CX Is NOT The Solution; It’s The Problem


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When Conventional CX can discern nothing but ‘service’ in brand promises, pleasure peaks and pain points, every CX issue looks like a ‘service’ issue; it solves the wrong problems and creates disasters.

Branded Experience vs. De-Branded Experience

Customer experience per se does not differentiate brands but only if the experience is distinctive to the brand and valuable to the customer. It is the difference between a de-branded customer experience and a branded one that creates the impact.” – Shaun Smith, founder of Smith+Co

A branded experience means a brand delivers their promise; the brand promise appears at the peak on an Emotion Curve [1] – a Branded Peak. While a de-branded experience is a brand fails to keep their promise; the brand promise sits at the valley – a De-Branded Valley.

Figure 1: Emotion Curve of the IKEA In-Store Experience – The Netherlands
Figure 2: Emotion Curve of the IKEA In-Store Experience – Mainland China

The Emotion Curves in figure 1 and 2 are derived from 511 Dutch and 2,187 Chinese consumers who had responded to a global IKEA research, respectively [2].

Both of them have three common pain points – ‘Forced round tour’, ‘Availability of staff for on-site support’, and ‘Queuing time at check-out counter’. However, the peak of Dutch’s experience, ‘Product pricing’, is the valley of Mainland Chinese’s. What should IKEA do?

Conventional CX Creates and Aggravates CX Problems

Conventional CX looks at the situations with its double standards:

    Brand promise doesn’t reckon without ‘service’. It would disregard the brand promise of IKEA – inexpensive prices – as it isn’t related to ‘service’.
    Peak doesn’t count without ‘service’. It wouldn’t see the peak ‘Product pricing’ of IKEA the Netherlands since it has nothing to do with ‘service’.
    Valley doesn’t matter without ‘service’. Therefore, the most severe pain point of IKEA Mainland China, ‘Product pricing’, is ignored. All Conventional CX could see is the ‘service’ valleys – the three common pain points – of IKEA the Netherlands and Mainland China.

Obviously, Conventional CX doesn’t understand the authentic values and irreplaceable role of Good Valleys in fulfilling brand promises. Naturally, it would recommend IKEA to concentrate resources on minimizing or removing the three common pain points of both Dutch and Chinese consumers. The results can be devastating.

Figure 3: The Branded Experience of IKEA the Netherlands becomes a No Brand Experience

If IKEA the Netherlands took the advice of Conventional CX, the valleys – the three common pain points – would be removed and so would the Branded Peak as shown in figure 3.

The peak, ‘Product pricing’, is significantly lowered for two reasons. One – Resources are diluted to eliminate the valleys. Two – These valleys are Good Valleys. The substantial resources initially saved for supporting the Branded Peak vanish. It further weakens the peak.

As a result, the Emotion Curve is flattened and the branded experience becomes homogenized – a no brand experience.

Figure 4: The De-Branded Valley ‘Product Pricing’ of IKEA Mainland China is Aggravated

Similarly, the valleys of IKEA Mainland China are either improved upon or eliminated. At the same time, the De-Branded Valley ‘Product pricing’ is further lowered as shown in figure 4. The de-branded experience worsens.

Real CX Renders Non-biased Solutions to CX Problems

Real CX never discriminates any brand promise. Instead, it builds solutions around the brand promise – in IKEA’s case, the inexpensive prices.

Let’s apply the three objective criteria for customer experience assessment. For IKEA the Netherlands:

    1. Deliver brand promise. ‘Product pricing’ is located at the peak on the Emotion Curve of IKEA the Netherlands, as shown in figure 1. In other words, they fulfill their brand promise and are delivering a branded experience.
    2. Create values for customers. Through Value Exchange, IKEA the Netherlands offers inexpensive prices for customers by allowing the three common pain points – Good Valleys – to support the Branded Peak.
    3. Achieve business results. The Branded Peak, ‘Product pricing’, is significant and is the No.1 and No.3 drivers of repeat purchase and NPS (net promoter score), respectively [3]. Their resource allocation is perfectly aligned with business results.

Until they reach a point where the three common pain points fall below the minimum standards (or to a level deemed unacceptable by their target customers) [4], IKEA the Netherlands should maintain the status quo – because they are doing a pretty fine job.

On the contrary, ‘Product pricing’ is situated at the valley on the Emotion Curve of IKEA Mainland China shown in figure 2. This means that they fail to keep their promise. Even a successful brand like IKEA can sometimes deliver a de-branded experience.

Thus, the three common valleys make customers sweat for nothing when ‘Product pricing’ becomes a De-Branded Valley – the worst kind of valley – as their brand promise is broken. There are no values created for customers and of course business results are not achieved.

Hence, IKEA Mainland China must convert their de-branded experience into a branded experience, by focusing all their available resources in ‘Product pricing’ to make it a Branded Peak [5].

Real CX rightly points out what has gone wrong, aligns resources with business results, and gives impartial advises to ensure the delivery of brand promise.

Conventional CX is biased towards ‘service’, ignores the brand promise, creates a problem for IKEA the Netherlands and aggravates the problem for IKEA Mainland China. It misses the whole point, solves the wrong problem and creates disaster.

When Conventional CX can discern nothing but ‘service’ in brand promises, peaks and valleys, every CX issue looks like a ‘service’ issue. It’s no wonder why Conventional CX has only one prescription.

The One Prescription of Conventional CX

To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” – Mark Twain, American writer

No matter what kind of company you are, brand promises you make or CX challenges you face, the solution offered by Conventional CX is always the “Serve Customers Better” approach. It generally includes (the terminologies might differ, but their meanings are similar):

    * Culture transformation.
    * Emotional engagement.
    * Employee engagement.
    * Service improvements.

Culture transformation. The engine of Conventional CX is customer-centricity. For that reason, the role of transforming culture or changing of DNA is exceedingly important in its solution. However, customer-centricity could be the false god of customer experience.

IKEA, Sukiyabashi Jiro and Ryanair would hardly be regarded as customer-centric organizations. Still, they deliver brand promises, achieve business results and create values for customers. In other words, customer-centricity is not a prerequisite for CX success.

Emotional engagement. Customers make purchases at convenience stores for ‘fast and easy’, and fly ultra-low cost carriers simply for the cheapest airfares. Sometimes, getting the job done is good enough.

Don’t make the same mistake as CRM (customer relationship management) did. Not every customer would like to have a relationship with your brand. Similarly, not all customers want to be emotionally engaged.

Employee engagement. There is no doubt that every company needs to engage with their employees. The matter is the extent. For instance, the degree to which Starbucks should be engaging with their employees could be very different from McDonald’s.

To some companies the minimum level of employee engagement is a basic requirement; to others it might be the optimal state. The level of employee engagement varies from company to company.

Service improvements. Nowadays, the expectations of customers are ever-rising. No company can escape the need to continuously improve their customer services.

It is the mission of Ritz Carlton to deliver the highest level of service to their customers. Yet, IKEA might only need to enhance the three common pain points just above the unacceptable levels of their target customers. The degree of service improvement is dictated by brand promises.

Are You a Responsible CX Professional?

Many CX professionals are prone to the same impulsive judgements in which every CX problem is ‘service’ related. However, different brands have different promises. No one solution can cure all CX problems. What’s more, the solution “Serve Customers Better” approach is usually rendered before or without any diagnosis.

As shown above, one singular solution doesn’t apply to every company or all situations: “Customer-centricity is not a prerequisite for CX success” and “Not all customers want to be emotionally engaged.”

Some CX experts may say that they could implement the “Serve Customers Better” approach in a more gradual manner, though the eventual end nevertheless is a full-scale and company-wide implementation.

Still, there is no one-size-fits-all: “The level of employee engagement varies from company to company” and “The degree of service improvement is dictated by brand promises.”

The one prescription doesn’t suit everyone.

In spite of diabetes being a major health problem, I can’t imagine any medical doctor – before or without any diagnosis – giving the heaviest dose of diabetes medication to all patients with different kinds of diseases. It’s totally irresponsible and insane. No medical professionals would actually do this.

Notwithstanding that ‘service’ is a major CX issue, this should never be an excuse for any CX professional to render a full-scale “Service Customers Better” approach to all companies with different kinds of CX challenges. It’s just plain wrong.

Be a responsible customer experience professional: Stop practicing Fake CX and start practicing Authentic CX.


    1. An Emotion Curve is mapped by linking all the satisfaction levels of the sub-processes (touch-point experiences) and attributes that are encountered or perceived by customers and affect their emotions in a natural time sequence during a touch-point experience (total customer experience). I created the Emotion Curve in 2006. See Sampson Lee, One Cup of Coffee, 20 Experiences: Take a Tip From Starbucks (, 4 June 2006).
    2. Global IKEA In-store Customer Experience Research, Global CEM, CustomerThink (U.S.) and TOTE-M (Netherlands), December 2008-February 2009.
    3. Ditto.
    4. Minimum standards are criteria set internally by companies. They are the lowest level performance a company allows and could be anything from maintaining a certain rating level by complying with particular standards, to tracking discretionary measures, such as number of complaints generated. Unacceptable levels are derived externally from customers. They are the performances that would drive a specific segment of customers away or generate seriously negative word-of-mouth. These experiences can be identified by analyzing empirical data or running the correlation and regression analyses using the X-VOC research.

    5. We had a causal conversation with the IKEA business executives in Mainland China. They shared the same view that more resources should be dedicated to making ‘Product pricing’ their peak since it is IKEA’s brand promise universally.


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