Customer Experience Maturity: Part I


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Customer Experience (CX) is not a “switch” that companies simply flip to the “on” position. This is not a binary condition, where a firm either is or is not customer-centric. This is a world of grays, of degrees of maturity along a continuum from organizations that have barely scratched the surface of CX issues to those that boast mature, developed CX ecosystems. This is the real world, where there is no single right way, where is there always room for improvement, where there are no silver bullet solutions.

Almost all companies are uneven in their approach to CX. There is an oasis of CX practices in one area of a company that otherwise has trouble spelling “CX.” At the other extreme are firms with legendary CX standards that still have inconsistencies across their organization, are struggling to overcome silos, or have not been sufficiently rigorous in their measurement and analysis.

Most companies are not consistent in every aspect of their CX activities. Some have well-articulated CX goals, but don’t follow through on implementation or action. Others get mere lip service from leaders who do not walk-the-talk but still have pockets of rigorous CX practices. Few, if any, companies are at the same stage of development in every aspect of their CX journey.

Five Stages of Maturity

The five stages or levels of CX systems are not discreet, distinct, linear steps. Rather, think of them as porous phases of a curve of relative sophistication where a firm might bounce around and can be strong on some criteria, weak on others, and fair-to-middling on still other aspects.

The phases on continuum of CX maturity or competency can be described as

  1. Nascent
  2. Basic
  3. Tactical
  4. Strategic
  5. Transformational

The nascent level is the most elementary, where someone has read about the promise of CX and decides to “do a survey.” There is a budding idea that something must be done to improve CX, but there is little by way of structure, vision, or discipline. There might be a “CX project” being run by some designee in one part of the business who typically has little or no background and less direction. There are no meaningful business objectives for the project; the goal often is stated as measuring satisfaction or simply completing the project. The project is not connected to any other activities in the company; often has a specific start and end date; and receives minimal funding, often with money carved out of some other budgetary area. There may even be a project manager, but no one owns CX. Leadership yawns and is uninvolved (and unconvinced that CX is anything more than a cost center).

At a slightly more sophisticated level, we see basic CX efforts characterized by multiple uncoordinated projects. There usually are a few pockets of CX activity across the company being individually implemented by different groups in isolation, each wearing blinders with a narrowly defined functional focus on their specific needs. Questionnaires, scales, contact rules, analyses, and every aspect of the projects are inconsistent and lacking in Best Practice standards. Projects are designed from the wrong end of the telescope with an inside-out mind set. The focus tends to be on getting “good scores,” rather than what the scores might mean and how to measure results reliably. Operating on shoe-string budgets by managers with little or no expertise in the CX field, these projects have minimalist objectives and comparable organizational impact. Leadership may talk-the-talk, but that is all.

At the tactical stage, we see various projects that are tactical in scope and have no broader company-wide vision. Different parts of the organization might communicate and make a modest effort to introduce some degree of consistency, but there is usually little coordination or standardization, as each project narrowly focuses on its own tactical objectives. At this point, the projects often diverge widely in their level of sophistication; some areas bring in people with a level of CX expertise, perhaps do journey mapping, and begin to work toward Best Practice standards, while others continue with a more improvisational approach. The success of some tactical projects and closed-loop efforts to remediate CX performance failures grab the attention and support of some leaders who start to pay attention to and support their efforts.

A more structured, disciplined programmatic approach characterizes the strategic level of maturity. Less ad hoc and more standardized, CX is articulated as a component of the brand promise and there is an explicit effort to link CX to broader corporate objectives. A dedicated, fully staffed CX function emerges with executive sponsorship and a newly designated Chief Customer Officer charged with harmonizing and upgrading the company’s CX efforts. Inside-out thinking is displaced by an outside-in mindset. CX becomes part of the company’s agenda and a dimension for evaluating employee performance. Key performance indicators (KPIs) and CX data are linked to business outcomes and customer behavior, both for validation and to measure the impact of CX. An enterprise-wide perspective on CX emerges. The economic impact of CX is established, and funding for CX is more readily available.

The transformational stage is characterized by moving beyond programmatic CX efforts to a stage where CX is an intrinsic part of the corporate culture, where CX thinking is seamlessly woven into the DNA of the organization. Staff at all levels – from executive leadership to entry-level junior team members – recognize that CX is everyone’s responsibility and evangelize about being customer-focused. Measurement is rigorous across all channels of customer input. The linkage between Employee Experience and CX is analyzed, along with a wide array of internal and external data. CX training sits alongside other mandatory training for employees. Leadership plays “the long game,” recognizing that the customer relationship creates value for the firm and that investments in superior CX yield a positive payout. While data is king, the emphasis is on understanding and curating how customers “feel” about the firm and nurturing positive emotional connections. Action trumps intent, and employees are empowered to go above and beyond to deliver the type of experience that lives up to the brand promise.

Along this curve from nascent to transformational, everything changes:

  • One-off projects evolve into programmatic enterprise-wide systems.
  • Rudimentary single-source surveys become sophisticated multi-channel listening systems.
  • Simplistic project goals of measuring satisfaction mature into objectives integrally related to business outcomes and customer behaviors.
  • The assignment of whomever-might-be-available to run a project gives way to a professionally staffed CX function drawing on in-house and outside expertise.
  • Measurement and analysis are transformed from haphazard to rigorous.
  • Once seen as “not my job,” CX is seen as everyone’s job.
  • Leadership moves from passive acquiescence to overt support, involvement, and encouragement.
  • CX moves from the periphery of the company to the firm’s core.

The road from the nascent CX stage to the transformational is a long, multi-faceted path. Moving through the various stages of CX maturity takes concentrated effort and time. Companies change slowly and the process of increasing sophistication in the CX arena is no exception to this rule. That said, the process does not just happen by itself. Someone or some group must take the lead to urge, cajole, prove, nudge, and push (sometimes uphill) to shepherd the organization along the continuum.

Howard Lax, Ph.D.

Supporting better informed decision making with technology, research and strategy. With a focus on CX/VoC/NPS, Employee Engagement and emotion analytics, Howard's domain is the application of marketing information and SaaS platforms to solve business problems and activating CX programs to drive business objectives.


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