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Why neither CRM or martech hold the key to improving customer experience


Mike Boysen explains what the key to improving customer experiences really is - and why no CRM, martech or CX solution can help you do it. 

22nd Sep 2021
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As someone who has been around since the emergence of CRM, I've seen a lot of definitions. Too many definitions. Definitions that range from technology components to some sort of "strategy." Most of these definitions have been developed around the perspective of companies (even customer-centricity), and I'm sad to report that the current iteration of concepts, “isms” and economies hasn’t really moved the ball forward, in my opinion. For all the talk about the customer over the years, has anything really changed beyond the terms we use?

Consider the outside-in process camp. They felt that they had the answer to customer-centricity. The theory is that if you evaluate your processes from the customer's perspective and work backwards you would miraculously become customer-centric by eliminating steps and activities in the consumption journeys customers don't value. What we've learned is that this is nothing more than what the Lean world has been doing for decades as a form of continuous improvement. Someone just needed to give it a kick-start for those that weren’t familiar with, or refused to consider that world.

In my estimation, this merely had a nominal amount of impact on the pursuit of customer-centricity in the sense that it focused back on processes and procedures and had little to do with a customer's goals and objectives. Customers don't care about your processes, they only care about how much of their job your product or services helps them with. Processes don’t matter when the products most companies offer don't help customers as much as brands likes to think; which is reflected in the struggle-multiplier that I'll get into down below.

The list of terms goes on… but I will end it there and say that struggle-multiplier is not intended to be yet another term. 

Now we have "CX" which I assume stands for customer experience. The champions of this term declare it to be another form of outside-in view, but in this case related to optimising experiences as opposed to company pathways. This adds another layer of murkiness, and I would argue that CX vendors are promoting this because we all want to buy things that everyone else is talking about but few actually understand. (Why aren’t they called CRM vendors anymore?) No-one wants to be the one that looks different... because that makes you stupid, right?

Let me be that person for you.

Why is this so difficult?

I’d like to begin by asking you a question: Does your business sell experiences? Or, does it really sell products and/or services? Think carefully before you blurt out your answer.

CRM technologists (I used to consider myself one) want to tell you that their stack - unlike others - will help you to create better experiences for your customers. That sure sounds good, doesn't it? Didn’t they promise you something similar last time? What is it that drives us to follow the latest word salad that purports to solve the problems that we finally realised didn't get solved last go-around? 

We are trying to solve our business problems, and the technologists are trying to solve theirs. As long as we focus on the wrong problem, the technologists will take advantage of us, because…. why not? We're talking past each other and everyone seems to be cool with it...

..except the stupid guy.

You see, technology companies design software for enterprises that support data collection, processes, business rules, etc. Yet for some reason we are asked to believe (and many do) that theses technologies will give our customers (and prospects) experiences that they are seeking (as opposed to services). And marketing teams fall for this hook, line and sinker. They fall into the same mousetrap they try to set for others. No wonder the CRM industry has grown like gangbusters! Oops, I mean CX industry!

Ultimately, every business is trying to grow, and growth strategy is not something you develop for the year. It's a long-term objective with pre-planned tactics and a clear understanding of what capabilities will need to be developed or acquired now and in the future. If you're constantly changing, experimenting and failing, you are not going to find the answer in the next version of some technology... you need a plan that drives and survives the investment in that technology.

In other words, the plan has to drive the technology, not the other way around!

Graham Hill touches on this in Have You Designed all the Service Experience Components on LinkedIn; but he’s been talking about it forever.

So I ask you again, are you selling experiences, or are you really just selling products and services? The modern day CX technology is really nothing more than re-packaged CRM technology… with some new features.

Don't get me wrong, there is some interesting technology out there that inherits the best parts of CRM but invents completely new concepts while addressing the technology challenges of older companies who can’t afford a rip-and-replace - one good example would be Thunderhead One Engagement Hub

CRM and martech really does nothing more than collect data, support enterprise processes, customer touch points and enforce business rules. They support the services your enterprise provides to customers who interact with your product and brand during the lifecycle of ownership. The value they provide is to eliminate experiences that the consumer doesn't want. In the world of providing services, the perfect experience is no experience. And you can quote me on that.

Service designers better speak up now! The term experience design seems to have been hijacked from the world of Disney Imagineers who actually do design experiences... because that's what Disney sells in their theme parks, vacation destinations and cruises.

But no experience is complete (or product for that matter) without an array of services that are designed to make absolutely certain that the customer's entire attention is on the experience, and not a broken service, e.g., transportation between venues, food services, lodging, etc.

Are you beginning to see the distinction I'm making between services and experiences? If you fail at service delivery when selling an experience, you'll create a bad experience and a memory that sticks and gets shared. If you succeed at service delivery when selling an experience, you'll have created a positive memory for life (the experience). But what if you don't sell experiences?

In the case where you sell a product - and not an experience - a failure in service delivery will also lead to a bad experience. People don't want friction in their services - purchasing a product, getting support for a product, learning to use a product, etc. - they just want to get the job done and get out of there. It's you that wants to hold on to them, hug them, smile at them and otherwise engage them in ways they never asked you to... and in ways that have nothing to do with their ultimate goals. It’s a desperate approach. It’s taking a final mile approach to a strategic problem. If you don’t help customers reach their ultimate goal, you won’t reach yours.

And finally, if customers have to cobble together solutions to get the whole job done, the potential for bad experiences is multiplied by the number of services they must access to use and integrate the many solutions required to get their jobs done. I called this the struggle-multiplier above.

That's right, your product probably does not help your customer reach the objective that drove them to buy it in the first place. What? If you’re not following this, review my series on martech where I describe how those vendors fail to address all of their customers’ objectives.

What are we going to do?

Customer experience is not simply the experience customers have engaging with your brand or the journeys you've designed for them. That's pure gobble-de-gook and you should challenge any thought leader that is feeding it to you. I'm serious!

Customer experience needs to have a number of components if we're going to measure it in a consistent and meaningful way.

  1. Solution providers need to address the right problem.
  2. The right problem needs to be defined and scoped properly.
  3. The solution needs to solve the right problem - as completely as possible.
  4. The services supporting the solution should be automated away, when possible.
  5. If the solution doesn’t the solve entire problem, it needs to own the integration with non-traditional competitors who complement their solution (until it does solve the entire problem).

That’s good customer experience. Unfortunately, most of the CX professionals I encounter are focused on adding friction to point #4 without ever considering points 1-3 and certainly not 5. There are many guilty parties, but this capability should be the domain of service designers. And if I were a marketer, I would also tell the product teams to stop throwing junk over the fence at me. Unfortunately, many product teams sit in marketing. Go figure. 

There is no best way to visualise what customer experience is. Some have come close when trying to encapsulate everything that goes into it. It's not about customer journeys. Customers don't care about their journeys until you a) force one on them that they don't desire, b) don't solve the right problem that the journey is supposed to support, and c) create undo friction that detracts from value.

There can be no organisational siloes when thinking about customer experience. Everything needs to fit together like a glove! Unfortunately, that is rarely how enterprises work… especially the older more successful ones.

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Multiplying the opportunity for bad customer experiences

Strategyn creates a tight depiction of how things fit together. However, it doesn't really show the current state. If we don't recognise the current state of affairs, there really is no way to define a path forward, and get agreement with stakeholders. While there are visualisations that can display the mess more completely, the one below is good enough for this discussion.

WARNING: I am not a graphic designer, so please bear with my childish attempt to depict the pain associated with an immature market where customers have to cobble solutions together to get the entire job done.

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job solutions

I can add many more things to this image. For instance, we needed milk crates to store our vinyl. It gets extremely complicated as you dive-in deeper and no depiction does justice that (except the Martech Landscape). Think of all the time you spent in record exchange stores looking for used albums and trading in ones you no longer listen to. I used to drive 45 minutes to a particular store in Cleveland Heights, OH for that very purpose. I cringe at the thought now. But, I digress...

Every box within this matrix is a potential point of friction, pain, or whatever the word of the day is. This is what I mean when I remind you that "the only experience that customers will remember in service consumption is a bad experience." The goal of service design is to automate these away to avoid as much friction as possible.

And the goal of product innovation should be to get us to help customers get more of the job done on a single platform - the right job, the right solution!

And as we know, this is exactly what happened to the music world...much to the alarm of many stakeholders who saw their gravy train disappear over the horizon. Here’s what things looked like as the 1980's began:

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Consumption chain

Keep going....

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Wait, there's more...

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Music is an experiential type of job people engage through content, much like with Disney. We use it to escape. But the consumption tied to this job was extremely painful at one point, as you can see. We may not have realised it at the time, but in hindsight we can see just how time-consuming, limiting and error-prone the solutions could be.

The goal of getting more jobs done on a single platform while automating away timeconstraints and errors is the key to improving customer experience. PERIOD!

There is no martech stack or CRM platform solution that is going to do that for you. There is no ERP solution that's going to do that for you. There is no jobs-to-be-done software that is going to do that for you, either. There is no technology out there that ensures that you develop the right product and optimise the consumption chain (where journeys exist) of that product. In that regard, there is no solution for getting the entire job done (CX), which is why we have the terms fire drillfailure cascade and disruption. If we're not failing at this, why is failing fast such a beloved concept? I've think I’ve answered that elsewhere… repeatedly.

So why are we calling it CX?

Today we still have an array of solutions and methods that we are forced to cobble together, and they look very much like the 1970s music ecosystem did. Unlike the music solutions of the 70s, which had standardised interfaces for inter-connectivity, the only interfaces we have today are the personalities that are benefitting from our ignorance. What is the integration solution that we need to tie these pieces together if it's not a slick-talking salesman?

While my working theory is the concept of jobs-to-be-done, we haven’t perfected the lens with regards to the job of integration. That is clearly a fact we must deal with given that it would seem to be a critical and very visible job in immature markets.

NEWS FLASH: In the jobs-to-be-done model I use, the job still exists even when it becomes invisible (automated away). But remember, I’m stupid 

In the perfect world, we would have a CX solution that enabled us to develop 20 year roadmaps that are stable over time. They would allow us to see the future, even if we can't get there yet. But, we could certainly get their faster if we knew what the future looked like from a capability standpoint, and didn't have to test so many bad ideas and waste so much time and capital. We could get there, and not some non-traditional competitor like Amazon who is great at disrupting unsuspecting blowhards. We could establish a beachhead through better interfaces with non-traditional competitors early on (because we’d be able to see them).

It's possible, folks. The people who say you can't get organisations to embrace fundamental change have never studied the implementation of Hoshin Kanri for strategic planning and improvement in so many companies. Now we just need an operating model for CX through a more clear understanding of innovation, because without it customer experience will always be a marketing exercise, and it will keep failing as a result.

This article adapted from a piece originally posted on the Practical Jobs-To-Be-Done website.  

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