In today’s digital-first world, achieving great customer experiences is more challenging than ever. Customers interact with companies in a dizzying array of places. They no longer only interact with a call center worker or a delivery driver; they liaise with email campaigns, chatbots, review sites, and social media. Companies have tried to adapt to this digital-first, omnichannel environment for years. But many have failed to create great, unified customer experiences. Research has shown that standout customer experiences are fueled by new, cross-functional collaborations across organizations. Customer experience can no longer be driven by the frontline sales representative or even a dedicated customer experience team — everyone in your organization has a role to play. This article explores how leaders can lay the foundation for great customer experiences within their company walls before it’s served up to customers. It requires a cross-functional commitment and collaborative execution.
In late 2021, the online food delivery company, DoorDash, announced that all employees — including its engineers and top executives — would be required to participate in food deliveries (“dashes”) at least once a month. The goal of the employee initiative was to fuel a “customer-obsessed mindset” by bringing employees closer to the customer, all in an effort to make the service “1% better every day.”
Many companies have gone to similar great lengths to improve the customer experience, and for good reason. Improving it, even by a sliver, can generate tens of millions of dollars of revenue by reducing customer churn and upping customer spending.
In today’s digital-first world, achieving great customer experiences is more challenging than ever. Customers interact with companies in a dizzying array of places. They no longer only interact with a call center worker or a delivery driver; they liaise with email campaigns, chatbots, review sites, and social media.
Standout customer experiences require new cross-functional relationships.
Companies have tried to adapt to this digital-first, omnichannel environment for years. But many have failed to create great, unified customer experiences. In the U.S., customer satisfaction ratings are at an all-time low, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).
At The Work Innovation Lab by Asana — a future-of-work think tank that helps companies adapt to the changing nature of work — much of our research focuses on helping companies understand how they are collaborating and how they can do so more effectively. We call this actionable understanding “collaborative intelligence.”
In our research, we’ve found that standout customer experiences are fueled by new, cross-functional collaborations across organizations. Customer experience can no longer be driven by the frontline sales representative or even a dedicated customer experience team — everyone in your organization has a role to play.
For example, delivering a great customer experience depends on having strong collaboration between your customer experience and product teams — more so now than in the past, according to our research. Tight feedback loops between these teams enable the customer voice (current and prospective) to more quickly and representatively be incorporated into product development and, in turn, give life to better customer experiences.
A common way to improve the customer experience is to share and learn from customer feedback. However, customer feedback is often only shared with a subset of employees. When feedback is shared more broadly with all employees, it can fuel better customer experiences. This was the case for home improvement company BuildDirect, a business that Rebecca Hinds and Stanford Professor Bob Sutton have studied in-depth.
Initially, only top executives at BuildDirect could access negative customer reviews. But, over time, the company decided to give all employees access to the reviews in the service of a better customer experience. Everyone from all parts of the company started to feel more accountability for the customer experience and pitch in cross-functionally to improve it.
Adopt a more cross-functional approach to “dogfooding.”
DoorDash’s employee program is a modern-day example of “dogfooding,” (using your own product as a customer would, to figure out what works and what doesn’t) or “drinking your own champagne” (when employees test their company’s own products and service internally before or while delivering them to customers).
To deliver next-level customer experiences, dogfooding in the traditional sense isn’t enough. Instead, employees need to work together in new cross-functional ways to share product and other learnings across their organization.
At one company that we’ve studied — Guild, a B Corp that partners with HR and people teams at leading Fortune 1000 companies to deliver career mobility programs — employees use the company’s career mobility platform in ways that help develop a great experience for customers. Salonee Shah, director of the company’s “Work Lab,” explained to us that Guild’s people team and larger employee base of “Guilders” not only “drink their own champagne” by using Guild’s career mobility platform, but they also act as “the vineyard.” As end-to-end users of the platform designed to support their own career mobility journeys, Guilders are encouraged to provide real-time feedback and share new use cases with the company’s product and partnership teams in ways that power better customer experiences because they are based on real experiences.
Depending on your business and who your “ideal” customer is, the cross-functional relationships that matter most for achieving a great customer experience will differ. As a leader, you should be able to measure how extensively different functional teams at your company are collaborating to deliver the end-to-end customer experience. You can then decide whether collaboration is strong enough — and correct course if not.
Investing in new technologies isn’t enough to create great customer experiences.
When companies want to up-level the customer experience, a common tactic is to invest in new algorithmic or artificial intelligence (AI)-powered technologies. These shiny technologies are enticing, and can be valuable, such as for creating more personalized customer experiences. But they are unlikely to bear economic fruit if their end users aren’t deeply involved in the implementation.
In studying how dozens of companies have implemented AI-powered technology, we’ve found that many companies don’t involve cross-functional teams in the development and implementation of the new technology as much as they should. Customer-service teams are asked to use new technology (to, for example, better predict customer needs) without understanding how this technology has been selected or designed. In these cases, they’re likely to see the technology as threatening to their expertise and autonomy and resist using it — or they might merely pretend to use it.
IT and data science teams can’t operate in silos when implementing new technology. You need to involve other functional groups — as “humans in the loop” — during the implementation process. At one large department store chain that Hinds studied as part of her Ph.D. research, the company invited frontline customer service workers to twice-weekly standups with engineering teams as it rolled out new AI-powered customer experience technology. As a top executive at the company explained to us, “the walls came down” as new cross-functional collaborative relationships formed, and customer service workers began to embrace the new technology to improve the customer experience rather than resist it.
Before introducing new technology aimed at enhancing the customer experience, assess how much collaboration is happening between your front-line customer experience workers who will use the technology and your data science or IT teams who are formally responsible for the rollout. Developing new cross-functional practices like standups, check-ins, or other feedback loops before and during the rollout can help to drive a more successful rollout.
All employees should play a part in the customer experience, together.
Each of your employees has an important role to play in enhancing the customer experience. At DoorDash, even the CEO is expected to participate in monthly dashes. At one company that we studied, the CEO started personally listening to customer support transcripts to be able to step inside the customer’s shoes and understand how to create a better customer experience.
But great customer experience requires more than just a company-wide effort — it requires cross-functional collaboration and fewer silos. A good place to start is to make sure there’s a highly visible place (such as a Slack channel) for any employee, across any function of your company, to submit opportunities to improve the customer experience and cross-functionally propose and design solutions.
When upleveling the customer experience in a digitally-enabled world, there can be a near-compulsion to invest in new technologies. But more or shinier technology isn’t the key to success — it’s the cross-functional pursuit of better customer experiences. Leaders need to lay the foundation for great customer experiences within their company walls before it’s served up to customers. It requires a cross-functional commitment and collaborative execution.