Customer Experience: what you need to get to make a success of your CX initiatives

What Forrester has to say on CX in 2012

I have been reading  Forrester’s 2012 Customer Experience predictions.  Forrester is making three predictions: C-level execs will officially name customer experience as a top strategic priority; companies will focus on delivering unified customer experiences; and consultants of every shape and size will develop educational programs.  Does that sound great?  Well it could be great for CX professionals and for the army of consultants, service designers and training providers.

What I say about what Forrester says

I predict that the bulk of the money and effort spent on Customer Experience will be ‘wasted’.  What do I mean by ‘wasted’?  I mean that it will not generate the kind of customer advocacy and loyalty that the Tops are looking for.  Why is that?  Because many companies will fail to create the kind of value that customers are looking for.  Why is that?  Because the people in these organisations will go about Customer Experience in a way which has failure already built in.  Before I explain the trap and point towards the door that lets you escape from the trap I need to share a couple of concepts with you.

Distinguishing between context and content

Context shapes content (phenomena including thoughts, feelings, behaviours) and yet it is invisible to us most of the time.  We only tend to see the hidden context when things break down dramatically – think of the financial crisis (before, after).   One of the best visual illustrations of context and how it ‘shapes’ content is this advert aired by the Guardian newspaper. Did you watch this 30 second ad?  No, then please do watch it as it is central to the rest of this post.  I remember that this ad made a huge impact on me when I was growing up.  Why?  Because when I saw the skinhead I jumped to an unkind interpretation – most people did because at the time there was a certain kind of context around skinheads.  The beauty of the ad was that it destroyed that context and through deploying a radically different context the content of the ad (what the skinhead does) showed up, occurred, in a very different manner.

“Who you are speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you are saying”  Emerson

A product company doing Customer Experience is still a product company.  A short term financials focussed company doing Customer Experience is still a short-term financial focussed company.  An internally riven company doing Customer Experience is still internally riven.  A company that does not genuinely care for nor connect with customers doing Customer Experience is still a company that does not genuinely care for nor connect with customers.  A value extractor doing Customer Experience is still a value extractor.

“The context is decisive” Werner Erhard

What does Werner Erhard mean when he says that “The context is decisive”?  One way (and it is only one way) of thinking about context is to think of it as ‘playing field’ rather like a soccer pitch (complete with all that goes with it including the goals, line markings etc), a rugby pitch, an ice hockey rink…..   By saying “The context is decisive” Werner is pointing us towards the fact that a soccer pitch calls ‘a game of soccer’ into being.  A rugby pitch calls ‘a game of rugby’ into being.  A chessboard calls a ‘game of chess into being’.  Yet he is saying more than that and to convey that I need to dive into a real life example so please bear with me.

Imagine centre-court at Wimbledon during the annual June championships.  The semi-finals are complete, there are only two players left in the tournament and it is the afternoon of the final – to decide who become champion.  On the day of the final there is a particular context (‘playing field’ ) that is in play – it both calls some stuff into being automatically AND at the same time this context rules out a whole bunch of stuff.  For example, given the context which gives rise to the final we can say:

  • The context calls the finalists to prepare thoroughly to be worth players on centre court and co-create a great match;
  • The spectators (sitting in the stands) have high expectations regarding the match they expect to see – they expect a thrilling battle between two masters of the game of Tennis, they expect twists and turn, they expect to be thoroughly engagement in an enthralling drama;
  • Amongst the spectators are members of royalty, heads of states, captains of commerce, celebrities of many kinds and past champions – the context has called them to be present another context (an ordinary tennis match) would not bring these people to be present and watch the match;
  • The umpire, the linesman and the ball boys and girls are carefully selected to ensure only the best end up on the court – anything less is simply not appropriate, it lacks Integrity as regards the context that is giving rise to the play;
  • The context rules out all kind of stuff like replacing one or both of the two remaining contestants. It excludes the possibility that there will not be a reserve umpire, reserve linesmen, reserve ball boys and ball girls.  It also excludes the possibility that all the equipment (needed for the match to take part in a way that works) will not be checked and probably double checked. It also rules out the possibility that the sports media elite will not turn up to record and make commentary on the final.  And so forth.

I hope that you now have a good enough grasp of context and content and in particular the relationship between context and content.  If you have not then allow me to make one last effort to convey what I wish to convey. Imagine that two men go to battle – they are on opposite sides and both are equally capable.  Yet one man is absolutely convinced that he is going into battle to safeguard the future of his wife, children, community – their lives, their future is at stake.  The other man is going to battle because he has been conscripted against his well and he is totally convinced that the other side is ‘good’ and his side is ‘bad’.  Do you get that these two men will behave differently as the contexts which give them being and shape their thoughts, feelings and actions are so radically different.   If you life was at stake on betting on the right man which man would you bet on?

Let’s back to my assertion that the bulk of CX efforts will fail because they will fall into a trap.  I also stated that I’d share the way out of the trap with you.

Making a success of your Customer Experience efforts: context is everything!

The trap is simple and even though I am going to share it with you most of the people who matter (in companies) will ignore what I have to say.  Which is kind of great for those of you who are in a place to get what I have to share and then act on it.  What is the trap?   The following from a recent post on Zappos points in the direction of the trap:

“One definite challenge is that we are still seen as a shoe retailer when in fact we sell much more than that! Our product catalog spans from clothing to footwear to house wares to beauty to accessories and even sporting goods! Perceptions are not easy to change overnight unless you’re willing to be bold. The one constant is that we are a service company that happens to sell __________ (fill in the blank). Our biggest efforts revolve around building likeability around our brand so that consumers turn to a brand that they trust, find reliable, and have an emotional connection with. That’s where service comes in!

Do you see the trap? The trap is to come from the context of ‘business as usual’ and do Customer Experience – that is to say that Customer Experience occurs as another technique for winning the game of ‘business as usual’.  If we use the analogy of a game of chess then Customer Experience is simply either a chess piece or it is a move or combination of moves in the game of chess.   If that is abstract then think of it this way.  Within the context of a desert pine trees do not grow no matter how much effort you make to grow pine trees. And even if they do grow they will be a feeble version of the real thing!

What is the way out of the trap?  Put in place the context that calls for Customer Experience, welcomes it and actively helps it to flower in abundance and yield the fruits.  Then whatever you do as regards Customer Experience will occur and take hold through effortless effort.  Look carefully and you will see that the context underpinning Zappos is “Delivering Happiness” and “The one constant is that we are a service company that happens to sell __________ (fill in the blank). Our biggest efforts revolve around building likeability around our brand so that consumers turn to a brand that they trust, find reliable, and have an emotional connection with. That’s where service comes in!”  How did Howard Schultz turn around Starbucks?  By changing the context from “breakneck growth no matter what it takes” to “the customer experience one cup at a time”.  Look at Amazon and the context is “the earth’s most customer-centric company”.  And if you turn towards Apple (and Steve Jobs) the context was a combination of “making a dent in the universe”, “humanizing technology” and the “customer experience”.

Summing it all up

If you want to make a success of your Customer Experience efforts then start with the context not the content.  If you have round hole (in a wooden board) then no matter which shapes you try the one that will fit with the least effort and with the best fit is a round block. You can try fitting the other shapes (squares, rectangles, triangles, star…)- it is likely to occur as hard work, the result will not look great and when the board is shaken hard enough the other shapes will fall out.  Ever wondered why organisational change does not last?  Now you have your answer.

What do you think?  Have I missed something?  Do you have a different experience (notice I did not say point of view)?

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant working at the intersection of strategy, customer, and technology. Combine a tendency to think strategically with a penchant for getting my hands dirty at the coalface of implementation.

3 thoughts on “Customer Experience: what you need to get to make a success of your CX initiatives”

  1. Hi Maz,
    When you explain the ‘trap’ and say ‘that Customer Experience occurs as another technique for winning the game of ‘business as usual’, this, I think, is a splendid distinction and one that the folks you alluded to in your previous post all understood. They understood the game that they were playing and used customer experience as a defining element of the game and not just another tool that you throw at a particular and perceived problem.

    However, given that most CEOs of large companies only have a tenure of 3-4 years the sort of change that you are advocating would probably take a long time and concerted effort and agreement. How do we square that circle?

    Adrian

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  2. Hello Adrian
    The game of ‘growing revenues and profits during the CEO tenure’ and the game of ‘customer-centricity’ are two distinct games. I get that and so I make no attempt to square the circle.

    If you love the game of ‘customer centricity’ then you play it because you love it. Yes, there are other games and you choose to play this game. Maybe you’d make more money if you played one of the other games. And you don’t because that is not the game that you are committed to.

    Or you can choose to pay the game of ‘growing revenues and profits during my tenure’ then you do whatever it takes and don’t think twice about the consequences after your tenure. That is the game that the politicians, regulators and bankers played and resulted in the financial crisis. Many if not most of the players knew that what game they were playing – they kept hoping that the music would not stop on their shift.

    Maz

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  3. Hello Maz,

    I fully agree with the Customer Experience depth and complexity you articulated. It will be interesting to see if the lack of executive support, as a strategic priority, actually turns the corner this year; I certainly hope so. The Guardian advert as an example of context really hit the mark. Thank you for capturing the criticality of context so well.

    Cathy

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