From reading the business press it would be fair to assume that customer experience is high on the agenda of many business executives. 

But is that really the case or are too many senior managers just talking the talk and not walking the walk? Is your company one of those that is just paying lip service? 

Read on to see if your company passes this tongue in cheek test.

Now I have no reason to doubt that the pronouncements made by these managers are not sincere. I am pleased that what I believe is a topic vital to the long term health of organisations has come to the fore. 

The sceptic in me, however, is reminded of the title of a business book by Ellen C Shapiro called Fad Surfing in the Boardroom’

A subtle mixture of irreverence and a hidden truth, the book points out how many executives are seduced by the latest business fashion. I am convinced that, for many, management is a fashion business, particularly management education and publishing. 

If recent research by the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) is anything to go by, customer experience fad surfing is alive and well in the utility sector.  

It points out that:

“27 percent of customers who had contacted a utility company by telephone in the last 12 months stated they were dissatisfied with the way in which their call had been handled”

The CAB compares that with the much more favourable performance of retail (16%) and financial service (17%) companies. 

By the way, dissatisfying every fifth or sixth customer is hardly a benchmark to aspire to. And another thing; if executives are so sincere in their pronouncements of the importance of customer experience, why do we need so many regulators to stand up for the customer? 

Ofgem, Ofcom, Ofwat, Ofthis, Ofthat – they seem to breeding. I wonder how much corporation tax executives could save their companies by negating the need for all these quangos by really caring for their customers? 

If you want to know if your company is a leader or a lip server, try the following test for size:

1. Senior managers say that the customer is everybody’s business – but nobody’s actually held accountable for the quality of the customer experience. 

This is an old favourite of fad surfers where it’s all talk and no action. Everybody agrees on the importance of the customer experience but when it comes to action and budget “it’s not me guv” is the common refrain.

2. An all singing, all dancing customer experience programme is devised and launched with the chief exec acting as head cheerleader. Once the show is over however, he or she is never seen again. 

Your company expounds the importance of long term relationships with customers but then dumps them at the first sign of trouble. This often goes hand in hand with the ‘monogamy for you, polygamy for me’ school of relationships. 

3. Customer experience becomes so important it is measured – once a year! 

A few years ago I wrote an article called “Why the annual do you love us survey doesn’t work”. Imagine a board of directors trying to manage a business with only one set of financial figures each year; providing only one chance to understand and, more importantly, address performance. 

It just wouldn’t happen but for many companies that is still how they approach the measurement of customer experience.

4. Promoters of the ‘ultimate question’ faith suggest that you only need one number. 

Hmmmm. Imagine how you would feel when the next time you fly the pilot says: “Today I will be flying this complex machine through a dynamically changing environment using just the altimeter”

Well I’d be relieved that the pilot knew we wouldn’t be ploughing into mountain tops or falling into the sea but more than a bit concerned that we might run out of fuel, be heading in the wrong direction or flying upside down.

5. Your company invests heavily in researching customers and gathering their feedback but it seems to hit a wall after the results have been presented. 

Actions are what count, not numbers!  Before designing the questionnaire, build the organisational processes for sharing and acting on the results. Customers like to be heard but they like that you do something to make their life better even more.

6. This one is a beauty. Your company understands the importance of delivering a great customer experience and invests heavily in multi channel marketing programmes but stands idly by when email requests and complaints driven from the website or the call centre are ignored. 

All flash, no substance.

7. Salespeople, those that win the business, are sent on exotic trips to sunny climes but the delivery and support people whose good work underpins the retention of customers get sent to Clacton (apologies to Clacton). 

8. The marketing director bashes on about the importance of the brand to a successful business and squeezes an even bigger budget for that flash ad campaign but then fails to properly train the people who deal with prospects and customers. 

9. The board spends ages talking about quality but all the measures relate to quantity.

10. And the final test. When it comes to customer experience do your senior managers practice communication or communiaction?

The former may be spelled correctly but the latter is the real key to success. Fad surfers would do well to heed the wise words of philosopher Henry David Thoreau: “I cannot hear your words for the action that thunders above your head.” 

If you answered ‘We do that’ to less than 2, you’re probably one of the leaders in providing a good customer experience. 

If, however, your company is guilty of more than 6 then you probably should look for another job - the customer probably doesn’t love you. 

The optimist in me hopes that 2008 will be the year when we all walk the talk.  The cynic in me is reminded by a comment one wag made when asked if his managers walked the talk. 

“No,” he said. “Our managers struggle to stumble the mumble”.

PS - I would welcome your examples of the ways your organisation practices its fad surfing in the customer experience world.