2017 the Year of Undelivered Promise


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design-2711676This year, customer experience has broadly been recognised by the business community as a key imperative and growth driver. The ‘Experience Economy’ first conceptualised by Pine & Gilmore back in 1998, is here. Their article in the Harvard Business Review was the first time we heard of how experiences, rather than product or service, are a distinct economic offering.

Following my recent piece about the reported quality and performance of customer experience in 2017, I was considering ‘what to expect in 2018’ and so I took a step back and contemplated 2017. What did we hear, what did we see?

We heard talk of Machine Marketers, Personas, Play Books, Influencer Marketing, Big Data/ Big Science, Webrooming & Showrooming and GDPR.

Besides buzz words and phrases, the customer world was conversing about:

• the importance of C-Suite commitment, and endorsement of
Customer Experience
• where ownership of CX should sit – debates about Chief Customer Officers (CCO), Marketing, IT, HR, a whole team or single person approaches
• removing organisational silos for greater collaboration to better serve the customer (an old chestnut)
• engaging and empowering employees so that they are able to move from transactions to building relationships with customers
• the ‘Voice of the Employee’ and the ‘Employee Experience’ (EX) – suggesting happy employees = happy customers
• the holy grail of achieving true customer centricity through a customer centric culture
• the need for ‘Omni channel’ consistency
• the Retail Apocalypse and the death of the High Street
• how bots and virtual assistants would be the saviours of customer service
• ever more personalisation, driven by technological capability
• call centres fitting in, somewhere, somehow
• CX Maturity (curves) – why organisations should know where they are and where they are headed
• why Millennials should be the core focus above other customer groups
• a Journey mapping approach still being valuable – but how it is being positioned more as a one-off tool than a business methodology and framework
• how customers are facing survey overload with inevitable overkill, driven by the corporate craving for voice of customer and nps programmes
• predictive and prescriptive analytics that will determine future customer behaviour
• how NLP (Natural Language Processing) is the key to unlocking unstructured data and text analytics
• that frictionless experiences should be celebrated (at the same time as friction must be eradicated from the customer journey)?
• creating Experience Memories or moments in the experience that will lead to greater loyalty
• that emotion is the greatest customer loyalty driver and that we should be ‘measuring’ this customer emotion
• avoidable and sometimes monumental customer experience flops
• lots about airlines, Amazon, Alibaba and Uber (to name but a few)

In the words of William Shakespeare, was 2017

“Mere prattle without practice”

? (Othello)

So, there was much talk. 2017 promised such a lot. There was the motivation and there were clear opportunities to really begin to make a significant difference for customers and close the recognised experience gap.

What did we actually see?
We saw actions to improve the customer experience stall – particularly in Europe. The gap between (rising) customer expectations and the quality of customer experiences being delivered, is getting greater. There appears to be no real leader or protagonist to lead the way for others.

From what we can see, most of the efforts and focus in 2017 have been on beginning to ‘listen’ to customers and naturally act upon this information. I hesitate to call these listening activities insight. This action of taking feedback from customers and ‘fixing’ what appears not to be working there and then, and upgrading the customer journey has been a step in the right direction; the fixing has often been in the absence of the overall picture and context of what experience the organisation wants to deliver to its customer now, and in the future.

From our own work helping organisations deliver experiences that customers will cherish and value, and as consumers ourselves, we have seen streamlining of customer experiences. This streamlining has been in an attempt to make them more efficient for the organisation and effortless for the customer. You would think smiles all round. However, along the way many companies have ‘processed out’ any empathy or recognition of how the experience feels for a customer. Ease and efficiency won’t make customers stick around; emotion will and they will pay for a good one.

Implementation of voice of customer (VOC) programmes and platforms also known as Customer Experience Management (CEM) and NPS programmes in companies, large and small, has helped organisations collate and shape their customer feedback – and go out and get more. Vendors such as Medallia, Qualtrics, MaritzCX, Inmoment, CustomerGauge, Rant & Rave, Confirmit, Watermelon (to name but a few) have enabled organisations to integrate their customer feedback into one place, to systematise market research surveys, to provide organisations and employees with scores vs. their (nps) target via tailored dashboards. They have delivered feeds of structured data to the right people and enabled ‘case management’ and ‘closing the loop’ to resolve issues for unhappy customers. Used well, with the right analysis on accurate data, rooted in the customer journey reality; these programmes are a valuable asset. Yet, they need to be a support for an overall customer strategy, lead to confident and intelligent business decisions and drive real customer experience improvement.

The flaw in many programmes is that they ‘track’ the status quo. As I saw someone recently comment: “You get what you measure, you get what you ask for, you get what you aim for and you get what you empower”. The customer isn’t completely at the heart of these programmes, the organisation is. These assets need to be better used to proactively shape the future customer experience.

The other issue programmes struggle with, is unstructured data and therefore they primarily deal with structured data. The transactional surveys that are sent out are often long and frequently don’t ask the insightful ‘why’ question of customers. Depending on the source you read, 80-95% of customer data is unstructured. Until now, it has been too time consuming and costly to analyse this data.

Some systems do conduct basic text analysis and others perform more sophisticated text analytics. They use natural language processing (NLP). Those who have tried to use NLP based solutions, will have had the same frustrations as we have had with the accuracy and quality of the output. There isn’t one single natural language, or until now we haven’t seen a machine-based learning solution that can work with real nuance, context identified or cultural difference. Without confidence in text analytics, this vast and expanding unstructured data has remained ‘dark data’ as some call it – the untapped bank of customer insight. This is set to change in 2018 – so watch out for that.

Finally – the digital and technology ‘transformation’ of 2017 which was going to improve customers’ experiences forever.

The expectation was that digital technology would creatively solve, improve and innovate so that experiences would be better for customers. The frustration is that we have actually seen technology being used primarily for automation, efficiency and issue reduction not for improvement and enhancement. This efficiency drive has enabled reduction in staff numbers in some more repetitive areas; disappointingly this has not lead to redeployment of these people into customer interacting roles which would have meant some customer experience progress.

The fact that digital is seen as a separate strategy to the overall customer experience raises fears that technology will not be a coherent enabler, rooted in what the customer really wants and needs.

As William Durant, co-founder of General Motors said, looking forwards we need to

“Forget past mistakes. Forget failures. Forget everything except what you’re going to do now and do it.”

Success in 2018 will come from a refocus. We have a huge opportunity to close the experience and expectation gap. If nothing else, to be successful in refocusing on the customer, consider these few things:

1. Leverage and enrich customer data, derive intelligent insights and take focused action
2. Tune in to the customer’s emotional experience
3. Align and prioritise efforts around what really matters to customers, not just what’s easy
4. Execute enhancements at pace, with a balance on short-term improvements and future innovation
5. Engage employees as the core delivery framework and force for the customer experience
6. Connect the organisation with a focus on collaboration, communication and customer focused working practices

An Aligned Customer Experience approach will make a difference. Think Smiling Companies, Happy Customers.

Image via Pixabay

Amanda Davis

Amanda writes and shares Thought Leadership, drawing on her 15 years of coaching, guiding, mentoring and consulting for clients in various sectors and sizes around the world. She helps establish organisations understand how to connect to customers; find ways to align their expectations with the culture & capability of the organisation. She has a particular focus on customer experience transformation in the digital age, ensuring that technology development starts and finishes with the customer. Amanda has been a regular featured columnist and advisor for Customer Think since 2018.


  1. Here is the problem I see. There are two worlds colliding. One world is based on technology. From this world we often get the initial touch with many of our customers on a particular need. The the other world is human. From this world we get the personal touch that creates a relationship and a lasting feeling of loyalty.

    There is a lot of emphasis placed on the first touch of technology, but not enough emphasis on the human touch. Social media comes the closest, but falls short. Ultimately this leads to unsatisfied clients. People like technology but they live for the human touch. When I was a customer support tech at a large word processor company back in the 80’s I learned that people are looking for help and a connection to other people. I would often take a support call, quickly fix the problem, and then spend the next 5 minutes on the phone because the person on the other end of the line just wanted the human touch. My daughter cuts hair. Her service is 25 percent hair cutting and 75 percent personal touch. The best hairdressers are the ones with the personal touch.

    A company that wants to have happy customers that are emotionally attached to their brand cannot neglect the personal touch. That is expensive because you cannot offshore that to someone in another country that customers cannot connect with.

    There has to be a balance between technology and the human element. If this ratio is too far out of balance, you will have cool tech with no happy clients.

    Client expectation IS personal touch.


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