customer experience dying

Why so many CX programmes are failing - and what should be done

11th Jul 2019

How to ensure you’re one of the 20% of organisations whose service makes a worthwhile difference to performance and results.

I have a principle that has served me well throughout my career which is I always tell colleagues and customers what I honestly believe, even when I know they may not like what I have to tell them.

This recently caused me to write to a major customer to advise them I was convinced the approach they were proposing for an international loyalty programme would not achieve the goals they had for it. It’s also what has prompted me to write this article. There will probably be a lot of people that strongly disagree with some parts of what I’m about to write, but it’s what I genuinely believe, so I’m doing it anyway.

You may have noticed that research is emerging showing that many of the various programmes organisations are undertaking to use customer service to improve business performance and results, are failing to achieve the planned outcomes. For example, just a few months ago, Bob Thompson the founder of CustomerThink Corporation in America, wrote an article entitled ‘An Inconvenient Truth: 93% of Customer Experience Initiatives are Failing to Differentiate.’

His research revealed that only 17% of the American CEOs polled, felt their customer experience strategy had created differentiation, and only 23% found it had delivered tangible benefits to the business. So around 80% of the programmes instigated by these American organisations had failed to achieve worthwhile outcomes. As Bob commented, these are even worse results than were achieved during the CRM epidemic that spread through many organisations a few years ago. The signs of this are already showing in Europe, where many programmes are not working as people expect, and not creating anywhere near the results used to justify the time and resources invested in them.

I’ve been advising organisations on this for over 20 years, so these findings prompted me to do my own research to investigate just how successful the programmes that we in the Academy of Service Excellence have worked on with our customers have been. I was therefore delighted to learn that most, actually over 80%, are considered to have achieved the outcomes set for them and are providing a healthy return on investment. This indicates that we may know something that some others don’t, so I thought I should write this article, based on the approach we recommend, to suggest how you too might become one of the 20% of organisations that have found ways to make service make worthwhile differences to performance and results.

Why are CX initiatives failing?

There are I believe, two main issues contributing to the generally poor outcomes.

The first relates to how some programmes are focused. I was lucky to have met the late Dr Stephen Covey, author of the book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, on a number of occasions. I learned a great deal from him, and his books and wisdom always influence the choices I make in my life. One of his core principles, which has also served me well throughout my career, is to always ‘Begin with the end in mind’.

If we apply this principle to what I believe should be the goal or focus for these types of programmes, I would suggest the ‘end in mind’ should not be the customer experience. That may be a core element of a successful programme, but I don’t think it should be the end goal. I’ve learned, and have evidence to prove, that if you wish any such programme to generate more sales, increased profit and faster growth, the focus must be to create sustainable customer loyalty. And that will require much more than a focus on customer experience management alone.

The second issue relates to how customer experience is being promoted as the latest ‘silver bullet’ to fix many current organisational challenges. It’s now spreading like a tsunami in much the same way the CRM epidemic did a few years ago. But as research is now revealing, it looks like it will end the same way, with most programmes failing to justify their investment. I’ve even seen it implied by some that you may call yourself a certified ‘CX Professional’ by watching some online modules or attending a three-day workshop course, reading a few books and completing a short test paper. I don’t think so!

No-one ever became a ‘professional’ at anything with so little study and practice. It takes years of dedication and study, and hours of practical experience (some say at least 10,000 hours) to become considered as a ‘professional’ in any field. But if these ‘certified’ people then manage to convince their employers or customers that this qualification means they know how to design and implement an effective programme, it’s no wonder so many of them are failing.

20 years of study and experience, working on the planning, design and implementation of dozens of service excellence, customer experience and customer loyalty programmes, for all types and sizes of organisations, and in most markets, has provided numerous opportunities to witness what does and doesn’t work. I’ve learned that designing and rolling out a successful service excellence initiative in any organisation is neither a simple nor an easy thing to do. It needs much more than a few willing and eager people, especially if they have limited experience and just a few days of training. And to do this across a large organisation makes it all the more complex, difficult and challenging.

But this raises the question - so what does work?     

How to ensure your CX initiative is a success

The first essential for success is the creation of a solid foundation on which to build the programme and its implementation. A number of vital elements must first be in place to ensure the things that follow will have the traction and impact required for success.

As Professor John Kotter of Harvard Business School once commented:“Without them, it’s like trying to build a pyramid on a foundation of empty shoe boxes.” If you don’t have this solid base, as soon as it is tested and stressed, it crumbles and causes all that follows to fail.

These are therefore fundamental building blocks that form the core foundation necessary for the whole programme to have any chance of achieving worthwhile outcomes. They are:

  • A senior leadership team with a thorough understanding of the subject and an overt commitment to the strategic importance of the success of the programme.
  • A sense of urgency being established and expressed from the outset, to ensure the programme is implemented with energy and pace. Many organisations become too hooked on research and delay acting by falling into the ‘paralysis by analysis’ trap.
  • A carefully selected and highly skilled implementation team being thoroughly trained, empowered and fully supported to roll the programme out through local training events and projects.
  • Adequate resources (people, time and budgets) being made available to give the programme the very best chance of success.

Once these core elements are in place, there needs to follow wave after wave of projects and activities throughout the organisation, to spread the message about why you are doing this and the knowledge, understanding and skills needed to do it effectively. These should include:  

  • The right people. No amount of training will turn a person who is not suited to a front-line service role into someone that is. Some people have a natural talent, flair and strength for it, and some don’t. You therefore need a recruitment and selection procedure that attracts and identifies these ‘right’ people for service, so you invest training in people that will make a success of it and don’t waste it on people that will not.
  • The right culture. There’s little point in recruiting the right people if you then immerse them in the wrong environment. Doing so is likely to result in them underperforming and probably eventually leaving. Great service people need to be nurtured and developed in a service focussed culture. That’s an environment where teamwork and support for each other is the norm. Where the goal is to continually improve ways to provide the best possible service and assistance for each other and for customers. One where people are expected to be as pleased about the achievements of their colleagues or the team as they are about their own. And where the leaders are focussed on ways to continually improve the knowledge, understanding, skills and culture of the team.
  • The right customer feedback. You’ll never get the right answers if you ask the wrong questions, Yet many organisations invest huge sums in customer satisfaction research studies that asks the wrong questions, so don’t provide useful insights. You do not want to know how ‘satisfied’ customers are with your products or services. That will rarely tell you what you need to know to build sustainable customer loyalty. What you need to know are things like: How easy it is for customers to find or get what they want? How do you make customers feel when they interact with you? Which experiences have the most impact and stick in customers’ minds the longest? And how loyal to you are customers likely to be in the future and why? That information will tell you what you need to know and do to boost their on-going loyalty.
  • The right internal measures and rewards. It’s easy to trigger the wrong behaviours by sending the wrong messages to colleagues. If you claim to be keen to improve customer experiences and loyalty, but then only measure and reward outcomes like sales and profits, that will drive people to focus on the short-term outcomes they get rewarded for and not the essential inputs that will produce the long term customer loyalty that creates them. Creating sustainable customer loyalty is not a short-term exercise, so short-term measures and rewards are unlikely to drive the behaviours and activities necessary to produce it. Instead, you need to measure and reward the loyalty building behaviours and activities that will.

There are a few ideas based on what I have learned will help to ensure any investments is service improvements deliver worthwhile returns. Obviously in this short article it is not possible to provide a detailed outline of everything that is essential for success. However, I hope that it has offered a good overview of what I’ve learned are some of the key and most influential building blocks.

Finally. if this has sparked your interest to learn more about how you too could become one of the 20% of organisations that make a success of it, you’ll find more information, and a step by step plan, in my new book Creating Customer Loyalty.

You could subscribe to gain access to my nine-module online foundation programme at Also, you and/or your colleagues might wish to attend one of my 12-day Customer Loyalty Management Master Practitioner Programmes (the next ones will run from September to November 2019 and January to April 2020), details of which can be found at

Replies (2)

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Steven Walden
By Steven Walden
15th Jul 2019 09:54

The pond has been polluted. It was ever thus.

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By PaulineAshenden
21st Jul 2019 09:03

There’s been a lot of talk about customer experience failing to deliver Chris, and
I’d really stress the importance of your point about collecting (and acting on) the right customer feedback. Consumer expectations are rising continually - if you don’t understand what they really want, you can’t hope to differentiate yourself in the market.

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