The CX Yo-Yo


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It may not be a classic scenario of “one step forward, two steps back,” but it seems that for every advance and forward trend in the customer experience arena, there is a contrary counter trend moving in the opposite direction or an unintended adverse consequence. Some ebb and flow in a maturing field is inevitable, perhaps even a desirable way of working out the kinks. In a few instances, however, the forward leaning yin seems to be butting heads with a backwards leaning contradictory yang that truly undermines the original advance. Here are some examples.

Great experiences vs. IVR
Let’s start with an easy example: companies want to deliver great customer experiences and capture customer feedback. Many, especially in phone centers, use IVR (Integrated Voice Response) systems for quick and easy feedback. While these systems have improved vastly over the last few years, here is the problem: your objective is to give a great experience and leave your brand imprint on everything you touch . . . and then you proceed to use a sterile measurement tool that virtually assures a pretty impersonal experience.

There is a time and a place for IVR, I don’t deny that. But I defy anyone to put their hand on the bible and say, yes, they truly enjoy an IVR experience. It’s cheap; it’s easy; it’s real-time; it’s scalable; but it ain’t an enjoyable experience. Use it wisely.

Mass personalization and customization vs. privacy, security and confidentiality
This is a more intractable problem. CX practitioners (and marketers) know how important it is to deliver a sense of a personalized touch, an offer/message/product customized to the individual customer. To do this at scale demands sophisticated crunching of customer-specific data. Legitimate concerns regarding privacy and the use and abuse of such data, however, have led to regulatory restrictions and pushback that makes this a difficult faultline to navigate.

Both trends – the yin of the importance of customization and the yang of restrictions on access to and use of the data required to deliver that personal touch – promise to accelerate. PII, PHI and PFI (Personally Identifiable Information and Protected or Personal Health and Financial Information) are under increased scrutiny and regulatory oversight, and every major breach makes it more difficult to use the data that could help support the delivery of a better customer experience. So the better the industry gets at customization, the more pressure there will be to limit access to the data that makes such customization possible.

Talk about the importance of emotions vs. measure only rational performance criteria
The importance of emotional connections may not dominate the CX space, but emotions are the keystone to human decision making. After acknowledging the primacy of emotions, CXers then proceed to measure experiences exclusively in terms of bite-sized rational dimensions. How rational is that?

The brand and advertising folks know how to play to emotions. (Hell, most car commercials, for example, barely allude to any rational criteria about the vehicle.) Measuring the submerged part of an iceberg may be more challenging than measuring the part above water. Acting on the emotional dimension of CX poses even bigger difficulties. But emotions drive decisions and behavior and ignoring them in measurement is an eyes-wide-shut ostrich strategy.

Demand for empathy and human touch vs. improved AI and self-service
A logical extension of the importance of nurturing an emotional bond with customers is the need for empathy and a human connection. For years, however, most companies have pushed customers to self-service. Yes, the technology that enables self-service is infinitely more scalable and economically efficient than human service, but ATMs dispense cash, not warm and fuzzies. AI promises to get closer and closer to a quasi-human experience, but I’m not sure that quasi-empathy will be sufficient.

Customized vs. standardized metrics
CXers are quick to point to the need for programs, metrics and analyses customized for their specific business, a design that reflects their business model, markets, customers and competition. Practitioners are increasingly linking internal operational data to their experience data to analyze the impact of CX on their business and build their particular business case. No one thinks it’s sufficient to rely on vanilla case studies and adages about the economic value of CX based on generic data. That’s great.

But then many turn around and take an off-the-shelf generic metric as their company’s KPI and don’t bother to evaluate whether that metric best explains their business. We see this when companies say “Let’s do an NPS (CES, OSat, etc.) study,” not questioning – let alone testing – if the KPI they have selected is the best for them. What’s the point of customizing the program for your business without testing and validating the key metric selected to gauge success?

Blanket key touchpoints vs. over-surveying and reducing response rates
Real-time transactional surveys permit companies to collect feedback in a timely manner and enable prompt feedback loops for problem remediation and management. This is an important arrow in the CX quiver. At the same time, however, the technology has prompted the proliferation of surveys distributed, taxing the patience of customers and their willingness to participate. This has led many firms to shorten their surveys (sometimes dramatically) and has sparked a downward trend in response rates.

What an irony: the technology that enabled the efficient collection of feedback threatens to undermine data collection efforts. Companies need to strike a mindful balance between collecting needed information with asking for too much too often and wringing additional value by integrating and analyzing multiple data sources.

Forest and trees
There no doubt are other examples of trends and counter trends pushing and pulling in opposite directions. I’ll close with one over-arching issue: the balance between tactics and strategy. Companies always say they want strategic insights with regards to CX. The focus on transactional experiences, however, often translates into a very tactical focus.

Tactics without strategy is like a random walk without direction: if you don’t know where you are headed, any path can get you there. Strategy without tactics, on the other hand, is anemic: if you know where you want to go but have no idea how to get there, nothing ever happens. We need both the strategic vision and the tactical steps to get us there.

Howard Lax, Ph.D.

Supporting better informed decision making with technology, research and strategy. With a focus on CX/VoC/NPS, Employee Engagement and emotion analytics, Howard's domain is the application of marketing information and SaaS platforms to solve business problems and activating CX programs to drive business objectives.


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