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customer journey

8 Step Strategy for Selling a New Customer Journey Internally

Around 70% of change initiatives fail.

That was John Kotter’s startling revelation, announced in the May-June 1995 issue of Harvard Business Review. In the years since Kotter’s article, few have sought to verify his findings. That is, until this year.

Working in concert, a trio of academics and practitioners discovered that Kotter’s frightful estimate may have been low. Indeed, their meta-analysis discovered that only 22% of companies delivered successful transformations. “A 78% failure rate, compared with Kotter’s asserted 70%, quantifiably affirms how tough it is to transform an organization,” they wrote in Harvard Business Review.

Why change fails is a difficult question to answer.

Urgency and impetus are both key roadblocks. Unless a company is in dire straits, a comfortable status quo will feel more attractive than uncertain change. A lack of cross-functional and multi-level leadership are other common stumbling points. Too often, leaders dictate change from the top down; it’s inflicted on the workforce. Opaque visions and unclear outcomes both derail change. As does under-communication. The list goes on and on.

When it comes to customer journey transformation, it feels like these challenges become amplified.

Customer journey transformation means upending how your organization interacts with its customers. It can feel like you are hacking away at the foundations from which you built. But the potential rewards are manifold: revenue growth, increased customer loyalty, opex reduction, enhanced employee engagement, the list goes on. Although uncomfortable, journey transformation is worth the risk. 

CX leaders, by and large, acknowledge this. The question they get stuck at is how to sell the new journey internally and navigate the treacherous waters of transformation. Thankfully, business leaders and change management experts have already pioneered many approaches, strategies, and frameworks, which, with a few careful tweaks, can be made good for customer journeys.

Step #0: Select a Change Management Framework

Sustainable change management demands a clear plan of action. The reality is, a “build the airplane while flying it” approach will doom an organization to fail. But leaders need not start with a blank sheet of paper. There are numerous proven change management frameworks available.

A handful of the most popular models are:

No framework is inherently better or worse than any other. Most methods, implemented carefully, can drive positive, long-term impact. In practice, most selection processes will rely on familiarity and existing knowledge.

For the purpose of this article, we will use Kotter’s 8-Step Process for Leading Change as a framework to explore the nuances of customer journey transformation.

Step #1: Create a sense of urgency

In his 1995 HBR article, Kotter opened a lengthy list of change management errors with not establishing a great enough sense of urgency. For good reason, too, as half of all transformations failures occur in this first phase. Leaders underestimate organizational inertia and overestimate their own persuasion skills. Others rush the process: “Enough with the preliminaries; let’s get on with it.” 

Simply put, you must create a sense of urgency for change or people will ignore it as a “nice to have.”

Thankfully, there is plenty of research to call on. According to BCG surveys, customer journey transformations drive a 10-20% increase in revenue and a 15-20% reduction in OPEX costs. Combined with a human-centered narrative—real accounts of friction, dissatisfaction, and frustration from employees and customers—this produces a powerful incentive to change and to do it quickly.

Alongside theory, statistics, and studies, organizations require personalized implications to sell the journey internally. Greg Tucker, a long-term business executive and customer experience consultant, recommends organizations focus on two perspectives: insights and impact.

First, leaders need to understand how users move through different channels. They need to see the pivot points or moments of truth. They need end-to-end insight into what’s happening.

Second, they need to feel the impact of the status quo.

“You can improve your acquisition, conversion, cross-sell, retention by massive amounts by focusing on the customer journey,” says Tucker. “We have facts on every single one of those. Demonstrating impact is essential to getting the right level of investment.”

Step #2: Build a guiding coalition

Customer journeys, by necessity, are cross-functional, stretching from the very first touches of brand marketing and advertising, through sales and onboarding, to customer service and success. Because they are so wide-reaching, journey transformation plans can easily fall through the cracks when traversing different business units and functions.

It is essential for a CX leader to assume the role of the architect and establish how each business unit is expected to contribute – resource wise – and how their investment is in the best interest of all stakeholders. 

To ensure comprehensive representation, CX leaders need to build a guiding coalition—a group of five to 50 people with a shared commitment to change. Senthil Arumugam, Senior Director of Customer Success at Freshworks, recommends three must-have stakeholder groups for buyer journey transformations:

  • Service Delivery: Find the people who “get the job done.” They’re the ones designing the experiences, delivering the service, and dealing with customers on a day to day. They are the backbone of any user journey, so ensure they’re well represented.
  • Customer Representation: For small-scale projects, individual customer stakeholders may be suitable. As initiatives grow larger, Arumugam advises organizations to leverage data and insights to deliver the voice of the customer at scale.
  • Diverse Leaders and Contributors: Customer journeys touch every corner of an organization so the guiding coalition should be equally as diverse. Bring in people with an outside perspective as they’re more likely to ask questions and challenge the status quo. 

Of course, the specific coalition makeup may change with company, industry, and geography. Kotter, for example, reports seeing several successful transformations inviting board members and even union leaders. What’s important is to build on a firm foundation—the trio of stakeholders Arumugam defined—and layer on organizational nuances.

Step #3: Form a strategic vision and initiatives

Given free rein, transformations will wander aimlessly. Many leaders will implement technology for the sake of it, without thought to the end result or micro journeys. But increasingly, design and product leaders are starting with the conclusion—the end-state customer experience—and working backward.

Deb Zell, former Director of Ecosystem-level Experience Strategy at Dell, likens the strategic vision to a shared military strategy among generals. “If a general loses communication with the platoon, they know exactly what they need to do,” she explains. “I see customer journeys as that playbook.”

As part of a company-wide transformation at the computing giant, Zell designed an end-to-end buyer journey map and communicated it relentlessly across the company. It became the playbook all teams worked from. 

Step #4: Enlist a volunteer army

The customer experience function owns nothing but influences everything.

From marketers engaging prospects, through salespeople closing buyers, to support agents helping customers, customer experience is the sum of every single interaction someone has with an organization. That makes user journey transformation a devilishly complex task. But Tucker suggests ownership is the wrong way to think about it.

“Who owns the finance function of a company?” he asks. “Is it the CFO? Well, the CFO isn’t making every single decision. That’s down to the managers. I used to cringe when people ask, ‘Who owns customer experience?’ Now, I tell people to stop asking that question.”

Flip the question of ownership into an empowering question: Who do you trust to design optimal customer experiences?

Everyone has a role to play. But engaging an entire workforce is a monumental challenge. Here, Kotter recommends leaders enlist a volunteer army.

“Populated with employees from all across the organization and up and down its ranks, the network liberates information from silos and hierarchical layers and enables it to flow with far greater freedom and accelerated speed,” Kotter explained in an article for HBR.

The effectiveness of the volunteer army relies on engagement by the guiding coalition. Often, leaders will implement a “one and done” style of communication, says Peter Baskette, Vice President of Information Technology at Riverbed Technology. After running numerous change initiatives, the technology leader has a clear idea of what effective communication requires.

“Outreach means sitting in team meetings, answering questions, and understanding the ‘what’s in it for me?’ principle,” says Baskette. “Create a website. Document your planned changes. Be as transparent as possible. Create a couple of standard PowerPoints that you can shop around—for teams and executives.”

Step #5: Enable action by removing barriers

In most cases, customer journey transformation is more a mosaic of smaller transformation projects, than one large one. Indeed, modern end-to-end journeys rely on carefully orchestrated micro journeys that tightly thread through different functions and systems for greater impact, value, and operational efficiency. That means lots of different people working on lots of different projects.

But so often, good intentions are undone by real blockers: narrow job categories, reluctant leadership, restrictive performance reviews, and others. Significant blockers can quickly derail progress. Consider performance reviews. If employees are incentivized against experimentation (and the failure that always comes with the invention), they won’t try.

barried to customer journey mapping

During Dell’s transformation, Zell adopted a servant leadership mentality. Instead of directly managing functional leaders, she defined a common approach and left them to design and implement change. Her job was tearing down barriers and helping others deliver outstanding work.

While a completely frictionless transformation is impossible, leaders must still work tirelessly to chip away at barriers, allowing their people to stretch their legs.

Step #6: Generate short-term wins

Transformation takes time—a lot of it. Yet the planning fallacy lulls leaders into a false sense of security, assuring them that their initiative will progress at double time. In practice, CX transformation projects usually take longer than most. Deep in the valley of despair (the period in a transformation when reality sets in, progress slows, and frustration builds), it’s easy to stall or regress.

Arumugam advises CX leaders to single out one problem that all stakeholders agree on. It should be relatively small and addressable in one to two months. If you’re designing a new electric car, don’t select a 500% range improvement, he says. Instead, pick something smaller—a friction point in the user interface or similar.

Use your small problem to demonstrate your process: Identify the problem, design the solution, and deliver an improvement. Measure the impact and celebrate your success. As you repeat the cycle, your projects can grow larger, more ambitious, and wider-reaching. Tucker recommends highlighting the dollar difference between the customers in the top quartile (even quintile, decile) and the averages. Underscoring just how much money is left on the table is the best way to get stakeholders to take note. 

“Success is always your best friend when you want to ask for resources,” Arumugam says. “If you’re able to prove success, you’re far more likely to be rewarded with resources.”

Step #7: Sustain acceleration

When a change initiative starts to pick up momentum, it’s tempting to take your foot off the gas. But this is the opposite of what you should do. After your first success, press harder. With enhanced authority and credibility, you can push for broader and more ambitious change.

At Dell, long-term change arrived in the form of Tonya Browning. The storied technology executive joined as Vice President of Dell Digital. With strong executive leadership and sponsorship, the customer experience function could broaden its scope, accelerate its delivery, and increase its impact.

With a clear leader to rally behind, Dell’s whole customer experience ethos began to change. Siloes came down, collaboration increased, and teams took on more ambitious projects.

Step #8: Institute change

Change will unravel unless it’s cemented in an organization’s culture and working practices. Even after initial deployment or implementation, continue reinforcing new approaches, behaviors, and beliefs until they become “the way we do things around here.”

Accept that this will inevitably take time. Dell was a full year into its transformation before the company hired a vice president to oversee change. But once the new executive bedded in, the computing giant could begin to implement impactful, wide-reaching change.

customer journey dos

Customer journey is a common core

Customer journey represents an unusual transformative core. It aligns people behind a shared goal and process. What’s good for one department is inevitably good for another. Combined with a robust transformation framework, it gives organizations the best chance of breaking into the 22% of projects that succeed.

3 Responses

  1. Change is complex process and certainly there number of catalyst which helps in the process. i think one key ingredient which is missed in the list is the desire, zest or the zeal which should rise from within for the change. For me that is #1 driver change and often leading to a successful transformation.

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