In my opinion, there are three long-held beliefs in the customer experience (CX) world which adversely affect the dreams and careers of CX professionals:
1. Customer obsession.
2. CX transformation is needed to become a customer-centric company.
3. Improving customer experience will drive business results.
CX professionals have a noble aspiration
“Customer-centricity is a commitment or a strategy to assure the success of your customer,” says Joseph Michelli, chief experience officer of The Michelli Experience.
Michelli’s definition may not be the perfect or ultimate one, but it is more concrete and much closer to the original purpose of customer-centricity – creating values for customers / helping customers achieve their desired goals – than the common definition “Putting the customer at the center of everything you do.”
Personally, I truly appreciate the noble idea of customer-centricity (obsessed with customer value) and admire the passion and tireless efforts of CX professionals trying to transform their organizations to be customer-focused.
Yet, most CX experts interpret customer obsession as “obsessed with customer interactions”; it’s not right.
“Customer obsession” is misinterpreted
Have you ever wondered why both Southwest Airlines and Ryanair create value for their passengers – a low price – but only the former is labeled as a customer-centered company? It’s because Southwest “serves customers well” and Ryanair doesn’t.
If you have read any books, articles or blog posts about customer-centricity written by industry experts, only those brands which “serve customers well” – like Zappos, Ritz Carlton and Virgin Atlantic – are being identified and praised as customer-focused, while the brands that compete purely on pricing or product would rarely feature.
Companies mostly can’t be customer-centric unless they serve customers well. It deviates from the original purpose of customer-centricity as it’s about being obsessed with customer value rather than interactions; good customer interactions is merely one of many values.
CX professionals have an impossible mission
“CX transformation is needed to become a customer-centric company” is a widespread belief in the CX world.
However, Forrester’s research director Harley Manning remarks, “CX transformations are massive, take years, and cost millions.” This poses a dilemma.
Only large firms can afford to undertake a CX transformation, but converting the mindsets and behaviors of people as well as the entire value chain of a sophisticated organization to be customer-centric is insanely hard. Well-established companies would have a slim chance to make it.
What’s more, customers have different needs and wants – e.g. inexpensive prices, prestige feeling or great products – not merely good services or interactions. It makes no sense to undertake a CX transformation – bearing enormous manpower, time and financial costs – if your competition strategy isn’t service-focused.
Evidently, CX transformation is unaffordable and undesirable for the majority of enterprises. Transforming their own organizations to becoming customer-centric is, literally, an unachievable target and not sensible for most CX practitioners.
When a brand communicates to customers which value they are going to generate for them, it becomes a brand promise. If this value is critical to customers and when the brand keeps its word, they accomplish the primary goal of customer-centricity.
Say Susan manages a small family-owned shop – Susan’s Cookies – selling cookies in her local community. When Susan’s Cookies delivers its promise, for instance, to produce hand-made and fresh baked goods, and the customers of the local community keep coming back for that reason, Susan’s Cookies is customer-centric even though they aren’t “obsessed with customer interactions” and didn’t undergo a CX transformation.
Every company, no matter a giant corporation or a family business, and whatever its focus (service, pricing or product), can be customer-driven as long as they honor their promise – delivering the value that customers care about – and achieve business results. Customer-centricity is certainly not the privilege of a few companies.
CX professionals are innocent
Year after year, CX executives have been criticized for not aligning what they do with business results. But why don’t they? Someone suggested that they are unaware of the need to tie CX to business value or lack of ROI skills; these are minor factors.
Unless you don’t read any news or articles about CX, it’s almost impossible for anyone in the industry to not be mindful of the fact that CEOs don’t support CX because it doesn’t result in business impact. Since this issue has existed for years, the ROI skills should have been developed – they aren’t rocket science.
From my perspective, the key reason for the misalignment is that: CX practitioners firmly believe what they have been concentrated on – improving customer interactions – is driving business results.
Industry authorities have been preaching “Improving customer experience will drive business results” for years. And like it or not, customer experience is commonly perceived as customer interactions. Still, customers’ decisions for repeat purchases are mainly decided by how capable a brand is at helping them achieve their desired goals, rather than by how good a brand makes them feel. Enhancing customer interactions would drive CX scores and “happy” customers instead of repeat sales.
It is unfair for CX folks to take the blame for the decade-long disconnect between CX and business results, just because they follow the advice of industry authorities.
QB House, the barbershop chain founded in Japan, is a featured case study in Kim and Mauborgne’s seminal book Blue Ocean Strategy. Today QB House has over 600 locations in Asia. I had a haircut there when I visited Tokyo 12 years ago.
Unlike a traditional barbershop, the only staff in QB House are hair stylists. They exclude all the usual frills, e.g. shampoos and colorings. They just cut. My hair stylist is nice but I won’t say I am well served. Except “hello” and “goodbye,” he is almost silent throughout the entire process. It’s a fast (10-minute), clean (air-wash) and inexpensive (1,000 yen) haircut. I have become a regular customer since coming back to Hong Kong.
Similar as QB House’s, McDonald’s customers return because they are fast, clean and inexpensive. Loyal customers buy Louis Vuitton handbags for its prestige image and purchase IKEA furniture due to its good value for money. These brands don’t “serve customers well” yet customers keep coming back.
Clearly, what triggers customers to buy again could be pricing, product or something else but isn’t necessarily associated with customer interactions. Improving customer experience may not drive business results.
Your dream or career? Why not both!
Forrester predicted that 25% of CX professionals will be fired this year since they aren’t producing business impact; in spite of customer-centricity being promoted for decades, very few companies have successfully developed into acclaimed customer-driven brands. The root cause for it being so easy to lose your jobs and so hard to become a customer-driven organization is, in my view, “obsessed with customer interactions.”
To secure and thrive in your career, you must understand that enjoying hand-made cookies and having a straightforward haircut – not only being well-served – can be the jobs-to-be-done of your customers. When you are focused on customer success rather than interactions, your CX initiatives won’t be restricted to improving ‘service’-related attributes, and you are more likely to achieve business results and gain CEOs’ buy-ins.
In addition, you would have a greater chance to realize your “customer-centricity dream” when customer obsession is correctly interpreted.
Then price- or product-focused brands, such as McDonald’s, IKEA and Louis Vuitton, won’t be excluded from the customer-centricity club, and helping customers fulfill their goals and driving repeat purchases – rather than “serving customers well” and undertaking a CX transformation – will become the predominant conditions for being a customer-driven company.
“Obsessed with customer success” is simply a more pragmatic and effective option than “obsessed with customer interactions” in driving customer, business and your own (CX pro) success. Perhaps you should ask yourself this: Why stick with an unrealistic and ineffective CX approach at the expense of your dream and career?
Consider Pragmatic CX.