The Future of the CX Discipline Isn’t Paved with Gold

customer experience - latest fad or lasting disciplineI’ve been thinking about the future of the CX discipline a lot lately. I just finished a short chapter on it for a new Allegiance book. Now I’m prepping for a talk on it at our upcoming VoCFusion event.

I’m still optimistic, and with good reason. CX is all over the business media, tradeshow circuit, and buzzword bingo scorecard. And many companies are making real progress.

But I’ve also made myself a little nervous. From my point of view, today’s hype leaves CX hanging in a delicate balance between latest fad and lasting discipline. And its future is far from certain. Here’s some evidence: 

  • Business managers still don’t understand CX as a discipline. The fundamental goal of the fledgling CX discipline is not to gold-plate company offerings. It’s to treat target customers in a way that increases long-term company profitability. Most managers don’t get that. According to Temkin Group, nearly two thirds of companies cited “other competing priorities” as barriers to CX success in 2011, and only 17% said that executives regularly support decisions to trade off short-term financial results for longer-term customer loyalty. At best, this suggests that managers still don’t see CX as central to achieving their core business objectives. At worst, it says that they see CX as just nice to have.
  • Companies make bad decisions in the name of good CX. Improving customers’ experiences doesn’t always make sense. Improvements must align with a company’s overall business model to be valuable and sustainable. Wal-Mart learned this the hard way with its 2009 effort to improve its in-store experience by streamlining its inventory. According to the chief executive of Wal-Mart’s US division, cited in a NYTimes article, “[Customers] loved the [new] experience. They just bought less. And that generally is not a good long-term strategy.” Examples like this perpetuate the misconception that good CX competes with or even contradicts good business performance.
  • Opportunistic tech firms confuse the market. Dozens of vendors have emerged to serve CX-related needs in recent years. These firms deliver significant value in specific areas, but they also muddy the waters by offering Customer Experience Management (CXM or CEM) solutions by name. Why? Because none of these solutions offers everything needed to truly manage customers’ experiences, which happen across touchpoints and time. Instead, they span several adjacent categories like CRM, marketing optimization, and customer insight. Even if this market coalesces, it will threaten to send CXM the way of CRM by equating it with a specific technology.

Of course, there are many things that we as practitioners, vendors, and consultants can do to tip the scales here. I address several of them in my book chapter and upcoming VoCFusion presentation. 

In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you think.
Is the future really this fragile? What have you done to lock it up?

Andrew McInnes is Director of Product Marketing for Allegiance.