What Does Surfing Have to Do with Strengthening Client Relationships?
By Lesley Boucher, Vice President of Consulting & Customer Experience, ORI
Have you ever been lucky enough to sit on a beach on a gorgeous summer day and watch the passing scene? Blue sky, waves crashing against the sand, surfers effortlessly catching the perfect wave and riding it victoriously into shore … Who needs to be thinking about customer experience on a gorgeous day like this?
Clearly you know where this is headed. While burying my toes in the sand and clearing my brain of the prior week—competing priorities, racing to keep up, heavy traffic (you know the drill)—I suddenly realized that the surfer’s ride was not effortless. Indeed, the seemingly simple perfection was the result of a true understanding of the surrounding environment, some serious heavy lifting and skill development, and a strong determination to position herself in the right spot at the right time.
Sound familiar? Isn’t this our same goal when we focus on strengthening client relationships and embark on developing a robust and effective customer experience program? Let me elaborate:
True Understanding of the Surrounding Environment
Any surfer knows how to scan the weather forecast at home and pick her day at the beach accordingly. Why try and catch a few waves when there won’t be any? A good surfer takes that a step further and actively reads the changing environment while paddling on her board: How have the waves been building in the past hour and given the changing tides? What is likely to happen in the hour ahead? Is there a competing surfer who tends to get in the way and steal the best waves by being better positioned?
Customer experience enthusiasts will recognize the connection here: In order to truly understand our customers and the environment we are selling into, we need every data point we can grab to inform our decisions. This includes customer feedback (like focus groups and survey responses), insights from daily interactions, and transactional sales data. I equate this to the weather forecast: using structured data to make your best possible guess as to the type of waves you are trying to ride. What does your customer value, and how can you serve them better?
To be a good surfer, however, you must actively read the changing environment while paddling on the board. How do you spot the potential for a riptide before being dragged out to sea? Will you be able to recognize the signs of a perfect wave before it passes you by? This is where the value behind unstructured data emerges—in all of that customer insight that is swirling around you in the form of open-ended survey feedback, emails, chat logs, and audio transcriptions. There is truly an ocean of insight (pardon the pun) to be accessed in order to understand the “why” behind the “what.” Sure, I may know that my customers are lukewarm about a new offering—my structured data tells me that. But why aren’t they enthusiastic fans? What is my competitor doing that is drawing my customers away? Reading the changing environment in real time requires systematic listening—drawing upon unstructured data from every source you can find and translating all of those data sources into actionable insights.
Heavy Lifting & Skill Development
Do you ever feel like that new surfer out there who enthusiastically grabs a wave, stands up, and almost instantly gets thrown off the board by the changing dynamic underfoot? If so, you are not alone. Every great surfer has had their share of wipeouts—and got started by learning the basics and logging plenty of hours perfecting their skills. Getting to know your customers (and the ebbs and flows of their wants and needs) is no different.
I have the privilege of regularly attending customer experience networking events where leaders across large and small organizations (in the public and private sectors) share new ideas, challenges they have overcome, and frustrations they continue to face. Our discussions also focus on what we learn from failure and how to anticipate that next “shift” in our footing. There is no question that a well-formulated customer experience program requires some heavy lifting and new skill development for everyone involved—particularly as customer needs change as quickly as we adjust to the shifting landscape. (If you or a colleague would like to participate in these discussions, the local D.C. network of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA) is one of my favorite CX learning environments, and I would be happy to share more if interested.)
Determination & Being in the Right Place at the Right Time
Truly understanding what your customers value, why they value it, and what is changing in their worlds takes you a long way toward catching that perfect wave by being in the right place at the right time. In my experience, however, a critical additional component in all of this is strong leadership combined with a steadfast determination to make the changes required to convert transactional customers into raving fans. It’s about consistency and what I like to call a “maniacal focus.” Great surfers don’t paddle out on any given sunny day and randomly catch a perfect wave. Determination and a well-articulated, consistent vision around the endgame goes a long way in engaging your team and ensuring they are paddling as hard as you are to catch the same beautiful wave.