Having a customer experience plan is crucial for any business today. Knowing how to alter CX plans in a crisis is, too.
Jennifer Wright, Ph.D., CCXP leads customer experience analytics for a major healthcare company.
Hers is a complex role that involves understanding the industry’s regulatory landscape before you can even get to the cool stuff like customer experience strategy, governance, metrics, and best practices.
Late last week, I connected with Jenn in her home office via Zoom. She had just finished a presentation to her senior colleagues about how the company needed to change their plans and approach to measuring customers’ experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Leadership needs to make data-driven decisions in the current environment,” Jenn says. “We need to understand how the outbreak is impacting our members.”
That means that the work Jenn and her team planned to do a few months ago must change quickly.
The situation is far from rosy, but she is ready. She knows what to do because she’s been here before.
Some of the biggest lessons from her past that she is bringing into the picture now, which also happen to matter to just about every customer experience professional right now:
- Connect what matters to customers with what matters to the company
- Advocate for clarity and plain language
- Pivot fast with your resources
- Build on small victories one relationship at a time
Connect what matters to customers with what matters to the company
Jenn was part of a team that helped a mortgage company navigate the waters of customer experience during the subprime mortgage crisis of 2007-2010, when millions of families in the United States were at risk of losing, and/or did lose, their homes to foreclosure.
During the mortgage crisis, the most important thing to the company Jenn worked for was to show improved business outcomes. It was costly for the company to foreclose on customers’ homes. It was disastrous for customers who lived in those homes, as well. That’s a lose-lose scenario.
Turning the situation into a win-win meant reducing the number of foreclosures, improving on-time payment rates, reducing customer calls to the contact center, or initiating calls to the contact center—all quantifiable, measurable, and meaningful guideposts for getting the work done at that time.
Advocate for clarity and plain language
But achieving those improved outcomes didn’t come easy. What was most effective, Jenn’s team found, was when customers received simple, clear, trustworthy, and helpful communications from the mortgage company, like letters and information from contact center agents. It was up to Jenn and her team to draft those communications.
But getting that work done was neither fast nor simple. The regulatory environment was changing at the same time and at the same tempo as the market was deteriorating. The creation of a contact center script or a letter to a customer, for example, always involved heavy collaboration with internal teams of risk-conscious lawyers.
“We were all on the same team, and we are all doing our jobs. But we sometimes saw customer communications differently,” Jenn says. Being the customer’s advocate meant spending up to an hour, at times, negotiating over a single sentence in a letter to a customer.
Pivot fast with your resources
Jenn’s past work during the mortgage crisis also involved needing fast access to data that just didn’t exist in a perfect form sometimes. Her technique was to focus on what she could put her hands and eyes on quickly: publicly available data on homeownership from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, for example, that applied to the crises she was working through.
That’s what doing the CX work in a crisis demands sometimes—finding alternate sources of data that can help with company decision-making and finding those sources fast.
Build on small victories, one relationship at a time
Small victories, like successfully working with lawyers on designing effective customer communications and finding relevant sources of data quickly, helped Jenn to build credibility and important relationships with internal stakeholders and gatekeepers.
That step-by-step strategy led to bigger opportunities for the CX team to influence changes in the mortgage company’s workflows and the design of multi-faceted customer communication campaigns.
“You have to take small steps sometimes due to the complexity of the crisis. You have to win over procedural gatekeepers,” she says.
“At one time, my technical skills were more of a hindrance than a help. It wasn’t until I started listening to the people in the call centers, the business leads and managers, that I got it. Then they started taking me seriously, and I was able to develop rapport with them and start getting things done.
Every CX pro is a crisis manager
For now, right now, rather than moving ahead with her company’s previously planned-for approach to collecting customer feedback, they will pivot to event-based CX tactics and pulse surveys. Everything else from a CX analytics perspective has been placed to the side until the COVID-19 crisis has passed.
Meanwhile, Jenn believes every customer experience practitioner manages crises to a certain extent or will manage one or more crises in their career. She and I agree that it is almost always part of the job.
Having a strong network and professional relationships inside and outside of your company is crucial to getting through it. Nobody succeeds alone in a crisis.
“I’ve always taken something from these experiences. All of us doing the CX work right now will come out of this being better for it. We have an opportunity to shine if we can demonstrate that we can help people.”