Customer Experience 2017 Reality Check – Evolution or Revolution?


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This post is part of the Customer Experience Professionals Association’s Blog Carnival celebrating customer experience. It’s part of a broader celebration of Customer Experience Day 2017. Check out posts from other bloggers at the blog carnival. And learn more about CX Day at:

On the 3rd October 2017, the world will once again celebrate CX Day. I say ‘the world’, but mean this in the loosest sense. Yes, there will be thousands of professionals on every continent holding events, attending networking meetings, writing blogs, sharing stories, and celebrating successes about the continuing development of the Customer Experience Profession. However, in relative terms, they will represent a miniscule fraction of the global working population.

The term ‘Customer Experience’ should not be considered ‘new’. Many have been working officially as Customer Experience Professionals for over 15 years. Ironically, when people understand exactly what Customer Experience is for the first time, they are struck with the reality that it should be the oldest profession of them all. It was only the drive and enthusiasm of Jeanne Bliss and Bruce Temkin, that led to Customer Experience (CX) finally being established as a profession in 2011. The formation of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA) was truly a watershed moment for those of us who actually possess the skills and competencies to embed a sustainable focus on managing and improving the experiences customers have with organisations.

The profession went one step further in 2014, with the launch of its first ever global qualification – the Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP) accreditation, is hugely significant in actually recognising the skills and competencies of CX Professionals. No longer can those of us who care about customers and employees be accused of being ‘soft and fluffy’ – we now have the ability to validate our knowledge and expertise with a credible professional qualification.

However – there is that word again – as I write this article in October 2017, there are 616 CCXPs globally. further confirmation that in reality, CX as an established profession still has a very long way to go. I do not want this article to come across as all ‘doom and gloom’ though – much to the contrary.

That brings me to the title of this post – is it time to have a 2017 CX reality check? I will often describe CX as an ‘evolving’ profession. If we look at how far the profession has come since Jeanne  and Bruce turned it into one only 6 years ago, it is hard to argue that it is evolving. There may only be 4,000+ members of the CXPA, but those numbers have been growing on a steady basis. There may only be 616 CCXPs, but that number increases weekly as well. For something to evolve, it means that it ‘develops gradually’ – a good description of the CX profession.

Yet what I want to ask is this – in the world of CX, is evolution enough? Whilst the profession may be evolving in general, is CX actually evolving at the same rate ‘on the ground’? Although many CEOs and other senior leaders ‘talk’ about CX, are they actually putting their money where their mouths are? Are organisations really changing the way they treat customers and employees? Are the experiences we have in 2017, really radically different to the experiences we had in 2007? Or even 1997?

Of course, CX is radically different from a ‘User Experience’ perspective. Advancing technology has meant that we are able to do many things far quicker, more easily and more efficiently than in the past. Yet despite the march of technological/digital evolution, most customers still have to endure RANDOM and UNEXPECTED experiences on a daily basis. This is why it is critical we do not confuse digital evolution with Customer Experience. They are inextricably linked, yet not evolving at the same rate.

In too many cases, the evolution of CX is still reliant on REVOLUTION. If you look up the origins of the word ‘revolution’, it is rather strong:

“(from the Latin revolution, a turn around”) is a fundamental change in political power or organizational structures that takes place in a relatively short period of time when the population rises up in revolt against the current authorities

Although the definition is strong, it is an accurate reflection of what many professionals continue to experience on a regular basis around the world. The CX Profession is not a political one, yet for it to establish itself as a sustainable ‘way of working’, it relies on determined, competent, and willing professionals to do what it takes to ride against political ‘norms’. All too often, CX Professionals continue to do what they do without the overarching support of organisational leaders. All too often, CX Professionals are still not taken seriously enough. All too often, CX is only existing as a focus in organisations due to the will of the CX Professional. As a result, the only thing I disagree with in this definition of the word ‘revolution’ is the fact it takes place over a short period of time. In reality, it is likely and possible that the revolution will never end.

If many organisations take a long, hard look in the mirror, what they will see looking back at themselves are businesses that continue to put the needs of shareholders above and beyond the needs of customers and employees. If CX continues to evolve at the same pace it currently is, I fear that we will still be living in a world of the largely RANDOM and UNINTENTIONAL in 2027. That is why we are still reliant on the continuing REVOLUTION; and the courageous, committed and capable professionals who are leading it. Without the CX Profession, the experiences that BOTH customers and employees currently have, would be significantly worse. Without the growing numbers of qualified CX specialists around the world, we would not be seeing the innovation and inspiration behind customer centricity that we are.

I have and will continue to be part of the CX Revolution – it is what I do. It is my vocation. Whilst in relative terms there are only a small number of others who also consider CX to be their vocation, together, we can continue to evolve CX to become the way that more and more organisations work – now and sustainably in the future.



  1. Many executives, and many CX practitioners as well, lag in linking customer experience with the emotional and functional realities of employee experience (EX). Though not necessarily operating on a random and unintentional basis, enterprises and individuals with the power to influence and change are largely risk averse. That’s a key limiting factor for progress going forward. Exemplar individuals and companies are different for a reason. They understand that it takes far more than customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, employee satisfaction, and employee engagement for these stakeholder groups to generate more, and more lasting, value. Stakeholder experience and value, as priorities and obsessions, must be embedded in cultural DNA and ‘lived’ as operating processes and initiatives. Customer Experience Day is a convenient mnemonic for putting these issues on the table for consideration.

  2. I think the real “Revolution” need to be in the conceptualization of CX itself. Personally I would be tempted to drop the “C” in much the same way as Brian Solis…in that we are not just talking about “Customers” post purchase, but we are talking about people who interact with the brand whenever and wherever. We need to get away from the marketing vs. retention mindset that envelopes so many companies and view the whole journey from the “customers” (whether they bought something or not) perspective and then design to that. We can create purposeful experiences. We have all the tools. It’s just putting them all together. So perhaps Revolutionary thinking and Evolutionary implementation is the most prudent course of action. Thanks for the read.

  3. Hi Michael,

    I am not sure if here is the right place to ask you the following question; if it isn’t, just ignore it.

    Can a company or a brand deliver a good CX without the level of employee engagement that you always emphasize? Why?


  4. Hi Ian,

    Let me clarify if I truely understand what you meant by evolution and revolution of CX.

    I have read your post about Ryanair on needs and wants. If Ryanair seeks for your advice to enhance their CX, is it likely including the followings that most CX experts would advice:

    * Change of DNA
    * Culture transformation
    * Service improvement
    * Employee engagement

    Are these evolution or revolution?


  5. Reply to Sampson –

    Happy to respond to your question…..but perhaps not in the way you anticipated.

    Engagement is chiefly about employee fit, alignment, and productivity in the enterprise. Based on a decade of research into employee behavior and how it links to customer behavior, we call engagement an initial stage in the journey toward optimum CX (and EX).. Though, like satisfaction, engagement does show some correlation to customer behavior, it does not inherently focus on commitment to customer value delivery or to CX: For that, organizational stakeholder-centricity and employee ambassadorship (commitment to enterprise, company product/service value proposition, fellow employees, and customers) should be the goal

  6. Michael,

    Glad to receive your reply and it helps me to understand the difference between ’employee engagement’ and ’employee ambassadorship’.

    Quoted in your linked article, “Ambassadorship should be an enterprise-wide mantra for every organization: All employees need to embody the intended customer experience.”

    I could easily think of brands like Ritz Carlton and Singapore Airlines, which extremely focus on ‘service’, would exploit from applying ’employee ambassadorship’; I’d hardly imagine for brands such as IKEA and Ryanair, that mainly compete on ‘pricing’, could deploy ’employee ambassadorship’ in their organizations and benefit from it.

    I’ve a big question mark on “Ambassadorship should be an ENTERPRISE-WIDE mantra for EVERY organization”

    Can you explain briefly, say for example, how companies like Ryanair or IKEA could implement ’employee ambassadorship’ and reap benefits from it?

    Many thanks!

  7. Reply to Sampson –

    Ambassadorship follows a ‘people-first’ stakeholder-centric basis, where employee experience is as important as customer experience. So, succinctly, ambassadorship is about both culture and processes within an enterprise, and is the responsibility for all employees, irrespective of function, level, or location. IKEA, in the U.S. at least, understands this; however, the cultural (and stated executive leadership) philosophy at Ryanair probably keeps ambassadorship from being executed there. Virgin, Singapore, and Southwest have no such impediments.

    For further insight, here is the recording of my recent webinar addressing this very subject:

  8. Michael,

    That’s great!

    You found the example of applying employee ambassadorship on a brand which focuses on ‘pricing’. Can you share with us how IKEA in the U.S. is – using your phase – “optimizing and connecting employee commitment to the organization and its goals, to the company’s unique value proposition, and to the customer”?

    Just a few lines on “How” IKEA is doing this would be perfect.

  9. Michael,

    I’ve read your articles twice before I gave my comments.

    First of all, I don’t rule out the possibility that you might be the minority to have experienced IKEA differently in some IKEA stores in the U.S. But I suspect that how many people would agree with you that IKEA has delivered a “terrific customer service”, and “IKEA looks at the most important and leveraging touchpoint elements of the customer experience from the customer’s perspective—from parking the car, to service, selecting stock, checking out, delivery, and installation.”

    And other than what the above stated, I see nothing comes close to ‘employee ambassadorship’ in your article about IKEA. If what IKEA is doing is ‘employee ambassadorship’, then almost every company does. There is certainly no need for you preaching this ambassadorship idea all the time in your posts and comments.

    No single solution solves all problems. There’s nothing to be ashamed of or hidden away with the fact that there’re limitations of ‘employee ambassadorship’ too. It could generate significant values to service-focused companies, but could be little or no values to brands competing on ‘pricing’ or ‘products’.

    I won’t deny that service might sometimes have to be lifted up for the non service-focused brands, but the resources required – time, manpower and financial – is entirely different from implementing an enterprise-wide ‘employee ambassadorship’. If they do it, it may seriously weaken their original competitive edges and push them into the crowded Red Oceans.

    Michael, you are a respectful opinion leader in your field and is a popular website for business executives around the globe seeking advices and directions for their customer management initiatives. To be a responsible professional, would it be better to state the boundaries or limits of ‘employee ambassadorship’ when next time you recommend it to your audience?

  10. Thank you all for your comments and subsequent conversation – hugely useful for everyone reading this!

    Sampson – re Ryanair – although it may be difficult for many to believe, Ryanair’s approach to CX HAS been evolving – they have been working on a programme called ‘Always Getting Better’ for three years now. As a result, the experience today IS better than it was three years ago!

    However, there is also little doubt that Ryanair’s approach to CX has not been underpinned by any fundamental shift in culture or mindset – it has been almost entirely functional. What Ryanair is lacking is any semblance of REVOLUTION – largely because it is led by such a parochial leadership team, that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for anyone to lead a revolution from the inside.

    That being said, it looks like the pilots are now starting a revolution of sorts – but not one that will benefit the customer – not in the short term anyway. I genuinely feel that if Ryanair is to actually transform, it will need a change of leadership – is that possible – who knows. Whilst Michael O’Leary remains the number 1 decision maker, customer centric transformation will be limited to anything that will benefit Ryanair first, the customer second and the employee a distant third.

  11. Reply to Sampson –

    You are in Hong Kong. I’m in the U.S.; and I have actually interviewed IKEA’s North American head of HR, who is based in the Philadelphia area, where I live. Their employees are committed to customers, and they are trained to proactively interact, not just with service but to represent the company’s core concept and values. Employee ambassadorship is both aspirational and achievable, with firm ideas and metrics to support the journey that begins with employee satisfaction, moves to employee engagement, and culminates in a ‘people first’ culture, with commitment to customers and the enterprise value proposition. My statements stand.

  12. Michael,

    When I deliver our CEM certification workshop in 19 cities on five continents, one thing I won’t miss is visiting the local IKEA stores. Their staff are usually nice, and never rude or ignoring customers; their issue is inadequate on-site staff to serve.

    Nowadays, nobody, even as ‘crazy’ as Michael O’Leary, would say in public that CX is unimportant. As customers’ expectations are ever rising, it’s natural for all companies to improve their level of CX, Ryanair and IKEA won’t be the exceptions, the question is the extent – evolution or revolution. If Ian interviewed Ryanair three years ago, it wouldn’t surprise me that if he found they had good intention to improve CX.

    Let’s assume IKEA, at least in the U.S., has good intention to improving their CX, it’s still a long distance away from the ‘employee ambassadorship’ that you preach. Even one has a good intention, it doesn’t mean thing’s done or achieved. Many brands have good intention to be customer-centric, are they customer-centric? I’ve a good intention to be a world champion, I won’t be one until I did it, right?

    Your statement “Ambassadorship should be an enterprise-wide mantra for every organization” won’t stand until you could prove it, and I didn’t ask for you proving it with ‘every organization’. I just asked for a couple of non service-focused brands as examples to demonstrate it. Then, you brought up IKEA the U.S. as an example for ‘employee ambassadorship’, and up till this moment, I still think it’s an unconvincing example, and I trust that so do the audience reading this post.

    Maybe you should consider consolidating your other examples and arguments into an article. I believe it would be beneficial to me and to the audience a lot, and we won’t hijack this space anymore away from the original Ian’s post and discussions.

    Look forward to seeing how you’re going to prove your statement.

  13. Ian,

    Thanks for your reply.

    Besides having a right leader in the driving seat – for sure not Michael O’Leary type of person – are the following items enough for a brand to take the revolution of CX:

    * Change of DNA
    * Culture transformation
    * Service improvement
    * Employee engagement

    Did I miss anything, or, did I not getting the term right, such as, might it be more appropriate to use ‘Employee ambassadorship” rather than ‘Employee engagement’?

    Can you cite a couple examples of non service-focused brands which have successfully taken the CX revolution? No need to state the details, I merely want to know the results achieved (such as driving NPS, sales, retention, etc.) and the time taken to arrive that stage (e.g. weeks, months or years)?

    Thanks in advance.

  14. Hi Ian, for me CX is an evolution rather than a revolution. Due to various reasons the traditional cultures and structures do not longer fit the way a customer behaves. Disciplines like Marketing, Sales and Operations melt together and have to operate as one to serve the customer. It takes time for organizations to adept to these circumstances and to evolve towards a organization that can adjust to new customer behavior. This is also why areas such as CX arise.

    The maturity of CX is slowly heading in the right direction. However, the fact that some professionals approach it as a revolution might be one of the reasons C-level support is lacking. I believe that C-level never disagrees with the fact that customers are a main priority, but they are also looking for confidence that a company tries it best to balance customer centricity with the challenge to be efficient. Especially in larger companies (and they tend to grow bigger and bigger…) this is a huge challenge. Still, many CX professionals have the urge to overstate the increase of customer satisfaction. People working on (improving) CX will gain more trust with their stakeholders if they show that dual responsibility and show that CX and efficiency can and need to go hand-in-hand. Even more so, C-level will be more willing to enhance CX since it will benefit the companies on both sides.

  15. Reply to Sampson –

    Non-service related brands practicing ambassadorship? For example, how about –

    – Google
    – TD Bank
    – Harley-Davidson
    – Caterpillar
    – Johnson & Johnson
    – Toyota
    – New Balance
    – eBay
    – IDEO
    – Ultimate Software
    – Timberland
    – CarMax

    …and on and on and on. And, fyi, I’ve consolidated other examples and arguments into multiple articles, white papers, webinars, and a book, published earlier this year:

  16. Thank you Sampson for driving the continued debate – and to you too Michael for adding your huge wealth of knowledge and insight. Re examples of brands, I concur with Michael.

    When it comes to the employee angle – we may be talking pedantics, but I like the words Employee Advocacy – even in the absence of strong people focused leadership, if employees are advocates of the customer, each other and the brand, they can have a positive effect on driving the revolution from the bottom up. To be an advocate, they have to believe so strongly in doing the right thing, that they will do so, irrespective of the lack of direction from above.

  17. Christiaan – thank you so much for talking the time to read and comment on this. I do actually agree with you. The point you make stresses why it is so important to keep developing and investing in the profession that CX has become. To be an effective CX Professional, it is not enough to understand tools and competencies – you must also have the ability to be the ultimate diplomat – adapting and adjusting to every situation and scenario to influence change. Revolution does not have to (and often must not) be aggressive. There are people working in CX related roles who do not possess the full plethora of both technical and behavioural skills to do this – they are not bad people – they just need further development to use their skill and ability to speed up the evolution of CX.

  18. Agree, if CX professionals are able to connect their drive for customers to the operational and financial people and challenges within organizations they (and the customer) will experience more speed in their improvements. In our education practise and CX communities we need to spend serious time on this area of their work. Thanks for your ideas and your work on CX.


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