Is Customer Experience Dying? The Pioneers of CX Discuss

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Is Customer Experience dying?

Maybe it is. At the very least, Customer Experience is dying as we know it.

I recently discussed whether Customer Experience is dying on LinkedIn Live with two other Customer Experience champions, Joe Pine, co-author of The Experience Economy, and Lewis Carbone, Customer Experience expert and speaker, and founder of ExpereinceEngineering™. Here are some of the points of our discussion.

So, What’s the Problem?

Customer Experience as we know it is dying because of a few factors. First, it seems like a simple concept, so, sometimes, people don’t think they need help to manage it. Along with this is the second factor, which I describe as a silver-bullet mentality. Organizations want to fix one thing and then go on about their business with an improved Customer Experience. 

In addition to oversimplifying both the concept and the solution, the third reason Customer Experience as we know it is dying is because organizations jumped on the Customer Experience bandwagon without knowing what it means. These bandwagon riders change some things in their experience but don’t track the results, and then, when the CEO wants an ROI, they don’t have anything to report. 

Pine agrees, adding that someone had sent him the video of Steve Jobs talking about Customer Experience First right before this event.  

Pine thinks Job’s message from over 25 years ago about working backward from the end goal of the Customer Experience is still valid today. Pine believes that as the experience economy continues to grow and immersive experiences continue to be differentiators, the physical experiences of general Customer Experience have diverged from this path. Customer Experience, as I often refer to it, has different goals and different measurements of success. For example, when it comes to experiences in contact centers, it’s about convenience. On the physical side of experiences, the buzzword is frictionless, where services are accessible and pleasant, and fast. 

However, Pine says distinctive experiences are about time well spent, and people value their time there. The more these two types of experiences diverge, the more Customer Experience as we know it will diminish. 

Moreover, Pine thinks Customer Experience champions should make the word experience plural. There is not one Customer Experience but several happening with each customer. By considering that different customers are having those experiences, the movement will be better off. 

Carbone thinks the future lies in moving to a new level of Customer Experience management. Carbone categorizes experience management into three groups, which include:

  1. Break/Fix: This type of experience management is about becoming less bad, which is fine but has low expectations for results.
  2. Improving Experience Management: Carbone considers this commoditization. 
  3. Breakthrough Experiences: These are transformative experiences that create distinctive economic value—and it’s this level that Carbone thinks drives the Customer Experience movement’s ultimate success. 

The Breakthrough Experiences are what create the phenomenal memories that bring customers back. Carbone would encourage Customer Experience champions to challenge conventional thinking and move forward. 

Unfortunately, in my view, we don’t see that in the Customer Experience movement. About 90 percent of the improvement in experiences are only minor changes around the edges. There is no transformative thinking and changing happening; Few champions have the support they need and the level of commitment from senior management to make those changes for Customer Experiences. 

The biggest mistake I see in organizations today comes down to a lack of identification of value. If you cannot show senior management how your efforts are paying dividends, why should they support your programs?

So, How DO You Save Customer Experience?

One of the key ways to save the idea of Customer Experience is to transition from doing the little things to embracing transformative change. Carbone thinks that the key from being a Break/Fix organization and moving on to a Breakthrough Experience organization is for Customer Experience champions to take a leadership role. From taking an education stance with the organization to embedding cues in an experience that change how you do business, taking a leadership role in your firm unleashes the dramatic power of Customer Experience management. 

Another answer for saving Customer Experience is embracing the latest iteration, Customer Science.  Customer Science combines technology, customer data, and artificial intelligence (AI). The significant difference between Customer Science and Customer Experience is the behavioral science aspects of it. With all of these factors working together, Customer Science can help organizations anticipate customers’ needs and build experiences that meet them. Customer Science will essentially predict what the customer will do next, not what they say they’re going to do next. 

A couple of years ago, both Nunwood and Forrester came out with research saying that Customer Experience was stagnating. Despite all the attention and investment paid to it, the numbers were not going up. 

However, are the numbers stagnating, or are they unaccounted for? 

In other words, how we measure it could be the problem. For example, many firms use Customer Satisfaction or Net Promoter Scores (NPS)® to demonstrate the success of their Customer Experience programs. However, it would be best if they sought to increase revenues, reduce costs and improve culture. It’s a no-brainer. Why else would you invest in Customer Experience programs if it doesn’t get results?

Customer Experience is an investment. It is also an ongoing improvement project. As we move forward, a new layer of tools and considerations and even science will move the needle in the right direction. 

Carbone agrees, adding that every company has a moral obligation to create value. Organizations must consider how they can improve customers’ lives. Otherwise, profit drives business decisions, which invites greed. Greedy companies, Carbone says, make bad business decisions, cutting the fat out of profits until they hit bone and cut their way out of existence. If companies do not look at creating extraordinary value, they could face extinction. 

Carbone recalls the fate of Polaroid and Kodak, great brands that vanished because they lost sight of a moral obligation to create value for society and its employees. Customer experience is all about the human experience, he says. If we lose creating value in personal relationships, we lose it all. 

Pine agrees with that sentiment, too, although he phrases it differently; he says that money should never be the purpose of any organization. Instead, the goal should be on providing value, not only to customers through experiences but also to CEOs with results. Moreover, Pine encourages Customer Experience champions to help CEOs understand how these results can transform the organization and create Breakthrough Experiences. 

Carbone says that when you convince the CEO that your program is the way to the future and you get traction, it transforms an organization’s mindset. For example, Carbone recalls how Rich Fairbanks, CEO of Capital One, had initially wanted to improve things at Capital One to be “less bad,” a classic Break/Fix level management edict. In other words, Fairbanks did not want to get in a taxi and hear how horrible Capital One was. However, Fairbanks didn’t stop there, and now there are Capital One Cafes

Persuading people to believe in experience management as a driver for business success is essential for Customer Experience professionals. For example, years ago, Beyond Philosophy, my global Customer Experience consultancy, pitched a German insurance company. One of the insurance team asked us to prove what we were saying. He wanted proof that emotions drive value for a company’s bottom line. 

We couldn’t prove it. But that inquiry kicked off two years of research with the London Business School that ultimately identified the 20 emotions that drive and destroy value. We could then use those emotions we heard about in the customer’s voice and show results. 

You have to speak to leadership about Customer Experience in their language, and that’s numbers. Senior teams are there to get a profit, to improve shareholder value. Frankly, that’s their job. It’s our job to show them how your Customer Experience program will provide a return, ideally through numbers. 

So, What Do We Do?

In conclusion, there are a few things we all want you to remember. First, Pine thinks that the pandemic taught us that we don’t need more stuff; we want meaningful experiences with our colleagues, friends, and family. Second, he would advise Customer Experience champions to shift their efforts to create these meaningful experiences, as this need for meaningful experiences will only grow in importance to customers moving forward. 

I would advise Customer Experience champions to remember that making people happy when they are unhappy is not enough, even if it sounds like that is what we mean. Our research shows the way to be happy from unhappy with a company happens in a hierarchy. First, you must get customers to trust you. Once they trust you, then you need to communicate that you care about them and value them. Then, after all of this, when you make them happy, it is the kind of happiness that drives customer loyalty and, perhaps more importantly, customer-driven growth. 

Carbone says what is so exciting about this space and the evolution of understanding experiences, in general, is the extraordinary opportunity to augment the voice of the customer with the mind of the customer. Value is in the sense of the perceiver, not the creator. So we should seek to walk through the maze of the customer’s mind, trying to understand how customers think instead of what they think to create value. 

Do we have all the answers to Customer Experience as we know it’s imminent death? We don’t. Are we right about it changing and requiring more of its champions? I think we are.

But it’s not essential to me that you think I am right. The important thing for me is that you start to form your judgment. Getting different views from different people is how you can create your opinion about where Customer Experience is now and where it will be in the future.

Why not start now? Share what you think about whether Customer Experience is dying in the comments below. 

There you have it. No promotions, no gimmicks, just good information. 

Think reading is for chumps? Try my podcast, The Intuitive Customer instead. We explore the many reasons why customers do what they do—and what you should do about it. Subscribe today right here.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Agree with everything that is written. Just want to add that customer experience must be developed in line with the brand positioning and brand promise. We cannot achieve the ‘perfect’ customer experience for everyone but there is a branded customer experience that targets the right customer for the brand.

  2. I believe that customer experience driven growth will thrive ! It’s far away from being dead or dying. Pandemic has only accelerated a new vision and new needs – they already existed prior to 2020 but the large majority of actors kind of put them “on hold” ! We have a huge opportunity to create the “new world” based on CX even if BigTechs try to ringfence this field. They aren’t and won’t be the only heroes of CX – let’s make it very clear !

  3. All good points here. There certainly was an “upset the fruit basket” phase during 2020, where CX jobs were cut or redirected to EX or DX or CS or sales. There have been wholesale discontinuations of CX departments in major corporations, for example at Adobe, Cisco, HP, Intuit, Symantec, to name a few.

    What companies were doing with customer satisfaction management in the TQM era of the early ’90s is not very different from what companies are doing today, with the exception of digital aspects. Under many labels such as Satisfaction / Retention / Loyalty / Experience / Success / CJM / XM it’s generally the same set of practices for the past 30+ years. In fact, high-impact practices of the early years should definitely be revived. (See https://asq.org/quality-resources/total-quality-management)

    I’ve found it useful to think of CX as what the customer senses, and CXM as what an organization does reactively and proactively about CX.

    CX = what was received versus what was expected.
    CXM = closing the gap.

    However, as pointed out in your article, CXM is not really that today.

    I appreciate your mention of London School of Business studies. Their Advocacy Drives Growth study might have gotten a lot more attention if it had been published after the NPS hoopla. They discovered that taking the pebble out of customers’ shoe grows revenue 3X compared to increasing recommendations.

    There are 3 levels of taking the pebble out of customers’ shoes:
    1) Resolving the instance
    2) Preventing recurrence for everyone
    3) Preventing occurrence

    CXM as we know it today is obsessed with “resolving the instance” and using empathy and designing experiences as a means toward #2 and #3 above, essentially creating brand allies. However, design and empathy are insufficient to fully close the CX gap between what was promised and what was delivered, as the customer sees it.

    For these reasons, I’m pioneering the phrase “Experience Leadership” and hoping dearly that it doesn’t get watered down!
    > Experience Leadership = company-wide alignment to customer expectations.
    > It starts with hitting the nail on the head for core-growth customers.
    > It educates EVERY group in a company’s ecosystem about core-growth customers’ job-to-be-done (ultimate reason why the customer is dealing with your organization, i.e. what are they trying to get done in their life or business?).
    > It embeds customer expectations into your company’s rituals (all the things done apart from creating and delivering the solution the customer is buying, i.e. meetings, reviews, approvals, development, advancement, recognition, compensation, etc.)
    > It’s the senior leadership team’s collective North Star for how to run the business.

    As we saw from the pandemic, and as you state in this article, people don’t want more stuff. They want sensibility, reliability, predictability, relief from all the nonsense, freedom to maximize value as they want. What we’re learning about EX now should be borrowed by CX and PX (partner experience), and vice versa.

    Companies rely on customers, employees and partners to propel their success. CEOs have recognized this in the Business Roundtable declaration that maximizing shareholder value is old-fashioned thinking — the true purpose of business is to provide value to customers, employees, suppliers, communities, and investors.

    It’s time to shift gears from old-fashioned CXM to Experience Leadership. This is why I’ve created a 7.5-hour course for experience experts (e.g. authors, thought leaders, keynoters, etc.), executives, and certified experience professionals. “Experience Leadership for Strategic Impact & Maturity” compares current practices to better practices for use in CX+EX+PX leadership, outpacing your industry and the CXM field.

  4. Colin and I are of very similar mind here. We recognize that customer experience, like employee experience, is morphing and becoming more rooted in emotional, though pragmatic, drivers of memory and downstream behavior. Progressive organizations have recognized this and are recalibrating. If done correctly, they can both have stakeholder-centric purpose and be economically successful.

  5. Thanks for everyone’s comments so far. If you have a view lets hear it. A better word to use than ‘dying’ is being ‘absorbed’. CX as a wave of change has got to come to an end, just like TQM, Business process re-engineering, CRM etc before it. It doesn’t mean to say that business stopped doing these things. They were absorbed. In my view this is where CX is today.

  6. Reading this article, several thoughts came to my mind. I’m trying to create empathy to the clients. Trying to understand their expectations and frustrations with the products and services they consume. And that’s easy to do. We are all consumers. We are all clients of products and services globally. So, think about the products and services you consume and which of them you consider the best and the worse.

    In my case I came with the conclusion that the quality of those products or services most of the time are more related with the relationship with the business than the product or service itself. In my view, it’s about the business’ “soul”. It’s about on how the business deliver it’s products or services. And, we all know business doesn’t have a “soul”. This “soul” come from the people that makes the business happen.

    One phrase that disturbed me during the reading was “…says that when you convince the CEO that your program…”. When someone needs to convice the CEO that something about clients is important, this business is doomed. The “soul” of the business should come from the top. It should come from the leadership. And their main and most critical role is to spread this “soul” to the whole team. If it’s not happending, the business’ fate is to become a machine, with (maybe) efficient processes, (maybe) very well engineered products, but no soul. It can be profitable, but it’s remembered just as a name, a brand. If it “dies”, nobody will go to the funeral and other brand will come to the place. We see that all the time.

    Maybe we call “soul” of the business as “business value”. Particularly, I think it’s too cold, like a machine. Business are made by people and should continue as it is. During this time when the digital relations are growing, the people’s relationship are the must. Business that are more humanized are the business that we like the most. Business that undestand our frustrations and highlight their expectations. Business that surprise us with new products or services that are inline with our expectations. Business that are made by people, people that we can talk to. Busines that have a soul.

  7. You can always count on Colin to deliver thoughtful content. I recall the enormous hype of “management by objectives,” TQM, matrix management, MBWA, 360 feedback, and the list goes on. Did these concepts “die?” Most organizations today are guided by objectives with a focus on quality in a flatter less hierarchal structure, and most leaders spend time out of the ivory tower with a keen interest in feedback from all directions. We may not use the faddish buzzwords anymore, but the concepts they represented are imbedded in the manner organizations are run today.

    I have an implant in my right eye that helps with drainage to reduce internal pressure. It took a while to get use to but now it is an integral part of my seeing apparatus. Implementing a focus on CX can be like getting an implant–it is scratchy, uncomfortable, and “foreign” for a while. But sooner are later it becomes a natural part of what we call the “organ-ization.”

  8. Lots of good points in this article that resonate well with me. Where I am thinking is that I have a slightly different way of expressing the singular experience vs. the plural. Both are needed. I tend to think that the experience (singular) is what evolves over time within the customer’s perception while the experiences (plural) are the individual interactions that contribute to the experience. Another interesting point is the statement that value is in the sense of the perceiver not the creator. Here I would disagree in the sense that the customer creates the value by putting the purchase to good use. The company that sells something does not create value but offers value creation.

    Re the finance part I had lots of similar arguments with CX proponents. At the end of the day it is about making the customer successful and therefore – as a result – the company more successful. And the measures for that are always revenue and profit.

    Thanks for this article

  9. Customer Experience may not be really dying, but it is definitely decaying at an alarming rate, and would probably be meaningless soon unless something is done about it. As a highly conscious and meticulous professional who has always dealt with CX as part of my functions and responsibilities, and as an inveterate consumer, I have had innumerable occasions to witness in person the gradual degradation of the kind of care and services that most businesses are now offering to even their most faithful clients, with Banks, Insurance Companies and Food and Consumable Products Chains being the worst culprits. While technology has allowed them all to cut their cost of operations in so many ways, they have by the same token opted to reduce their staff thereby depriving their loyal customers of the level of service they expect and deserve. Cursory but frequent visits at most commercial institutions confirm that line-ups and waiting times are increasing exponentially while the notion of Customer Care, Customer Service and CX is declining so fast that it will soon be relegated to all the forgotten concepts of the past. Money and profits are the banes that are causing the collapse of Consumer Experience. And as long as owners and executives stay their course on profitability, CX will pay the price.

    What is needed is to inculcate a new mindset into the business industry to convince them that the old axiom that the “Customer is King” is still valid today and that profitability is a corollary of the kind and level of Customer Experience delivered and appreciated. It might work with some organizations, but definitely not with the diehard commercial ventures hell-bent on staking their investments on nothing but huge dividends come hell or high waters.

    A ray of hope still exists however with companies like Macdonald’s, Starbuck, Amazon, Netflix, Disney, and some others that still believe that customers are their most precious asset and their priority should be to fulfill their expectations to the hilt. They are the guardians of what is left of our Consumer Experience. Let’s hope they become a beacon for others to follow.

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