Building Buy-In for Customer-Centric Initiatives

Facilitate Group Interviews with Key Stakeholders to Build Trust and Momentum

April 21, 2005

If your goal is to get everyone in your company fanatically aligned around a common goal (delivering a great customer experience), here’s a proven approach. Based on over twenty years of in-the-field experience, we offer our group interview technique. Projects and programs in which this technique have been used have taken root deeper, resonated longer, and built much more traction than projects that rely on standard one-on-one or departmental interviews for requirements gathering and priority setting.


The Other Guys Are Creating Problems for Our Customers!

Nobody wants to be part of an organization that annoys or frustrates its customers. Yet employees often feel that the problems their customers face were created by bad policies, broken systems, or, worse, inept colleagues in other parts of the organization.

Here’s a typical example, from the customer experience director of a residential cable company:

Each of our departments does the best job they can to make customers happy, but in doing so, they often compound a customer issue. When a customer complains about an outage, the customer support representative may offer him a refund for the time lost or a free upgrade to Internet service. Mollified, the customer accepts the complimentary Internet service offer.

When the field service representative arrives to install the upgrade, the customer expects the installation to be free, but the field service technician doesn’t know that. He knows he has to get paid for the work he does in the field and get the customer to sign off on it. He suspects that the customer support representative offered to “comp” the customer a month’s free service, but he knows that the phone representative doesn’t have the authority to waive the installation fee. He explains this to the customer.

But the result is that the customer is annoyed twice and is now convinced that he’s dealing with a customer-unfriendly organization. Then, to compound the situation, the customer’s next bill is confusing. There’s a new service charge that the customer doesn’t understand; it looks as if he hasn’t been credited for the outage; and he has been billed for the Internet service upgrade, which was supposed to be free. Now, the customer is really upset! He doesn’t want to pay the bill, but he also doesn’t want to spend more time on the phone dealing with an organization that obviously doesn’t have its act together.

Inadvertent and compounding mistakes like these are unfortunately very common in almost every complex business. Solving these kinds of problems typically requires major end-to-end process redesign, business policy changes, and technology glue.

Even if you want to streamline the end-to-end customer experience, it’s difficult to get the top-down support and the purview to do so. And it’s equally hard to convince your cynical colleagues that there’s any way to fix problems that are seemingly deep rooted and intractable. So, even if you do manage to muster the will, gain the charter, and commandeer the resources to streamline Customer Scenarios® that cross functional departments, you still have to convince the people in each functional area to work together toward a common goal. They’ve been through these kinds of initiatives before. They’re shell shocked and skeptical. They know that if the people in the other departments would get their acts together, there wouldn’t be so many customer-impacting screwups, but they don’t see any way that things will actually improve this time around.


What’s the best way to begin to build the will and the desire to fix problems that cross functional areas? Over the years, we’ve found a simple technique that goes a long way toward building trust among skeptical, but well-intentioned, stakeholders. We interview them together, in cross-functional groups--getting them to build a collective picture of how bad things really are, and a collective vision of how great things really could be.

Group Interviews Build Trust

We’ve been using the simple technique of conducting group interviews for over twenty years. I learned this approach from my father, John Seybold, who was a labor arbitrator before he became a business/technology consultant helping publishers all over the world transform their publishing operations from hot metal typesetting to electronic editing, composition, and page make-up. When I apprenticed with my Dad, I noticed that every consulting project included several group meetings with diverse constituents.

At a big city newspaper, for example, the linotype operators, word processing supervisors, reporters, editors, ad takers, and ad sales representatives would often be included in the same meetings. My dad ran these sessions as if he were holding a big dinner party. He would artfully get everyone talking about problems and issues, contributing their views, sounding off, and making suggestions. Because he was a skilled arbitrator, he managed to turn people’s accusations about “the other guys’ stupidity” into objective descriptions of what went wrong, how and why, with no personal judgments or character assassination.

In fact, one of the benefits of a group interview is that people are unlikely to attack people personally. They’re much more likely to share their grievances and commiserate with one another. In individual interviews, on the other hand, people often feel that it’s OK to bad-mouth the other guy.

Group Interviews Are Time Efficient

Most internal and external consultants use interviews as an important part of any change process. You interview your sponsor, you interview key stakeholders, you interview customers, you interview management. Setting up and conducting lots of interviews is actually a very time-consuming and costly process for everyone involved. And, while interviewing a lot of people gets the consultants up to speed and makes people “feel heard,” individual interviews don’t actually make anything happen. Group interviews do.

GROUP INTERVIEWS BEGIN THE CONSENSUS-BUILDING PROCESS. If you pull a cross-functional set of people into a group interview for an hour or two, you save countless hours of scheduling, as well as interviewers’ time. But much more important, by bringing everyone together to contribute collectively to the solution of a set of seemingly intractable issues, you have actually started ...

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