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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Thum, Ph.D., CCXP

Do CX Professionals Need New Leadership Skills Now? Four Longtime Execs Weigh In.

There are two big things that we know to be true about the world of customer experience right now.

First, things are changing fast. So much of what we've grown up with is becoming “the old way” of doing things.

Second, the demands on customer experience leaders have never been more complex. There’s never been more pressure to lead remote teams and transform customer-focused systems quickly.

And that got me thinking.

What leadership skills do customer experience pros need now versus just one year ago?

There is no one right answer. Context always matters. We need a variety of voices, both experienced and new, to get things right.

Experts Weigh In

I recently wrote down some points on customer experience leadership based on my experience and research in this blog post. And during a recent Zoom happy hour with four of my fellow CX veteran colleagues, I asked for a group mind-meld on this subject.

As expected, they had some excellent counsel on how CX leaders can make sense of the new realities. Here is what they said.

Become Adept at Predicting Customer Behavior Based on New Expectations.

Customer experience took center stage in the last year, and that was out of necessity. Customers could no longer shop and interact in familiar ways due to the pandemic, and leaders had to step up and design new experiences. Customers have different expectations than they did just a few months ago and these shifting expectations will continue to move at lightning speed.

Proactive customer experience is about knowing what the customer needs when they need it, or in some cases before they know they need it. To deliver this well, CX leaders will need to keep their finger on the pulse of not only their customers but all customers. What do people need and how do they need to get it? The pandemic accelerated digital transformation and customers are responding with loyalty. The next phase will be about predicting what customers need as things move to not-so-normal, almost-normal, and the next normal.

Jeannie Walters, Keynote Speaker, CEO and Chief Customer Experience Investigator, Experience Investigators

CX Leaders are Change Leaders at Their Core.

While so much in the world has changed in the last year, the importance of human connections intensified. This has been challenging as businesses needed to quickly transform into digital experiences to serve their customers while leaders have needed to manage their teams remotely. In some cases, this dynamic has required learning new skills. In others, CX leaders have had the opportunity to amplify their time-tested authentic CX behaviors.

Getting back to the basics of CX leadership: engaging employees’ hearts and minds by inspiring them to deliver the best experience for customers has never been more important. CX leaders are change leaders at their core. When it matters most to them, customers want the option to engage with a live agent, demonstrating the importance of the human connection and the need for employees to be trained to solve problems. CX leaders must empower employees with new skills to operate remotely, problem solve, innovate, and adapt to the needs of the customer.

As we continue to live in extraordinary times, the need for authentic CX leadership has never been greater. Being a company with a purpose and heart is critical. Focusing on proven CX practices while adapting new skills will ensure a more resilient and caring employee experience, which will translate into long term customer value...human to human.

Karyn Furstman, VP CX for Rational, a Wipro company

Change Management Skills Are a Must.

This is an interesting question because customer experience professionals need to have such a vast array of leadership skills and abilities – always. As a matter of fact, these professionals must be leaders in every sense of the word when it comes to customer experience: model, reinforce, teach, coach, mentor, advise, support, etc. They’ve got to be trainers, educators, influencers, problem solvers, change managers, change agents, evangelists, listeners, analyzers, assessors, auditors, planners, coordinators, collaborators, advisors, coaches, entrepreneurs, innovators, communicators, designers, researchers, project managers, strategists, and critical thinkers.

Thinking about the skills that became even more critical in the last year, without a doubt, change management sits high on the list. Along with that goes strategic thinking, empathy, communication, motivation, flexibility, and agility. It’s no surprise that being able to adapt and change is critical to success during a crisis, and those leaders and professionals who employed those skills found themselves, their teams, and their organizations surviving and thriving in the last year.

Annette Franz—Author, Speaker, Founder, and CEO of CX Journey Inc.

Humanity and Authenticity.

I’ve seen a drastic change over the last 12 months. We used to marvel at those who could execute and talk the talk – the driving forces in our operations and our change leadership seats. And corporate America seemed to stare with amusement at people who really knew how to connect with their team members. As long as they got the results, their “approach” was tolerated – often talked about in whispers – but tolerated. I call them the “connected leaders.”

With the band-aid rip off of March 2020 – people not having the ability to do a swing by/hallway chat to create a moment of connection (faux or not) with their teams, we suddenly saw what a dearth in leadership and engagement non-connected leaders had created.

Employees were left sitting on an island, with superfluous check-ins and being asked in group Zoom chats how they were doing. They didn’t have the support of the teammate who sat on the other side of the cube wall and now had the chaos of home to contend with on top of a lack of support.

The connected leaders rapidly saw that this wasn’t working and dove deep. These are the leaders who set up more 1-1s than ever before. Who had skip levels. Who figured out ways to keep their teams together even though physically distanced. These connected leaders took the time to call their team members and have a real conversation about how they were doing. They cared. And it showed.

These leaders are the leaders who have teams that have continued to execute. And although it is too soon to tell, I’ll bet that these leaders are the leaders who won’t see a massive flight from their teams when we re-enter the post-vaccinated world. People have seen what it is like to have a window into each other’s lives – and into their leaders’ lives. And although sometimes uncomfortable, often amusing – this level of humanity only increases our connectivity – and, our engagement with the team, the leader, and the company.

Ingrid Lindberg—Keynote Speaker and Founder and CXO of Chief Customer

Making Sense of Chaos Moving Forward

It may be true that so much of what we have grown up with in the world of customer experience has become the old way of doing things.

But some things will never change. Product, price, and easy service will always matter. Listening to customers, responding to opportunities, looking after employees, and keeping your eye on the customer data will always matter.

But there’s more now. Just like the discipline of customer experience has evolved and will continue to evolve, so will the leadership skills we need to remain relevant in the C-Suite.

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