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But the Emperor Is Wearing Nothing at All!

emperorNo doubt many of you are familiar with Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”   Wikipedia describes it as a tale about “a vain Emperor who cares about nothing except wearing and displaying clothes who hires two swindlers who promise him the finest, best suit of clothes from a fabric invisible to anyone who is unfit for his position or ‘hopelessly stupid.’   The Emperor’s ministers cannot see the clothing themselves, but pretend that they can for fear of appearing unfit for their positions and the Emperor does the same. Finally the swindlers report that the suit is finished, they mime dressing him and the Emperor marches in procession before his subjects.  The townsfolk play along with the pretense not wanting to appear unfit for their positions or stupid.  Then a child in the crowd, too young to understand the desirability of keeping up the pretense, blurts out that the Emperor is wearing nothing at all and the cry is taken up by others.   The Emperor cringes, suspecting the assertion is true, but continues the procession.”

If you recently read “Charting a New Path to the Same Destination” –  co-authored by Andrew McInnes and John Carroll III, and appearing in the October, 2013 issue of Quirk’s Marketing Research Review – you may, like me, have felt like that child in the crowd.

What strikes me about this article is the overblown nature of the claims made re: “traditional CSAT programs” versus “enterprise feedback management” (EFM) programs.  I have been assisting companies in developing and implementing approaches to measuring and managing customer satisfaction and loyalty since 1983, and very little of what the authors claim is supported by history.  In fact, if you look at the seven steps the authors outline with respect to implementing an EFM program, there is nothing new except the technology implementation (Step 4).    Nearly every other one of the “seven critical steps” to implementing “modern EFM” has been in practice for decades.

For example, McInnes and Carroll claim that “traditional research programs focused on supporting high-level executive decisions…the outputs might have been interesting, but they left most employees in the dark.”  They go on to assert that “modern programs operate at an enterprise level, influencing routine business decisions on the front lines and in middle management, as well as strategic decisions made at the top.”

Really?

A closer look at the facts reveals that companies have been getting actionable feedback to enterprise and front-line personnel for many, many years.    In fact, since joining Maritz Research back in 2004, I cannot think of a single client CSAT program that is not designed to do this.   Far from being a “contrast between old and new,” putting the voice of the customer (VoC) to work at the enterprise level has a rich tradition in “traditional CSAT programs.”

McInnes and Carroll also claim that “in traditional CSAT programs, the concept of feedback was essentially limited to survey responses and these narrow inputs naturally led to narrow value.  Modern programs expand the concept of feedback to include much bigger data – with more volume, variety, velocity, and value – from sources such as CRM systems and social media.”

Once again, the use and integration of multiple VoC data sources is something those of us coming from the “traditional CSAT” community have been doing for many years.  In fact, I illustrated how this was being done back in 2005 in an article entitled “Voice Lessons” – published, ironically, in the same Quirk’s Marketing Research Review in which McInnes and Carroll’s claims about modern programs appear – I just did this eight years before McInnes and Carroll decided firms needed to make the “big change” from traditional research to modern EFM.

McInnes and Carroll claim that “traditional programs were all about measurement,” but that “modern programs have traded ‘measurement’ for ‘management’.”  That’s funny…many of our clients, like Enterprise Rent-a-Car and Cadillac Motors, have been using “measures” to “manage” customer experience and loyalty for decades.  Guess managers and dealers at these companies didn’t get the memo regarding how their “traditional” program was supposed to work.

There are other “new” things about EFM that are not really new.  For example, McInnes and Carroll discuss the importance of “mapping your journeys” to focus on moments of truth that matter in the customer experience.   They proceed to share an example of a “customer journey map” for a hotel experience to illustrate the approach.

What I find outrageous and almost laughable is that service system blueprinting – a method developed and popularized during the early 1980’s – has been recycled under the name “customer journey mapping” and offered as if it is something new.  The problem is it is not.  For a long time now, we have built client measurement programs around the idea of the customer experience cycle (e.g., sales, purchase, product usage, service, renewal experiences)…our surveys attempt to gauge customer evaluations of each key moment of truth/experiential element at each of the cycle stages….EFM adds nothing new to this approach.  There is nothing to see here…move on…

More than a decade after serving several years on the Board of Examiners for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, I decided to begin studying Lean Six Sigma (LSS), and was certified as an LSS Black Belt in 2012.  What struck me during my studies was the number of LSS tools and techniques that I had been introduced to nearly two decades earlier when I was learning about Total Quality Management or TQM.   Now, many business experts would claim that TQM’s time has come and gone, and that the “modern” quality management community has moved on to Lean Six Sigma.  That may be true, but if so, much of what that community has moved on to is not new – it has simply been recycled under a new name.

The same applies to claims being made about how new and different EFM programs are in comparison to traditional CSAT programs.  I’ll grant that EFM has introduced some powerful new technology into the customer experience management mix – but little else about EFM is really new.  The “seven basic steps” that McInnes and Carroll claim to be necessary to make the “difficult” transition from traditional CSAT programs to modern EFM simply are not new.

I am not naïve enough to think that anything I write in this blog will detract from the attention EFM currently is getting within the customer experience management community.  For now, EFM is the “shiny object” that is commanding a lot of folks’ attention.

But, for those who claim or think that they are about to discard obsolete practices and processes for new and better ones promised by EFM proponents – I strongly encourage you to take a short break, and maybe read a little Hans Christian Andersen.