Is it time to reset your customer experience strategy?

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher January 26, 2016
Does your company need a customer experience management reset? New research identifies the obstacles customer experience teams need to overcome - and how these initiatives should be evaluated.

I came across a recent paper on 2016 customer experience management trends from Digital Clarity Group (DCG) by Connie Moore that intrigued me (the paper is free with site registration). In the paper, Moore talks about the mistakes and problems organizations face with their customer experience initiatives, and how many need to step back and re-examine their strategies. Moore writes: "A CEM restart will be the dominant trend in 2016.”

Why now? That’s the question I had, because if you read any of the research studies that came out over the last couple of years, organizations have been challenged with their CEM initiatives for quite a while now.

I needed to understand better why 2016 is looking like a re-defining year for CEM, so I spoke with DCG Co-founder and Principal Analyst, Tim Walters.

Side note: DCG uses the acronym CEM for customer experience management. I’ve always referred to customer experience as CXM. For me, there is no difference, but because I’m referencing DCG papers and analysts, I’ve chosen to use CEM.

What is causing the need to reset?

Walters told me that some organizations realize they need to step back and rethink their strategy, and then there are others that may not realize it, but should. There are two key indicators something isn’t right about CEM:

Organizations are approaching CEM wrong. Yes, we’ve been doing CEM for what feels like forever (at least, Walters said, since the arrival of the smartphone). Yes, C-level executives do say their companies are now or will soon compete on the basis of customer experience, and most are aware of the need to make the customer experience a priority. But there is this big struggle to close the gap between the vision of CEM and what many are trying to achieve.

DCG defines CEM as follows: “A business discipline encompassing the strategies, processes, skills, technologies, and commitments that aim to ensure positive and competitively outstanding customer experiences.”

This is the vision of CEM. The reality for most organizations is far from this definition. Walters said that what most organizations are typically doing is isolated initiatives by teams that don’t talk to each other. So there is one project, maybe it’s a mobile app, a website redesign, a big multi-channel campaign, a customer support website, call center optimization, or it’s some combination of these, but there is no cohesive, integrated CEM strategy.

Consumers say customer experience is not getting better, it’s getting worse. CEM is all about the customer, but in study after study last year, consumers are saying their experiences are “meh” or worse. (see Forrester’s research and Accenture’s research as examples).

Part of the problem, Walters said, is that consumer expectations are always racing ahead. They get excited about the next big thing some startup (think Uber or Airbnb, etc.) or technology comes up with, and they expect every brand to be as cool, or useful, or whatever. Walters pointed out that brands are not competing with other similar brands, they are competing with the great experiences of everything -  and that’s setting the bar pretty high.

Why do organizations need to reset?

Walters outlined three main challenges organizations face that affect their CEM success:

Tcchnology challenges

Traditional technology challenges can play a role in the need to reset:

  • Did you select the right technology?
  • Did you select the right partner with the applicable skills needed?
  • Did you identify, plan and execute on all the other stuff that needs to happen to achieve success?

These challenges are typical of any project or initiative, so they shouldn’t be a surprise here.

CEM-specific challenges

For some organizations the smaller initiatives are successful, and they now realize that the next big step is connecting the dots and getting things to work together. For others, whose smaller projects are not working as well as expected, the focus is on why not and how to make them better instead of addressing the bigger challenge of bringing things together as a whole for a consistent overall customer experience:

Oddly enough, one or several CEM initiatives that are sputtering or failing tend to MASK the fact that the bigger and more important task is to integrate them!

Do you really understand customer experience management?

This third challenge is rooted in the idea that maybe organizations don’t really understand the problems they are trying to solve with their customer experience initiatives.

Clayton Christensen said in a 2000 article that it is "crucial" to understand a problem if you are going to solve it. We think that many firms have not fully understood the problem of (customer) experience (management) -- and as a result have been expending great time, effort and resources working on the wrong problem. For example: 1) Working on isolated, disconnected experience"s" rather than the customer's experience. 2) Thinking of CEM largely (or at least primarily) as digitally supercharged marketing -- and still thinking of marketing mainly in the established (or old fashioned) sense of "feeding the funnel." 3) Engaging in (focusing on) practices -- such as data-driving digital advertising -- that tend to put the brand's interest on a collision course with the customer's interest. This is the big lesson from 2015 with the explosive growth of ad blockers and the retreat from aggressive, so-called surveillance-based marketing

For me, the key point here that Walters makes is that my experience with a brand is made up of many different experiences over a period.The problem is the brand is so focused on each of those individual experiences (or maybe just one or two); they aren’t stepping back and looking at the bigger picture.

Do you need to reset your CEM strategy?

Are you wondering if you need a reset? Do you need to step back and examine what’s working and what’s not? Walters said a reset is not a “do over”, but rather stepping back and thinking differently - are your goals and KPIs in alignment with the customer’s goals?

You need to question your fundamental assumptions and your understanding of the problem. Once you know what you are trying to help your customers achieve, then look at your approach to the solution and decide if that’s really the right approach.

What are customers and prospects trying to do? How can you help them in a way that’s differentiated from your competitors? What do you have to do, or change, who do you need to partner with (technology, system integrators, change management, etc.) to make that happen?

A few guidelines to go by for your reset

Walters provided a few guidelines to help you define your approach to a CEM reset that he said applies to pretty much every organization:

  1. Understand that CEM is not a technology play. People and process are critical components of a well-oiled CEM initiative. Your organization is going to change - put the practices and professionals in place to help you.
  2. Rationalize your technology (data) stack. Don’t buy technology because it’s cool and new.
  3. Find the right service providers to help you and think of them as strategic partners equally invested in ensuring your success. (Walters said the current trend to cost cutting, and procurement-driven selections is a recipe for disaster).
  4. Work on what matters most. CEM doesn't mean taking care of every single interaction with every single customer and prospect on every single channel. Some things matter A LOT more than others, and you should identify and concentrate on those high-value customer journeys.

Final thoughts

Walter’s reset guidelines appear straightforward on paper, but he knows – and we all know – there’s nothing simple about any of it. Each of these guidelines deserves a deeper focus, and I’ll take some time to ask the hard questions of how you can accomplish these. If you have a perspective you’d like to share, please let me know.

Until then, stop what you’re doing. Ask yourself if it might be a time to reset your CEM strategy.

Image credit: ann hakt eine Virtuelle Check-Liste ab © Henrik Dolle -

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