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Launching a Successful Mission Towards CX Greatness

I was in Las Vegas last month. It was a great time! Nope, not gambling and running around in “pleasure”, but attending a conference, CXFusion. This conference brings many CX professionals together to talk about their best practices in CX and hear from others. I wasn’t being facetious when I said, “It was a great time!”. Indeed, it was a great meeting. Many of these professionals, some whom I’ve met before, some I’ve talked to on the phone many times but hadn’t met in person, and then some whom I met for the first time. It was great to hear about their CX programs, how they measure and understand customer experience, and how they take measures in their organizations to act on this information to transform their customer experience.

One of our keynotes, the very last one of the conference, was by former NASA astronaut Mike Massimino. After starting his NASA career in 1996, he was a part of two Hubble Space Telescope missions. First, in 2002 on the space shuttle Columbia, and second, in 2009 on the space shuttle Atlantis, the final Hubble mission. He is also the first astronaut to tweet from space. He had a quite funny and cute story about it too, but we’ll save it for another time.

I was wondering how a speech by an inspiring astronaut was going to tie to anything we’d been focusing on for the past three days related to the customer and creating great CX. I curiously listened.

Astronaut, the Swimmer

One interesting story he told about his training when he started on his journey to becoming an astronaut was particularly interesting to me. As he started the program, he found out that to become an astronaut you must be a strong swimmer, and most of the training happens in the water. Mike was not a good swimmer at all, and he was afraid of it. When the coach spoke to the class the week before the swim test (at which, if you don’t pass, you disqualify from the program), he started by asking who the very strong swimmers are (a few hands up) and who the weak swimmers are (a few hands up, including Mike’s). He told the rest of the class they’re dismissed, asking the self-identified strong and weak swimmers to stay. Then he instructed the strong swimmers to pair with a weak swimmer and work with them all weekend to prepare for the test on Monday. His final message to this group of students was, they will all stay at the test until everybody passes. A very nice approach by the coach to not let anyone fail without being given opportunity to learn and improve. And who better to do the teaching and coaching than their own peers?

My mind directly went to thinking “There must be a message here that is meant to be relevant to our conference topic. Sure enough, there it was! Actually, the words Mike said following the end of this story helped me clarify that message in my head: “Everyone needs to contribute for success!” Here is the lesson I learned from this interesting journey of a NASA astronaut related to successfully delivering best experiences for our customers:

From Astronaut Training to CX Lesson

Customer Experience is everybody’s job. Our customers experience us in multiple ways. In other words, they experience our brand in various ways, which means various parts of our organization impact those experiences. Additionally, at any particular touch point during the time of the interaction, while it may “look” like they’re only interacting with one entity, such as a branch teller, a call center representative, or online form they fill out for healthcare claims, the experiences are a collection of various elements beyond that one “seeming” entity. While they’re interacting with the brand teller, for example, the teller uses the computer system to pull up information, the systems that hold account information processes the customer’s identity to show the account status, and there is the line to get to the teller, or even the atmosphere of the branch or the cookies and coffee they offer to customers while they wait.

Mike’s story about strong swimmers training weak ones so that everybody passes and how it is everybody’s responsibility that everybody succeeds builds exactly on that concept. Being an astronaut and completing a successful mission in space is not a one-man accomplishment. There are other astronauts on the spaceship, people at Mission Control managing the flight and providing instructions to the spaceship, engineers who make sure the spaceship, suits, or the other necessities for the flight are built right, and so on and so forth. Everyone is there to make sure they contribute to the overall and total success, not to shine as individuals. The successful space mission is a collection of many elements and contributions of hundreds of people working together, not one astronaut’s strong swimming skills and being the best astronaut ever.

Here’s how I relate this to success in customer experience management in organizations: Everyone needs to work together, and low performers can learn from high performers.

Teamwork and Everyone’s Contribution is Necessary

Customer experience is created through multiple elements that come together. From technology, to systems and processes, to people in different departments, to communications. Everyone related to the experience needs to work together and own the actions to make improvements in creating the best experiences for customers. When an area of improvement is identified, all related parties need to come together to determine the action plan, and all need to take ownership for their part of the total contribution to make the plan achieve the successful outcomes. The success won’t come with one person’s or department’s isolated actions only.

Those Who’ve Reached Success Must Share with Those Who Struggle

In many organizations, it is easy to identify the best and the worst performers. Whether it is front-line service staff or sales personnel, or staff in the back offices performing various tasks, through satisfaction and operational measurements in place, managers frequently rank staff or teams best to worst. Managers then act on this performance information. For the best, usually rewards come. For the worst, there may be some punishment, and hopefully there are action plans focusing on what the problem is and how to improve it, leading to training and coaching among other activities. A key to success with training and coaching activities is for the low performers to learn from the successes of the best performers. For many organizations, we recommend this as a usual practice to improve performance, by bringing in a group of successful teams in front of those who struggle and ask them to talk about their success factors and best practices.

This learning from best-practices technique can also be applied to customer groups who are very positive vs. very negative toward the organization. Organizations spend a lot of time understanding what is wrong, what is the problem with the not-satisfied, not-loyal customers. However, it is as important to understand what makes a customer extremely satisfied or loyal, so that those drivers of success can be replicated on the customers who are on the other end of spectrum, expecting those good practices will lead to positive outcomes with this customer base, as well.

Bonus Tip from the Astronaut

I was very excited finding more lessons for CX in Mike’s interesting and funny stories in space. Another one was about the importance of not rushing to fix a problem under stress. Mike and his crew were at the Hubble Space Telescope to replace a part. When he was out in space, trying to unscrew a cap, he realizes the screw was broken. At Mission Control, many experts and engineers spent about an hour trying to figure out how to solve this problem. Then an engineer from the back office comes up with the simple solution of yanking out the handle to open the cap. It wasn’t a solution to be thought of by engineers normally, but it was the solution. However, they had to test and do calculations to make sure the action wasn’t going to cause another problem. Sure enough, it worked. Mike’s take on it was that he was glad that he did not rush into an act of pulling the handle with strength to yank it, which could have caused another disaster such as flying debris harming Mike’s space suit or the spaceship. He said, “No matter how bad I mess up or how bad the situation is, I remember that I can always make it worse.” At the end, thoughtful, planned, and tested solution was the winning one, not the fear-driven rushed act.

My take-away from this bonus story was that fixes to problems should not be rushed. They need to be determined through careful thought, planning, and testing. If managers jump into quick fixes, especially with the fear of negative consequences of the failure and drive to make up for it quickly, then they may cause a worse problem or a brief masking of the problem that may continue to make customers’ experiences undesirable.

A score is a score; failure is failure. Viewing a failure as an opportunity to learn or innovate an even better solution is what brings the success!