Founder & CEO Beyond Philosophy
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Is customer experience dying - and can it be saved?

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Colin Shaw debates the health of customer experience management with CX pioneers Joe Pine and Lewis Carbone. 

7th Dec 2021
Founder & CEO Beyond Philosophy
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Is customer experience dying? Maybe it is. At the very least, customer experience is dying as we know it.

I recently discussed whether customer experience is dying on LinkedIn Live with two other customer experience champions, Joe Pine, co-author of The Experience Economy, and Lewis Carbone, customer experience expert and speaker, and founder of ExperienceEngineering™.

Here are some of the points of our discussion.

So, what's the problem?

Customer experience as we know it is dying because of a few factors. First, it seems like a simple concept, so, sometimes, people don't think they need help to manage it. Along with this is the second factor, which I describe as a silver-bullet mentality. Organisations want to fix one thing and then go on about their business with an improved customer experience. 

In addition to oversimplifying both the concept and the solution, the third reason customer experience as we know it is dying is because organisations jumped on the CX bandwagon without knowing what it means. These bandwagon riders change some things in their experience but don't track the results, and then, when the CEO wants an ROI, they don't have anything to report. 

Pine agrees, adding that someone had sent him the video of Steve Jobs talking about Customer Experience First right before this event.  

Pine thinks Job's message from over 25 years ago about working backward from the end goal of the customer experience is still valid today. Pine believes that as the experience economy continues to grow and immersive experiences continue to be differentiators, the physical experiences of general customer experience have diverged from this path. Customer experience, as I often refer to it, has different goals and different measurements of success. For example, when it comes to experiences in contact centers, it's about convenience. On the physical side of experiences, the buzzword is frictionless, where services are accessible and pleasant, and fast. 

However, Pine says distinctive experiences are about time well spent, and people value their time there. The more these two types of experiences diverge, the more customer experience as we know it will diminish. 

Moreover, Pine thinks customer experience champions should make the word experience plural. There is not one customer experience but several happening with each customer. By considering that different customers are having those experiences, the movement will be better off. 

Carbone thinks the future lies in moving to a new level of customer experience management. Carbone categorises experience management into three groups, which include:

  1. Break/fix: This type of experience management is about becoming less bad, which is fine but has low expectations for results.
  2. Improving experience management: Carbone considers this commoditisation. 
  3. Breakthrough experiences: These are transformative experiences that create distinctive economic value - and it's this level that Carbone thinks drives the customer experience movement's ultimate success. 

The Breakthrough Experiences are what create the phenomenal memories that bring customers back. Carbone would encourage CX champions to challenge conventional thinking and move forward. 

Unfortunately, in my view, we don't see that in the customer experience movement. About 90% of the improvement in experiences are only minor changes around the edges. There is no transformative thinking and changing happening; few champions have the support they need and the level of commitment from senior management to make those changes for CX. 

The biggest mistake I see in organisations today comes down to a lack of identification of value. If you cannot show senior management how your efforts are paying dividends, why should they support your programmes?

So, how DO you save customer experience?

One of the key ways to save the idea of customer experience is to transition from doing the little things to embracing transformative change. Carbone thinks that the key from being a Break/Fix organisation and moving on to a Breakthrough Experience organisation is for CX champions to take a leadership role. From taking an education stance with the organisation to embedding cues in an experience that change how you do business, taking a leadership role in your firm unleashes the dramatic power of customer experience management. 

Another answer for saving customer experience is embracing the latest iteration, customer science. Customer science combines technology, customer data, and artificial intelligence (AI). The significant difference between customer science and customer experience is the behavioural science aspects of it. With all of these factors working together, customer science can help organisations anticipate customers' needs and build experiences that meet them. Customer science will essentially predict what the customer will do next, not what they say they're going to do next. 

A couple of years ago, both Nunwood and Forrester came out with research saying that dustomer experience was stagnating. Despite all the attention and investment paid to it, the numbers were not going up. 

However, are the numbers stagnating, or are they unaccounted for? 

In other words, how we measure it could be the problem. For example, many firms use Customer Satisfaction or Net Promoter Scores (NPS)® to demonstrate the success of their CX programmes. However, it would be best if they sought to increase revenues, reduce costs and improve culture. It's a no-brainer. Why else would you invest in customer experience programmes if it doesn't get results?

Customer experience is an investment. It is also an ongoing improvement project. As we move forward, a new layer of tools and considerations and even science will move the needle in the right direction. 

Carbone agrees, adding that every company has a moral obligation to create value. Organisations must consider how they can improve customers' lives. Otherwise, profit drives business decisions, which invites greed. Greedy companies, Carbone says, make bad business decisions, cutting the fat out of profits until they hit bone and cut their way out of existence. If companies do not look at creating extraordinary value, they could face extinction. 

Carbone recalls the fate of Polaroid and Kodak, great brands that vanished because they lost sight of a moral obligation to create value for society and its employees. Customer experience is all about the human experience, he says. If we lose creating value in personal relationships, we lose it all. 

Pine agrees with that sentiment, too, although he phrases it differently; he says that money should never be the purpose of any organisation. Instead, the goal should be on providing value, not only to customers through experiences but also to CEOs with results. Moreover, Pine encourages CX champions to help CEOs understand how these results can transform the organisation and create Breakthrough Experiences. 

A couple of years ago, both Nunwood and Forrester came out with research saying that dustomer experience was stagnating. Despite all the attention and investment paid to it, the numbers were not going up. 

Carbone says that when you convince the CEO that your programme is the way to the future and you get traction, it transforms an organisation's mindset. For example, Carbone recalls how Rich Fairbanks, CEO of Capital One, had initially wanted to improve things at Capital One to be "less bad," a classic Break/Fix level management edict. In other words, Fairbanks did not want to get in a taxi and hear how horrible Capital One was. However, Fairbanks didn't stop there, and now there are Capital One Cafes

Persuading people to believe in experience management as a driver for business success is essential for CX professionals. For example, years ago, Beyond Philosophy, my global customer experience consultancy, pitched a German insurance company. One of the insurance team asked us to prove what we were saying. He wanted proof that emotions drive value for a company's bottom line. 

We couldn't prove it. But that inquiry kicked off two years of research with the London Business School that ultimately identified the 20 emotions that drive and destroy value. We could then use those emotions we heard about in the customer's voice and show results. 

You have to speak to leadership about customer experience in their language, and that's numbers. Senior teams are there to get a profit, to improve shareholder value. Frankly, that's their job. It's our job to show them how your CX programme will provide a return, ideally through numbers. 

So, what do we do?

In conclusion, there are a few things we all want you to remember. First, Pine thinks that the pandemic taught us that we don't need more stuff; we want meaningful experiences with our colleagues, friends, and family. Second, he would advise CX champions to shift their efforts to create these meaningful experiences, as this need for meaningful experiences will only grow in importance to customers moving forward. 

I would advise CX champions to remember that making people happy when they are unhappy is not enough, even if it sounds like that is what we mean. Our research shows the way to be happy from unhappy with a company happens in a hierarchy. First, you must get customers to trust you. Once they trust you, then you need to communicate that you care about them and value them. Then, after all of this, when you make them happy, it is the kind of happiness that drives customer loyalty and, perhaps more importantly, customer-driven growth. 

Carbone says what is so exciting about this space and the evolution of understanding experiences, in general, is the extraordinary opportunity to augment the voice of the customer with the mind of the customer. Value is in the sense of the perceiver, not the creator. So we should seek to walk through the maze of the customer's mind, trying to understand how customers think instead of what they think to create value. 

Do we have all the answers to customer experience as we know it's imminent death? We don't. Are we right about it changing and requiring more of its champions? I think we are.

But it's not essential to me that you think I am right. The important thing for me is that you start to form your judgment. Getting different views from different people is how you can create your opinion about where customer experience is now and where it will be in the future.

Why not start now? Share what you think about whether Customer Experience is dying in the comments below. 

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nataliasuta
By nataliasuta7
17th Jan 2022 08:32

Interesting article. While I agree the CX is dying, I don't think it will ever die. I rather see it as a sinusoid, i.e., it will bounce back sooner or later once more and more companies understand that CX is their key to differentiation. Nowadays, whatever we want to buy, we have limitless choices, with products being near identical with the same features. What the customer is willing to pay more and more for is not the product itself (especially so if there is little to no perceived difference between product A, b, and C), but the experience and the service around it. Once the message hits home, the focus will eventually shift from features to experiences. But CX professionals do have a massive job to bring this into the board room. Good luck to all of us :)

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