Hard truth

The unspoken hard truths of CX leadership - and how you can turn them to your advantage


The role of customer experience manager isn't easy - and there are some facets to the job that you don't see talked about very often. Jim Tincher highlights three of these... and how they can be turned to your advantage. 

17th Mar 2022

You probably don’t need me to tell you this, but those in customer experience can have a rough go of it. 

You’re typically a small group – that is, when it’s not just you by your lonesome! – and you’re tasked with influencing the entire organisation. That results in a different type of role, and there are some facets to that reality that you just don’t see talked about very often.  

So let’s go there: 

Hard Truth #1: Nobody really gets what you do  

On a given day you might be analysing survey feedback, talking with customers, providing training on customer needs, and meeting with executives on how to improve customer loyalty.  

It’s all important, but it can also be – or at least, seem – very scattered.  

Raise your hand if, after you’ve explained your job, you didn’t have somebody ask if you work in a call centre! I know my mom didn’t understand what I did until I wrote a book about it.  

(OK, full disclosure: She still doesn’t really understand what I do.)  

Hard Truth #2: Everyone thinks they’re a customer experience person, too 

This is probably true of many other capabilities, but it’s definitely the case in CX.  

People who can’t even spell CX have strong opinions on how to improve our customers’ experiences – typically without spending time talking to those customers to understand their true goals! Everyone also knows how to write a perfect survey and lead an excellent workshop.  

Maybe that’s why only one in four CX programs shows true business impact – because that’s the percentage of people in these roles that take the time to learn not just the best practices, but also the better practices

Hard Truth #3: CX can be lonely 

Back when I led CX for a division of a Fortune 100 firm, I read this article on stranded evangelists, and it’s stuck with me.

Back then, I was told I “made a lot of noise” while trying to improve the customer experience. And it often felt like I was all on my own, a David trying to budge a corporate Goliath. (Spoiler alert: I was not as successful as he was.)

But it turns out I wasn’t alone in being alone. Our 2022 survey showed that one-third of CX programs consist of a single individual, and another third have just 2-5 people. That’s some mighty odds for a small team to face.  

That’s just one reason why I love the CXPA so much, and consider it such a valuable resource. It offers a chance to network, collaborate, and commiserate with like-minded people who are facing the same challenges. 

Where's the silver lining?

However, when I heard from my good friend Lori Laflin, VP of digital experience at Compeer, she questioned my out-of-character negativity, saying:

"Jim, I agree, but I know you’re normally a glass-half-full thinker. Where’s the “yes, and”? No one gets what you do? Yes, and that’s ok. You do what you love and it gives you a chance to explain (and write a book).

"Everyone thinks they’re in CX? Yes, and if everyone is thinking about the customer, that’s excellent! I could keep going, but I’ll challenge others, what’s the silver lining in being a shop of one?"

I love productive pushback (both giving and receiving), so I really appreciated the call-out! And Lori’s right – I do typically focus on glass-half-full approaches.

So I’m taking her up on her challenge. (Hope you will, too!) Here’s the sunnier side of each of the “truths” I mentioned:

Nobody really gets what you do?

This can actually be one of the most exciting parts of CX, because you get to define what your program means to the company.

We’re currently working with the CXPA to map the first-year journey of CX leaders. One finding is that different leaders build very different programs. That was also true in our previous interviews, which revealed a broad spectrum of approaches.

While some focus extensively on surveys, for example, others don’t even have a survey capability – that’s housed elsewhere in the organisation. And while some focus extensively on change management, others lean more heavily into design thinking.

CX is still a young capability, making it possible to forge your own path.

Everyone thinks they’re a customer experience person, too?

Lori’s response on this point was dead on. While this truth does lead to unsolicited advice, it also means that there’s a strong pool of partners who want to do right by the customer.

Successful CX leaders tap into this pool to create a team of change makers across the organisation.

CX can be lonely?

What’s the silver lining to being a shop of one? As above, it means you have to partner to survive. It’s tough to be your own silo, so the best in CX reach across the organisation to succeed.

Years ago, I interviewed Mara Bain (then with Western National Insurance), who told me, “My role is to influence and organise. I pull together teams from across the company to work on key initiatives. While I have no direct reports, you could say I have a team of 500.”

So there you have it. Are there are advantages to those hard truths I stated? I say (emphatically) YES.

Furthermore, there are boatloads of valuable resources available today that didn’t exist when I was a CX practitioner, including the CXPA.

On that note, if YOU are in your first year (or so) of leading customer experience at your organisation (no matter what your previous role), please share your experience with Heart of the Customer, Quadient, and the CXPA by signing up for an interview. Your insights can make an important impact on our community!

This article was adapted from posts that originally appeared on the Heart of the Customer blog


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