Customer Experience Management – COVID Demands It’s Time To Change The Narrative

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This article is intended as a provocation around how the CX community likes to see its value and the associated narrative often told to support that identity. Customer experience management is at a tipping point.

Where We Are Now

The industry has blossomed during the last decade. It has global, regional, and local communities of practitioners. Many have taken the initiative to accredit themselves and then tilled the soil to plant the vison and practice of customer experience management. It has been a question of bootstrapping an ideology into existence. Often against the odds in terms of influence, allies, seniority, and budget.

As customers, we have undoubtably benefited.

However, there is now an urgent need to pivot. It is time to align closely with the commercial imperatives of the times we now find ourselves in. Cost and revenue are what matter during times of crisis. Can CX adapt its mindset, language, and priorities in time?

COVID-19 is causing a global recession few sectors will escape. Even the buoyant ones (think solutions built on cloud services) will need clients with budgets to keep prospering.

For many, the inevitability of recession translates into budget cuts, centralised control over spending decisions and greater scrutiny between the competing claims for investment. The bar for a convincing business case will surely rise as heads of function jostle to make standout pitches for their priority projects.

Even then, executives with long memories will be mindful of a recurrent statistic: success in large scale transformation has remained stubbornly stuck at just 30% for many decades. With less to go round, who can be trusted to execute effectively and deliver on the promised value?

This is the new world we find ourselves in. For a new video series ‘Leading with Feeling’ I’m launching with co-presenter Peter Dorrington, I recently interviewed Greg Randall, a globally renowned retail expert. Greg has just completed in depth research into the new realities COVID presents.

His feedback is that far too many CXOs are still hoping to sit through the downturn until business returns as it eventually did after the 2008 recession. But this is flawed thinking according to Greg once the complete dynamic that COVID has caused is taken into consideration. This time, customer priorities are being forever changed which means organisations must pivot to remain relevant.

A pandemic with no clear end in sight continues to reset customer habits. More time online and at home. Less opportunity for social mingling. Threats to health and income. More reason to be anxious about the future. By the way, do email Greg for the full picture. His B2C and B2B research is well worth a read.

So, assuming that we are facing permanent rather than temporary change, how does the CX community respond?

As owners of customer insight, surely one of the first priorities is to update everyone’s understanding of what now matters to customers? As a result, to what degree are personas out of date?

Secondly, there must be a new mission to stay close to the rapid adoption of contactless engagement now favoured by anxious consumers and ensure they are being designed to CX as well as technical standards? It has been extensively reported how fast digital transformation has accelerated since lockdown.

And surely the wastage implied in silo behaviours, a favourite villain in most CX research, must warrant another look with a view to creating more streamlined organisational models?

There are many ambitious projects that could be adopted. Or would it just be smarter to align with immediate executive concerns over cost and revenue? At least for now.

This is an issue of relevance. Or at least, being seen to lean into and directly contributing to the immediate urgencies. News headlines of the dramatic measures organisational leaders are being forced to take will only increase as the context of recession moves centre stage. The underlying message is that all attention is being focussed on what matters now.

And here is the tension.

At the heart of the CX mission is a long-term view of customer value as opposed to the short termism that drives many business plans and therefore corporate behaviour which often causes poor customer experience. To rebalance this agenda, a great deal of effort has been put into gathering and amplifying the customer voice as a scene setter for then driving the right priorities.

More recently, this has focussed on making insight actionable so that improvements flow and value is generated.  At the same time, journey mapping has provided a way to visualise things and new skills have been introduced in the form of service design, UX etc to reshape customer experiences.

This logical and widely adopted approach has become a blueprint for customer experience management. But in terms of impact it is often jam tomorrow. Or the customer behaviours that CX aims to evoke are not obviously connected to cash and growth. In less troubled times, this could be accepted as investment in a better future. But when timeframes are compressed to present realities only, the narrative must change and recalibrate to the urgencies.

Point taken. So what needs to happen?

Have I practical suggestions on how a pivot works in practice?

I think so.

First, I would reframe my priorities under a unifying aim that is relevant and commercially strong. Of course, one that still needs all the CX toolkits and skills I’ve been developing over the years.

For instance, we know from behavioural psychology that when threatened, people instinctively gravitate to protecting themselves from actual or potential loss. This could easily be translated into a corporate mindset around protecting the organisations from customer loss.

Customer churn has become endemic over the last decade in a world full of alternatives, sky-high expectations for innovative experiences and accumulated memories of negative emotive outcomes. Recovering customers is a multiple win for both growth and cost.

Yet it often remains a niche rather than a mainstream activity. Ever heard of a Head of Churn? Neither have I. Generally speaking, there is still more incentive to winning rather than keeping a customer which we all know makes no sense economically.

Slowing customer churn, preventing at risk customers from leaving or winning back lapsed customers is a clear example of leaning into current priorities and committing to fix the leaking bucket. Much of what you would need to do is part of existing CX best practice but that’s your business. The cause you now evangelise is the cost benefit of reducing churn by x% within y months. Quite a difference impact.

And if others argue that this is already their mission, (Sales or Marketing) I’d prove that a CX lens would add a multiplier effect on success rates.

This brings me to my second point. Invest in your ability to sound relevant to the executives who control the cash. It is their language not yours you need to learn to speak. Research suggests it is not a widespread competency in the industry. A recent survey amongst the Irish CCXP membership put pitching for CX ROI as a top concern.  

‘Getting access to funding and CX specific budgets to drive CX change and build a roadmap is proving challenging. Many practitioners are not confident in measuring the return on investment.’

Source: CXPA Ireland Survey ‘CX – On The Cusp? Customer Experience Management in Ireland 2020’:

More precisely:

While over a third agreed that:

One the industry’s most experienced observers, Claire Sporton SVP, Customer Experience Innovation at Confirmit has been consistently clear over the last few years on what she sees as a strategic weakness throughout the CX industry.

The ability to deliver ROI is crucial. We need to challenge ourselves and ask if the short tenure in roles is related to CX leaders struggling in this area. CX metrics have their place, but the lack of ability to tie CX back to financial metrics underpins the challenge many face. Focus on ROI must be the priority for 2020 to secure the future of our discipline.

So what’s to be done? Again, I can do better than simply wave a flag over the issue. I’m also in a position to offer practical assistance in the form of a just launched four hour online workshop that will improve your ROI pitching skills. Here’s the detail. Maybe I’ll see you over the next few months.

Hope you enjoyed the read.  

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