It’s time for a bit of positive discrimination
I was talking to Gordon Tredgold (our Leadership expert) about the implications of International Women’s Day and two things struck us. Firstly, an event only creates real value if it contributes to a sustained change culture and, secondly, women make really good customer experience change experts.
In fact, thinking about it I would say they are generally better than men.
I am not talking about the archetypal power-suited woman with the perfect coiffure set so strong it would double as a crash helmet, knuckle-crushing handshakes and an ice-cold stare.
No, I’m talking about those that have the soft skills to bridge the biggest gap in the customer experience world right now – and the ones that bridge best all seem to be women.
Customer experience has an elephant in the room and it never gets much airtime. I see books, articles, thought leadership blogs, keynote talks and masterclasses dedicated to advancing the whole subject area. All this thinking, ideas and technology is going to deliver scant reward if customer experience can’t get anything done. And this is the nub of the problem.
Customer experience was supposed to create experiences, emotions and loyalty that makes the customer buy more, more often, tell everybody about you and make their friends and colleagues buy from you too. It is supposed to represent focal point for the creation of the company’s wealth with all the other traditional functions of a company circulating around.
Except it has not worked out like that. Customer Experience in most companies is a function that reports into one of the other traditional functions that were first created at the beginning of the industrial revolution. They collect data, lots of data and they look at customer journeys and they try to influence the traditional business functions to change. A supportive CEO and collaborative business culture can make this easier but in reality, customer experience in most companies is impacted through influence because they quite simply do not have enough authority.
This is where women are much better than men.
An friend of mine is a coach. She always tells me she seems to attract more customers than any of her male counterparts. My customers seem to trust me – she tells me. When she practiced her new ideas on me, I could see why – there was an ability to listen with immense patience as I gabbled on about whatever injustice was hurting me that day. I was allowed to talk until I finished. I was grateful, and I felt that the respect that was accorded to me to allow me to carry on as much as I felt fit meant that the listener cared. If somebody cares, then trust is much more readily given.
The women I have seen in customer experience have many of the same traits – they demonstrate patience and care that much more readily. Sure, there are men around who can do the same but even though today’s business environment is not the testosterone fuelled alpha-male “Wall Street” type environment of 20 years ago, there is still an impulse to interrupt, get to the point – then move on.
Understand real problems and needs
When an executive sits in front of an employee and asks about problems and needs the answers are often a country mile away from what is truly felt. How many times have you ever observed somebody saying something like “our strategy sucks, my boss is a narcissistic idiot and nobody seems to be prepared to listen”. Maybe not those exact words maybe but similar words have been uttered – just “away from the law” – a great many times. Unsurprisingly even positively worded variations rarely see the light of day.
Trust may be an essential pre-cursor but the ability to unpack beliefs to get to a clear view of real problems and needs is critically important. Most of the critical insight and answers lie within the company but the company does not have those with enough skills to get those problems and needs truly out there in an easy to understand and collectively agreed way. Great customer experience invariably is about sustained change and sitting behind that change is a depth of understanding which represents the backbone driving everything we do.
Women can create the empathy, ask the questions and get to the routes of problems and needs – in general better than men. Trust and patience also plays a part – but the ability to get the bottom of what people really think is something women are better at.
Influence to change
We see this every day. As a guy so many things seem trivial that I can’t be bothered to do anything about them. If something goes wrong, then I might grumble in the moment, but I am not going to go overboard. The rationale? Well, I’m not particularly uncomfortable, I like an easy life and I don’t have the patience to chip away away at the problem like a woodpecker plugged into the mains. In my experience, women approach problems differently: they will tenaciously work away until it is resolved to their satisfaction. In my personal life I have received a room upgrade because of a dripping tap, move to business class because the seats were jammed and would not recline, received free meals because service was slow – all thanks to a tenacious woman who would not take no for an answer.
Customer experience needs that sort of tenacity. Business functions that need to change are already busy fighting the fires and are often not in the mood to add any more into their already overloaded schedule. Whether it is right of wrong most CX functions simply do not have enough authority to make things happen and influence is the order of the day – lots of it.
If I was choosing a CX head I would be looking for those “iron fist in velvet glove” skills which women seem to naturally possess.
Equal opportunities – or time for some positive discrimination?