On this week’s podcast, I’m delighted to be chatting to another fantastic CX professional.
Olga Potaptseva is an expert in customer experience implementation. Her impressive career has spanned over 20 years, during which she’s managed, consulted and mentored leading organisations across industries including banking, hospitality and retail.
As well as providing customer experience consultancy and mentorship, Olga is a speaker and best selling author, as well as a judge for the CX Awards. She’s also been awarded herself, and is recognised as one of the Top 25 CX Influencer. Oh! And she’s the founder of CX Panda which is the first CX library that is designed to summarise the wealth of trusted knowledge in CX and make it easy to access and use.
Olga’s work has taken her all over the world, and she talks to me from her home in Georgia. Away from working life, Olga is a keen ceramicist. Pottery, she says, helps her to feel balanced by keeping her hands busy and her mind quiet.
Today she’s kindly bringing her wealth of CX knowledge to the podcast, so let’s get started with a really big, burning question…
Because, says Olga, it’s ultimately a different way of thinking.
It involves working across functional silos, and people generally prefer to find their silo – their specialism, their comfort zone – and stay there.
Olga explains how people resist change because it has to be managed. It takes time and work. It takes both functional and emotional involvement. There might even be some conflict.
It can also change organisational targets – targets which people have aligned themselves to for years. And so, it forces people to stop and reconsider their priorities.
But, in order to meet customer needs, an effective CX implementation relies on effective collaboration. Suddenly we might need to lose our individual specialist objectives (such as marketing, sales or service) and focus on a new objective.
Resistance to change… Now that’s something I’ve definitely heard before – BIG relate! But I also agree that CX implementation can be a deep transformation, and that’s tough.
Okay, so stepping back a little bit…
Olga adopts the customer perspective here. She explains that you need to ask customers how they would define your company. Because it’s their insight only that will give you that information – it can’t come from internally.
And you also really need to dig deep into what that means. Not basic things like price or service. Instead ask customers questions. Questions like:
Why do you choose our business?
What makes you trust us?
By doing that, Olga adds, you can get to the point where both business and customer visions align.
Exactly – taking on the perspective of the client. But so often I hear how hard this is…
Olga admits that there’s no single answer that can be applied to all organisations. But she does believe (and recognises that this is perhaps an unpopular opinion among the CX community) that the bottom line shouldn’t be ignored.
She explains: “I don’t think people should completely abandon their focus on product or company finances… [companies] exist to be profitable so that they can do more for their vision and for their customers. If they just start doing whatever customers wish them to do, they might not run a profitable business”.
What is clear, is that businesses need to define what is and isn’t for customers, then align this with the business strategy – in other words, the reason the business exists in the first place.
Olga also advocates for gentle and gradual transformation. Here she uses the analogy of a sailing tanker – huge and slow, but consistent. Suddenly it’s ordered to turn around and find a better course, but the captain knows that’s not possible – the tanker is too big and will sink.
The answer? Adjust the course slightly. You’re still making the change, but steadily. It might be slow, but it’s far less risky.
Olga describes how a lot of people in businesses buy into the idea of customer centricity, but they aren’t as willing to put it into practice. To return to the tanker analogy, if it’s moving in the (perceived) right direction, then why change that?
Why take the risk?
I hear this type of resistance all the time and can definitely see why the gradual approach is helpful. But there are also people who expect change almost overnight, as if you’re there waving a magic CX wand!
Do companies rush into CX implementation only to have things go wrong?
One assumption that Olga admits making as a junior CX-er is that if a company believes in a CX strategy, then it’ll happen.
This isn’t the case, explains Olga. The implementation process has to be managed carefully. There can be many hidden hurdles once you start running.
Olga has seen companies approach CX implementation assuming it’s an easy process, only to stumble over the vital need for cross-functionality. That collaborative element, explains Olga, can take a lot of adjustment for some companies. But it’s essential to get right before any CX is properly embedded.
For example, if you’re redesigning a customer portal, collaborate with customers by bringing them in and getting their insight first. Ask them how the business could do things better. Don’t just charge in without learning that first.
It’s one of a few things, says Olga. Not planning properly is another. A strategy is a good thing to have, but don’t be too strategic – or in other words, too vague!
Olga says a typical CX statement might go something like this… ‘Deliver intended experiences that meet or exceed customer expectations in accordance with the goals of the organisation.’
That could be any organisation. An airline? A pharmaceutical company? A software development start-up?
And that’s before we even get to what it means!
As an employee, Olga says, you’re going to be asking, what do you want me to do?
A better strategy not only puts the customer first, but sets a plan to guide – specifically – the actions the business needs to take.
Here Olga adjusts her example. A pharmaceutical company could instead say something like… ‘We enable our customers to ensure patients never miss an infusion.’
Clear. Specific. Focused.
Then take this clear strategy to each of the teams involved, and ask them: What do you need to do to achieve this?
With this far more practical strategy or goal, teams can create specific, achievable and measurable actions to inform their decision-making, training, delivery and so on…
When Olga does come up against vague statements and strategies, she always makes space for planning.
She likes to gather cross-functional representatives from across the business (usually middle management, as these people know the strategic company direction but also have good awareness of what’s going on on the ground), and ask them all, who is the customer?
Often this leads to lots of different responses, but it’s very helpful to get that understanding of the entire customer landscape upfront. Once that’s done, explains Olga, the group can begin to align and focus on how to deliver that experience.
That’s brilliant and so helpful Olga!
Olga says it depends, but generally she likes to work in six-month cycles. So, six months from kick-off you have, say, five clear priorities to execute.
“Then, if in a year’s time you’ve executed your plans, and you’ve got another [set of] priorities, then people have trusted you enough to follow your vision, to deliver those quick wins and to want to do more. And then, if in say, three years you have people coming to you and saying, what else can I do? … That’s great progress.”
Because ultimately, says Olga, the real aspiration is that CX works autonomously. She likes to get businesses to a point where each employee is empowered enough to act in the interests of the customer. And then it becomes a self-regulating system that measures itself on customer values and outcomes.
Proving impact and creating relevancy for CX – that’s exactly what we need! Because it can be so hard to convince people that change is good. But where you have proof of that, you have motivation… And that’s powerful.
Absolutely, agrees Olga. But she’s quick to add that this proof must be balanced across all aspects – you need to also achieve profits and efficiencies alongside doing the right thing for the customer. Let’s face it, you may be achieving customer results, but if everyone hates you and hates the process, then that’s no good!
So, define success through other things too – money, process efficiency, colleague wellbeing. A team with higher morale, better productivity and enhanced loyalty.
Olga would first recommend they get to know their stakeholders, and really understand how customer insights can help them. She adds, “become a valid contributor to existing business projects and earn your right to lead.”
Of course – sure you need to talk to the customer as a CX professional, but get that balance by investing in the people inside the company too.
So one last question, Olga.
“Not that I’d have changed what I do”, she adds. “I might’ve gotten into it quicker, but I wish I knew more about how different businesses operate before bringing my expertise to supplement theirs… I guess that sums up to being more humble!”
And also, patience. In the face of resistance, be patient – and keep going!
Yes, patience indeed. Thank you, Olga, for sharing so much valuable insight from your career, and being so generous with your practical tips. It’s been wonderful to chat all things CX implementation with you.
Voilà! To hear more of our conversation, check out the podcast episode.
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