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How CX professionals can make themselves indispensable during tough times


Are CX professionals expendable? Not if they know the vital role they can play in steering their business through the tough times approaching. 

27th Jul 2020
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Forrester began 2020 by predicting a downturn in the fortunes of the customer experience profession, research director and CX expert Harley Manning forecasting that as many as a quarter of CX staff could lose their jobs in the coming year. 

Then coronavirus hit, and the research house's prophecy appeared to have been fast-tracked. 

For those working in CX, pessimism around the future of the profession is nothing new. Going back three years, in How Many Customer Experience Professionals Will Survive 2017?, TribeCX highlighted that the survival rate for CX practitioners was alarmingly low.

Yet there was a vital caveat to TribeCX's research that remains as true in post-coronavirus CX as it did in 2017. As TribeCX CEO David Hicks noted at the time: 

"Two trends were found to be particularly similar: of the CX practitioners who said their focus was to encourage their companies to make large investments in CX, only 51% had survived in their role beyond year 2. Of those who described their focus as building proof-points to establish the benefits from CX, 72% survived in their role beyond year 2."

A striking finding has always been the reason for a loss of confidence in CX professionals:

  • "The company ran out of patience".
  • "The NPS numbers were not improving".
  • "The company had to cut costs and CX was an easy target".

The original purpose

In 2006, I created the Customer Experience Map in One Cup of Coffee, 20 Experiences: Take a Tip From Starbucks, when the terminology of "customer journey mapping" was still unheard of. Customer journey mapping has boomed in recent years, with sophisticated and fancy models built by CX consulting firms - much more attributes, sub-processes, elements, phases and layers are included, using all kind of eye-catching graphics, storyboards and presentations.

Personally, I'm not too fond of the over-sophistication. My biased views are that sophisticated things consume resources and time, and are usually difficult to operationalise. When things get complicated, they'll easily side-track our attention and deviate us from the original purpose for doing them.

[Click to enlarge]


As you can observe from the above customer experience map - or what you would now call customer journey mapping - for a Starbucks in-store experience, it's not rocket science. It merely maps all the sub-processes and attributes that are encountered by customers and how they affect their emotions in a natural time sequence during a touch-point experience.

The original purpose is to understand how customers feel during an experience; then use these insights to enhance the experience in achieving business result. Period. 

Operationalise customer journey mapping

To achieve your original purpose, you have to connect CX with business result. This has never been more important than now. 

One fast-track is to simplify your existing fancy and sophisticated customer journey mapping model, and operationalise it to identify the key business drivers.

Take the Starbucks case and NPS as an example - we correlated the satisfaction rating of each sub-process during the in-store experience to the Net Promoter Score given by the Mainland Chinese and American customers for the Global Starbucks In-store Customer Experience Research (footnote 1).

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Starbucks stats

This figure lists the X-VOC Data (footnote 2) - the importance ranking of each of the 26 sub-processes in driving NPS. With 26 sub-processes, the importance rankings are literally from 1 to 26, with 1 as the most and 26 as the least important factor affecting NPS.

Make NPS actionable

Numerous companies now use NPS as an important performance measurement metric, but not many of them know how to make NPS actionable.

They know the scores of likelihood to recommend, but have no clue what to do to improve these scores. In other words, to these companies, the scores are not actionable.

With the X-VOC Data, you can determine the most important factor driving NPS in Mainland China and in the United States and you see that they differ. For instance, the most important NPS driver in Mainland China is ‘Goodbye with genuine smile,’ while in the United States, it is ‘Coffee taste / flavor.’

You make driving the non-actionable - NPS - actionable. From now on, you know which particular sub-processes or attributes you need to ‘sweat’ to improve your target results. And it’s all supported by quantifiable data.

Your company would never run out of patience

Quite a number of CX initiatives focus on 'full scale' service improvement or 'company-wide' culture transformation (to be customer-centric) projects. They take too long, consume too many resources, and might not be the right prescriptions to their CX problems.

You need to have an open mindset: improving customer service or transforming company culture is not always the solution to your CX challenges.

You could always start with some small and affordable CX projects obtaining proven results in order to get the buy-in from your management. There are options and usually some low-hanging fruits for you to choose from based on the X-VOC Data.

For example, in the Starbucks case, by focusing on the two common attributes out of the top three NPS drivers in the US and China: 'Goodbye with genuine smile' and 'Free trial of new drinks / snacks,' - the relatively easy targets - you would soon be able to set up inexpensive pilot project to test out and enjoy a quick win, and most importantly, you connect CX to the target business result - in this case, driving NPS.

You could always improve NPS with an open mindset

In both Starbucks America and Mainland China, only two out of the top five NPS drivers are 'service' or 'service-related' attributes. The remaining key drivers - 'Appropriateness of prices,' 'Coffee taste / flavor,' 'See and be seen (feel you are “part of the group”),' and 'Free trial of new drinks / snacks' - have basically nothing to do with service.

What does this tell you?

It is always possible, to have other factors - besides service - more decisive in driving the word-of-mouth of your customers. As a CX professional, you should take a neutral perspective in assessing the X-VOC Data and render unbiased advises in driving the target business results.

To improve NPS, you need to have an open mindset: improving customer service or transforming company culture is not always the solution to your CX challenges.

Instead of being cut, you show where and what to cut costs

Besides NPS, you could also use the X-VOC Data to identify other business drivers - e.g. repeat purchase and retention (note 3). On top of identifying what're the most important attributes in driving your targets, the X-VOC Data can also indicate what the unimportant ones are, i.e. those attributes with the least contribution in driving business results.

The inconvenient truth is that CX is not the extension of customer service and should not be attached to customer service or any other function.

With the support of empirical data, as your business goes into the likely process of cutting costs, instead of being downsized or laid off, you are in the prime position to be the one who advises where and what to reduce or eliminate; and the beauty is, these data are not coming from any external authorities or internal parties, but generated directly from your customers.

To play an objective role in allocating resource, you have to be independent. The inconvenient truth is: CX is not the extension of customer service and should not be attached to customer service or any other functions; obsessed with culture transformation no more, as customer-centricity could be the false god of customer experience.

Let’s jump out of the box and stop being caged.

Make yourself indisposable

Customers perceive a brand through every experience that they have at every touch-point and channel from the beginning until the end of their customer lifecycle. A brand, literally, is represented by the total customer experience (TCE).

Imagine you extend your assessment from one single touch-point experience (e.g. the Starbucks in-store) to cover the total customer experience, then subsequently, you're evaluating the effectiveness of resource allocation of your brand in aggregate. See my post: Branding Should be Managed by CXO, NOT CMO.

Strategy is about resource allocation. The effectiveness of a strategy is judged largely by the effectiveness in resource allocation. When you impartially assess customer experience, you could then recommend the best strategy in resource allocation for managing your brand and in driving the target business results.

It's time to relinquish your biased and operational role, and to drop the baggage of service improvement and culture transformation. By connecting 'what you do' to business result, you make yourself, and your CX initiative, unexpendable.

Are CX professionals expendable? Not if they know the vital role they can play in steering their business through the tough times approaching. 


  1. Global Starbucks In-store Customer Experience Research, Global CEM and CustomerThink (U.S.), September-October 2007.
  2. X-VOC (Voice-of-Customer @ Experience) Data are generated by customer research to obtain the satisfaction ratings and derive the importance levels of each of the sub-processes (touch-point experiences) and attributes during a touch-point experience (total customer experience).
  3. See Sampson Lee, PIG Strategy: Make Customer Centricity Obsolete and Start a Resource Revolution (iMatchPoint, 2014), Chapter 10-11.


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