The Customer Experience Hokey Cokey! Why do companies find it so hard to commit to CX?


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As a child growing up, no birthday party was complete without a rousing rendition of the Hokey Cokey. Also known as the ‘Hokey Pokey’ in some parts of the world, according to Wikipedia, it originates in a British folk dance, with variants attested as early as 1826. The song and accompanying dance peaked in popularity as a music hall song and novelty dance in the mid-1940s in Britain and Ireland. The song was a chart hit twice in the 1980s – first by The Snowmen which peaked at UK #18 in 1981, and then Black Lace who reached #31 in 1985.

If you are one of the few who has never heard the Hokey Cokey (or Pokey) before, the lyrics go something like this:

You put your right arm in
your right arm out
In, out, in, out,
You shake it all about.
You do the Hokey Cokey and you turn around
That’s what it’s all about…

Woah, the hokey cokey,
Woah, the hokey cokey,
Woah, the hokey cokey,
Knees bent, arms stretched, ra ra ra!

The song and dance continues with the left arm, right leg, left leg, and ends with participants putting ‘their whole self’ in and out! It is all good, harmless fun. So what on earth has this got to do with the subject of Customer Experience?! If you have not yet guessed, the Hokey Cokey has actually become the perfect analogy for the way organisations around the world are attempting to put Customer Experience at the forefront of their strategic thinking.

Over the last twenty years, Customer Experience as a strategic way of working has steadily increased in prominence. With the creation of the Customer Experience Professionals Association in 2011, it is only in the last five years that the skills and competencies required for an organisation to become continuously and sustainably customer centric have come to the fore. In that time, more and more businesses of all shapes and sizes across multiple industries have ‘dipped their toe in the water’ of Customer Experience.

It is becoming harder and harder to find a company who has not put ‘their left arm in’, so to speak, in attempting to focus more on the customer. Most businesses now measure some form of ‘Voice of the Customer’ for example. Just because most measure it, does not mean they do so correctly or well – but most are doing it nonetheless. However, using the analogy of the Hokey Cokey, whilst most have put either an arm or leg ‘in’ at some point over the last twenty years, very few have been able to get to the point where ‘the whole self’ of the organisation has made it!!


Committing to Customer Experiencing continues to be one of the significant challenges organisations face today. This is a subject I have written about before – in April last year, I described sustaining the approach to Customer Experience as the hardest challenge of all – over eighteen months later, that continues to be the case. Increasingly, I am coming across more and more businesses who are either changing their approach to Customer Experience; amending their framework or model of applying it; or in many cases, starting all over again from scratch. The analogy of the Hokey Cokey makes more and more sense, as it appears the world of business puts a little bit of effort into Customer Experience….. stops….. and then starts all over again….. without ever getting to the point where it completely commits to putting ‘its whole self in’.

This inability to commit to Customer Experience, or sustain a focus on it, is the reason why we as consumers continue to have so many unsatisfactory, random experiences with the companies we interact with on a daily basis. So few businesses have been able to genuinely transform the way they work, it is still difficult to cite examples of organisations who are genuinely customer centric – other than the obvious. The big question is why? Why are so many still finding it so hard to commit?

Earlier this year, I wrote on this subject yet again – although I am in danger of sounding repetitive, it is so important to keep bringing to the fore the significance of the challenge. Here are my top five reasons behind the failure to commit:

  1. Leadership failing to ‘operationalise’ Customer Experience – as the saying goes, ‘talk is cheap’ – no-one ever changed anything just by talking about it. Too often I see businesses all too happy to talk a good game when it comes to Customer Experience, but the game ‘pauses’ when decisions need to be made to actually change something. Failing to ‘operationalise’ Customer Experience will make it impossible to sustain a customer centric approach – if there is a desire to become more customer centric, then make it happen!!
  2. Lack of organisational stability – the word ‘restructure’ strikes fear in many a battle weary employee. It is remarkable just how many organisations seem to have a restructure as an annual event. Every time a restructure occurs, whilst it not only creates instability, it often leads to a change of direction and priorities. Sustaining a customer focused strategy is extremely challenging in these circumstances. Like a soccer team changing its manager after one poor result, all organisations need stability to stand a chance of delivering any form of sustainable success.
  3. Short term focus – Customer Experience is a long term business strategy. If you want short term results, then Customer Experience transformation will not be the way to achieve it. In any transformative environment, patience, belief, courage and a resolute temperament are required to deliver the ultimate vision. Too much short term pressure applied by stakeholders who are not bought in to a customer centric strategy will ultimately lead to failure.
  4. Lack of skills and competencies – I have said many times that a lack of education is holding many businesses back from become more customer centric. It is very challenging to start a focus on Customer Experience, let alone sustain it, if your organisation does not possess the skills and competencies to enable you to get there. And when it comes to developing knowledge, I mean at all levels of the organisation. Leaders are not exempt from continuing to learn, yet too many are absent when faced with the opportunity to increase their understanding of a skillset that is relatively new to most.
  5. Failure to put ‘people’ first – sadly, we still live in a world where businesses are failing to put people – both employees and customers at the forefront of their thinking. Failing to put your own people first is a sure fire way of making it impossible to become customer centric. It always amazes me how many employees would not choose to interact as customers with the companies they work for – largely this is down to the fact that they do not believe in their own organisations ability to deliver the experience. Too many ’employees’ are just ‘doing their job’ – acting as completers of tasks, whilst unable and unempowered to use their very capable brains

As we approach the end of another calendar year, a key reflection of 2016 is that there is no let up of the increasing chatter about Customer Experience and Customer Centricity. Yet although the volume keeps getting louder, more and more businesses are still putting themselves continuously ‘in’ and ‘out’, without ever immersing the whole organisation in a sustainable approach to Customer Experience. Maybe in 2017, an increasing number of organisations can get to the point where they do finally ‘shake themselves about’ and settle on focusing on the customer and their people as a core element of the business strategy – not just for the short term, but indefinitely into the future.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Ian Golding, CCXP
A highly influential freelance CX consultant, Ian advises leading companies on CX strategy, measurement, improvement and employee advocacy techniques and solutions. Ian has worked globally across multiple industries including retail, financial services, logistics, manufacturing, telecoms and pharmaceuticals deploying CX tools and methodologies. An internationally renowned speaker and blogger on the subject of CX, Ian was also the first to become a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional) Authorised Resource & Training Provider.


  1. At the conclusion of this post, one of my blogs – having to do with the need and desirability for an annual CX Day – is listed. Much of your post has to do with strategically, and with discipline, embedding stakeholder centricity into the enterprise core and daily operation. As I’d written in that post, it is essential for “….individuals and organizations to reflect on where they stand, and where they are going, with stakeholder experience. This includes identification and assessment regarding the degree of sincere focus on customer experience and value delivery, and more broadly on employee experience as well within the cultural DNA of the organization. The objective is to demonstrate and/or reinforce how a stakeholder-obsessed company culture helps organizations succeed through providing optimal experience.”

    As you note, there are (at least) five reasons why this usually doesn’t happen.. What we often find is that organizations can’t get out of their own way, myopically following sub-optimal approaches to employees and customers that have become habitual within their cultures.

  2. Good article here Ian. I see a large barrier in companies fearing they have the time and resources to apply action from the data. Many times they talk about CX programs but fear they will be overwhelmed by the data and feedback. Obviously, the best CX firms can assist with strategy and action, but better outcomes require significant in-house resources.

  3. Great post. I think “Turn yourself around. That’s what it’s all about” is the operative phrase for how many organizations approach CX transformational efforts. When you just “turn yourself around” there is no progress. In Texas, we called it “Three feet and cloud of dust.” And, creating excitement and a big buzz is too frequently “what its all about.”

    Sustainable change takes discipline, patience and a willingness to stay the course for years. It takes leaders who lead from a true conviction that CX is important and the right thing to do, despite the fact that it cannot always be perfectly quantified. CX cannot be a flash in the pan effort. Cosmetic change based on drive-by change methods only leaves employees cynical and caustic, making the next change attempt much more prone to stern resistance.

  4. Thank you so much for your comments and feedback gentlemen – it is hugely appreciated. Our community need to keep working hard to help organisations overcome these continuing challenges!


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