The First 90 Days for New CX Leaders: A Road Map to Success
You have just stepped into a new Customer Experience (CX) leadership role. You may be a Director or VP of Customer Support; a head of Customer Success; or a vendor manager overseeing your company’s relationships with business process outsourcing companies (BPOs). These are all critical leadership positions that play a significant role in a business’s success. And, as with any new role, the first 90 days are critical to your success.
In your first three months in the role, you’ll have an opportunity to ask great questions, dig into all aspects of your company’s operations, build relationships, set big goals, start to execute, and even begin to see results. By contrast, if you don’t take advantage of this precious period, your impact as a leader may be reduced as a result.
We talked to leaders from companies of all kinds – social media, subscription food delivery, business travel services and more. We asked for their top tips for new leaders stepping into customer experience roles. Whether you’ve just been promoted, or you’ve joined a new organization, this guide will help set you up for success.
Day 1 to 30: Learn and Engage
“When I walk into an organization, the first thing I do is observe,” says Devin Finlay, Sr. BPO Operations Manager at Hotel Engine. “You’re looking at everything, assessing everything, asking questions.”
Talk to customers
Key to that process – talking to customers. Even if you’ve been in the organization a long time, and just been promoted into a leadership role, take this opportunity to talk to customers, and look at their experience with fresh eyes.
Joe Gilgoff, who has led CX at Daily Harvest and several other companies, recommends speaking to as many customers as possible during the first 90 days. Listen for pain points and patterns. Map the customer journey, even if it’s already been mapped before. See if you can identify opportunities to make that journey smoother, faster, or better.
Connect with the CX team
Building relationships with the CX team is also important. Having 1:1s is critical, says Gilgoff. Use these 1:1s to ask questions that reveal your interest in the team’s needs, the customers’ requests, and the company’s strategy.
“CX leaders need to be a sponge and learn a ton about the team’s processes,” said Gilgoff. “You’ll want to show a lot of respect to existing team members and in that way gain their trust and their affection.”
Practice consistent 1:1s with your team and use the first few to create a human connection with each person. Not all 1:1s will be the same, and you should strive to personalize each interaction.
“I like to send out a structured questionnaire and follow up with 1:1s,” said Gautham Pai, Global Head of Customer Experience Operations at Nextdoor. “I’m looking to learn how my team members feel about their role, the team, and the overall company. I use this opportunity to see if they understand the ‘why’, not just the ‘what/how.’ Once you complete all your 1:1s, set up a team meeting to present what you learned, reflect on the team’s strengths, present your priorities, and solicit and incorporate feedback.”
If you’re new to the company, rather than an internally promoted leader, Gilgoff recommends taking on agent training and onboarding sessions just as any new associate would do. “You’ll learn a ton,” he said. “You’ll also show that team that you’re willing to get your hands dirty.”
You should always place great value on building trust with your teams, says Charles Sustaita, Director of Customer Support, Coastline Academy. Another way to do that is by attending and speaking at team-wide meetings. This gives you an opportunity to display your communication skills, convey your enthusiasm, and enforce the message that you are your teams’ biggest advocate.
Meet with other internal stakeholders
Identify other key stakeholders outside of the CX team as well. Start with your hiring manager, says Pai of Nextdoor. “Learn about what’s going well and what’s not. Understand their expectations from your role. Ask about the ‘urgent and important’ and ‘not urgent, but important’ things they’d like you to go after. Ask about your stakeholders. Your job is not to meet your hiring manager’s expectations, but to beat them. That’s how you establish yourself and set yourself up for future opportunities.”
After that, identify other stakeholders outside your department. “I need to be best friends with finance, because they look at my budget,” says Finlay of Hotel Engine. “I need to talk to product because they make sure my agents are effective and efficient. I need to talk to my Salesforce people. They need to know who I am, why I’m here and what my goal is.”
“Ask explicitly for their candid assessment [of the support function],” says Pai. “There’s a lot you’ll learn from what they say and what they don’t. No feedback implies they’re not engaged with your function.”
Expanding the vision of stakeholders can be useful as well, says Nicole Bulman, Customer Support Manager at Privy.
“Outside of your team members, your focus as a new leader should be meeting your cross-functional partners, stakeholders, and customers,” Bulman told us. “You can better understand how CX affects their areas of responsibility, identify areas of overlap or potential conflict, and build relationships with key stakeholders.”
Learn the product
If you’re new to the company, of course you have to learn everything you can about the product.
“Understand the product or service’s strengths and shortcomings,” says Sustaita. “Learn what the company is doing to address those shortcomings and how it’s communicated to customers. Do this to get ahead of future hiccups with customers.”
Bulman suggests mapping the customer journey – which may be useful even if you’ve been at the company a long time. A new leadership role will always provide an opportunity to see things with a fresh perspective.
“This will allow you to see where customers are encountering difficulties or frustrations in their interactions with the product you are supporting. By identifying these pain points, you can develop solutions that address these issues and improve the customer experience,” Bulman says.
Understand the data
Finally, dive into the data. If you’re new to the company, this may take time as you get used to a new system or new metrics. But this step is absolutely critical. You have to know where your team’s performance is strong, and where it’s falling short. And this will also help you identify the key areas of focus for month 2.
Day 31 to 60: Plan
Next: it’s time to plan. Identify the areas where you can make a real difference in the short, medium, and long term. And build a plan to get there.
“Within 60 days you should have the framework,” Finlay says. “What are the metrics? What are the pain points?”
You’ll identify some quick wins, and some challenges that will take longer to solve. “Don’t focus on delivering a big-bang win,” says Pai. “Those will come when you’ve gained the trust of your team. Focus instead on delivering a couple of small wins every day. A win may be as simple as unblocking someone on the team by improving how they’re thinking about a challenge. Make it a habit to write down your wins – it’ll help you hold yourself accountable.”
Here are a few examples of opportunity areas you might find. These will vary depending on the level of your role, and the specific challenges at your company, but this list may help you generate ideas:
Short term (time to impact: 1-2 months)
- Tweak the language on customer-facing communications
- Provide valuable coaching & insight to a team member
- Improve the way tickets are assigned
- Streamline a frustrating process
- Assess whether the team’s schedule is optimal for meeting your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
- Identify common ticket types and improve FAQs on those topics to reduce volume
- Identify common agent errors and conduct a training around it
- Build new reports on high-impact KPIs
- Identify customer feedback themes that will be valuable for other departments
- Identify sources of discontent among agents – it could be something simple, like a broken microwave. Fixing lingering small problems can build trust.
- Engage, engage, engage. Find opportunities to connect with your team and enable them to connect with each other. Add full-team meetings if they don’t yet exist.
Medium term (time to impact: 3-6 months)
- Cross-train more agents on different channels or tiers of service
- Identify underperforming agents and put them on performance improvement plans
- Deep dive into your helpdesk & other software programs to identify process improvements and automations
- Add new processes such as Quality Assurance or Workforce Management, if your company doesn’t have them
- Identify high-potential agents or team leads and provide them with growth opportunities
Long term (time to impact: 6+ months)
- Partner with the sales team to enhance the onboarding process for new customers
- Change operating hours to better align with ticket volume
- Onboard a BPO partner to provide additional coverage and cost savings
- Identify new technologies to bring into your tech stack
- Make the case to leadership that customer support or success needs more investment
Note that leadership requires a bit of a political mindset. You need to consider which changes can be made immediately, and which might have a better chance of success if you wait.
“You may immediately notice changes that need to be made or areas of improvement, and as tempting as it may be to address them, you’ll do more harm than good [if you enact them] before you’ve established trust,” Sustaita says.
“Because you’re still building rapport with your peers and stakeholders within other departments, focus on the items over which you have direct control as opposed to items over which you only have influence but no direct control,” he said.
Bulman also encourages new CX leaders to share their progress with stakeholders, including customers and cross-functional teams. The more you share your success, the more goodwill you’ll have for larger initiatives you want to take on down the road.
Day 61 to 90: Begin to Implement
By your third month on the job, you should be able to implement some of your short-term projects – and deliver small wins. “You should uncover so much low hanging fruit it should be a treasure trove of small little bits to move the needle up and to the right,” Finlay says.
While you’re delivering on small wins, present your longer-term roadmap with your manager and, if necessary, the company’s senior leadership. You need to start getting buy-in for your medium- and long-term plans.
If you want to drive big changes that the company isn’t ready for yet, you can start to seed your ideas with a comment here and there. That way, you’ll identify your potential allies – as well as who will potentially block your progress. Those insights will help you shape your plans.
Finlay was just three months into his new role at Hotel Engine when he spoke with Peak Support and provides a perfect example of the goal for this phase. “I’m on day 96,” said Finlay. “I have a clear path to the end of the year for what we should expect, and it’s up to me to deliver.”
For a new leader, the first 90 days on the job is critical to long-term success. Use the first month to learn everything you can about your customers, product, team, stakeholders and data. Month 2 is focused on planning – identifying short-term, medium-term, and long-term initiatives that will move the needle. And month 3 is for implementing your short-term plans and communicating the longer-term plans with the rest of the organization.