No matter how prepared you think you are, when you have a baby, your world flips upside-down. You’ve done it all: read all the books, received advice from everyone and their mother, reflected on the way you were raised, and talked about expectations with your child-raising partner, if you have one. In my case, once the baby arrives, your amazing mother-in-law moves in for a week to help you adjust and keep the household going… so far, so good. Family and friends come by to bring food and provide emotional support. But then your husband heads back to work, your mother-in-law leaves, you don’t feel at all like yourself, and you realize that the one-time, ad-hoc efforts to help you get a running start won’t prepare you for the months that follow.
Let me explain. In the weeks after a baby comes, chaos emerges. You’re now living a new normal, one that evolves in its own way despite everything you planned. Why is that? Because you really couldn’t know what your journey with a new baby would be like, for you, until you started living it. New baby chaos is sneaky. Yes, having a baby clearly is an immediate change (one moment, no baby, the next, BABY!), but these earth-shaking changes feel gradual, probably because we’re human and can only process so much at once. (We’d go into shock if we had the ability to fully see all these changes happening all at once, don’t you think?)
Then it starts to sink in. You start to realize that all the smug, self-congratulatory prep work you did isn’t helping; if anything, it’s compounding your frustration. I mean, you thought you were an adult and had figured out some major life lessons by now. You’ve evolved since you were a kid, right? But as you start to understand your new universe, you find yourself brought to your knees in all your newfound ignorance and humility.
My second child is now a year and a half, but I’m only now starting to feel that I have a (very tenuous) handle on my new life. Regaining that teeny, tiny sense of control didn’t come on its own. It took a lot of scrutiny and cooperation from all levels of my own organization, the London family of St. Louis. And here’s where my professional and personal lives collide.
I work at MaritzCX, where we’ve developed a framework for improving the way organizations deliver customer experience called CXEvolution. CXEvolution is grounded in the organizational design literature but field-tested and refined by MaritzCX’s more than forty years of experience. CXEvolution starts with the needs of the customer, then works backward to determine how the organization can improve the way it provides customer experience. Improving customer handling does not happen by responding in an ad-hoc nature to individual customer complaints. It happens by designing an organizational structure that makes harmonious customer interactions nearly effortless. And by structuring itself to support customers better, the organization improves its own key outcomes, like financial performance, by nearly 300%.
Organizations start out like babies, with only instincts to keep them moving forward. They experiment with problem-solving in a one-off, whack-a-mole fashion, and over time they develop an understanding of how life works based on those instincts, refined and augmented by their experiences and their support system. New families start out this way too, with parents and children embarking on a new life together. Sometimes the theories that babies (and their families) start to develop about how these new life works turn out to be wrong. We see this in organizations, too – sometimes, through the trial and error of evolution, things get worse before they get better.
But then, after they’ve reached a new low, dawn appears on the horizon. Their new life’s patterns start to reveal themselves, and suddenly they’re able to formulate a coherent approach to making life a little bit easier.
The Standardize and Solve stages of CXEvolution embody this phase. When organizations mature to the Standardize stage, they have started to understand the patterns of interactions with customers that are unique to their organization. They’ve moved past the initial euphoric confidence they felt when they first started their CX program – after all, by now they’ve had lots of experiences that have shown them what they did wrong initially (as well as what they’ve done right). Probably because they’ve seen how their initial CX efforts fared, these organizations begin to take a more analytical approach to understanding their customer interactions, from mapping the journey that customers take with them, to soliciting customer feedback via ongoing transactional surveys. They start to take a dispassionate, systematic approach to measuring CX success using metrics derived from their own research, based on touchpoints that can “make” a customer’s experience or “break” it. The Solve stage goes one step further to uncover root causes, where organizations start to integrate different sources of information to gain clarity – the “why” — on something that initially looks murky. Organizations in this stage start to realize that it’s not just a set of skills that will make them successful with CX; rather, it’s critical thinking and adaptability that allows them to take the tools they’ve already built and leverage them to address new situations as they arise.
Most importantly, in the Standardize and Solve stages, organizations begin to structure themselves in a way that makes it easier to have a good relationship with customers. This is the key that underlies CXEvolution. Besides regularly collecting information, monitoring their own people’s successes, and leveraging their experiences to solve emerging problems, maturing organizations organize themselves so that they have the support structures in place to make doing the right thing for a customer a no-brainer. Ultimately, by leveraging that deliberate, experience-tested structure, they can build a culture that is customer-first. And building that culture is the holy grail: once a customer-focused culture is firmly in place, all of the other stuff that scaffolded it starts to matter less. The organization’s customer-first approach has become self-reinforcing, embedded in the very core of the company.
I think we, the Londons of St. Louis organization, have just gotten to the Solve stage. My husband and I are social scientists, so we haven’t been (that) afraid to apply some analytical rigor to the problem, and we were (mostly) willing to accept new evidence that contradicted the theories we had developed earlier about ourselves. We talked about the things we did, both together and individually, that weren’t working, acknowledged that some of our ad-hoc efforts weren’t sustainable in the long run, and decided that we needed to align around our long-term shared goal of raising well-adjusted, tolerant, curious people. We journey-mapped our lives and created responsibility charts to make it easier to stay focused on our vision. (Not kidding!) Yes, each of us has things we want to accomplish as individuals, but in order for us to get what really matters to both of us – sons who are little mensches – we need to make sure that all of our decisions filter through our shared goal first.
It took us several years and two kids to get to the Solve stage. Now, the question is, how many years will it take us to get to Align?