Conversation Starters: Promote Customer Thinking Without Preaching or Jargon

By Stephanie Thum,CCXP, CX Expert posted 07-20-2017 12:37 PM


One of the things I really like about being a consultant now after having been in the trenches for four years as a federal agency customer experience leader is coaching people on how to socialize the concepts of customer experience as a management discipline within their respective agencies. Interestingly, people ask me about this more often than almost anything else!

This isn't simple work when you have a customer-focused cultural transformation ahead of you. Lecturing employees about customer experience isn't a good idea. That can put people on the defensive. Using jargon doesn't work. People tune out fast when you use terms and phrases they're not familiar with. Inertia is the worst approach because then nothing gets done!

But when you're in the lead CX role, or any official or unofficial CX role for that matter, so much of the ground you need to cover hinges on internal, interpersonal communication. How do you get staff and executives to think in customer-focused ways? How do you understand the staff's attitudes toward internal and external customers? Toward data and customer feedback? Toward IT systems, rules, and processes that impact service?

Not only do you have to start the conversation, you have to keep it going in respectful, collaborative ways in meetings, in the hallway, on the elevator, in line for coffee, or wherever you find yourself face-to-face with colleagues. How do you do that in an engaging way?

I suggest approaching it like an investigative journalist searches for the who, what, where, when, why, and how for a great news story. In that spirit, here are a few possible conversation starters.

What do you wish (internal or external) customers understood about your work and why? 

Communication, or lack thereof, can cause a lot of problems in any relationship. This question can help to uncover communication gaps and inconsistencies that you may need to investigate.

If you could change any rule or process that would make it easier to get work done for (internal or external) customers, what would it be and why? 

If processes seem too time-consuming or just plain stupid to employees, customers probably feel the same way. This question can give you a sense of what you may need to do about it, and when.

How does your team feel about customer feedback? How do you think other teams feel about it?

I asked this question in a previous life and a staff member replied, "If I'm supposed to hear their feedback about me, then they also need to hear my feedback about them!" Another time I asked this question I got, "We never hear any feedback. At all!" At any rate, the answer to the question can give you a sense of how much work you have to do to share or integrate customer feedback within the agency's culture.

Who are your favorite people to work with here, and why? How about at other places?

This question can help you to understand the behaviors and qualities employees value. It could also help you to identify other CX evangelists within the organization.

What customer data do you wish you (or everyone on a specific team) had that you don't already have, and why? Is the data you already get relevant to you?

Even if you're swimming in data, you need to understand what is valued, what is not, what may be missing, and why perceptions are as they are. 

"How might we" questions...

"How might we" questions shift a conversational lens from a negative or what cannot be done, to a positive, or what *can* be done. For example, if someone remarks that customers don't understand a certain rule, policy, or process, and it is slowing things down, then the question becomes something like, "How might we help customers understand the rule (or policy, or process) so that they can receive our help faster?" Or even, "How might we change the rule (or policy, or process) so that customers have a simpler experience working with us?" You may get somewhere. You may get nowhere. But by simply asking the question you're shifting the lens toward customers.

Using questions to start or continue a conversation can be a powerful way of promoting customer thinking while also uncovering issues that ripple to customers. Typically, people are more than happy to give you their opinions. So, there's no need for inertia. You just have to start the conversation.

What other conversation starters have been effective for you? Please share your tips with everyone in the comments section.

All views are my own.

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