Why the next wave of innovation in customer experience is just around the corner - and how to prepareby
Mainstream CX is now at the 'Late Majority' phase of the adoption curve, and therefore is no longer the competitive differentiator it once was. But if you know where to look, there are plenty of indicators suggesting that we are on the cusp of a new era of CX innovation.
At the end of 2019, before the outbreak of the pandemic, many analysts were already forecasting that a considerable proportion of CX professionals would lose their jobs in 2020.
Whilst the pandemic certainly disrupted everyone's plans, some of the underlying reasons for those forecasts remain the same, including that CX practitioners have a tough time demonstrating the bottom-line impact of their work, or that what they do significantly influences customer behaviour.
In this article, we are going to use the analogy of the Roger's Adoption Curve to explain why it is now time for the discipline of CX to evolve, and how.
Rogers' Adoption Curve
Formulated in the late 1950s, the “Rogers' Adoption Curve” (sometimes called the “Technology Diffusion Process”) sought to describe how technical innovations propagate over time, eventually reaching 100% market saturation (see below).
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According to Rogers, newly created products and solutions are initially adopted by a small minority of 'Innovators', who are well ahead of the rest of the market. Organisations in this segment are prepared to accept higher risk in exchange for 'first mover advantage'; gaining a competitive edge over their more cautious competitors.
In the second phase, 'early adopters' take notice of the success of the Innovators and move rapidly to follow suit. This is the domain of the 'disruptors'; organisations that are beginning to package innovations into solutions aimed at underserved market segments, or that have a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship. Early adopters typically secure higher than average market share and become seen as the 'gold standard' in their sector.
As evidence of the efficacy of the 'new' solutions grows, and technical challenges and risks shrink, the pragmatists that make up the 'early majority' get involved. It is typically at this stage that specialist consultancies and service providers become active, capitalising on rapidly growing demand but where there is insufficient supply.
As the research base grows, it is also at this stage that counterevidence or deficiencies begin to become known; the cases where the promised benefits did not fully appear or were questionable. Sceptics may cite these challenges as a reason to further delay adoption, but risk missing opportunities to capitalise on mainstream market growth.
The 'late majority' phase is typified by conservative buyers who are very risk averse and do not buy without many case studies to support their decision. By now, there are a wide array of suppliers, often with standardised and or sector-specific offerings, active in the market and choosing one typically comes down to cost and convenience. At this point, many service providers, recognising that the market is becoming saturated in one region or segment, switch attention to others that are earlier in their adoption lifecycle.
The final stage is made up of the 'Laggards'; organisations that will only invest in ‘new’ technologies or solutions if there is no other choice. By this stage, so much is known about the solution and what is required to deliver it, that many organisations choose to adopt it using in-house resources, and a plethora of cheap and readily available third-party tools. However, the laggards are so 'late to the party' that the best they can hope for is to catch up with the majority.
‘Mainstream CX’ is at the 'late majority' phase
After 25 years of practice, the discipline of 'Mainstream CX' has matured to such an extent that, for most practitioners and organisations in regions where CX is well established, it is now at the 'late majority' phase.
Today, many businesses have a Voice of the Customer programme, have analysed and optimised customer journeys, and are reporting CX programme health using metrics like the Net Promoter Score (NPS), Customer Satisfaction (CSat) score, or the Customer Effort Score (CES), to name but a few.
Even in regions where CX is a relatively new focus, organisations are building on the success of global leaders and standing on the proverbial shoulders of giants. Also, technology and knowledge have made this easy and allowed them to leapfrog some of the start-up challenges experienced by the early adopters.
After 25 years, all the 'quick wins' have been won and the 'low hanging fruit' picked.
However, at the Late Majority phase, CX is no longer the competitive differentiator it once was; customers have come to expect high levels of service and performance, irrespective of industry or region. It is partly for this reason that, when not done right, CX professionals can have a challenging time justifying investment in customer experience; because those investments are to achieve market parity, not competitive advantage, i.e., they are typically about reducing errors and cost, not increasing market share.
To be fair, it is also because so many CX professionals, even experienced ones, struggle with making a value-driven business case that can accurately attribute cause to effect. For example, it can be difficult to quantify how focusing on customer satisfaction directly impacts the bottom line (when there is some evidence that satisfaction alone is a poor predictor of loyalty or increased Customer Life Time Value (CLTV).
After 25 years, all the 'quick wins' have been won and the 'low hanging fruit' picked. A quick search for 'customer experience' on a well know online bookstore returns over 5,000 hits, a similar search online for 'free CX resources' comes back with over 40 million hits, covering everything from software platforms to business case calculators.
For regions like the Caribbean and the Middle East, this is good news; with so much now known about mainstream CX, there is no need to repeat the 'trial and error' approach of the Early Adopters, instead new CX programs can jump straight to the value delivery phase, utilising well-proven techniques and working with partners who can help tailor solutions to the local conditions.
In this recent article, Sam explored some of the current trends in CX and what they mean for organisations and CX professionals; trends like the increasing adoption of artificial intelligence in customer service, and journey mapping. One thing we both agree on; that the region has the potential to leapfrog to a more mature state.
However, for the more ‘mature’ CX regions...
…It is time for something new in CX
For many organisations that have been successful in the long-term, innovation is not a single journey that starts with a unique invention and ends when the market has become saturated. Rather, they are constantly exploring new waves of innovation that build on the past.
Take for example Apple - one of the world's most valuable companies; with a history of continual innovation, from the mac computer, to iPod, iPhone, iPad, and so on. Whilst each product continues to benefit from incremental improvements, new products disrupt the market by addressing new needs and categories.
To sustain long-term relevance and value, companies like Apple surf waves of innovation, creating and claiming new markets, as innovations mature and become mainstream.
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With this in mind, and not taking anything away from those who are incrementally improving CX in the mainstream, we suggest that a significant innovation in the theory and practice of customer experience is long overdue.
A new direction for CX
For many organisations, CX remains a broadly 'inside out' practice; with experts and stakeholders either deciding for themselves what direction to take, or using VoC programmes to uncover problems that can be 'fixed' by the organisation; if the customer journey requires effort, remove it; if it is complex, simplify it; if customers want more empathy, invest in EQ training for staff, if it is expensive to deliver, find a cheaper alternative, and so on.
All these approaches are laudable but built on an assumption that customer experiences are manifestations of an 'ideal process' built for a specific persona that usually covers a start-to-finish journey; designed to deliver a specific outcome and that once the ideal process has been uncovered, the organisation should then focus on standardising and replicating it.
But few customers live such predictable and uniform lives; there is no such thing as the 'average customer,’ and this is the dichotomy faced by most businesses; standardisation usually leads to reductions in cost and improvements in productivity based on an average of all customers, but it is rarely a perfect fit for any customer.
Consider this simple example; the average number of children per family in the USA in 2020 was 1.93; obviously, no families actually have exactly 1.93 children. This phenomenon is called the ‘jaggedness principle’; the more you try to describe the characteristics of a group, e.g., via a ‘customer persona’, the less people fit the description, until eventually none do.
So, taking customer journey mapping as an example; to really flip the approach and become ‘outside in’, while designing for one or more personae, it is critical that you prepare for curveballs and incorporate REAL customers and their data in your process.
To have any real impact, journeys must be based on customer data, operations, and experience, and be detailed enough to capture the pain, identify ‘moments to wow’, and ultimately predict the next steps of your persona and customers like them. Unfortunately, if you are not getting to this level of detail, you are not effectively mapping a journey.
With the power of modern analytics and operational delivery systems, CX professionals now have the potential to address customers as individuals, and to reflect the needs and preferences of those customers. Doing so means that the delivery of tailored, truly personalised customer journeys is now in reach.
The next wave of CX will be firmly focused on the customer. Whilst being efficient and effective will always be a necessity, customers now expect more than that; they want to be heard, understood, and treated as individuals.
So, how do we move forward? How do we begin to deliver the next generation of customer experience?
- Firstly, accept that a customer persona is not a customer; personae tend to aggregate customers into cohorts, but the absolute best organisations are finding new ways to keep the ‘personal touch’, even when operating at scale.
- Secondly, being good at your job is necessary, but not a differentiator (especially online); customers expect us to be good – that’s what they pay us for - but what they remember and value is you being exceptional.
- Thirdly, technology without a strategy, optimised processes, or a customer-centric culture, rarely delivers against expectations, and the expectations that really matter are those of the customers.
- Finally, none of this can be done without insights into why customers do what they do; why they buy or not, how they choose who to do business with, and what they really want and need from you. This is more than a measure of satisfaction; it is understanding WHY they are satisfied and how that affects the decisions they make.
If you would like to know more about building a customer-centric organisation, with optimal processes that satisfy the needs of both customers and the business, we would be delighted to share our experiences with you; just contact us at [email protected] or [email protected]
About the Authors
Peter Dorrington is Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Anthrolytics and the inventor of Predictive Behavioural Analytics, as well an award-winning thought leader in Customer and Employee Experience Management, Customer Relationship Management, and DevOps.
Samantha Conyers is the Co-Founder and Chief Experience Officer at EXCO, the Customer Experience company. She holds an MBA in Strategic Planning, is a certified trainer, Data analytics and Net Promoter expert, Customer Journey architect and Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP).