Year-end has always been a time for personal reflection for me and as 2018 ends in just a few hours, I am inspired to share the following thoughts around Customer Experience both in reflection of the year just about to end and the one just about to begin. As a member of the Customer Experience Professionals Association’s CX Expert Panel, we are asked on an annual basis to offer our thoughts and experiences around CX both past and present, and looking ahead. With that in mind, I offer the following observations and insights.
- How Customer Experience changed and grown over the past 7 years:
It most certainly has changed and having been there and been part of that growth curve gives me a personal and convincing perspective. Part of this comes from the fact that the discipline is still new to many organizations (and individuals) and is still being discovered by some to differentiate and advance the business. This is good news for those of us among the CX consulting community and especially the CX provider community. Technologies applied to CX have rapidly accelerated and many of them are becoming more accessible due to lower barriers of entry. For example, viable and extremely capable Journey mapping software that previously required serious investment can now be obtained for a fraction of the cost. More and more affordable data integration and visualization tools are available to the CX practitioner and consultant alike which are helping to drive a key message across organizations that CX is a major contributor to building and sustaining business success.
- Significant changes that stood out over this last year:
What stood out to me was how little change took place over the past year. I’ve seen an excessive repetition of the same CX concepts over and over as if we were all 4th graders never quite able to grasp the concept of multiplication. Case in point—How many more articles are necessary to explain NPS? It’s a metric—not a program— a topic that has been regurgitated and rehashed ad nauseum to the point where it has become so mundane that its value is being questioned and, in some cases, dismissed. I’ve had recent discussions with organizations that have simply stopped using it because it didn’t deliver on their lofty expectations. They’ve applied it as if it were some “magic dust” and the resulting magic just didn’t happen or meet their expectations. NPS is still a viable and valuable tool in the CX toolkit and it can certainly provide insights based on reasonable expectations. We just need to become more reasonable.
Customer Journey Mapping is another case in point. What’s fundamentally changed there? Nothing significant that I can tell outside of not enough attention or credence being paid to why it’s such an important tool in the CX toolkit and one that should be applied early in the CX journey rather than later. But do we really need to keep reading article upon article and blog upon blog about how to create a customer journey map? There’s enough “how to” out there to sink a ship, but not enough about the “why.” In the words of Simon Sinek, “People don’t buy WHAT you do; they buy WHY you do it.”
Another non-change I’ve been witnessing firsthand over the past year is how some organizations are continuing to collect their customer’s voices yet taking little to no action based upon what they are hearing. What this is doing in effect is sending a clear inside-out message that “it’s really all about us” and what we want from you versus it being all about how we want to deliver a better experience for you—the customer.
- What changes in CX are in store for 2019:
I think we are hitting a plateau in CX to some extent. I see more of the same with slow progress and in fact, some regression as financials tighten under a stressed economy which unfortunately spells trouble for some CX budgets. With rumors around a recession coming in 2019, that might be giving some organizations the jitters and investments in some areas of CX might be held off over the coming year. Organizations seem to still struggle with figuring out how CX fits within their overall business strategy. The onus is upon the CX practitioner to help educate corporate decision-makers and connect the dots for them without coming across as a hard-sell. The same holds true for CX consultants and being more of a trusted partner with their clients especially in the sales process along with a focus on offering CX solutions to key business issues rather than just offering products and services within their business portfolio.
Surveys as a viable means of measuring the customer experience is in doubt as response rates for surveys has been and continues to decline. While email surveys are without question the most convenient method to collect VoC, there can be significant sample bias and non-response issues. The response rate of email surveys is affected by the lack of personalization, people’s busy schedules, and increasing number of requests for people’s attention, plus an increasing amount of “junk mail” that gets ignored and the tendency to find longer surveys daunting. While ethnographic and phone-interviews are more labor intensive, more expensive, and can suffer the same kinds of biases as electronic methods, they are proactive, more likely to capture a customer in-the-moment especially if the time-commitment is brief, and the skilled interviewer can almost always glean more insights within a true dialog along with probing. Targeted outreaches instead of mass data collection can be more effective. Perhaps during 2019 we’ll see a bit of “back to the future” for collecting VoC—people talking to people. The Corner Café in London is wi-fi-free and sports the following message: “We don’t have wi-fi…Talk to each other—Pretend it’s 1995.” There may be significant hi-tech advances within CX during 2019 but I also see a lot of opportunity and potential for high-touch.
- Challenges that CX professionals and the companies they work for will face:
For the CX professional, holding on to one’s well-earned CX position will continue to be a challenge. The aging workforce isn’t helping matters much and the fact that it’s some organization’s strategy to reduce human resource costs by replacing the matured and experienced (and more likely highly compensated) CX practitioner with a recent graduate (at far less compensation) is happening more often it seems. This past year alone, I’ve personally met far too many highly-experienced CX professionals getting to that “50 and over” point in their career and either losing their position or losing out on next opportunities to contribute real value to businesses due to excessive age discernment.
For those companies that are investing in CX and continuing along the maturity curve, the biggest challenge I see is their delivering on whatever advances they have achieved in the form of a demonstrable financial difference to their organization. There are now more than enough CX clichés and platitudes to fill the bay of the Symphony of the Seas, yet we can’t seem to prove the value of CX at the very source—the organization that has invested heavily in CX and wondering just when they might realize a payoff—in tangible and financial terms. The CXPA Boston Network Planning Committee that I lead has conducted a survey among local membership for two years in a row and the #1 issue has consistently been around “translating and transforming CX data into business value” by nearly a factor of two or more over any other topic of interest.
Change management plays a critical role in the CX ecosystem and change is not readily assimilated nor easily digested within many organizations. Transformation requires change and change involves risk. Yet this critical step in CX maturity continues to elude some organizations. The desire for transformation will need to be firmly endorsed and supported by organizational leadership with a commitment to change based on their status—and knowing for certain exactly what that is. What’s mostly standing in the way as I see it is the current economic outlook that is causing organizations to stay the course and avoid any potential risk.
- Critical advancements that the CX profession will need to make in 2019:
This is probably THE most critical area for the CX profession going forward in 2019 and beyond. If the CX profession hasn’t already been substantially defined and articulated by the CXPA, as it has to some degree, it must not only continue to develop but also, in my humble opinion, take a giant leap forward. Something revolutionary is what I’m thinking might be needed. The phrase “Leap and the net will appear” comes to mind. Yes, that sounds risky and the net may not be there or perhaps the net is there but not the one you originally envisioned. The CX profession needs to be part of the greater business ecosystem, not an ecosystem of its own. Much as we like to think of ourselves as special forward-thinking agents of insight and change, we need to be integral to the business and all its challenges—and woven into its raison d’être. These words from Safelite AutoGlass CEO Tom Feeney have resonated with me since he spoke them at the 2013 Insight Exchange: “We don’t need a Chief Customer Officer, I am the Chief Customer Officer.” Not all organizations are going to have a CEO with that kind of mindset, but that kind of mindset needs to exist in some capacity within every organization intending to become customer-centric. AND, it needs to be instilled in such a way that it survives any turnover in leadership—which can often quench CX efforts along with best-practices and associated processes that have taken years to build and nurture.
- What keeps me motivated and excited about the CX discipline:
I’ve had a varied career that began long ago in the sciences and in learning and development mid-career and I finally ended up accepting a CX role in 2004 essentially through either a stroke of luck or genius or both. But, from that moment onward, I have never looked back. After 10 years of corporate experience, sufficient apprenticeship under the auspices the CXPA, and with a CCXP certification in-hand, I started my own consulting practice in 2014. Helping educate and prepare organizations to get started along the CX maturity curve is proving to be the most rewarding time of my career. CX gives me an identity and a sense of purpose and, not to poke too much at my corporate past, I’m finding this to be the most exciting and fulfilling time to be in a CX consulting role. It’s certainly not a cakewalk by any means and the challenges are many, as I’ve articulated above, but I wake up early every morning charged by whatever I think can possibly do to make a difference by moving the CX agenda forward in an integrated fashion toward business success in the B2B world.
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