The Activity Trap: A Barrier to Customer Excellence

Communication departments have huge opportunities to improve the customer experience but many don’t capitalize on them. Why do they leave money on the table?

activity trap - The Activity Trap: A Barrier to Customer ExcellenceCommunication people tell me they’re mired in an activity trap that they can’t emerge from, yet they fully acknowledge that improving the customer experience would add more value. They believe social media and other activities that have traditionally been part of communication departments’ daily fare are making it difficult to pursue more value-adding work.

It’s clear that better communication management can influence the customer experience, which in turn can improve business results. Some communication practitioners understand this and are taking steps to improve. They’re enhancing their organizations and their careers.

Last week I participated in a program that focused on ways that well-managed communication can enhance the customer experience. We discussed the role external communication disciplines such as marketing communication, advertising and public relations can play to build the brand, influence the customer’s perception of the company and its products or services. That can translate to an increase in profitable sales.

It’s doable. We helped a global shipper improve the customer experience by better explaining its offerings and how customers could benefit from them. That plus improved internal communication with employees led to a 23 percent increase in sales and a 1,447 percent ROI.

Similarly, internal communication breakdowns with employees can negatively affect an organization’s quality or service, which, in turn, is felt by the customer. As an example, we helped a high tech engineering company improve communication among departments that needed to work together efficiently to meet shipping commitments to customers. On-time delivery went from 70-95 percent. The improvement led to a 30 percent increase in sales.

Why do some communication traditionalists eschew a chance to help make their organization more successful when they know the opportunity is there? It’s largely because they view their role–and perhaps station in life–as informers, not unlike journalists. Their passion is in communicating, not necessarily in fixing an organization’s operations.

However, there are many communication people who want to be viewed as value-adding problem solvers. So what can a communication person do to get back on track and start doing more work that matters to customers?

  • Re-think your work. Set aside your passionate desire to “get the word out”. Think about improving work that adds value to your organization. Value happens when you invest in something that produces a bigger return than the investment. Don’t think about activity; think about results. One of our clients adopted a business case that says simply: “We either make money or save money. If it doesn’t do one of these two things, we don’t do it.” Steal that value proposition. It’s all yours. And act on it.
  • Free up your plate, as difficult as that may sound. Formally or informally assess the work you do and honestly identify what can go away because it adds little or no value to your customers and shareholders. (Ask, would our customers be willing to pay for this (fill in the blank activity)? Be brutally honest. (I discussed the communication value-to-cost assessment in an earlier Leadership Report. It’s a rigorous way you can do an assessment). Don’t keep stuff on your plate for sentimental reasons.
  • Ask: Where are the best opportunities to improve our financial or operating performance by improving the customer experience? Priorities should be on those efforts that will generate the biggest gains for your organization. There are lots of opportunities among the various ways customers encounter you: billing, marketing and promotion, product performance, delivery, sales, and technical and customer service. Address the root causes of the lower than desired customer experience. Then move to priority two and so on. Celebrate successes and continuously improve. Keep measuring. Keep improving. Keep celebrating.
  • Document what you did and make it a big part of the work you do–improving business results that are greater than what it costs to make the improvements.

It’s doable because others are doing it. Dive in. Win. Have fun.

Key Takeaways: Communication people have a huge opportunity to manage communication to improve the customer experience. But for many it means getting out of the activity trap and into the business where the money gets made.

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