Why Pursuing “Impartial CX” is the Best Customer Experience Strategy for Every Company

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In my opinion, if the following three CX issues are addressed, customer experience jobs will be saved and CX initiatives will get funded:

1. Misunderstanding of the role of CX.
2. A misconception that “business success doesn’t mean CX success.”
3. Unequal treatment of customers’ choices.

CX industry should be renamed

Customers always describe a bad (or good) service experience as a bad (or good) customer experience. For them, “service experience” and “customer experience” are interchangeable and almost identical. The CX industry seems to be following in their footsteps.

A bad customer experience does not always mean bad customer experience management”

What’s wrong with this statement?

If we rule out exceptions, like accidents and luck, and talk about the general experience that a brand brings to its customers, a bad customer experience is always a natural product of bad customer experience management. The above statement makes no sense.

Instead, the statement will make sense if it reads: “A bad SERVICE EXPERIENCE does not always mean bad customer experience management.” “Customer experience” probably represents “service experience.”

A simpler and more common example: Whenever a CX folk says “enhance the customer experience,” it rarely means addressing ‘product’ or ‘pricing’ issues; rather, it always refers to improving the service experience. This is not right.

If the role and function of CX is always to improve customer interactions, perhaps we should rename our profession to customer service management (CSM) or customer interaction management (CIM). Shouldn’t we?

Business success is CX success

There is an opinion held firmly in the CX community that companies which render poor service, like Louis Vuitton and Sukiyabashi Jiro (the first sushi restaurant in the world to receive three Michelin stars), that although they may obtain major commercial success, they are not successful in terms of customer experience management.

The rationale behind it: Achieving business results without delivering a “great customer experience” is only business success, not CX success.

Over a dozen of CX experts, including Shaun Smith and Colin Shaw, agreed that CX includes ‘products’ and ‘pricing’. In fact, the customer experience consists of all the attributes that affect the customers’ purchasing decisions, such as people, processes, policies, prices, products, place, promotion, and services.

Since no company has unlimited resources to excel in everything, different companies choose to focus on different attributes as their competitive strategy to promote business performance.

Therefore, LV and Jiro are both successful CX because they create a “great customer experience” by making high-quality merchandises and the world’s best sushi – “great products,” – respectively.

Likewise, although price-centric brands – like McDonald’s and Walmart – don’t render good services, as long as they offer “great prices” and achieve business success, they are implementing “great CX.”

Put it simply: Except monopolies, all successful businesses must deliver “great customer experience.” For instance, Ritz Carlton has “Ladies and Gentlemen Serving Ladies and Gentlemen” (service), BMW delivers “The Ultimate Driving Machine” (product), while IKEA makes “Quality Furniture that Everyone can Afford” (price).

In the free market, business success is CX success.

Expert’s shoes vs. backpacker’s shoes

Many CX experts and consultants share similar personal attributes: middle-aged, have a ‘service’-related background in their careers, and value “good service” more than “low prices.” When some of these experts and consultants assess Ryanair’s customer experience, they usually come to the conclusion that the experience is terrible or even unacceptable.

The truth is: customers’ preferences are not always the same as yours. Some of the richest billionaires in the world still eat at McDonald’s, Japanese office ladies spend months of salary to buy Louis Vuitton handbags, and backpackers see that Ryanair offers a better option than land travel and the experience is completely acceptable.

Clearly, Ryanair’s target customers are budget travelers, not business executives. You should not confuse “putting yourself in the customer’s shoes” with “putting yourself in your own shoes,” nor should you assume that customers have the same feelings and needs as you.

Customers know better than anyone which option can better meet their needs. Don’t judge customers’ choices without putting yourself in their shoes.

Professional evaluation or unequal treatment

When Starbucks, Apple, Southwest Airlines and Virgin Atlantic satisfy the objective criteria of CX evaluation, i.e. keep their promises, create customer value and drive business results, they are considered “good CX.”

But why are brands like Louis Vuitton, Sukiyabashi Jiro, Ryanair and Spirit Airlines (Ryanair’s equivalent low-cost carrier in the U.S.) that meet all these conditions not considered “good CX” or even labeled as “bad CX”?

The only factor that distinguishes LV, Jiro, Ryanair and Spirit from Starbucks, Apple, Southwest and Virgin is whether they “serve customers well” and generate ‘service’ pain points. But this is based on the subjective preference of conventional CX.

When two groups of brands meet the same set of objective standards but have different ratings, it is not a professional evaluation of CX; this is an unequal treatment of brands.

A world-renowned CX expert once remarked on an online post: “Only low self-esteem people fly Ryanair.” His comment was quickly deleted. But this is a good reminder for each of us in the CX field: we will respect every customer and never discriminate against any customer choice.

All customer choices should be treated equally.

“Less money” meets “more money”

The World Bank remarks: “COVID-19 to Plunge Global Economy into Worst Recession since World War II,” and The New York Times reports: “Why the Global Recession Could Last a Long Time.”

Evidently, economic recession is inevitable and won’t disappear soon. The surviving companies will have to cut costs and countless people will have their wages reduced, become unemployed, part-time or freelancers, and earn “less money.”

Since interest rates in most countries are close to zero or have become negative, the only major measure to deal with the current challenges is another round of large-scale quantitative easing (QE).

The side effect of QE is the sharp rise in asset prices like stocks and real estate. For those who have no assets (such as the lower middle-class and the working class), as their real wages have stagnated, their real purchasing power has declined, and they have become victims of printing “more money.”

When “less money” meets “more money,” we don’t need a Harvard MBA to realize that customers will be more price-conscious and the demand for inexpensive products will increase.

For CX professionals, it is unwise to continue to discriminate customer choices, as this only reflects their disconnect from reality and their inability to adapt to changing customer needs.

Before COVID-19, Forrester predicted that 25% of CX professionals would lose their jobs. If CX professionals continue to treat customer choices unequally during these difficult times, I am afraid this number will be even higher.

On the bright side: The high risk of unemployment provides a strong impetus for CX professionals to change.

Impartial CX

The fact is that the three CX issues mentioned at the beginning of this article are closely related. When we solve one issue, the remaining two issues will be relatively easy to solve.

In fact, when you solve all three issues, you are practicing impartial CX.

Objective Assessment. “Serve customers well is a prerequisite for good CX” is a consensus of conventional CX. However, no CX expert would publicly support this consensus.

I suspect that most CX experts know deep down that this is a fallacy: this consensus is built upon “putting yourself in the shoes of conventional CX” and unequal treatment of customer choices.

For that reason, we need more sharing, such as CX opinion leader Jim Tincher’s blog post “Why Spirit Airlines’ and Ryan Air’s Customer Experience is Better than Yours.”

But please don’t get me wrong: I don’t recommend that we move the pendulum from ‘service’ to ‘pricing’.

My suggestion is this: we should let more industry practitioners understand that professional CX assessments should always be objective, and change the perception of C-level executives that CX is ‘service’-biased.

Unbiased Recommendations. For many CX professionals, CX success is like a curse: For those who are more responsible, the harder they perform their duties, the more difficult it is to achieve CX success, and the more pain they will feel. This is a tragedy.

This tragedy can be avoided when they realize that “business success is CX success.”

Then, the company’s goals and CX professionals’ responsibilities are exactly the same, and CX professionals’ recommendations will always be based on factors that can really drive business results, rather than good customer interactions.

Your CX initiatives are likely to be approved by the CEO, and your CFO will not hinder you.

Neutral Positioning. Strategy is about resource allocation. For the CEO, the most important task is to develop key business strategies and determine the company-wide resource allocation. During the recession, the CEO’s decision will affect the company’s survival.

When CX resumes its original role – focusing on customer experience, not service experience – it can rediscover its long-unused unique advantage: the total customer experience perspective.

With this vision, CX is able to develop unparalleled capabilities: in all customer-facing touch points and channels, objectively and effectively identify where to invest more and cut costs to achieve business targets. The premise is to remain neutral. CX can’t be owned by service or marketing.

Every CEO and every company will cherish CX executives with these capabilities. These executives are likely to be promoted to strategic positions in CX or be headhunted by other companies.

Conclusion: To be honest, if we change our profession to customer interaction management, then subjective assessment, biased recommendations and non-neutral positioning are all viable. However, if our profession stays the same, it would be a mistake to tolerate these partial practices no matter in times of prosperity or difficulty.

Authentic CX is impartial.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Great review professor, I feel that in Brazil we are in Conventional CX and we trying to change that with some friends. Thanks!

  2. Thank you Rafael. The courage of you and your friends is admirable.

    If you want to know more about the limitations of conventional CX and the advantages of authentic CX, I suggest you read: https://customerthink.com/stop-practicing-fake-cx/.

    p.s. the position “visiting assistant professor” appears on my LinkedIn profile is the title used by the master degree program that I taught for the University of Hong Kong; academically, I’m not a professor. Call me Sampson is fine.

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