Innovative CX initiative aligns internal measures with customers’ perceptions of performance.
Most organizations take an inside-out approach when it comes to customer management strategies. They measure performance and base decisions largely on internal benchmarks and metrics that frame the company’s perspective of what is important to customers.
For Ciena Corporation, understanding customers’ views of the brand and how well it meets their expectations called for an “inside-out/outside-in” approach. The telecommunications network solutions provider’s “One Version of the Truth” initiative compares key internal metrics against customer perceptions to identify misalignments, which are depicted in a visual scorecard that provides the company with a unified view of the customer, says Sandra Fornasier, CCXP, Global Director of the Ciena’s Customer Experience Specialists (CXS) team. “‘One Version of the Truth’ is a visual approach that we take,” she says. “It starts with a tool, but it leads to deep conversation and proactive change.”
It’s a compelling strategy that was recently recognized by the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA) with a CX Innovation Award—an award presented to companies that demonstrate innovative techniques to improve customer experience and business results.
Closing Gaps Between Internal and External Views
The CXPA award marks a milestone in Ciena’s internal customer experience journey. It started three years ago when Fornasier and her team launched a corporatewide strategic initiative to develop a customer experience vision that would align with Ciena’s brand, culture and long-term business objectives.
As a brand, Ciena is “the network specialist”—it is well-known in its market for product innovation, reliability and quality customer support. “When you’re in the B2B space, you have long, enduring relationships with your customers,” Fornasier says. But, as the saying goes, innovation knows no boundaries—Ciena execs wanted to go from good to best and to truly differentiate the company through customer experience.
To develop a long-term customer experience strategy, Fornasier began to research what made customers passionate about doing business with Ciena. After talking with customers and analyzing past customer data, “we discovered that, naturally, our customers needed us to meet their needs at every turn and to be easy to do business with,” she says. “But there was also an emotional component around value creation. When we create value for our customers—whether it’s from a personal or a business perspective—that has the greatest impact on the overall customer experience.”
The CXS team then began to examine internal performance metrics. “In telecommunications, we measure everything. There are internal KPIs that are dictated by telecom standards, metrics that are dictated by what you believe your customer wants, and how they measure success,” Fornasier says. “But this industry does not stand still. Our business is transforming continuously, and our customers’ expectations are constantly evolving.”
The key challenge was aligning all of the internal functions under one customer experience vision. “We have a very customer-centric culture in which our people always put customers first; however, most of the customer initiatives took place within the functional areas,” Fornasier explains. “Everyone was trying to do the best that they could for the customer, but not with a shared intent. There was no articulated vision of the lasting memory that we want to leave with our customers every time we interact with them and at every touch point.”
Fornasier met with each functional owner to find out how they measured performance for their operations. She discovered that every operation was very keen on understanding how well they were performing. In fact, some areas reported tracking as many as 15 different metrics, she recalls, adding that “we had to have some tough conversations to come up with just one or two metrics that are most reflective of what the customer is experiencing.”
The CXS team then developed a customer journey map that identified all of the key touchpoints along with the internal metrics at each point. After adding the customer perception measures, they found that sometimes the internal perception of how they were executing on KPIs did not align with the customers’ perception. “We needed to understand why those gaps existed so that we could get closer alignment between how we saw ourselves performing and how customers saw us performing,” Fornasier says.
A Visual Approach Prompts Meaningful Conversations
To convey their findings to senior execs and functional owners in a compact and impactful way, Fornasier and her team created a visual scorecard that displayed the internal and external measures for each customer touchpoint.
It had an immediate and powerful effect. Discussions focused on identifying the gaps between internal and external perceptions and determining whether the internal KPIs were still the appropriate measures or if they needed to be modified, for instance, if customer expectations had changed—or whether the business and/or customers’ businesses had transformed so much that the company needed to change its internal measures.
“There was also cause for celebration,” she says. “There were areas where we thought we were doing great and the customers thought we were doing fantastic—and it gave us an opportunity to celebrate those wins, as well.”
The scorecard has been automated over the past few months, but no matter what format it takes, Fornasier says that the priority is making sure that the information gets in front of the functional stakeholders, midline managers and executives on a monthly basis “so that we can identify, as an organization, what we need to do to bridge the gaps and take action on it.”
Internal Champions Maintain Momentum
The visual scorecard played a vital role in providing the organizationwide “aha” moment that was the catalyst for aligning internal and external performance measures. Fornasier and her team kept the momentum going by forming a crossfunctional team of Customer Experience Champions. The team is comprised of 25 to 30 managers and directors who meet monthly to review the scorecard, identify improvement opportunities and keep the initiatives moving forward.
While the Champions are responsible for driving customer experience initiatives within their own operations, “the magic happens when they meet crossfunctionally,” she says. “We can review the dashboard and better understand whether a metric is problematic, and if that is symptomatic of another part of the customer journey that we need to focus on.” In addition to the monthly meetings, the customer experience champions get together three or four times each year for a two-day session to discuss customer experience performance on a more strategic level and to align the initiatives with long-term corporate goals.
This year, the company added a new role—Executive Customer Experience Champions—senior leaders whose active participation helps to demonstrate the organization’s commitment to customer experience and to ensure crossfunctional collaboration.
Having executive champions has helped to eliminate silos within the customer journey, Fornasier says. Since establishing the top-level champion role, the customer experience initiatives have expanded beyond the functional areas. Now about half of the initiatives that are launched focus on the handoffs between touchpoints, she says. “Before, everyone concentrated on what can I do in my space? Now the initiatives are about what can we do when we move the customer from one touchpoint to another? How do we work together to make those handoffs smoother? Currently, 50% of our initiatives have multiple functions involved to improve the overall customer journey, which is far more powerful than each silo working on its own.”
Within Ciena, Fornasier also has noticed a telling change over the years: Customer experience has become a regular topic of conversation. “Executives are talking more about customer experience and the successes that functions are having around improving experience,” she says. “It’s becoming a central part of everyday discussions.”
Creating a Groundswell for Customer Experience
While executive support can provide companywide initiatives with the much-needed authority and credibility for change, getting employees on board is also critical for long-term success.
“It has to be executive-led to a certain degree,” Fornasier says, “But there also has to be a groundswell that makes it feel like it’s coming from the organization—so that employees feel that improving the customer experience is part of their everyday activities and objectives, as well.”
The CXS team created that groundswell—first by introducing the Customer Experience Champions who drive the initiatives within their operations. They continued to engage employees through companywide customer experience workshops, which pulled together a crossfunctional group of employees for a one-day, hands-on learning forum. (Crossfunctional groups work best because it eliminates functional blinders, she says, adding: “The group’s strength is in diversity at the table.”)
Workshop participants start by reviewing the latest customer feedback and then are asked to come up with five things that the individuals within the group could impact together. “Then we put together a plan for improvement on those five things,” she explains. “Employees come out of the workshop with a deeper understanding of what behaviors customers are looking for, our strengths and weaknesses, how to drive value and a plan that they can take back to their departments and discuss with their peers.”
Passion Drives Change
The work that Fornasier and her team have accomplished over the past three years has had a remarkable impact on customer perceptions, business results and, importantly, has created an internal passion for continuously improving the customer experience.
That was one of the qualities that distinguished the company among the CXPA award nominees, says Tabitha Dunn, VP, Customer Experience, Concur Technologies, and co-lead for the 2016 Insight Exchange where the awards presentation took place. “Driving change is at the heart of customer experience,” she says. “To be successful, you have to have passion and commitment to overcome obstacles, to get people to change what they’re doing and to think differently. That is what stands out about Ciena—they have such a passion for their customers and excitement about the work that they’re doing.”
Customer-centric change also requires discipline and determination, says Fornasier. “It doesn’t happen overnight,” she says. It’s a long haul—you have to focus on the wins and keep pushing it forward and trying new things. Customer experience has to be part of your corporate strategy, otherwise, it becomes an add-on and people may not get around to it. Your customer experience vision should be your guiding light—it has to be aligned to your brand and it has to feel authentic to your company. And most importantly, it has to be something that you can deliver on.
“Our customer experience vision is founded on the DNA of a company that is known for being innovative from a technology perspective,” she adds. “To be recognized for being innovative in the customer experience discipline reinforces how innovative this company is from every aspect.”
Industry Awards Foster Innovation and Learning
Awards programs like the CX Innovation Awards are more than just an opportunity to recognize individuals and companies that demonstrate the creativity and drive to bring about change within their organizations.
According to Ciena Corporation’s Sandra Fornasier, they also help to increase visibility of the profession. “Customer experience as a profession needs to be better known,” she says. “Awards like this reinforce the importance of customer experience and that it’s a vital piece of any corporate strategy.”
Tabitha Dunn, VP, Customer Experience, Concur Technologies and co-lead for the 2016 Insight Exchange, agrees: “Customer experience is becoming more of a forefront for various companies in their strategy. They’re recognizing it as a way to differentiate their companies. Part of that differentiation is getting recognized for the hard work that they’ve put into making their customer experience not only better, but unique.”
Dunn adds that participating in awards programs is also a great learning experience. It gives you an opportunity to critique your own processes and reflect on the effectiveness of your initiatives, as well as a chance to learn from your peers.
She recommends that leaders keep awards programs in mind throughout the year, not just once a year when the submission notice comes out. “What I’ve noticed about past award winners is that many of them had it in mind that they wanted to develop an award-winning program or drive an award-winning change,” she says. “That set a bar of excellence for them to achieve while they were doing the work, and it adds energy and enthusiasm to the changes that you’re trying to drive.”
For more information about the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA) or the CX Innovation Awards, visit www.cxpa.org .