Missing! Systems Thinking for Customer Experience Business Results


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“Do the whole job” is a mantra needed by our companies and society at large. Piecemeal efforts and short-term strategies ultimately lead to finger-in-the-dike management that is rampant today. All of the recent customer experience studies indicate that vital linkages are broken between:

  • survey results and business results
  • data and actions
  • goals across functions and business units
  • incentives and desired behaviors
  • multiple voice of customer sources
  • views of what customers want
  • brand promise and what’s delivered

What’s missing here is systems thinking! Systems thinking is a commitment to doing the whole job. It’s a holistic view of the components of an entity in the context of relationships with each other and with other entities, rather than in isolation. Doing the whole job is imperative for real improvement in customer experience. Every internal handoff may have a ripple effect on the customer, or at least on the customer-facing employee. In other words, frontline employees are only as effective as the rest of the organization enables them to be.

Coordinated deployment is essential among the following keys to systems thinking:

  • keep the big picture in mind
  • anticipate cause-and-effect
  • analyze root causes
  • nurture shared vision
  • fight sub-optimization: self-centricity versus customer-centricity
  • manage stakeholders
  • manage change expressly
  • embrace constructive customer feedback
  • improve internal handoffs
  • enable each company group to learn their impact on customer experience
  • select metrics that are both actionable and predictive
  • balance incentives with intended outcome

Customer loyalty/retention was priority number one in the first four reports from The Conference Board’s CEO Challenge survey. Recently that topic is superseded by execution, adaptability, economic performance, and sustained growth. Yet, 89% of firms view customer experience management (CEM) as either very important or critical to the firm’s strategy in 2009, according to Forrester Research’s Obstacles to Customer Experience Success report. Lack of systems thinking may account for the execution and adaptability hot buttons, as means to customer loyalty/retention, which if managed correctly, ultimately leads to stronger economic performance and sustained growth.

Perhaps the information age offers us too many options, and causes us to be sidetracked by piecemeal strategies, that ultimately become regarded as fads, although they may be valid and valuable components of the bigger picture. Systems thinking brings us back to basics. At the end of the day, superior customer experience is all about integrity. Doing the whole job reflects what’s needed from every individual as well as the champions of customer experience management.

Lynn Hunsaker

Lynn Hunsaker is 1 of 5 CustomerThink Hall of Fame authors. She built CX maturity via customer experience, strategic planning, quality, and marketing roles at Applied Materials and Sonoco. She was a CXPA board member and SVAMA president, taught 25 college courses, and authored 6 CXM studies and many CXM handbooks and courses. Her specialties are B2B, silos, customer-centric business and marketing, engaging C-Suite and non-customer-facing groups in CX, leading indicators, ROI, maturity. CX leaders in 50+ countries benefit from her self-paced e-consulting: Masterminds, Value Exchange, and more.


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