To plan for long-term success in an uncertain climate, West Monroe's Mike Rowland and Mike Manfredo say agile decision-making structures are key.
In the middle of a crisis, it’s easy to become preoccupied with short-term responses and forget about long-term strategies. But Mike Rowland, Director of Customer Experience at West Monroe, a Salesforce consulting partner — cautions against following this approach for long. As he points out, firms that continue to invest in the future when times are tough tend to outperform those that don’t.
“Our clients have been in crisis reaction mode,” says Rowland. “But now they’re thinking, ‘That big, complex governance structure we had to go through to get every little thing approved? Well, that won’t work now when we have to move a little quicker.’”
To plan for long-term success in an uncertain climate, Rowland says agile decision-making structures are key. It’s agile decision-making that has enabled companies like T-Mobile to move customer care centers from 100% physical workplaces to almost all virtual while maintaining customer satisfaction rates, and for Kohler to quickly pivot product lines around new customer concerns like offering touchless kitchen faucets with voice reading capabilities.
Rowland is here to prove that building agile decision-making structures is easier than it sounds. To find out more about the three-step path to fast, responsive decision-making, we sat down with Rowland and his colleague Mike Manfredo, Senior Principal of Customer Experience at West Monroe.
Know your (new) market
The first step towards agility, says Manfredo, is to forget everything you thought you knew about your market, relearn it, and repeat as necessary.
Your business forged its market understanding in a different world. You might have segmented your customer base according to revenue levels, zip codes, or pre-crisis buying habits. But in a digital-first marketplace operating within an upended economy, these attributes might not matter as much — or at all. “Customer expectations and behaviors have shifted dramatically,” says Rowland. “And if you don’t have a pulse on that, you’re flying blind.”
Unless you have a very small customer base, taking the pulse of customers is challenging without a customer relationship management system that helps teams manage and monitor customer interactions, and gives you the data you need when you need it. A recent study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Salesforce found the greatest customer experience challenge faced by businesses today is creating a single view of the customer and that 80% would gain either significant or indispensable value from a single source of customer truth. This insight is necessary to create connected experiences across every customer touch point.
But infrastructure that collects insights to consolidate customer data isn’t enough. To become truly responsive, you also need the infrastructure to act on your insights — and the predictive tools to do it. You may also want to consider creating a customer listening function, or a group inside your company that collects and analyzes customer engagement, behavior, expectations, and attitudes over time.
Create governance structures around customer journeys
Nothing slows down decision-making like a game of corporate whack-a-mole, where one department’s solution becomes another department’s problem. Perhaps the sales team changes its approach and winds up putting unexpected pressure on the contact center. Or, the service desk updates its procedures, incidentally counteracting marketing’s new strategy. Whatever the problem, Rowland and Manfredo say, the solution is the same: cross-functional decision-making.
Agile governance is intuitive when you base decision-making on specific customer journeys rather than an organization’s hierarchies.
Instead of waiting around for approvals, build tiger teams of executives from each function to collaborate on specific pieces of the customer journey.
“By shifting to a journey-based model,” says Manfredo, “we recently saw a client discover that only 8% of initiatives in their customer loyalty portfolio actually addressed the journeys that drove loyalty. So, they used that data to build agility and move to a more offensive approach.”
These teams will consider ideas that come through, make decisions on what to do, and, just as importantly, make decisions on what not to do. Each member should have stature within the company and a broad view across the organization and its customers to be able to make these decisions.
Manfredo and Rowland highlight their company’s customer-centered decision-making structure for its ability to pivot quickly and effectively in recent months:
In the early days of the shutdown, our leadership, working with our teams, shifted the firm quickly to help clients understand the impact of the shutdown and focus on productivity. The strategy was to help clients focus on playing defense initially, with the idea of moving to offense when the time was right. West Monroe is now helping companies figure out the transition back to work using Salesforce Work.com solutions, as well as best practices from our operations excellence, customer experience, and industry teams. As the country continues to learn more about the pandemic and impacts, our agility in organizational structure and decision making is what allows us to move quickly to support our clients’ success.
With the power to implement changes based on real-time customer data, tiger teams can help your organization make fast, flexible decisions that anticipate — rather than react to — customer needs.
Focus on speed by blocking silos and prioritizing quick wins
To keep pace with rapidly changing customer needs, your business needs the agility to make informed decisions, fast. The need for speed is compounded by the reality that the window for action in times of change is often quite short.
To be more agile decision makers and more quickly make the pivot from offense to defense, they recommend two tips for governance tiger teams:
1. Leave jerseys at the door
Each member needs to start thinking about the entire company as a whole, versus just their area or silo of responsibility. This isn’t easy to do, but it’s a mental shift required to reach decisions that best support the greater good of the company.
2. Prioritize decisions based on time-to-value
As a part of the idea intake process, the team should prioritize decisions based on their ability to quantify value quickly. As Manfredo says, “people often don’t want to put numbers on things because they don’t necessarily want to be held to them.” When goals are too lofty, analysis paralysis tends to set in, and that’s the last thing you need when rapid change is required. Focusing on attainable targets or quick wins helps to speed up the process. While you do need a business case for every decision, a decision doesn’t always have to be 100% thought out when speed is required, and it should be prioritized based on time to value.
Enable employees to meet customer needs on the spot
Executives don’t always have the time or understanding to make decisions about specific customer journeys. And customers certainly don’t have the time to wait for approvals or double-checks on their requests.
That’s why Rowland and Manfredo advise clients to delegate decision-making authority to frontline workers as much as possible. Public-facing staff understand their specific customer journeys better than anyone, and they’re perfectly placed to action feedback on the spot.
“Employee engagement and empowerment is part of the customer experience,” says Manfredo. “And I think that often gets overlooked. But you really cannot differentiate on your customer experience if your employees don’t have the power to deliver on the promises that your business is making.”
For more tips and insights on how to secure your organization’s success in a time of crisis, check out Leading Through Change. To learn more about West Monroe, visit their consulting partner listing on the AppExchange.