Thought experiment

The CX thought experiment that CEOs must conduct


How to gauge, with just a few minutes of contemplation, the degree to which you’re ready to take on the demands of a customer experience programme. 


1st Oct 2019

These are heavy times. We can feel a deep anxiety about the future seeping into every aspect of business. For a while, talk and escapism could keep it at bay. That’s not the case anymore. 

Few companies were better prepared to confront this confusion than Uber, dropping a nuclear dirty bomb on the personal logistics (taxis) market. How’d they come up with it? In a few words, they deconstructed the experience of that market. They zero’d in on the experience while giving zero concern about how any part of it had been done before.

They freed themselves from the gravity of the past in order to come up with something new - to radically disrupt the now - putting all their weight down on to the fulcrum of experience.                                             

If you have people in your office talking about the virtues of customer experience (CX), and the impending perils should you not invest in it - you are not alone. It’s not likely you’re going to be Ubered, right? If those same people are having a hard time convincing you of CX’s place in the org and the value it creates, again, you are not alone.

For most CEOs and their boards, CX is still VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) and the value proposition hasn’t revealed itself well enough for you yet. It will.

But aren’t you just a little curious about who ought to be convincing whom? Isn’t it your role to move your company relative to patterns you’re uniquely capable of spotting? What will be fit enough to offer you the proof you’re awaiting?

Does the burden of figuring out CX rest with the CEO?

Every single company leader I have spoken to about CX has struggled both with the term and what the term implies for their business. Mainly, the struggle is in determining CX value, function and place within the organisation. What exactly is it? Do we really have to do this now? Where does it fit? What real value will it return? Who’s accountable for making it happen and sustaining it? Who else is doing it? How will it impact us? Where does it fit within our overarching purpose? What don’t I know?

Is the burden of figuring out your company's CX approach yours or are you waiting for someone to bring you better answers?

If you’re waiting for answers, you’re going to be there for a while. And don’t expect to be convinced - most of the attempts to convince you are going to come from pre-packaged content from CX platform technology companies with titles like, “How to convince the boss about CX” or “Top 10 ROI statistics to get your CEO on board with CX.” This will underwhelm you while you sit through countless infomercials about the technology side of CX.

You should not need to be convinced - you should be the one convincing. It’s your job.    

The only two known knowns at this point about CX are a) that virtually everyone in every industry is talking about CX with varying degrees of ambiguity; and b) they are now placing giant corporate bets on it.

When the prolific stake bold claims on this new era being the “experience economy,” this is what they’re talking about. CX is your company’s new orientation in response to the experience economy - should you become convinced. Which you will - or I should say, everyone left, will have become convinced. The only question will become, how quickly were you able to spot the pattern, and respond to it. Were you absent or present? Neither, you say. Maybe skeptical?

What it takes for CEOs to acknowledge CX

What I have noticed is that two major bellwethers need to sound off in order for a business “fad” to make it to the board of director’s radar screen, and subsequently the CEOs To Do list:

  1. The business press (Harvard Business Review, MIT Sloan, WSJ, Barron’s, Forbes, IBD, and Inc.) has to put it on their front cover, which in the case of CX, they all did in 2005.
  2. The big consultancies have to relent to it (BCG, Deloitte, McKinsey, Accenture, Bain, EY and KPMG) acquiring new consultancies to tap into the CX opportunities, which they all began doing around 2009. Kudos to Deloitte. I recall talking with them about CX in 2004.  

Companies struggling with whether or not to adopt CX remind me of the companies in the early 1990’s that were struggling with whether or not they should connect every desktop to the internet. I was at Morningstar, Inc. in Chicago where my boss and I began begging the CEO for a modem, and an internet connection in 1993. We wanted this new technology so that we could begin to tap into the vast stores of the SEC’s raw mutual fund data (prospectuses and annual report submissions).

He eventually gambled on it, which immediately accelerated Morningstar’s ability to report more substance on far more investment vehicles than the competition which, in turn, began to shape the individual investor marketplace while increasing Morningstar’s subscriber revenue virtually overnight. Turns out, this enablement decision was a pivotal gamble that paid off. But it started with two low-level front-liners who had an idea the CEO thought was odd and frivolous.

We get it - for most CEOs in companies thinking about CX, the struggle is far more entrenched and problematic than simply enabling people. For many CEOs it comes down to how much you believe in the power of enabling your people to help your company become a better version of itself.

Is enablement worth the price of the risk? Most people deep down in your organisation who want to focus on CX are yet to be enabled. In the case of CX, there is virtually no risk left for your business in the pursuit. Your risk lies only in timing (how soon) and approach (how much) in the context of all your other competing priorities. 

Why are companies struggling with CX?

CX, as I am sure you have read, requires deeper systemic changes in technology, process, and people/team capabilities. This is true. But as a CX transformation expert, I can say your struggle is even more entrenched and problematic than that. This is simply the truth.

Companies aren’t struggling with becoming more customer-centric because the concepts of empathy engineering and embedding new practices are too difficult (empathy engineering = a company’s systemic re-orientation toward the experiential views of the customer).

They are struggling with CX because the old methods of leadership and organisational design struggle to provide the foundation for change in the face of new emerging business models - and decision makers are having a hard time reacting to this - balancing age-old management instincts with the new machinery of socially-distributed demand, production and profit.

Unfortunately, there are big systemic disconnects that keep many CEOs managing and producing things that;

  • no one really responds to as much anymore in the face of exciting new marketplace approaches and disruptive delivery models;
  • no one really wants or needs the value you’ve been creating in the way you’ve been creating and delivering it anymore;
  • fail to register the experiences people are having with the value you’ve been creating in ways that help you adapt competitively.

CX is the body of knowledge, tool sets and insurance policy that ought to help CEOs protect their companies from these systemic disconnects.

Done properly, CX thoroughly addresses both sides of your supply and demand formula.

On the supply side, it optimises what you do, how you do it, and for whom, in ways that more directly able to meet the demand side. And on the demand side, it enables any business paying attention to better understand the underlying dynamics of customer expectation, experience and closing the often-perilous gaps between them.   

When companies introduce new shifts, pivoting to use the experience their customers have with their brand as the new measure of success, a lot of things have to change.

A thought experiment to gauge your readiness for CX

Let’s do a thought experiment. Suppose for a few minutes that you were either open to managing your company’s customer experience or open to improving the way it’s currently being managed. What do you suppose your smartest first step ought to be?

Most would claim that you should begin by collecting customer feedback or develop a voice of the customer program. Others would claim that you begin by installing technology platforms to begin measuring stuff.

Your smartest first step is neither of those.

It ought to be the formulation of your company’s unique point of view on CX: 

  • What is your unique angle here?
  • How will your company/brand harness the power of customer experience management? 
  • How will you use that POV to engage employees?
  • How will you plan to communicate it, sustain it? 

Your next smartest step ought to be the formulation of your company’s CX leadership cohort: 

  • Who is going to lead this?
  • Do they have the necessary authority to succeed?
  • How are they going to lead this?
  • How are they going to manage inevitable skirmishes when the new butts up against the old and the status quo interdicts necessary change?
  • How will you redesign expectations around accountability?

This is hard work. Not starting here is precisely the reason many CX programmes fail.

This thought experiment is how to gauge, with just a few minutes of contemplation, the degree to which you’re ready to take this on. If you can answer the thought experiment questions above without much stress or problem, you are ready.

If the questions leave you with uncertainty, you may need an outside facilitator to help direct your company’s best possible approach forward. 

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