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Customer contact, the internal dimension

Customer contact, the internal dimension
Customer contact - the internal dimension

Picture yourself sitting in the senior management meeting where you are seeking buy-in to a contact strategy change management programme. You have spent several weeks developing the proposed approach and building the watertight business case to the point where you believe you have tacit approval from many people around the table for what you are proposing. Presentation finished, the questions start flying around and you detect both scepticism and resistance in the tone and nature of the questioning. How did this happen?

To answer that question and to avoid that situation, it is important to take a step back from the “how-to’s” of contact strategy development and consider the people impact within the organisation. If, as is typically the case, your business has neglected its approach to customer communications contact, then there are several internal challenges that you will face which are wider than the obvious need to prove the organisational impact and need for change.

At the most fundamental level, you are going to need to answer the question: “why now?” What is it about the way the organisation has been communicating with customers to date that requires change today? You may be in the fortunate position of having hard evidence of specific negative experiences that have impacted the organisation. However, you will almost certainly be facing the challenge that customer contact data is either not collected or not prioritised as a KPI – to be frank, if it was then you would have a robust contact strategy already in place.

This means that beyond simply building the business case for change around, for example, increased customer retention rates, you are going to have to build awareness that customer contact is something the business needs to pay attention to at all. Put simply, when something is not a business priority, then reversing that situation is going to involve taking people on a journey so that it becomes one. And to do that, you are going to have to understand how the existing approach to customer contact has evolved and where the potential diplomatic sticking points reside.

At the end of the day, one of the main problems companies face when it comes to customer contact is the siloed approach of customer communications. If multiple departments and functions within the business are currently communicating with customers independently, then there will be bona fide reasons they are doing so and territorial reasons why they may resist change. Be under no illusion that contact strategy creation and improvement will potentially require structural and process change and will definitely require cultural change.

This cultural change will be more than a soft programme about ‘putting the customer first’. It will be about understanding where cultural resistance lies and how this is going to be overcome. Almost certainly you will find that existing performance KPIs that individuals, teams and departments have in place will need considering if customer contact is going to be improved. For example, if a team is measured by a target that necessitates volume of outbound communications – e.g. within a call centre or e-mail marketing – then any change that will limit their ability to do that is going to take more than a simple diktat from on high. Yes that sort of activity is often one of the major root causes of poor customer contact but that does not mean that it is a foregone conclusion that changing this will be accepted, especially if there is a perception that this will impact the company’s ability to sell.

And it is not just KPIs that may stand in the way but that other dreaded three-letter acronym BAU – ‘Business As Usual’. Whatever the size of the organisation, change management programmes such as will be required for a contact strategy overhaul often fall foul of the day-to-day. Admittedly, they can also get tripped up on initiative overload but it is typically the need to break and change the routine that causes the most problems.

Therefore, understanding your internal target audiences is going to be key. If you do not take time to understand the world they live in, the pressures they face and the priorities they have when it comes to customer communications then creating the required change is going to be hard to achieve. To succeed, you are going to need take that understanding of your internal stakeholders and determine the best way to engage them in a way that is relevant, motivational and appreciative of the fears, uncertainties and doubts that they will exhibit when faced with change.

Regardless of whether it is the frontline staff in a contact centre or your board, the onus will be on you to take your internal stakeholders on a journey. Only by doing this will you be able to successfully land the requirement for customer contact change. The structure of storytelling will help with this internal communications planning. It will help you develop an audience-centric approach to stakeholder engagement that will enable you to take them on the journey.

So it is important to resist the temptation to dive straight into a proposal looking at the structures and processes that will require investment and change. However critical those aspects of contact strategy creation are, it will not guarantee a successful sell-in to your internal decision-makers. And then once you have been successful in gaining sign-off to proceed, it is equally imperative that the stakeholder engagement among those who will be impacted and involved in the change programme is thought through. You will need to take them on a journey and to do that ‘engagement’ will be your watchword.