RIP Customer Experience – Seven reasons why Customer Experience is in danger of dying

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I am becoming increasingly concerned that the focus on improving the ‘Customer Experience‘ is heading the same way as CRM, into failure. I fear this as I am seeing the early signs I saw with CRM and really don’t want to see the Customer Experience be destroyed in the same way. Here are seven indications that are causing me concern:

‘If I buy this IT system it will solve all my problems’

No it won’t! I agree IT systems are part of the reason why many Customer Experiences are poor but only part of the reason. In my view the big IT companies, with their big marketing spend, are coercing organizations to believe all they have to do is buy an IT system and their Customer Experience will improve by magic, just like they did with CRM. We all know organisations made huge investments in CRM systems and expected the world to change overnight. It didn’t and this sullied the name of CRM.

‘Of course I know what the Customer Experience is about’

No you don’t! Back in the day, when CRM was on everyone’s lips, I always started a conversation about CRM by asking them ‘what do you mean by CRM’ as everyone had their own view of what it meant and I needed to ensure we were talking about the same thing. The same now is starting to apply with Customer Experience. I am seeing an increasing number of people who have a superficial knowledge of what a Customer Experience is really about. As the saying goes ‘a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing’. Customer Experience is a wide topic. It cuts across many areas. Customer Experience is about human behaviour, customer’s emotions and to get the most from it you need to understand experience psychology. Like with anything else, you need to understand what you are doing in order to make a difference.

‘What is the one thing I can do that would improve the Customer Experience?’

To be honest it is naive to think there is one thing that will improve the Customer Experience. It also shows that people that think this is the case don’t understand the subject. I understand people always want a quick fix, it is human nature. But let me assure you there is no ‘silver bullet’ that will solve your problems.

‘Everyone else is doing Customer Experience, so should we’

No you shouldn’t! I understand you may feel the need to jump on the band wagon, but that is not the reason to focus on improving your Customer Experience. You need to make sure you understand where the band wagon is going and whether you want to go there and you are committed to the journey. Improving the Customer Experience is hard work. I strongly recommend that if you are not prepared to undertake this hard work, don’t even start as you’ll do more harm than good.

‘I work in Customer Experience’

Do you really? Or have you just rebadged your job that you’ve been doing for the last ten years? Rebadging jobs, projects, functions and calling them Customer Experience doesn’t means you will magically change things. To change things you need to do something different! I was chatting to a client who informed me they were looking for a VP of Customer Experience. Their problem was that everyone they had was supposedly in Customer Experience but when they delved deeper they discovered that it wasn’t really about Customer Experience, just a normal customer facing role.

‘We have mapped our processes to improve the Customer Experience’

There’s a hint in the phrase ‘Customer Experience’. It’s about a Customer EXPERIENCE not ‘Customer Process’! There is a big difference between experience and a process. Organizations obsess themselves with processes and fail to see the difference between an experience and a process. A process is internal. It is what you want the customer to do. Allow me to let you into a secret, Customers do not always do what you want them to do and if you force them to submit to your process this can cause a poor experience.

‘Lack of true Senior Exec engagement ‘

Which senior exec would say that focussing on the customer is the wrong thing to do? Most senior execs would say focussing on the customer is the right thing to do but there is a big difference between their actions and their words. As outlined above, too many senior execs are now just jumping on a band wagon; too many don’t know what their organization needs to do to change. Too many are looking for a quick fix, too many fail to lead. Customer Experience is a way of life, it a cultural change, it’s a commitment needed from the heart as well as the head. It is not a slogan. You will do more harm than good if you say something and don’t mean it.

Over the past ten years with our books, research and client work I am pleased to have helped, in some way, to shape a new industry. I am being provocative in this article to try and engender some debate. I see dangers on the horizon and I think we should all try to avoid. I don’t want to see Customer Experience go the same way as CRM. Let’s make sure we work together to avoid them for the benefit of the Customer. Customers deserve better.

24 COMMENTS

  1. Peter,

    It’s great you don’t agree. We need the debate.

    To be clear I am not saying that people need to focus on 7 things. I am saying these 7 things have the potential to kill the concept of CE and take it the same way as CRM.

    Lets see what everyone else has to say.

    Regards

    Colin

  2. ….as a leading indicator of downstream (and verifiable) customer behavior. That, alone, would keep customer experience, and its optimization, front-and-center among sales- and profit-focused marketers.

    Today, companies understand the value of creating long-term relationships with customers as a means of achieving desired business outcomes; and experience, either transactional or for longer periods, is core to customer centricity. Having extensively studied drivers of customer advocacy and brand relationship for close to a decade, there is overwhelming evidence that b2b and b2c customer experience – whether viewed in toto, or in components such as purchase, service touchpoints and outcomes, use, etc. or emotional elements such as reputation, image, trust, and confidence – leverages behavior (purchase, informal communication, etc.) in meaningful and monetizing ways. From my perspective, little of this is likely to fade anytime soon.

    Though I could cite customer experience-based financial results from multiple industries, and in advocacy and brand/advocacy linkage studies conducted around the world, I’d refer CustomerThink readers to an article of mine on banking from last Summer: http://www.customerthink.com/blog/monetary_linkage_between_customer_experience_and_customer_advocacy_behavior

  3. Colin,

    I agree with many of the points that you make and I think you very neatly sum up many of the issues I find myself in working with clients. Where I might disagree with you is that rather than these challenges heralding the demise of CEM, I believe they indicate that we are perhaps moving into a new phase. People are making the difficult transition from buying the concept to understanding how to implement it. From a purely subjective perspective, based on the number of speeches that I am being asked to give and new pitches we are responding to, I think CEM as a concept is alive and well. But organisations are struggling with many of the issues you outline and are seeking to move from interest to intent to implementation – and that must be good! A previous CustomerThink post discussed this need for strategy. Thanks for an interesting post.
    http://www.customerthink.com/blog/what_s_the_biggest_obstacle_to_implementing_customer_experience_successfully

  4. Colin,

    I think all of your points are valid and there is definitely some risk to the customer experience area if we allow it to be defined by the technologies that support it.

    We’ve already seen CX be “claimed” by the Web Content Management crowd, by the CRM crowd, by the social crowd, and even the BPM crowd is trying to say they are at the heart of CX.

    However, I think a few things are different:

    1. CX is fundamentally about customers and their perceptions and experiences with the people they do business with. Technology is clearly a supporting element (and an important one), but not the driver. We can claim that CRM was too—but in reality it was always about the seller end of the equation–how to more efficiently sell, market, and service customers.

    2. Social computing has given rise to more customer power and both the negative and positive impact that a unhappy or happy customer can have are greater than ever before. (I think both Michael Lowenstein and I would push for more focus on the advocacy opportunity, but that is a different discussion.)

    If senior leadership falls for some of the traps that you outline, then CX initiatives may get a bad name. The only one I disagree with is you can start improving experiences by picking one thing to do better, but if you think you are done with that, then you are indeed mistaken.

    The other big risk to customer experience is when it is not core to the business and marketing strategy of the company. I fundamentally believe that the brand promise you make defines many of the parameters for the customer experience you need to deliver (this could take us down a RyanAir path). Without that linkage, then any CX initiative is at some risk of not meeting the expectations of the customer.

    In summary, I don’t believe CX will die, but your pitfalls really point out potential sources for orgs to get disenchanted or disappointed by their efforts.

  5. Hi Colin:

    Your article is interesting and makes some valid points. The title is probably a bit over-the-top, but the topic is worthy of a discussion.

    Let me say this clearly, though, customer experience isn’t dying.

    I work with dozens of companies and regularly research hundreds of others but have seen no indication of CX faltering to the degree that you discuss. If you take a look at my report “The State of CX Management, 2012” you’ll see clear data to support quite the opposite, a very healthy and thriving customer experience profession. http://experiencematters.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/report-the-state-of-cx-management-2012/

    Certainly the customer experience movement is undergoing some change as it gains maturity. In my report “The Future of Customer Experience” I discuss how we’ve entered into the era of CX Professionalism. This is quite different than anything we’ve seen in CRM where the focus was much more about technology deployments. http://experiencematters.wordpress.com/2012/08/06/report-the-future-of-customer-experience/

    Thanks for starting the conversation.

  6. Colin, I hope you’re wrong!

    CRM has always been about technology, from the very beginning. Gartner called it TERM – Technology Enabled Relationship Management – but CRM was what the market adopted. Attempts to position it as a “business strategy” have been largely fruitless, unless you define a business strategy as implementing technology.

    CEM, on the other hand, has had a few years to develop it’s own “brand” out of the software marketing spotlight, thanks to efforts of thought leaders like you and many others active on CustomerThink since 2007. CX is now the most popular category in our community, and 90%+ of the posts are *not* about technology.

    So I don’t think CEM will be equated with technology, even as vendors pile into the market. Many vendors are taking a more responsible approach to CEM “solution” marketing. As Bruce notes, the CXPA is one way that CEM is being treated as a true profession, not a front for selling software.

    Here’s an excerpt from the current entry about Customer Experience on Wikipedia, the first hit on a Google search on ‘customer experience management’

    The goal of customer experience management (CEM) is to move customers from satisfied to loyal and then from loyal to advocate. Traditionally, managing the customer relationship has been the domain of Customer Relationship Management (CRM). However, CRM strategies and solutions are designed to focus on product, price and enterprise process, with minimal or no focus on customer need and desire. The result is a sharp mismatch between the organisation's approach to customer expectations and what customers actually want, resulting in the failure of many CRM implementations.

    Where CRM is enterprise-focused and designed to manage customers for maximum efficiency, CEM is a strategy that focuses the operations and processes of a business around the needs of the individual customer. Companies are focusing on the importance of the experience and, as Jeananne Rae notes, realizing that "building great consumer experiences is a complex enterprise, involving strategy, integration of technology, orchestrating business models, brand management and CEO commitment.” (2006)

    This gives me some confidence that as CEM matures it will reflect a healthy mix of strategy, methods and tools. And not go the way of CRM.

  7. Thanks everyone for their contributions so far. As I said at the foot of my blog I am being provocative to engender debate. Like Shaun we have never has as many enquiries for our services as we do today, which is a good sign. I would argue that many of these people are looking for a 'quick fix’ and some are doing this just because everyone else is.

    I am pleased to have engendered debate. To ensure Customer Experience doesn't die, awareness of what I believe to be the danger signs is the first step….

    What is everyone else's view?

  8. First off, thanks Dave for the posting and thanks to the learned debaters who have been posting above. From my, on the ground perspective, I see a lot of both sides of the argument. Seeing lots of “CRM consultants” who have quickly changed their LinkedIn profiles to “CEM consultant” and who view it as another technology-driven bandwagon to jump on to, to companies telling me their processes have been redesigned to improve Customer Experience (totally agree with you on that one!) I see multiple risks that this might go the same way as CRM. But equally I meet a lot of businesses that were burned by the CRM “magic bullet” and are much more seasoned (jaded?) when it comes to assessing their competency and readiness to move towards a better understanding of CEM, and not racing to buy something because everyone else says they should.

  9. Hi Colin,

    While your post brings up some of the challenges for CEM, I respectfully must disagree that we are seeing the demise of CEM.

    What your article has done is highlighted the very areas that need attention first in order for CEM to prevail. The areas pointed out are crucial in order to build a sustainable model that challenges businesses to walk the talk, get leadership to model the customer centric culture, and to awaken the entrepreneurial spirit of staff in order to have them work in the best interest of both the customer and the company.

    I wholeheartedly agree with you on the point that the Customer Experience begins at the top. I, too, have found that many leaders and owners want that quick fix and somehow believe that simply by stating that the customer experience is important and by sending some management staff to a seminar, that is enough. I equate it to the intention of becoming organized, revamping your lifestyle, or any other goal that it set. It’s one thing to INTEND to do it, it’s quite another to take the necessary steps and follow through.

    I do hope with articles such as yours pointing out the issues that any CEM endeavor entails that most companies will recognize the rewards resulting from the effort and attention to all areas.

    Best regards,

    Kristina Evey

  10. Yes CEM can’t be equated with technology as Bob said. If your CRM strategy is capable of tackling your customer’s situations, emotions and sensations effectively then definitely your CX is not heading same way as CRM.

    Most of the organization’s CRM strategy are over engineered (quick fix as Colin as said 🙂

  11. Colin: I could have “cut and pasted” Bruce Temkin’s comments (above) into this. But for brevity, I’ll focus on your first comment because it’s so big. Customers often want/demand/expect (choose your favorite word) technology to overcome organizational problems that are not technology related. “We can’t get the internal sales team to produce the right results. If only we could automate!” . . . And off they go to procure technology, only to discover that it’s not the panacea that was anticipated. Fast forward three fiscal quarters: “I think we were oversold!” It happens all the time.

    Show me an organization that has excellent customer service in its cultural DNA, and I’ll show you a company that’s highly likely to choose the right technology to support it, and one that will be successful implementing it. But buying technology won’t fix the problems that result when management pursues the wrong strategy in the first place, or lacks a coherent strategy at all.

  12. Colin – thanks for your thoughts – good observations which I have seen reflected in many business improvement initiatives over the years….with almost exactly the same headings in each situation!

    For a brief period, I remember when CRM was a business management term used to describe the facets of complete customer understanding and the management of those interrelating elements (from Market Research through to product & process design, touch point behaviours, delivery quality, customer sat and ongoing loyalty etc)

    However this was an giant of a beast to eat practical terms and much of it got lost in translation. CRM quickly became adopted as the technology term, and many companies assumed this one solution would fix the world.

    Companies of all sizes are time constrained, budget constrained, target driven and info-drowning!.
    Despite the fact that business is not a linear affair, it is perhaps understandable that companies want concepts that are easy to implement and messages that can be translated easily across their culture and brand…..and so the “fad” is spawned – a new label, or technique that takes a piece of the pie & tries to get some focus on it.
    The flip side is that this approach can be the very thing that drives a backlash and undermines the activity when a company declares victory too soon or thinks it can pay mere lip service and get miraculous results.

    These are the things I have noticed over time –
    * The reality of the underpinning concepts and needs don’t fundamentally change.
    * The reality of the short attention & patience span of most companies doesn’t change either…….. so ……
    * Its the labels we use to talk about the concepts and the practical interventions brought into the businesses environment that DO change.

    I don’t think Customer Experience will die per se (after all, there will always be Customers, and they will always be reacting to their suppliers) but perhaps its labels will change, and some of the techniques used will evolve into something new as the current tools become business as usual practice.

    Whatever the outcome, in order the keep the reputation of CEM as an overall concept, it shouldn’t be clouded in mystery, complicated or over engineered – it’s really not rocket science, but it does need a focused eye and the coordination of a number of existing and evolving business elements in order to produce an overall effect.

  13. What CRM meant was “We don’t want a relationship with you so we have bought some whizzy software instead”

    I totally agree with everything Colin writes, as we lurch from one silver bullet to the next but don’t change our behaviour. Trying to understand the customer and change things is too much like hard work, customer experience is dying already but another silver bullet is on its way, so don’t worry.

  14. I think it’s possible that Customer Experience becomes a cliche, therefore, meaningless in its vision and mission. But I feel like there has been an evolution in customer service thinking that will prevent this from happening. Perhaps this comes from lessons learned in the past. Or perhaps it’s because the customer service experience is finally being viewed as a tangible and measurable way to compete in the marketplace.

    Along those lines, I’ve been very impressed with customer service professionals in recent years. When evaluating processes, plans and programs, more often I am hearing, “…yes, but what’s the impact on the customer experience?” Sometimes the question is asked in a more subtle manner than this, however, it is nonetheless top of mind and this is very encouraging.

  15. Thanks for everyone's comments. Some good thinking.

    I have always thought that like any other management change, Customer Experience would go through the classic ‘bell curve’. When I started Beyond Philosophy back in 2002 CE was new. Shaun Smith and I virtually launched our first books at the same time. It’s taken the last ten years for it to be on everyone's lips. I still pinch myself sometimes as I can’t believe how much it’s grown. It now feels like we are at the top of the bell curve in Europe and North America. If this bell curve actually exists the next step is downwards… to be replaced by the next wave of change…. whatever that may be…

    The other way of looking at this is it’s not a wave of change that will decline. It’s a wave of change that will stick and become embedded. It will become part of the way companies do business.

    I hope it’s the latter, but in my view it is by no means certain for the reasons I outline.

    Other contributions and thoughts would be gratefully received.

  16. Colin, I suspect that you’re correct. Since the 1960’s with Ted Levitt’s work, people have confused “what business are we really in?” with “what we do here.” They take the right-brained intent of CEX and apply left-brained routine to it, and in doing so stuff it up.

    Most businesses have either lost or sacrificed the “why” for the “what” and “how.” For CEX to work why> what + how

  17. After her soccer game last Saturday, I asked my eight-year-old granddaughter, “What does ‘customer experience management’ mean to you?” Here is her brilliant answer:

    “Chippy,” she said with that wise look eight year old’s are gifted at crafting, “We all love Rivers (the family chocolate lab). Let’s pretend that Rivers was our customer. That would mean that my chore would be a really super big deal. Cause, I make sure that Rivers has fresh water every morning before I go to school.”

    I asked her: “What happens if your don’t give Rivers fresh water every morning?” She answered as if I was a silly old man: “Rivers would NOT be happy with us.”

    Colin makes some great points. But, I don’t think my granddaughter would ever stop deliberately managing her customer’s (Rivers) experience (“happy with us’) if she did not change (manage) his water everyday. Acronizing a simple but powerful concept does not elevate its importance; it convolutes its profound impact. How fast did we forget the “R” in CRM?

    CEM is not about IT or senior leaders or bureaucratic processes. It is simply creating a way to make sure that “Rivers always gets his water changed every morning so he will always be happy with us.”

  18. Colin,

    Well you certainly ‘stirred up a hornet’s nest’ with your provocative question so well done for generating such an interesting debate. I am not sure about the dog analogy though Chip 🙂

    If there is any fatigue with CEM, I wonder if it lies with the acronym rather than the concept? Customer – Experience – Management. I can’t see any of these three terms disappearing anytime soon can you?

    Given all the interest in the future of CEM it suggests a book may be in order. Race you – again!

    Cheers,

    Shaun

  19. Hi Colin

    Methinks though doth protest too much!

    I agree with your conclusion about the nascent failure rate of CEM initiatives. Anecdotal evidence suggests that too many of them do not deliver exactly what they promised. But this isn’t new; the same situation existed for similar initiatives like CRM, BPR, ERP and TQM before that.

    The problem is that for CEM to delivery the goods it must be tackled as an organisation-wide transformation initiative, not as a limited-scope project. From the safe position of another project, I watched a CEM project fail miserably for a mobile telco a couple of years back. The CEM project was all about the in-shop experience. But it was run as a superficial makeover of the shop, not as a transformational change initiative. It didn’t pull the process, technology, roles or any of the other levers required to effect lasting change. It didn’t really involve shop staff in co-designing the new experience and perhaps more fatal, there was absolutely nothing in it for the customer either. It was a bit like one of those pointless re-branding exercises where everything gets a lick of new paint but nothing is really changed underneath.

    Like CRM and all the things that came before it, if CEM wants to really make a difference, it needs to be driven by customers and to effect real transformational change within the organisation. Otherwise it is just playing at changing the experience.

    Graham Hill
    @grahamhill

    PS. Colin & Sean. With the best will in the world. We do not need any new CEM books thanks. The CEM bookshelf in my library is groaning under the weight of books on the subject already.

  20. Peter

    I read your blog post. It was ‘interesting’ but misleading.

    Whilst nobody seriously doubts that fixing broken processes and empowering employees are important, it is simply ridiculous to suggest that you don’t need to pull other levers, such as the ones Forrester mentions: strategy, customer understanding, experience design, measurement, governance, and culture, when transforming the customer experience.

    Before you suggest that analysts or consultants are trying to make things too complex, perhaps you should look at whether you are trying to make things much too simple. As Einstein said, things should be as simple as possible, but no simpler!

    Graham Hill
    @grahamhill

  21. “it is simply ridiculous to suggest that you don’t need to pull other levers, such as the ones Forrester mentions: strategy, customer understanding, experience design, measurement, governance, and culture, when transforming the customer experience”

    Ridiculous? Strategy, customer, experience design and governance all come into play when designing business processes. Culture? Well are we not talking about how an organisation treats its employees and frees or empowers them to deal with customers.

    Forrester and other consultants have turned customer experience into a pseudoscience. Organisations are simply a collection of business processes. Some do them better than others.

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