Beyond Buy-in. 5 Stages of CX Engagement

Man improving CX engagement

You’ve read a ton of blogs, articles, emails, and corporate-y research reports since you first googled customer experience management back in 1873. You attended all those free webinars in the early days of the pandemic, before we all got so sick of Zoom meetings we wanted to claw our own eyes out. And you’ve heard that CX engagement begins with getting buy-in, executive alignment, shared vision, thought alignment, or pick-your-favorite-buzzword-de-jour.

If you can get buy-in, they promise, your CX initiative will be funded, staffed, and successful.

That sounds great—but it’s not true.

If buy-in were enough to create change, then New Year’s Resolutions would have a 100% success rate.

Think about it. Everyone is bought-in on January 1. Gym memberships skyrocket. Alcohol sales plummet. Everyone’s downloading couch-to-5k running plans and mocktail recipes. And sometime around March, buy-in gets a sucker-punch from reality.

That happens at work too. Ever heard the words “conflicting priorities?”

They’re the words of doom. The CX breakup words. The words your colleague says when he pushes your CX project to the side of his desk, inching it ever closer to the wastebasket of failed corporate initiatives. “The VP of Operations didn’t prioritize training,” one leader told me, “so our CX didn’t improve.” Conflicting priorities.

Buy-in isn’t enough. We need to move our stakeholders beyond buy-in to action.

There are 5 stages of CX engagement—Ignorance, Skepticism, Buy-in, Commitment, and Action. Think of each person who affects your success. Identify which stage they’re currently in, and plan how to move them toward the Action stage.

But how?

Influence, of course. But choose your tactics based on the stage your person is in.

Stage 1 – Ignorance: “What is CX?”

Chances are, some of your coworkers are ignorant about CX.

In the year 2022, everyone has heard the words “customer experience”—maybe even spouted those words in a meeting to defend their opinion—but they don’t always know what the words mean. They don’t understand there’s a discipline for measuring and managing customer experiences.

Or—and this is the worst—they think they’re already doing it. “Oh, we don’t need to do in-depth interviews,” one VP told me, “our customer service agents talk to customers every day.”

When a stakeholder is in the Ignorance stage, forget about trying to get commitment or action because they won’t understand what you’re asking for. Instead, you need to educate and inform. The CX Magic Question is one way to set up a conversation where you can do that, while identifying challenges and obstacles you’ll need to overcome.

Stage 2 – Skepticism: “Is CX right for me?”

A skeptical stakeholder isn’t ignorant, but they aren’t convinced CX is the right investment.

Sometimes they aren’t connecting the dots to understand the return on investment (ROI) of CX. Other times, they don’t understand how CX would help solve their particular problem, like reducing operating costs or improving Average Handle Time (AHT) in the contact center.

With a skeptical stakeholder, try to identify why they are skeptical. If they don’t understand the ROI, you may need a better CX business case. Honestly, that’s the easier situation.

If they are resistant to change and new ideas, then you need to tap in to the psychology of persuasion. If they’re not listening to your awesome self, then bring in an outside authority figure—with no perceived agenda (that’s important)—as an advisor. Because of authority bias, they’ll be more likely to listen to the outside expert.

Stage 3 – Buy-in: “Someone should do CX.”

This is the New Year’s Resolution stage. The stakeholder believes that CX is probably a good idea that someone should pursue—and that someone is usually not them.

But CX is a team sport, and we need them to put on a uniform—and commit time, people, or money to the project.

In this stage, using the Scarcity Principle to create FOMO—the fear of missing out—works wonders. You’re already familiar with this tactic. It’s the force behind every limited time offer, countdown timer, sale that ends at midnight, late-night infomercial, and Black Friday doorbuster deal.

At work, you can create scarcity to attract commitment. Time? Use a deadline. Money? Use a budget. People? Limit the team size. Once, I persuaded a VP to commit a person to the project by telling her the team size was limited to 10 people and there was only one spot left. That was true—I’m not a liar—but the decision to only accept 10 people was, shall we say, somewhat arbitrary.

Stage 4 – Commitment: “I’ll contribute to CX.”

Commitment—huge step forward! Not only did they make the New Year’s Resolution, they bought the gym membership.

But they still haven’t exercised.

And those “competing priorities” lurk behind every decision. With time, money, and people in limited supply—and always more work than it’s humanly possible to do—we need our stakeholders to act.

If you have a stakeholder who’s not following through on their commitment, try using Social Proof.

In the Amazon era, we’re all familiar with testimonials, online reviews, and star ratings. They show our tired brains what everyone else is doing. And if everyone else is doing it, maybe we should do it too. Use this psychology to turn commitment into action.

When you have some coworkers contributing, share their progress with those who aren’t. Share it publicly and privately. Talk about the great work they’re doing. Socialize their participation, quick wins, and results. Show how it feels to be making a difference in your customers’ lives.

Stage 5 – Action: “I’m doing CX.”

Congratulations! You’ve done it! Not only did they buy the gym membership, but they’re climbing on the elliptical. Putting in the reps. Running the 5k. And you’re seeing progress.

Isn’t it amazing how much work you do before you actually do any work? Bringing people along on this journey can take months.

Don’t forget to nurture your early followers—as Derek Sivers says, it’s the first follower who turns a lone nut into a leader. (Seriously, watch this 3-minute TED Talk if you do nothing else today.)

Welcome these early-adopters as equals and share the credit for your achievements. Make it about them. Create a CX movement in your company.

Hey, CX Leader!

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