Customer obsession: how to flip your company’s switch

It’s not hard to get people to agree that their customers matter. Throw a few stats, quotes, and bullet points on the screen, and they nod appreciatively. But getting them to act in the customer’s best interest, above the other important things on their list, is a different story. To get people throughout your organization fully on-board and mobilized, you have to go beyond traditional reports and form a deeper connection with your customers.

Don’t get me wrong—research, personas, journey maps, and experience roadmaps are all essential elements of a successful customer experience initiative. But there’s one more part that people tend to overlook, and it’s the most important of all: empathy. To drive real, lasting change in your organization, you’ve got to make sure your workforce cares about your customers as human beings—living, breathing people with dreams, aspirations, disappointments, frustrations, and always a hope that tomorrow might be a little better than today. You can’t get that kind of emotional component from a PowerPoint slide.

But let your employees hear from your customers firsthand—their own words, their own voices—and you can transform your whole culture to achieve true customer obsession.



Every successful customer experience journey begins in the customer’s shoes

If you only had a handful of customers, you could check in with them one-on-one to see how they’re doing. They’d tell you how their day is going, what's standing in the way of their next big win, and maybe a little about how your company is helping them reach that big win—or not. But as your company gets bigger, you can’t really get to know your customers anymore. Instead, you get to know your research team, or your research team’s manager, or that manager’s manager. The higher you are in the organization, the more layers come between you and the customer. Their stories, their emotions, their very humanity gets distilled and sanitized away until it’s all just one more report in the pile.

It’s not just executives and managers who have a hard time keeping humans from becoming abstractions. Throughout the organization, people are seen as support tickets, renewals, upsell opportunities, and the oh-so-warm “users.”

In the startup world, they say you should fall in love with your customers, because then you’ll be passionate about solving their problems. Walk a mile in their shoes, feel their pain, share their hopes. That’s when people start caring enough to really do something about customer experience. And the difference it makes can be dramatic. 

Raw emotion, straight from the source

Emotion drives action, and nothing conveys emotion like a human voice. My cofounder, Justin, and I have seen this again and again in our work, as the recorded customer interviews we play in workshops get the attention of clients better than any NPS summary could—and sometimes even evoke tears. The usual response: “I wish the rest of my company could hear this.” In fact, when we share these recordings with clients, despite being in raw, unedited form, we often see them go viral throughout the company before the workshop even happens.

A few weeks ago, we presented the results of our journey-mapping work to a VP-level group from a Fortune 500 company. The client was pleased with our work and asked us to present it to a more senior group, but we were worried that as good as the research was, it might not pack enough of a punch to make a lasting impression. So we began the next meeting with about five minutes of customer audio, both good and bad. It was as if we’d slapped every face in that room. They were riveted—and then they started asking questions, connecting dots, brainstorming. That’s the moment when the magic happens, and customer experience goes from a box to be checked, to an obsession to be lived.

The customer’s voice can also be a great way to bring an organization into alignment. A customer’s journey cuts across multiple company silos—product, marketing, sales, support, customer success—each with its own perspectives, metrics, and priorities. That can make it hard to get everyone on the same page. But the customer is always right, and incorporating their firsthand experience into the design process helps elevate the workshop above inter-departmental debates and company politics.

Our experience with the potency of customer audio has led us to take it beyond the workshop and create new opportunities for people to hear these voices for themselves. We’re now developing powerful, professionally produced podcasts as a core deliverable for our clients, alongside personas, journey maps, and experience roadmaps. In some cases, this is the primary deliverable. By making these available throughout their organization, our clients can foster the kind of empathy and obsession that makes a real customer experience transformation easier to achieve and sustain.

Managers and executives love to make people read their favorite book—usually a high-concept bestseller about leadership or thinking outside the box or, inevitably, “The Art of War.” But instead of making that the pre-offsite homework assignment, wouldn’t it be more useful to have people listen to their own customers? After all, that’s who you’re in business to serve—not Malcom Gladwell.

Your redesigned customer experience can be a powerful engine for success, but it needs fuel to ignite—and your customer’s voice is the highest-octane blend around.