President Global CEM
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Why a major CX misconception is causing customer experience job cuts

Customer experience professionals are being blamed for CX programmes failing to deliver business value - and it's now costing them their jobs. But does the blame lie elsewhere?

6th Feb 2020
President Global CEM
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CX job losses
istock

In my opinion, there are three long-held beliefs in the customer experience world which adversely affect the dreams and careers of CX professionals:

  1. Customer obsession.
  2. CX transformation is needed to become a customer-centric company.
  3. Improving customer experience will drive business results.

CX professionals have a noble aspiration

“Customer-centricity is a commitment or a strategy to assure the success of your customer,” says Joseph Michelli, chief experience officer of The Michelli Experience.

Michelli’s definition may not be the perfect or ultimate one, but it is more concrete and much closer to the original purpose of customer-centricity – creating values for customers / helping customers achieve their desired goals – than the common definition “Putting the customer at the centre of everything you do.”

Personally, I truly appreciate the noble idea of customer-centricity (obsessed with customer value) and admire the passion and tireless efforts of CX professionals trying to transform their organisations to be customer-focused.

Yet, most CX experts interpret customer obsession as “obsessed with customer interactions”; it’s not right.

“Customer obsession” is misinterpreted

Have you ever wondered why both Southwest Airlines and Ryanair create value for their passengers – a low price – but only the former is labeled as a customer-centred company? It’s because Southwest “serves customers well” and Ryanair doesn’t.

If you have read any books, articles or blog posts about customer-centricity written by industry experts, only those brands which “serve customers well” – like Zappos, Ritz Carlton and Virgin Atlantic – are being identified and praised as customer-focused, while the brands that compete purely on pricing or product would rarely feature.

Companies mostly can’t be customer-centric unless they serve customers well. It deviates from the original purpose of customer-centricity as it’s about being obsessed with customer value rather than interactions; good customer interactions is merely one of many values.   

CX professionals have an impossible mission

“CX transformation is needed to become a customer-centric company” is a widespread belief in the CX world.

However, Forrester’s research director Harley Manning remarks: "CX transformations are massive, take years, and cost millions". This poses a dilemma.

Only large firms can afford to undertake a CX transformation, but converting the mindsets and behaviours of people as well as the entire value chain of a sophisticated organisation to be customer-centric is insanely hard. Well-established companies would have a slim chance to make it.

What’s more, customers have different needs and wants – e.g. inexpensive prices, prestige feeling or great products – not merely good services or interactions. It makes no sense to undertake a CX transformation – bearing enormous manpower, time and financial costs – if your competition strategy isn’t service-focused.

Evidently, CX transformation is unaffordable and undesirable for the majority of enterprises. Transforming their own organisations to becoming customer-centric is, literally, an unachievable target and not sensible for most CX practitioners.

Susan’s cookies

When a brand communicates to customers which value they are going to generate for them, it becomes a brand promise. If this value is critical to customers and when the brand keeps its word, they accomplish the primary goal of customer-centricity.

Say Susan manages a small family-owned shop – Susan’s Cookies – selling cookies in her local community. When Susan’s Cookies delivers its promise, for instance, to produce hand-made and fresh baked goods, and the customers of the local community keep coming back for that reason, Susan’s Cookies is customer-centric even though they aren’t “obsessed with customer interactions” and didn’t undergo a CX transformation.     

Every company, no matter a giant corporation or a family business, and whatever its focus (service, pricing or product), can be customer-driven as long as they honour their promise – delivering the value that customers care about – and achieve business results. Customer-centricity is certainly not the privilege of a few companies.

CX professionals are innocent   

Year after year, CX executives have been criticised for not aligning what they do with business results. But why don’t they? Someone suggested that they are unaware of the need to tie CX to business value or lack of ROI skills; these are minor factors.

Unless you don’t read any news or articles about CX, it’s almost impossible for anyone in the industry to not be mindful of the fact that CEOs don’t support CX because it doesn’t result in business impact. Since this issue has existed for years, the ROI skills should have been developed – they aren’t rocket science.

From my perspective, the key reason for the misalignment is this: CX practitioners firmly believe what they have been concentrated on – improving customer interactions – is driving business results.  

Industry authorities have been preaching “Improving customer experience will drive business results” for years. And like it or not, customer experience is commonly perceived as customer interactions. Still, customers’ decisions for repeat purchases are mainly decided by how capable a brand is at helping them achieve their desired goals, rather than by how good a brand makes them feel. Enhancing customer interactions would drive CX scores and “happy” customers instead of repeat sales.

It is unfair for CX folks to take the blame for the decade-long disconnect between CX and business results, just because they follow the advice of industry authorities.

My haircut

QB House, the barbershop chain founded in Japan, is a featured case study in Kim and Mauborgne’s seminal book Blue Ocean Strategy. Today QB House has over 600 locations in Asia. I had a haircut there when I visited Tokyo 12 years ago.

Unlike a traditional barbershop, the only staff in QB House are hair stylists. They exclude all the usual frills, e.g. shampoos and colorings. They just cut. My hair stylist is nice but I won’t say I am well served. Except “hello” and “goodbye,” he is almost silent throughout the entire process. It’s a fast (10-minute), clean (air-wash) and inexpensive (1,000 yen) haircut. I have become a regular customer since coming back to Hong Kong.

Similar as QB House’s, McDonald’s customers return because they are fast, clean and inexpensive. Loyal customers buy Louis Vuitton handbags for its prestige image and purchase IKEA furniture due to its good value for money. These brands don’t “serve customers well” yet customers keep coming back.

Clearly, what triggers customers to buy again could be pricing, product or something else but isn’t necessarily associated with customer interactions. Improving customer experience may not drive business results.

Your dream or career? Why not both!

Forrester predicted that 25% of CX professionals will be fired this year since they aren’t producing business impact; in spite of customer-centricity being promoted for decades, very few companies have successfully developed into acclaimed customer-driven brands. The root cause for it being so easy to lose your jobs and so hard to become a customer-driven organisation is, in my view, “obsessed with customer interactions.”   

To secure and thrive in your career, you must understand that enjoying hand-made cookies and having a straightforward haircut – not only being well-served – can be the jobs-to-be-done of your customers. When you are focused on customer success rather than interactions, your CX initiatives won’t be restricted to improving ‘service’-related attributes, and you are more likely to achieve business results and gain CEOs’ buy-ins.     

In addition, you would have a greater chance to realise your “customer-centricity dream” when customer obsession is correctly interpreted.

Then price- or product-focused brands, such as McDonald’s, IKEA and Louis Vuitton, won’t be excluded from the customer-centricity club, and helping customers fulfill their goals and driving repeat purchases – rather than “serving customers well” and undertaking a CX transformation – will become the predominant conditions for being a customer-driven company.

“Obsessed with customer success” is simply a more pragmatic and effective option than “obsessed with customer interactions” in driving customer, business and your own (CX pro) success. Perhaps you should ask yourself this: Why stick with an unrealistic and ineffective CX approach at the expense of your dream and career?  

Consider Pragmatic CX.

Effective CX

Philosophy, Strategy and Goal of Effective CX (Obsessed with Customer Success)

Ineffective CX

Philosophy, Strategy and Goal of Ineffective CX (Obsessed with Customer Interactions)

Replies (17)

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linkedin
By LinkedIn Group Member
07th Feb 2020 09:04

Comment originally posted in the MyCustomer LinkedIn group by member Lynn Hunsaker:

Important points for all Senior Leadership Team / C-Suite roles as well as customer experience, customer success, customer care, customer loyalty, CRM, DX, UX, etc. roles. Caution: "helping customers fulfill their goals" is indeed the proper aim, BUT "customer success" may be the wrong label because it's still too narrow and too focused on interactions/renewals to properly describe the solution to this article's quandary.

I've been trying to help executives revise their views and aims through an article series about CX role in enterprise growth: https://clearaction.com/ceos-guide-to-growth-through-customer-centered-m...

See also:
https://clearaction.com/2020-customer-experience-20-wishes/

https://www.cxpa.org/blogs/lynn-hunsaker/2019/04/19/ideal-vp-customer-ex...

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Replying to LinkedIn Group Member:
Sampson Lee, founder of Global CEM and creator of PIG Strategy
By Sampson Lee
18th Feb 2020 02:45

Lynn,

If you regard “customer success” as inappropriate, use whatever terms you feel comfortable with, e.g. customer value, brand promise, brand purpose, or jobs-to-be-done.

Nowadays, the majority of CX experts and consultants use wordings like customer value, brand promise, brand purpose and jobs-to-be-done in their articles or blog posts. But still, most of their actual offers are “obsessed with customer interactions.”

The inconvenient truth is: the business model of most CX experts and consulting firms is consultancy on culture transformation, emotional engagement, employee engagement and service improvements; these external CX folks will have no business if the solutions aren’t about customer interactions.

CX professionals should always keep their eyes open.

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linkedin
By LinkedIn Group Member
07th Feb 2020 09:06

Comment originally posted in the MyCustomer LinkedIn group by member Christopher Brooks:

It’s a well constructed piece from Sampson Lee. I can hear and see so many of the bear traps pointed out from commentators on CX.

Arguably until it achieves chartered status, its really important that those involved in customer experience understand what customer success really means (as you highlight well). We’ve worked with academics who have spent decades studying thousands of companies to identify how experience changes customer behaviour and how that changes company and community outcomes.

This award winning academic research found only 3% of all companies achieve the optimum return on their customer success investment. And everyday I read advice and suggestions on LinkedIn which will lead to the other 97% outcomes if followed.

Much of CX ROI is opex related which makes it difficult to identify. The point on SouthWestern and RyanAir is exactly a point I shared with an audience last night at CX event.

When you treat CX a business model and not an obsession, you see how Ryanair invest proportionality to how they value customers and the impact their behaviour has on profitability.

It’s not for everyone! The idea it has to always wow or be awesome can be distracting.

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Replying to LinkedIn Group Member:
Sampson Lee, founder of Global CEM and creator of PIG Strategy
By Sampson Lee
16th Feb 2020 03:16

Hi Christopher,

In my view, Ryanair is delivering effective CX and is customer-centric. A customer-centric company will deliver effective CX; vice versa.

What do you think?

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linkedin
By LinkedIn Group Member
07th Feb 2020 09:09

Comment originally posted in the MyCustomer LinkedIn group by member Alex Allwood:

My book on Customer Empathy: A radical intervention in customer experience management and design, overcomes the shortfalls of current practices.

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Replying to LinkedIn Group Member:
Sampson Lee, founder of Global CEM and creator of PIG Strategy
By Sampson Lee
15th Feb 2020 02:56

Hi Alex,

Would you summarize briefly how your approach can address the issue in case the audience of this post haven’t read your book?

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Jeremy Cox
By Jeremy Cox
07th Feb 2020 10:21

Always good to hear from Sampson, however, I think the reality is more nuanced.
While there has been considerable focus on customer interactions and more specifically channel-agnostic, channel-less and omnichannel, (which when done right amount to the same thing although purists may dispute this), a more mature approach to customers must also include the value derived by the customer as product or service or both are consumed/used. I think on that we agree. That requires insight and thought into why the customer bought the product/service in the first place - what was their objective?

CX obsessives can't do it alone, neither can Six Sygma black belts (remember them?), nor product/service development - you need all three working under a coherent and holistic customer-focused strategy. That's a lot of moving parts to orchestrate and it's time CEOs stepped up their games accordingly, then the mad hatters and CX obsessives can hang on to their jobs.

What I see all too often is a failure to understand the complexity of the challenge and who should own it in the organisation. The CX obsessives may well fail and get the sack if there is a lack of not just buy-in but vision and active support/resources from the top.

Irrespective of the size of the organisation, the same laws of gravity apply to everyone.
Fundamentally the operational aspects of a business must be highly connected and automated where possible, allowing employees to perform higher added-value tasks that directly or indirectly feed into the value customers receive. This is the operational excellence mandate. This provides a foundation for reliability, keeping promises on delivery, etc, - it feeds into the customer experience. I order something, I'm informed when it will arrive, I can change the date or destination to suit me prior to dispatch and I have a high degree of confidence that the delivery promise will be kept. This has more to do with back-office functions than marketing, sales, or service. However, I may not have got this far if the initial experience online, or in the store or both, were disappointing, or if I didn't even know about the company's products.

From the customer all the way back to supply, if any operational link is broken the experience will be poor. The operational underpinnings must be sound, and interaction experience must also support the customer, and thirdly, the thing being bought must fit the bill as far as the customer is concerned i.e. they can derive the value they sought from the purchase.

Pulling this trick off repeatedly leads to growth, but as change accelerates and customer expectations continue to rise, it becomes more challenging - hence the need for continuous innovation and frictionless, timely, relevant interactions built on a finely honed operational capability. You can't sacrifice one discipline for another, all 3 value disciplines - 1.operational excellence, 2.creating an environment that delivers a reliably consistent and positive CX and 3. continuous innovation - all supported by customer insight. This is the fundamental challenge all businesses face. Any digital transformation that isn't tackling these critical attributes, is likely to fail, and everyone in the company may lose their jobs, not just the CX obsessives.

One last word - obsession, to my mind, is not healthy. Purpose is.

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Replying to JeremyCoxCRM:
Sampson Lee, founder of Global CEM and creator of PIG Strategy
By Sampson Lee
16th Feb 2020 03:10

Jeremy,

Glad to hear from you too.

Do you have any advice to CX pros for keeping their jobs?

Thanks (0)
avatar
By EJohn Morris
07th Feb 2020 13:46

Very interesting article as it seems to confirm a trend that I have been experiencing over the last couple of years especially when talking to some CX professionals and businesses.
There are a couple of terms that crop it when talking to businesses, "So what!" and "What's in it for me and my business?". Indeed these attitudes still exist and are not easily addressed, especially when coupled with the term "prove it!".

There has been lots of discussion and some debate on customer centricity, experience, obsession and so on. Yes the customer is very important, without them there is now business. However I have customers and they seem happy enough and keep coming back so what's the problem? The problem is that, as many business are find, the customer are coming back in fewer numbers and less frequently. Many reasons can be made for this and a poor experience is certainly one of them, but how is that monetized? It is the proven monetization of the experience, obsession and so on that seems to be missing .
All employees including customer experience managers have to demonstrate business as well as customer value because if the business isn't profitable then the customer wont get served and if the customer isn't getting served then the business won't be profitable. It's either an upward or downward spiral and as CX professionals we have to learn to manage the expectation of the business as well as the customer.

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Replying to EJohn Morris:
Sampson Lee, founder of Global CEM and creator of PIG Strategy
By Sampson Lee
16th Feb 2020 03:00

Hi John,

I think even if the business is profitable but if they aren’t service-focused, they shouldn’t spend more than minimal on enhancing customer interactions. Instead, they should invest most resources in fulfilling their brand promise.

If you improve those things that aren’t linked to your brand promise, it’s destructive because it’d dilute your limited resources, make you look more like your rivals and easier be beaten and replaced.

Your thoughts?

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Replying to Sampson Lee:
avatar
By EJohn Morris
17th Feb 2020 13:02

Hello Sampson,

I would concur, this is about the brand promise and that the business is consistently meeting or exceeding that promise that is important. What I have always thought has been missing within the context of customer experience is that the promise made by the brand allows the business to be sustainable and proven to be profitable.
I know of one business where they have selected one of the finance people to run the customer experience initiative for that very reason.

thanks for the opportunity to comment further

John

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Replying to EJohn Morris:
Sampson Lee, founder of Global CEM and creator of PIG Strategy
By Sampson Lee
17th Feb 2020 14:43

John,

We are on the same page.

Fulfilling its promise would become meaningless when a brand helps customers obtain their goals but can’t drive sustainable growth and isn’t profitable.

That is why, in my opinion, a company can’t be customer-centric and isn’t delivering effective CX unless they achieve BOTH customer and business success.

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linkedin
By LinkedIn Group Member
10th Feb 2020 11:01

Comment originally posted in the MyCustomer LinkedIn group by member Jamie Thompson:

Leaning too far in either philosophical direction is indeed a recipe for disaster however, success in CX is more complex than this article perpetuates.

Last weekend I visited Kum[***] & Go (local gas station) for my beloved fountain soda. The store is less than 1 mile from my house and they have styrofoam cups. These two attributes meet my goals as a customer. On this trip, my 4-year old granddaughter slid on the floor and fell first to her elbow and then to her backside a foot in front of 3 self-absorbed employees. She began sobbing as kids tend to do when they're hurt and not one of the employees even bothered to look up from their phones. One employee asked "anything else" without making eye contact when I sat my soda on the counter. As quickly as he received my cash, he was back on his phone. My goals were met but since they've decided to forego basic human decency, I committed to driving out of my way to have my goals met.

CX success doesn't hinge on just interactions or on just delivering a brand promise that resonates. The entire being of an organization must operate in effective harmony to drive success.

Leaders often fail to see the return on CX by exercising hyper-focus on one component. There's still hope!

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Replying to LinkedIn Group Member:
Sampson Lee, founder of Global CEM and creator of PIG Strategy
By Sampson Lee
15th Feb 2020 03:32

Hi Jamie,

I have great sympathy for your granddaughter. No one should treat anyone – not only the customer – like what the staff of your local gas station did. And don’t get it wrong: Focusing on value – e.g. pricing or product – other than customer interactions doesn’t mean a company can be rude towards customers.

Today, customers’ expectations are ever-rising. No company can escape the need to continuously improve their services. It’s the mission of Ritz Carlton to deliver the highest level of service. Yet, IKEA might only need to enhance their pain points just above the unacceptable levels of their target customers. The degree of service improvement is dictated by brand promises.

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Steven Walden
By Steven Walden
10th Feb 2020 17:55

CX is merely a point of view within a continuous improvement process.
Tie 'customer value creation' to triaged engagement within the firm and you can't fail.
Talk about happy clappy fantasy lands created by snakeoil salesmen then you deserve all you get. IMHO.

Thanks (1)
Replying to Steven Walden:
Sampson Lee, founder of Global CEM and creator of PIG Strategy
By Sampson Lee
16th Feb 2020 03:07

Steven,

Indeed. There are plenty of irresponsible "salesmen” in the CX industry.

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Sampson Lee, founder of Global CEM and creator of PIG Strategy
By Sampson Lee
04th Mar 2020 09:45

CX professionals should be the one who advises where to add or reduce resources, NOT the one to be fired or laid off.

CX includes everything that customers can perceive – all experiences at the pre-purchase, at-purchase and post-purchase stages delivered by various functions and channels.

That said, just because CX includes everything that would affect the feeling of customers throughout the entire customer lifecycle, doesn’t mean that it has to do everything. No functions can. The nature of CX dictates its role – strategic and not functional.

If services have to be improved, leave it to Customer Service. If products or pricing are in trouble, let the Marketing folks handle that. Let the respective functions do their jobs.

The role of CX should never be functional. It ought to be strategic and monitoring. It identifies what has gone wrong, where resources are used poorly and ensures brand promises are delivered.

This direction is what CX should be heading towards. Without a neutral perspective, how can it render the best and non-biased solutions for companies to deliver their brand promises, yet satisfy customers’ needs and achieve business results?

To survive and thrive, CX professionals must take on a strategic role.

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