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CX trends

Did science and soft skills save CX from stagnation in 2019?


As we reflect on the year’s biggest trends, we ask if customer experience is in danger of being hoisted by its own petard - and whether employee engagement and a more scientific understanding of customer emotions have helped CX evolve in 2019. 

9th Dec 2019
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As revealed in our recent analysis of the decade, customer experience has come a long way in the last 10 years.

A relatively new term in 2010, talk of customer experience management “failed to resonate with many CEOs [at the start of the decade]. Finding themselves in the midst of a global economic catastrophe, most were keeping a close eye on their financials, and were unwilling to embark on what they viewed as a crazy customer-focused crusade”.

In 2019, we witnessed the term (and its abbreviation) become truly ubiquitous. Adobe and eConsultancy’s annual Digital Trends report declared CX as the ‘single most exciting business opportunity’ for the year ahead, whilst Temkin Group revealed that for large global enterprises - those earning $1 billion or more annually – they could expect to earn $700 million a year within 3 years of investing fully in customer experience.  

CX trends
Source: Adobe

So what does this all amount to? And is the hyperbole around the benefits of focusing on customer experience distracting from how nascent CX still is, as a discipline and profession?

“CX has definitely evolved in terms of awareness and visibility in 2019,” says global author and trainer, Ian Golding.

“But in practical application, it could be argued that it has not. As someone who is fortunate enough to work around the world, I have seen significant advancements in the application of CX in certain regions – Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia specifically. The number of active CX practitioners in these regions is increasing.

“However, in more ‘traditional’ markets – especially the US and the UK – it could be argued that CX is either stagnating, or even going backwards. This is largely down to a continued lack of commitment to CX transformation in the long-term.”

The word ‘stagnant’ has been used with alarming regularity in relation to CX in 2019, in particular Forrester’s annual Customer Experience Index which presented a despondent outlook when it was published in June.

Not a single brand managed to rise to the top of the CX Index rankings, or continue to move upward. As Forrester’s principal analyst Rick Parrish explained on MyCustomer:

  • Of the top 5% of brands across all industries in the CX Index referred as the “elite brands”, 11 showed no statistically significant score change, one lost points, and one gained points.
  • Most industry front-runners were repeats; nearly all their scores stagnated or decayed. Eleven of 16 industry front-runners were repeats from 2018. No repeat industry front-runner improved in 2019. In three industries, the front-runners’ scores fell. In three of the four industries with new top brands, neither the old nor the new front-runners show statistically significant score changes. The new top brands in these industries earned their spots due only to tiny score variations, not any real change in CX quality.

The rise in popularity of CX has led to a magpie effect, with many US and UK brands being drawn to its perceived glittery successes and declaring themselves ‘customer experience businesses’, but not all able to back up the bluster with real rigour.      

If results continue to plateau, Ian Golding believes there is a danger CX could be hoisted by its own petard:

“The clear commercialisation of customer experience is something that has concerned me this year. There are as many people out there trying to ‘make money’ from CX as there are those genuine practitioners who are applying the science to help their organisations drive tangible and demonstrable change.

“It is impossible to stop this popularisation – nor should we ever try to do so. But this is where, looking ahead to 2020, CX practitioners need to leverage the popularisation for the better – this may sound evangelical, but anything that increases the awareness of CX is a good thing.

“It is just vital that people in CX roles are given an even greater footing in those businesses calling themselves customer experience companies, so we can see more of a structured, long-term focus on CX that will lead to sustainable growth, and see more application of some of the science behind the practice.”

In 2019, MyCustomer launched its CX Leader of the Year of the award with the aim of highlighting and celebrating the individual practitioners who were working hardest to buck the current, overall trend.

With over 80 applications across the globe and a multitude of entrants displaying their ability to marry science with measureable and monetary successes and a passion for the discipline, there are clearly plenty of exceptional CX leaders out there to ensure the practice doesn’t succumb to being just another buzz-term that fails to deliver meaningful results.

Getting emotional

Within the customer experience discipline, some additional key trends continued to evolve in 2019, including the drive to develop a more scientific understanding of customer emotions.

“Today the prime focus still of most organisations is on the logical rational side of a customer’s experience,” says Amy Scott, the founder of service design consultancy, Sedulous.

“But recently we have seen a trend amongst businesses of wanting to get a better understanding of the emotions that are triggered in customers by their experiences.

“It is widely known that most customers want low effort, low stress interactions where they feel in control and when this doesn’t happen it negatively impacts on their mood and emotional state.

“But forward-thinking companies are already using a variety of methods to get this valuable emotional data, such as neurobiology and behaviour economics to measure and reduce customer effort and customer stress.  Those organisations that design against customer’s emotional needs will have a competitive advantage because in the words of Maya Angelou, ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel’.”

Consumers with an emotional connection to a brand have a 306% higher lifetime value, stay with a brand for an average of 5.1 years (vs. 3.4 years), and recommend brands at a much higher rate (71% vs. 45%). Yet, business transformation and CX consultant Morris Pentel believes most businesses have only just begun to scratch the surface of what’s achievable by truly understanding customer emotions.

“There is a science called conversation analysis that can extract massive amounts of insight from conversation and the emotions within, and yet less than 1% of organisations train or focus on the subject.

“I think the general position of the customer experience industry is we think that emotions are important to the bottom line, but we really can’t understand them properly.

“This position has fuelled a general approach over the last 30 years creating a world of bad processes and worse customer surveys. It has led us to a world of Net Promoter Score (NPS), customer satisfaction (CSAT), customer effort score (CES), etc.... which is to say it's led us up the garden path to a wilderness – far away from the real world. We’ve started to apply more science but as the 1% stat demonstrates, more can be done.”

An experience-driven workforce

Among brands that have delivered results in the customer experience space, one common trend has existed in 2019 – their focus on employee engagement.

KPMG Nunwood’s Customer Experience Excellence report in June highlighted that in the UK, numerous big brands were driving up CX through their employee engagement programmes.

First direct, Monzo, Lush, Lakeland, Richer Sounds and John Lewis Finance topped the rankings, based on the views of over 13,000 UK consumers.

Richer Sounds recently received national praise for handing complete control of its business activity to its employees, whilst John Lewis is famed for its employee profit share scheme.  

First Direct, Monzo, Lush and Lakeland also all have highly commended employee engagement practices in place, and the results appear to be paying off in terms of customer experience.

However, trainer, keynote speaker and author of Punk CX Adrian Swinscoe believes the focus on employee experience has also been a contributing factor to the success big brands have had in this domain:

“I would argue that employee engagement has almost been overtaken by employee experience as the internal programme that seems to be rising up many company agendas.

“Recent research by SAP Fieldglass shows that around 44% of workforce spend is on external talent. According to the study over 65% of organisations need their external workforces to be able to operate at full capacity, to meet customer demand, and to develop and improve products and services.

“This is backed up by research from Deloitte, via their 2018 Global Human Capital Trends report, which shows that there is an emerging workforce ecosystem that is changing the way that organisations need to engage, attract and manage all types of workers.

“Therefore, it is no longer good enough to just think about the employee experience, organisations have been starting to think about both the employee and external workforce experience if they are to deliver the experience that their customers desire. The two things are intrinsically linked. As a result, we need to think broader than just EX and we need to include worker experience (WX) in our thinking and actions. There’s a formula for this - CX = f(EX+WX).”

Looking to the year ahead, customer experience will continue to be a primary battleground for brands in 2020. Whether they’re able to apply the science and internal measures to the discipline will determine how successful they are.


Replies (2)

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Steven Walden
By Steven Walden
09th Dec 2019 19:49

3 points of contention to do with this article:

1. The article assume Forrester's CX Index measures 'the experience the customer has' i.e., customer experience. I refute that. It is no different to satisfaction rebranded.

2. The so called flatlining of Forrester's Index is no different to the American CSI which was interpreted in the same way yonks ago, missing the basic point of the Hedonic treadmill

3. Logical rational vs emotional irrational has long ago been skewered by cognitive psychology (ref: Oatley). It is incorrect to assume emotions are somehow seperate from cognition or that they alone drive behaviour.

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Replying to Steven Walden:
By Blessed25
12th Dec 2019 09:34

The context here is right - Loads of tech firms now calling themselves customer experience because it's seen as attractive to buyers.

I agree with Steven though. We've being saying customer experience levels are stagnanting for years. Whenever Forrester needs to inject some life into one of its annual reports it tells us things are on the slide.

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