Teaching old dogs new tricks: the challenges legacy businesses face when aligning their customer experience

Peter - 23 rd February 2017

Imagine this...

You’re the CEO of a successful business - a company that has been around a while. You’ve grown through mergers and acquisitions and business is booming.

You’re spearheading the development of your 5-10 year strategy and feel confident it’s looking good and it’s the way to go. Yet recently you’ve noticed that it’s harder to make decisions stick and drive the changes you need to happen to deliver your numbers.

Meanwhile, a few start-ups, or upstarts, are trying to steal the limelight...

How has this happened? It hasn’t always been like this.

Why is your agility not what it was?

Ultimately, the business has fallen victim to its own success and your reduced agility is bleeding into the customer experience you are delivering.

This is a problem many legacy businesses come face to face with and the next steps are fundamental to the future of the business.

So how can you regain your agility and get back on the right track to success?

Articulate your brand vision

To stand out in your market you need to align your customer experience to your brand.

Practically, this means clearly articulating your brand vision (it’s positioning, values and personality) and injecting this into every stage of your customer experience.

But this can pose a challenge for long established businesses. They often have systems, people and processes that have been around a while but, as time progresses and the landscape changes, have become less fit for purpose.

This can manifest itself as a problem for customers...

A friend of mine recently ordered a couch from an established and well known UK retailer. The company tasked with delivering it - who have been around for over 20 years - refused to deliver the couch to her new address even though she had updated the retail company with these details a few weeks earlier.

When she called them she was asked to ring the delivery company and when she tried to use their web chat service she didn’t get a reply. So she called again and - after being left on hold for around 10 minutes - was told:

“Well it isn’t our fault. Their systems don’t talk to ours very well, so we only have your old address and can only deliver to that location”.

The brand suggested that she cancel the delivery and reorder the item, meaning she would have to pay again! Instead, rather than delay the delivery by weeks, she arranged a private van to move her couch from her old house to her new one (which was only two roads away).

Unfortunately, we’ve all heard similar stories. This is not a one-off experience and is seen in multiple sectors from telecommunication companies to leisure businesses.

So, why does this happen?

Surely, it’s more cost effective and ensures a better experience for both the customer and the business to simply rearrange the delivery. But sometimes, and certainly in this example, this is easier said than done.

In our experience, the problems faced often come down to three critical areas within the business:

  1. Culture and people

  2. Processes

  3. Technology

All three affect the customer and employee experience; especially for legacy businesses.

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Culture and People

“Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first” - Simon Sinek

It’s astounding how many business leaders still don’t see this link or believe that they actually have an impact on the customer!

Having worked with numerous brands across both the private and public sectors, we know that this is a common mindset for many organisations. This is particularly evident for legacy businesses, where siloed behaviours have developed over years of internal leadership and cultural change.

But happy employees with purpose are far more productive...

“If you are not serving the customer, your job is to be serving someone that is” - Jan Carlzon

Companies that think otherwise will find it really difficult to deliver their business potential. Brands need to break down the silos and think more holistically about the impact each individual within the business has on the customer…

And remember, there is a difference between working together and working in the same office.


Established organisations tend to have processes that were introduced as ‘work arounds’ for poor and outdated systems. But processes that may have once been simple don’t always stay that way.

If they aren’t continuously reviewed and improved, given named owners or the right measures of success, they can quickly get messy...

People will follow their own versions of activity which reduces the control of cost and time, reducing the team’s competitive edge.


According to research conducted by Saugatuck in 2014, a legacy organisation can use around 80% of IT budgets to maintain legacy systems.

If this is true of your organisation, ask yourself, what type of talent will your company attract when 80% of the technology budget is devoted to legacy and potentially outmoded systems?

In this new era, businesses want and need to be innovative and customer centric. They must use multiple channels and digital solutions, and use the main bulk of your workforce and money to reflect this.

What can you do about it?

It’s not as simple as just investing in a new system. Companies who just focus on technology and infrastructure to support the customer experience neglect the most important CX asset - the employee...

Engaged employees can help brands deliver superior customer experiences. To do this, they need the right leadership, culture and processes. They need to know why they are doing what they do; what’s the point of it all?

“Finding the real start point is about changing mindset and behaviours in the first instance” - Martin Hill Wilson

“The challenge is knowing what is right for your customer and your industry” - Shep Hyken

But new systems are expensive. We all know the low level of success rates with the introduction of new IT systems into a business (evidenced through studies by McKinsey & Company in conjunction with the University of Oxford, IBM and KPMG).

So here are a few tips to help you fight the startups;

  1. Speak to people to find out what your customers currently think and explore how your employees feel. Start with employee views on the processes they work in and the systems they have to use. Then discuss the organisation’s style of leadership. This will help you gain a full understanding of your current position and give you something to act upon. Don’t listen, engage, and do nothing!

  2. Continue to work with the technology you have (you can still have a great CX through people and process). Be brave during the transformation and create solutions to delight the customer so they feel valued even if the system doesn’t allow it.

  3. Determine a vision for your brand and a clear brand position. Build an aligned customer experience and review how far away you are from this.

  4. Don’t wait for technology. Align your people and processes where you can whilst building the case for technology to fully enable your vision.

  5. Get new talent in and work with your existing talent. Build your future now, make their lives easier through getting rid of wasteful processes, and introduce the right technology at the right time to support all of this.

Yes, this might sound like common sense. But many well established businesses are still failing to deliver this. Just take the couch delivery problem for example!

This has to be a continuous cycle, otherwise today’s new system becomes tomorrow’s legacy system.

Today’s ‘state of the art’ processes become tomorrow’s legacy processes and as for your people, they either leave or get stuck in a poor employee experience cycle.


Co-written by Siobhan Doran and Paul Morris.

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