The divide between customers and the company is usually the largest…
But not always.
For a growing number of companies, division within the company is more of a challenge than division from the customers.
Because teams are more distributed, business goals are more challenging, and the world is busier than ever before.
Just like with building bridges, there is a way to turn this challenge into a big advantage:
Use your role as Voice of the Customer to create cross-functional teams.
The Power of Cross-Functional Teams
Defined as “a group of people with different expertise working together for a shared goal”, cross-functional teams bring best practices to tricky problems.
What makes the tool one of the most powerful for any team?
Cross-functional teams communicate better. By representing separate but related functions, they can help cover each other’s knowledge gaps.
Since cross-functional teams are usually temporary, team members move from project to project, learning how to develop relationships with new team members in new situations much faster.
Better communication leads to faster resolution. Whether this is fixing an emergency, upgrading a system, or inventing an entirely new business line, cross-functional teams bring their varied experience together, with better communication, to explore, test, and terminate or implement the best options.
When an experienced team communicates well and moves fast, innovation happens. The popular idea is that these teams “get it right”, right from the start.
The reality is a little different. Cross-functional teams become masters of rapid experimentation. In other words, they try a lot of ideas quickly and cheaply, learn from actual customers, and improve.
Roadblocks to Cross-Functional Teams
But, there are challenges.
Lack of focus
Focus is a struggle for any team. This becomes tougher for cross-functional teams specifically because they represent different functions. The Marketing team member necessarily cares about different goals than the Engineering team.
Solve this by creating clarity about the mission.
Connect the company’s goal to your team’s directive. Have team members present their perspective on priorities along with their reasons. Encourage everyone to connect those priorities directly to the company’s goal and each team member’s priorities.
This happens for a few important reasons.
First, cross-functional teams tend to be temporary. This means the team hasn’t had enough time together to develop healthy communication practices.
Second, different teams have different practices, so team members may be unlearning or modifying an old behavior.
Third, different functions literally speak different languages. Engineering speaks in terms of architecture and code while Marketing focuses on impressions and clicks.
Solve all these problems the same way: Make “create good communication” the first backlog item for your team. By making it explicit, you remove the ability for any team members not to own the problem. By consciously creating good practices, you tell the team that this matters more than anything else.
Teams are funny business. They can be close-knit, working together on difficult projects for years at a time. The analyst knows just what to bring the project manager without being asked. The designer already knows what the developer is going to ask. It’s magical.
Or they can be… not so great. Usually, this is because of friction between two or more people on a personal level. While sometimes it’s because of an issue like communication style, it can also be something so instinctive that neither person understands why they are struggling to work together.
Make “create good team relationships” the backlog item right after “create good communication”. By making it explicit and creating good practices, you are telling the team exactly what matters most, and giving everyone a structure to achieve this.
It’s important to remember that team members don’t need to be best friends. They do need to collaborate.
Using the Voice of the Customer to Connect
We’ve shared why your experience equips you to connect your teams, the benefits of those teams, and the roadblocks.
But how do you do this? The same ways you build bridges between customers and the company, with an extra step.
Start by asking. This is a simple but powerful tool. For lots of companies, the reason the Customer team isn’t at the table is because it’s “always been that way”. You may find that Leadership is hard-pressed to leave you out, after you’ve asked.
Or even better, they may be excited that you’ve stepped up.
If the answer is, “No”, ask for specific feedback. This is a great way to start solving the next item on the list.
2. Understand Their Incentives
It’s been said that, “People aren’t against you; they’re for themselves.”
That’s another way of saying that people pursue their own incentives. If that gets in the way of what you’re working on, it’s probably an accident.
By asking good questions to understand the incentives of other teams like Engineering or Sales, you take a big step towards bringing the Voice of the Customer to the most important decisions.
Sometimes, understanding an incentive is as simple as asking. Other times, you have to dig deeper or make an educated guess.
3. Show, Don’t Tell
You’ve done it – you’re invited to the next Product meeting. Sales, Marketing, Engineering, Product, and the C-Suite are all there.
A lot of work goes into changing anything that impacts the customer experience. Something that seems like a “quick fix” to the product might be weeks or months of work for a backlogged team. Or it means retraining the whole sales team.
Data is necessary but not sufficient. Bring data and vivid examples.
Record a customer support session with a particularly frustrated customer. Maybe they’re vocal, or have a really acute problem to fix, or this is the 10th time you’ve had to fix this for them. Make it emotional, impactful, and of course, representative of the data.
Then make an explicit connection between the vivid example and the data. It’s a powerful combination.
4. Be Specific and Actionable
Finally, the Voice of the Customer shouldn’t express vague notions about sweeping product changes.
Whatever you choose to share, be specific by providing actual examples from real customers.
And be actionable by bringing recommendations that, from a Customer Experience team perspective, could address the issue.
Then be open to reasonable questions, challenges, and discussion.
5. Set Clear Expectations
Setting clear expectations for why this team is together, why the Voice of the Customer matters, and that you have a mandate to bring that Voice to every discussion, you signal to your cross-functional team what is expected of them, how much it matters, and how to do it.
That’s the recipe for success.
Today we’ve explored how the Voice of the Customer is uniquely able to unite cross-functional teams.
Join the Conversation
Extelli lives in the world we’re discussing here… and we would love for you to join the conversation. Check out our post about this topic on LinkedIn.