It Takes Teamwork: Customer Experience Management and the Little Red Hen


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Think back, if you will, to your favorite childhood nursery rhymes and you’ll no doubt recall the lesson learned from the Little Red Hen. She and her brood of chicks planted and cultivated the corn, harvested it, made it into batter and baked it into delicious bread. Suddenly, the other farmyard animals — who had stood around refusing to help while she and the chicks did all the work – also wanted to enjoy some of the coveted cornbread.

There’s a nice metaphor here that can be applied to the development and execution of customer experience management programs, particularly the elements that are dependent upon skilled, user-friendly data development and management. Think of customer experience results as the cornbread. A lot of work has to go into making the customer experience project a success. But is everyone willing to share in the responsibility? When these programs fail to meet ROI and other objectives, as they are considered to do in 60% to 80% of the cases, no one wants to take responsibility for strife and underperformance. In fact, many are quick to point fingers and cast blame. However, when these programs go well, and when benefits are reaped, then everybody wants to take credit and share in the results: everyone wants a piece of cornbread.

A few years ago, I gave a keynote presentation for a customer experience management conference in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, the largest such program ever held in the Benelux countries. Following my keynote, I facilitated question-and-answer roundtable that featured panelists from four leading customer software and solutions providers.

One of the more than 1,000 audience members challenged the panelists to identify who should be considered at fault when experience and relationship programs fail (i.e. companies, their consultants, or both). One by one, the panelists answered that, in their view, most customer experience programs do not meet objectives because they are poorly defined and/or managed by clients. The questioner retorted that while the suppliers seemed to be taking no responsibility for failure, they never seem to be reluctant to take credit, i.e. make certain they got their cornbread, when their programs and systems succeed. This seemed to catch most of the suppliers off guard, and they consequently modified their statements to say that customer experience projects were, or should be, teamwork and a partnership between supplier and client, with each bearing an equal share of results, good or bad. Their level of discomfort, and the audience’s, with this question and the answers it first elicited was obvious to all in attendance.

When I got back to the U.S., I posted this same question in a discussion forum, and the replies expressed sentiments similar to those I’d heard in Rotterdam. There were several responses and all of them referenced poor project management as the culprit for failure, ranging from lack of requirements definition, to lack of buy-in and participation by senior management, to under-resourced planning teams, to inadequate leadership skills. Principally, the responsibility was the client’s. The responses also reflected what I’ve seen in forum postings on other customer experience portal sites, so these were not unique opinions by any stretch.

At least one of the responses was refreshing in its candor. A senior software executive stated that experience and relationship program development and execution are, or ought to be, shared responsibilities between the client and the software supplier. Challenges to this partnership include the fact that decisions are often made by different individuals than those who will actually use the system(s), and so software solutions suppliers must make systems both user-friendly and useful.

He said that clients and vendors also share responsibility for employee buy-in. Integration of software elements is another frequent failure area, he felt, and also was an opportunity for clients and vendors to seek collaborative solutions.

Mostly what I’ve observed is exemplified in the way one vendor concluded his posting: “Sure, vendors might promise the world, but it’s the responsibility of the project team to manage, define, and deliver realistic and achievable results – regardless of vendor sizzle and hype.” This statement troubled me because it speaks to the lack of partnership and true collaboration, which should be on behalf of the client and the client’s customer, between software supplier and customer.

I’ve even seen evidence of some suppliers trying to re-label the types of technical experience and relationship projects their clients can undertake, in what seems to be a further effort to absolve themselves from blame and responsbility. One supplier defined large customer database management and leverage projects, prone to failure, as “data-centric CRM systems”. Conversely, what they claim to do is provide “process-centric systems”, built around clients’ business workflow and management capability. They claim the process-centric approach is both different and more effective. Wow!!

If experience and relationship programs, particularly the technical aspects involving customer data and interactions, are to survive and move forward, the bottom line is simply that all must improve teamwork skills. If companies and vendors want to share in the customer experience cornbread, they need to stop being the disinterested barnyard spectators and roll up their sleeves as part of the Little Red Hen’s hardworking, customer-focused crew.

Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC
Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC, specializes in customer and employee experience research/strategy consulting, and brand, customer, and employee commitment and advocacy behavior research, consulting, and training. He has authored seven stakeholder-centric strategy books and 400+ articles, white papers and blogs. In 2018, he was named to CustomerThink's Hall of Fame.


  1. Hi Michael,

    I have observed similar issues in my work life and would add to the attribution. The vendors often are not the experts in implementing a program, especially not their sales execs.

    I’d say that the big vendors are often ‘merely’ providers of a toolkit.

    Means there usually is an additional entity, the implementation partner, involved. This implementation partner is supposed to have the business knowledge and the technical expertise to consult in setting up an appropriate program and then setting up the software to support it.

    And yes, sadly the vendors promise too much. This gives yet another trouble, which is centered around the term ‘honesty’. These vendors clearly put the short term gain on top of the long term relationship (or their customers’ experience).

    Just $0.02 from Down Under.

  2. Thomas –

    Thanks very much for your comment. As you note, too often the vendors overpromise and underdeliver where CEM is concerned.



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