spent a decade in an experience design function as an administrator in a university setting. Out of the thousands of conversations I had with students over the course of those ten years, the ones that are the most memorable to me are those where, in the midst of earnest and intentional dialogue, a student started to see their own life clearly enough to begin to chart a solid vocational direction.
Once a student caught a vision of their own identity, the next steps in their academic life became clear. Until they had a clear vision of who they were, however, it was difficult to make solid decisions about what to do and where to go next.
Educator Parker Palmer writes about these kinds of moments in his excellent book on the topic called, Let Your Life Speak. The title of his book is drawn from the Quaker tradition of intentional, communal listening for vocational direction and it commends the act of “listening to your life” as the essential way forward for people trapped in vocational crisis. In the book, he quotes May Sarton’s poem, Now I Become Myself as a powerful example of this kind of listening. In the poem, Sarton recalls her own journey and writes:
“Now I become myself. It’s takenTime, many years and places;I have been dissolved and shaken,Worn other people’s faces…”
I am privileged to have these same kinds of conversations with clients in our CX practice. When I meet with business leaders who are beginning to awaken to the need to craft memorable, outstanding customer experiences as a key differentiator, I find that they have often become paralyzed by the act of choosing the right place to start.
Business leaders who are learning to adjust to the new demands presented in the age of the customer also feel the pressure to begin by mimicking other powerful CX-focused organizations. These days, it’s common for people to vocalize an aspiration to become the “Amazon or the Apple of our industry”, because, when you’re not quite sure who you are, it’s very tempting to “wear other people’s faces”.
In those moments of identity crisis, I have found that stopping and clarifying a CX strategy is absolutely crucial and a solid CX strategy begins by listening to your customers. Asking them simple questions like, “Who do you expect us to be for you?” opens up a window of understanding into the value you are creating in their lives and can serve as the foundation for naming the specific kind of experience you intend for your customers. I recently spent some time asking some customers of one of my clients this question. Here are some of the responses I heard:
I expect you to listen to me… don’t be distracted when I’m speaking.
I expect you to be efficient and professional but not rushed.
I expect all of our interactions to create trust in your care for me and in your expertise.
These kinds of honest statements from customers are a beacon for anyone trying to articulate a grounded CX strategy that can function as a reliable foundation for creating excellent customer experiences.
When faced with a crisis of identity that clouds the way forward, it is crucial to stop and listen to the way customers articulate the value they receive from your organization. Stop. Listen. Let your customers speak. The understanding gained from these earnest and intentional conversations can become the crucial link that aligns brand strategy with CX Strategy so that the best, most valuable way forward becomes clear.