the skepticism that many business leaders harbor towards CX, unsure that investments in that arena actually pay off.

Indeed, it was this very task that triggered the development of Watermark’s first Customer Experience ROI Study over a decade ago.  It’s since become one of the most widely-cited analyses of its kind, and we find it continues to turn heads in the Boardroom.

Time and time again, we use the study to demonstrate the ROI of Customer Experience to skeptical business leaders.  The study’s shareholder return chart illustrates, in a very simple and concise way, the financial rewards of a great CX, as well as the financial penalties associated with a poor one.

Does waving that chart before corporate executives suddenly get them to open their wallets and pocketbooks, to fund any and all CX projects?  No, of course not.  However, what the chart does do is get their attention for a more in-depth dialogue, because it shows them that the benefits of a great customer experience are far from soft and fuzzy.


2.  Emphasize the expense-saving aspects of CX excellence.

When skeptical executives think about the value of customer experience investments, they tend to think in terms of the revenue-enhancing benefits:  higher customer retention, more cross-purchase behavior, better word-of-mouth leading to more referrals, etc.

While all of those things are indeed fueled by a great customer experience, they’re benefits that can feel ambiguous and uncertain to executives – something that you hope pans out in the future, but are never really sure it will.

However, there’s another side to the economic calculus of customer experience, which is that a great CX actually helps to control, if not lower, operating expenses.  That’s because if there’s friction upstream in the customer experience, it drives expense downstream.

If, for example, there’s a purchase process that’s bad at setting customer expectations, or a billing statement that triggers more questions than it answers, or a website that complicates customer transactions rather than simplifying them – these all result in the customer contacting the company more frequently, be it to resolve a problem, secure a clarification, or just vent and complain.  That puts stress on a company’s infrastructure, driving expenses up in order to handle what really are unnecessary, avoidable inquiries.

This “expense side” of the CX economic equation is typically easier for executives to grasp and believe.

That’s because you can more easily quantify how many calls come in because customers didn’t understand their billing statements, or how many e-mail inquiries are received from customers following-up on an issue that didn’t get resolved the first time.  Then you can make an assumption around potential expense savings if a portion of those contacts were preempted due to a better upstream experience.

It’s not that the revenue-enhancing aspect of CX shouldn’t be considered, but for skeptical executives, it needs to be overtly paired with the seemingly more tangible expense-reducing side of the equation.


3.  Immerse executives in the current customer experience.

There’s a famous Bain & Co. study done years ago where they polled corporate executives and found 80% of them believed their firm was delivering a great customer experience.  Then Bain went to those companies’ customers and asked them the same question.  Only 8% of customers agreed with the executives’ assessment.

That dichotomy of perception, where companies think they’re delivering a better customer experience than they really are, is another obstacle to getting CX investments greenlit (i.e., why spend money improving our customer experience when it’s already pretty good?).

This is where it’s helpful to give the executive team a bit of a reality check.  You must persuade them to step into the customer’s shoes by, for example, calling the company’s 800-line, or executing a transaction on the company’s website, or using the company’s product to accomplish a task, or visiting one of the company’s stores and asking someone for assistance.

Even better, have executives observe customers as those people go through the experience – watching them navigate the website, call the 800-line, use the product, visit a retail location, etc.

These are invaluable exercises, particularly when they are done in unison by the entire executive team.  That’s because the mere act of observing customers (or pretending to be one) helps break down the departmental silos that often get in the way of a fruitful discussion about CX improvement opportunities.

Finger-pointing between sales, service or product design departments is replaced with the much more constructive insights that emerge from customer observation.  It’s an activity that helps melt the boundaries between departments, because the entire executive team goes through a shared experience of immersing themselves in the current CX, witnessing, first-hand, the highs and lows.

What executives learn from that exercise is hard for them to argue with or discount, because it’s not some antiseptic market research study or a second-hand managerial report whose accuracy is immediately questioned.  Rather, it’s the customer, live and in person.

In terms of acknowledging, appreciating and acting on an organization’s customer experience gaps, this type of immersion exercise helps drives a visceral reaction among executives that is far more motivating than a PowerPoint presentation ever could be.

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It’s no fun trying to drive a CX focus within an organization unless the executive team is fully on board.  Use these three tips to get senior leaders’ to first buy-in at a conceptual level.  That’ll then pave the way for more productive conversations around specific CX improvement tactics.


Jon Picoult is the founder of customer experience advisory firm Watermark Consulting.  As a consultant and a speaker, he’s worked with the CEOs and executive teams of some of the world’s top brands.  Follow Jon on Twitter or Subscribe to his monthly eNewsletter.


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