Skip to main content

Niamh Ó Maoláin

Niamh is the Chief Operating Officer for Deloitte Digital’s Adobe Alliance, and an award-winning customer experience leader. She is particularly interested in helping customer experience professionals identify and explain the link between customer experience, trust, and revenue. Here we talk to her about the challenges of gaining C-Suite support for CX improvements

As a CX Leader in the SaaS industry, what’s been your experience gaining executive buy-in for CX improvement projects? Piece of cake or pulling teeth?

Every executive is there for the same reason; we all want our businesses to do better and be more successful. So when it comes to getting buy-in the story that you’re telling is crucial. If you just present something as a project to improve CX for its own sake it might be difficult to persuade everyone – but if you can show how that project will grow business, or save costs, or do whatever it is that your executives are focused on it’s a different conversation. 

Get the latest from the brightest minds in CX, UX, and design thinking.

Get the latest from the brightest minds in CX, UX, and design thinking.

  • By submitting this form, you agree to receive our newsletter, and occasional emails related to The CX Lead. For more details, please review our Privacy Policy. We're protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Do you agree with the following statement? “It’s often challenging to quantify or measure the impact of customer experience improvements.” Please discuss why you do or don’t agree, citing examples where possible.

Anyone who chooses CX as a career is probably like me – you get so excited about the latest innovation, and it’s obvious to you how CX makes a difference to the bottom line. But if we go into projects only applying a CX lens to things we will struggle to articulate impact outside of our bubble. So instead, when you’re implementing an improvement ask yourself what the problem you’re solving is. How do you know that’s a problem? What data shows you the issue? Then you have a clear measure of success and you can stand behind the ROI. Your CX metrics need to combine customers’ self-reported experiences with hard commercial measures so you can create meaningful change – and prove that you did so.

In your experience, over the past 5-10 years, has it become easier or more difficult to gain C-Suite buy-in for CX improvement initiatives? 

Easier for sure. When I started in CX we relied on simplistic Customer Satisfaction scores to tell us what we ought to do, and CX was a really niche industry which seemed to sit entirely apart from the ‘real’ business decisions that took place at C-Suite. Over time we have seen a normalisation of CX language in all areas of the business, and I think most execs now acknowledge how important customer trust and loyalty is for building a sustainable business. CX metrics themselves have evolved, and measures like TrustID are so sophisticated, showing a direct link between CX actions and business health. Most organisations know that they want to be more customer-centric – even if they need some guidance in getting there!

Are most of your big CX improvements proactive or reactive? Do you find it’s easier to build a case and gain buy-in to solve an existing CX pain-point, as opposed to improving the experience when no clear problems exist?

The best improvements will always be proactive. That’s where you get a chance to differentiate and create space to delight customers; but that is a more difficult investment case to make if you don’t have the right expertise and data. One of the benefits of partnering with an organisation like Deloitte in delivering CX improvements is that we can call on a massive pool of experts and innovators, so we can help you design truly outstanding customer experiences. 

If you wait to react to a need, you’re not only racing to put things right, but by the time you’re caught up to where you needed to be, your competition is already ahead of you. You need to be able to articulate the benefits of proactive CX improvement to your C-Suite in a very tangible, accessible way. Using tools that give rich customer insight, like TrustID, is the best way to understand your customers and how best to serve them.

How confident are you in the accuracy of the feedback you receive from customers? Is it mostly negative or well balanced? How do you ensure you’re not missing out on potentially important and valuable feedback? What role does that feedback play in pitching CX improvement ideas to the rest of your team or company?

This is a great question. I am fascinated by the intricacies of understanding customer feedback and the methods we use to get it. Customer feedback prgrammes are really important, and what customers tell you matters. But what they don’t tell you matters too. If I can’t trust that a business will do right by me, I’ll take my custom elsewhere. If I’m angry, I might vent in a feedback survey. If I’m in the mood to be helpful, I might tell them what they did wrong. But usually, I’ll just leave. 

Your customers don’t owe you insight. 

If you deliver exceptional service they might want to share that with you, and often if their experience is terrible they will be keen to offload – but the majority of your customers probably think things were fine, and they already got emails from six other organisations asking them to complete a survey, so why would they take the time to do yours?

Look at the data. What story do the factual metrics tell you? Understand what your quantitative data indicates, then combine that with customer feedback to get a holistic view of your business. 

Can you please share your “5 Ways to Get C-Suite Buy-In for CX Improvements”? 

1. Negotiation Is Just Translation

I would be delighted to spend 8 hours a day talking about nothing but customer experience. I love it. I speak that language fluently, and to me it’s the most important thing a business can do. But that’s not the case for a CFO, who speaks in figures; or a CMO whose language is brand identity. So if I want to get their buy-in, I need to speak to them in their native tongue. Unfortunately Duolingo doesn’t have a C-Suite lesson plan yet, so you need to think like a CFO/CEO/CTO. What is that person’s priority? How do they measure success? And then – how does the thing that you want them to agree to move the needle on that measure? It would be awesome if everyone at C-Suite level cared as much about CX as we do, but you have to meet them where they’re at. Show them how your solution solves their problem, how you’ll measure it with their metrics, and you’ll get their trust and buy-in.

2. Listen to Cilla

As the late, great Cilla Black once sang “What’s it all about, Alfie?”. When you’re in a negotiation – whether that’s as part of a sales pitch, a job interview, or asking for investment from C-Suite, it’s important to keep your mind on the central question or problem that you’re there to address. The thing about customer experience is that it touches everything a business does – each step in the sales funnel, the brand’s reputation, right down to how employees feel about the organisation they work for. So it’s easy to get distracted talking about the myriad benefits the CX improvement you’re asking about can have. But that just dilutes your message and makes it easier for busy C-Suite execs to switch off. Listen to Cilla. What’s it all about? Identify the root point, and stick to that. (If you’re too young for Cilla, Pink’s ‘So What’ makes the same point!)

3. Know Your Business

The most valuable CX tools combine customer feedback with hard data, to create the narrative of how your brand performs and why. Those storytelling tools that we have as CX practitioners are the same ones we need to craft a compelling message that gets buy-in when it’s needed. Look at your brand values, your key successes, and your current pain points. Work out what’s keeping your CEO up at night, and start your story there. Understand how improved CX will ease that pain, increase your success, and help your business stay true to its values. When you show how your solution fits in with the business so holistically, it’s far easier to get that ‘yes’. 

4. Zoom In to Zoom Out

When you’re asking C-Suite for buy-in you have to show them how it impacts the big picture, but you should also talk through how it changes things at a human level. Get away from the temptation to talk about how CX improvements will improve whatever number it is you use to measure CX. Assume that nobody in that room cares about that number except you. 

Instead tell the story of how it feels to be a customer now: what do we know about customer behaviour at each step of the journey, both from hard data and through feedback? How would that be different with this improvement? Then, when you’ve sold them on the idea that the individual experience would be better, zoom out and look at things from a business perspective. What’s the cost of marketing, onboarding, servicing our customers now? What’s the damage that’s done when we break their trust? How does this improvement reduce those costs, and how will it help us achieve our goals together?

5. What Does Do Nothing Cost?

It’s a hard pill to swallow sometimes as a CX professional, but there are times when doing nothing is the best we can do. It’s in our DNA to want to find ways to fix problems and improve things, but the honest truth is that there are some occasions when it’s not going to deliver value. If you have really been able to put yourself in the shoes of C-Suite, and you have looked at your feedback and your data, and you know how things would change at the micro and the macro levels, then you will be able to honestly assess the ROI of your proposal and understand when it’s not good enough. That doesn’t mean you don’t explain how a change could fix a problem – it just means that you are transparent when a CX improvement wouldn’t deliver value. Doing this will show the C-Suite that you are able to take a view of the business holistically instead of living in a CX silo, and it means they will trust that when you do push for investment,