We asked our expanded CX Expert Panel three questions:
- What will be a primary focus for CX in 2015?
- What CX challenges new or old do you think most companies will face in 2015?
- As a discipline what will be essential for CX next year?
Here are their answers:
2015 should see a continuation of gaining and leveraging a deeper understanding the customer's emotions. We have focused for many years on identifying and fixing the touchpoint experiences. 2015 will see a surge in behavioral science, psychology and emotions intelligence thinking and skills. It will allow us to truly engage customers and proactively best meet their needs and wants.
A challenge for 2015 is to continue to center the organization - and every employee - on the customer. A defined, innovative CX ecosystem will emerge as a new business framework. This framework helps every associate see their impact on the experience, how to identify and care for the experience across their entire journey, help define how the organization will need to continue to work differently to operate around the customer, and will require more extensive collaboration across the organization to improve and innovate around the experiences. Also, understanding the customer's perspective - and their emotions - puts journey mapping and other key design skills at the forefront of CX practices. To support the new CX framework, CX knowledge will be required at higher levels in every position in the organization. This will come in the form of education, skills training, support, enhanced data, expanded partnerships and a new focus on innovative design skills and talent.
-Diane Magers, AT&T
The primary focus for 2015 should be Specialized Adaptability. Taking a conceptual approach leveraging the work of Charles Darwin, organizations are becoming more aware that it is not possible to take what others have done to experience success and replicate it. They need to adapt their own organism for survival and change the course of natural selection which may lead to their extinction. This means they need to leverage their unique strengths instead of trying to be someone else.
The need for Specialized Adaptability will one of the CX challenges most companies will face in 2015. It will place greater emphasis on the common (and old) issues of organizational change and culture.
As a discipline it will be essential for CX leaders to increase their Emotional Intelligence (EQ) skills. By increasing their EQ skills CX leaders will be better equipped to adapt and overcome their biggest challenges.
- Jim Rembach, Beyond Morale
What will be a primary focus for CX in 2015? Continued expansion of operational voice of the customer / enterprise feedback management platform deployment
What CX challenges new or old do you think most companies will face in 2015? Deeply and usefully integrating smart mobile devices into customer journeys is an important challenge
As a discipline what will be essential for CX next year? Technology based Innovation. There is so much about CX which is not technology and at the same time consumer and business technology innovations truly are driving the requirement that CX experts be skilled in the area of technology based innovation. As William Gibson said “The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed”. It is up to CX professionals to take technological innovations to the masses in terms of new experiences as well as in terms of customer experience management on behalf of organizations.
- John Carroll, Ipsos
Essential to 2015 is the deeper understanding of each interaction with the company, the impact of those interactions, and its link to the customer's relationship to the brand and business results. Threading the value of customer experience to the new business framework will be an essential factor in driving and measuring change. With measures, metrics and business value a common opportunity for CX organizations, it will be a key activity for us to learn from and support each other into the new year.
2015 will be the year for emotions. Too often, our customer experiences are defined by how the “rational person” goes through our experience. Unfortunately, although we design our experiences for this hypothetical person, those who actually go through our experience often have little in common with this person. Emotions – whether positive or negative – substantially change requirements for any experience.
This creates two needs: for CX experts to better understand the emotions inherent to their customer experiences, and more importantly to communicate those emotions to the rest of the organization. This will require us to bring better design to our work – not just how we design the actual experiences, but also how we design scorecards, charters, and research results to make them easily digestible by the business.
From a tools perspective, this will certainly change how we do journey mapping, but also means that we may need to rethink measurement approaches to better capture where emotional needs are not being met. As a result, CX capabilities are going to need to spend more time with designers, and use them in more of their work.
-Jim Tincher, Heart of the Customer
The primary focus of CX in 2015 will be centered on employee engagement efforts. Many companies have taken VOC and executive strategy about as far as it can successfully go only to realize the employee piece is where they should have started. Sure, we will see in an increase in predictive analytics and surgical cutting of customer journey maps to deploy those insights at the right time for the customer - however that is not our biggest challenge. Companies looking to finally win over their employee base will need to shift the conversation from "look at all this survey data" to "look at how much autonomy and trust we will give you to meet the needs of our customers". The specific freedoms given to the employee may go beyond just taking care of a customer and go even deeper into the unmet needs of the employee. We often strive to be a "trusted partner" to our customers, but that language is not often used with our employees. One easy way to get moving on this is to use the emotional nature of journey mapping and applying that to "intentions" that employees have. Map the intentions and we may find where we can be a better partner to employees at all levels.
One of the new CX challenges that will become center-stage in 2015 is the partnering across companies (even competitors) to ensure the entire ecosystem of customer intentions can be improved. This is becoming eminent with the power that customers now yield. If customers truly are the hub then those companies that are the spokes will need to start sharing some information. Think of the arrival of the "smart home" as an example. Many items we typically control in the home physically will soon be offered on your hand held device from anywhere in the world. With this advancement now manufacturers, utilities, television, internet, wireless, consumer goods, and more may need to let go of "my customer" and consider the customer's ecosystem to really protect their loyalty; a very challenging endeavor which will bring data and privacy issues to the forefront. Many industries are experiencing this to some degree already.
Finally, the year to come will bring the CX design and innovation discipline to the forefront and probably require key hiring decisions. Most large companies have a good idea how to handle the science of the design (rational side) but the artistic element (emotional) is difficult to pin down. Great CX designers will put up 'emotional guardrails' to protect the customer along the journey. This is persona and situation specific but when your customers emotions become 'positively guarded' you've hit pay dirt.
- Peter Haid, E Source
Peter, I really like your thoughts here. It’s taking it further than I had. You certainly acknowledge the importance of emotions, but are tying it more into how it is done – through engaging and empowering employees. It makes a ton of sense. It’s very hard to satisfy customers’ emotional needs through a standard scripted answer – it takes the employee to better understand what those needs are, develop a response, and deliver it in a customized way.
But at the same time, can we also say that 2015 can be the year of automation? There’s a ton of research out there on the need for self-service – for certain transactions, customers simply don’t want to talk to a person, no matter how quickly they answer the phone. And enabling effective self-service also frees up employees to have more time to deliver against customer needs. It means they won’t be working with as many easy issues, but the ones requiring an employee will be true moments of truth. Employees will spend less time explaining the warranty terms or when stores are open, and more time working with customers to find specific solutions to their unique problems.
So maybe 2015 is the year when things start coming together – reducing effort and targeting towards emotional needs through improved self-service and engaged employees.
- Jim Tincher, Heart of the Customer
Here are two thoughts for the newsletter on what’s ahead in 2015.
The next CX breakthrough in 2015, especially for retailers, will be the use of opt-in consumer research apps that collect behavioral data on where customers actually shop. Then GPS data from the opt-in consumer’s smartphone will trigger mobile surveys to get near real time customer feedback. That means retailers will know their shopper visit share versus named competitors; they’ll know how their customer experience compares to competitors, and they’ll know why some shoppers were non-purchasers and how many of them bounced to which competitors.
For companies that actually deliver a superior customer experience, the greatest opportunity to leverage CX success in 2105 will be the next generation of published ratings and reviews – think of it as “Beyond Yelp!” A large, representative sample of ratings and reviews will be guaranteed by these new ratings sites to be from authentic customers and free from gaming. Our initial research in B2C shows the aggregated true customer experience rating is 20-25% higher than Yelp reports.
- Jack Mackey
- Panelists have commented on employee engagement. I’d take it a step further and suggest the battle for talent will wage on in 2015 and most likely escalate. The talent we need to ensure a successful CX strategic implementation will be ever more important as skills and demographics impact us. The employees we hire will require:
- Communication skills: The CX representative of tomorrow will need to be able to communicate with customers via a wide range of channels, and must be able to gather and interpret information quickly and effectively.
- Technological aptitude: CX employees must have the ability to interact with complex technology on a daily basis.
- Creativity: CX employees must be able to solve problems in logical and creative ways. CX employees must be able to consider the many details of a situation and brainstorm strategies to find ways to engage and interact with consumers.
- Conflict resolution: CX employees must have the patience and flexibility to communicate with argumentative customers while attempting to resolve the customer’s issue.
- A proactive approach: To offer the best possible customer experience, employees must be proactive in their communications and their issue resolution efforts.
- The age of the consumer will continue!! Consumers are more informed, more engaged, more vocal and seeking the here and now more than ever before – and embracing this continuing trend will make us all more successful as companies on our CX journey.
- Consistent experiences across channels. As our channels of commerce and communication grow – so must our emphasis on ensuring we provide a consistent experience across these channels. A phone call; marketing promotion; chat; or sales call should all support our CX strategy – that in turn supports the brand image of our companies. CX is not just about customer service ( in fact, I like to say that the customer service organization is the downstream symptom of an upstream problem!) – it’s about every point of interaction we have with our customers.
- Starting, Continuing and Jump-starting CX journeys. A study by Oracle stated that businesses remain committed to CX as a top priority; 91% want to be recognized as CX leaders; 37% are just getting started and 20% consider their journeys advanced. Much work needs to be done – and as a CXPA we can play an integral role in helping companies achieve their goals in 2015. Opportunity is knocking at our door!
Lastly, perhaps I’d call this a Christmas wish! We, as CX Professionals, need to help define what we mean by the term CX. To some extent it’s becoming an overused term already….a trendy way to jump on the bandwagon by simply applying the term to anything and everything. Let’s make a commitment to take the lead on continuing to define the term; how and when it’s used - so that it becomes a meaningful way to communicate its importance!
- Bob Azman, Avtex
I have read and enjoyed what Jim, Peter, Jack, and Bob had to say. I concur with many of the points made. I’d like to share a slightly different perspective on the focus for 2015. I think there really are two fundamental parts of that first question you ask—(1) what will the primary focus be in 2015 and (2) what should the primary focus be in 2015—I see these as distinctly different—the gap, if you will. The challenges remain the same. Many organizations espouse being customer-centric and will claim they are all about the customer but in reality the customer unfortunately falls lower on their list of priorities. Having spent several years in automation, there was a saying we had that you can automate the hell out of a flawed process and it’s still a flawed process—all you did was get to the flawed result a little bit faster.
Because I just transitioned from being a CX practitioner into a CX provider or consultant, my outlook admittedly may be transitioning along with that. I personally I endeavor to work only with businesses that I like and trust. That most often comes down to working with people I like and trust. What Jim had to say about the emotional aspect of CX I believe is key and that means serving customers in a way that addresses their emotional needs. I’m the first to admit that I prefer the self-serve aspect of fueling my car because there’s otherwise no emotional experience attached to that today—unlike you recall how it was back in 1966 (showing my age here) when you were greeted with a smile by an attendant in a tie and uniform who not only filled your tank but checked your oil and cleaned your windshield—all without your even asking. The more that automation flows into our lives, the less personal and emotional the experiences tend to become. I’m loyal to no self-serve gas station—it’s all about price. But I am insanely loyal to a local lighting store where I willingly pay at times considerably more for something I could get at Home Depot for way less but where I feel I am little more than a receipt at the end of a malfunctioning automated checkout.
Engaging the customer in an emotional way will require a workforce (humans) trained to serve those customer needs and hence the employee-customer connection I feel is one of the primary areas where organizations should be focusing. I’d love to think that if all organizations mastered that art in 2015, there’d have to be another differentiator really fast to take its place but I suspect that it will be some years from now that we ever see that come to pass—but we need to start now. I just bought a book called Humanistic Business which is all about creating trust and authenticity among both staff and clients—creating organizations that people want to work in and in turn designing client experiences that people want to engage in and become loyal with. To me, that’s the discipline that needs to become essential—a holistic and systems approach to CX. And I do agree that CX has become too much of a buzzword that certain organizations seem have on their “checklist” just in case they are asked.
To sum it up in a few word headline…
“2015: The Year of Humanistic Customer Experience.”
- Karl Sharicz, CX Partner
My high-level thought on the onset of the new year is as follows:
I’m growing extremely tired of the brands that are posturing on their customer-centricity, when in reality they are not doing a damn thing. Customers, in both B2B and B2C are increasingly taking notice of that as well. Brands that are putting their money & focus where their mouth is will continue to distance themselves from those who continue to talk about how great they think they are. I like the old saying: “unless you’re the lead dog, the view never changes”. Respectfully, I believe many brands have gotten very comfortable staring at the ass end of the dog in front of them.
- What will be a primary focus for CX in 2015?
· For leaders, it will be about further honing their craft, extending their lead, and enhancing their commitments to customer & employee experience excellence. Leaders are not waiting for an ROI case study on whether or not focusing on CX is worth it. Leaders are executing, investing, and they are moving.
· For many laggards, 2015 will be a hard look in the mirror and ask themselves what they want to be when they grow up. The volume of industries being disrupted is only growing, and the safety nets that once existed based on high barriers of defection are eroding (think utilities). No one is safe, and customer & employee experience excellence is critical to differentiation and leadership. My hope for this category is they finally acknowledge the problem, and they start formulating action plans. There is a wealth of great thought-leadership and enabling solutions in the marketplace…. So they just need to start engaging in some conversations, creating some basic action plans, and stapling the butts of their leaders to the achievement of those plans.
· For a subset of laggards, 2015 will be another year staring at the same dog’s ass and paralyzed in their status quo (pardon my bluntness).
- What CX challenges new or old do you think most companies will face in 2015?
· Realizing the dream of the Omni-channel, seamless customer experience: This is a multi-year journey for even some of the more advanced brands out there. There is no silver bullet. It is simply a journey. No one has fully cracked the code, and I don’t think anyone will this coming year….but we are not too far away.
· Technology & Solutions without leadership & direction: There are amazing technologies and services on the marketplace that can help brands, both in B2B &B2C distill actionable insights from customer & employee experiences. However, if these brands consider themselves at war (which they should), a sniper rifle in the arms of a pacifist won’t do them much good. The C-suite needs strong alignment, readiness, and resolve to drive the customer and employee experience in order to reap the potential rewards. If they don’t have that, it doesn’t matter what technology or services they engage with. With any strategic CX deployment/engagement that does not gain consistent commitment from the C-suite, there may be some short term wins, but it will be a long term fail.
- As a discipline what will be essential for CX next year?
· Honesty: Brands need to have complete honesty when answering…
o Where are you at in your CX journey?
o What is your organizational readiness for change?
o What is the cost of inaction?
Fortune will always favor the bold, but in 2015 the honest have a tremendous amount to gain as well… even if they only gain the clarity and direction that will lead them to fortune in 2016.
· A keen understanding that every functional group owns, and/or impacts, a moment with the customer: This is a simple build on my previous response. All functional groups need to have an active seat at the table to ensure the entire organization is aligned on the customer and employee experience.
- Erich Dietz, InMoment
Reading through all the feedback so far has been interesting (and entertaining). There are some really good insights in all of these threads so far. Adding my two cents, I would say my thoughts run more along the line of Bob’s Christmas wish - CX as a discipline will need to become clearer (what do we do, how do we add value) and that clarity will define what challenges we face and how we use our knowledge to help overcome those challenges.
- Tabitha Dunn
I agree with many of the points voiced by my colleagues as 2015 realities in CX.
A primary focus for CX in 2015 for most companies, I think, will be “business as usual”, grappling with deployment of customer listening and journey mapping, engaging customers for prompt revenue upticks, engaging the front-line employees in touch-point excellence, and expecting CX technologies to do the heavy lifting for chronic CX challenges. Admittedly, this is a lot to juggle, and each endeavor is exciting and demanding in and of itself.
Challenges most companies will face in 2015 include the struggle to demonstrate ongoing business advantages (differentiation that results in growth in revenue, share of budget, market share, profit, etc.), particularly in the face of a budget decrease or organization change in the loyalty management area.
I’ve observed that this struggle stems from:
(a) thinking of customer experience management as a means to extract value from customers rather than a means to expand mutual value to customers, employees, and shareholders alike,
(b) managing CX as a series of silo efforts, where there is little or intermittent connectivity between management of VoC, customer intelligence, innovation, UX, references, service/call centers, communities, social media, content and digital marketing, loyalty, etc.,
(c) lack of engagement and accountability among non-front-line departments and employees at all levels in proactively managing their ripple effect on CX,
(d) and lack of root cause analysis and cross-organizational collaboration in preventing recurrence of perpetual inhibitors of ease-of-doing-business that are costing a lot of waste and resource usage in the denominator of the ROI equation, along with morale, burnout and trust erosion both internally and externally.
As a discipline, it will be essential for the field of CX in 2015 and beyond (mostly across many years to come) to rise above the typical focus on extracting value from customers via front-line and technology and prompt revenue uplift. Instead, we need to gain mindshare among the C-team and their direct reports about the true properties of customer experience as a natural flow both in the way it is manifested for customers (they prefer to see the company as “one”, not silos of programs, information, systems, processes and departments) and in the way it must be governed to expand mutual value if we are to expect enduring business advantages.
- The C-team sets the CX scope and goals, and the CX discipline will not be able to rise above the status quo until they “see the light”.
- By seeing CX as a flow from VoC à strategy à culture à intelligence à CLV à improvement à innovation à engagement à business advantages, it becomes easier to wrap our minds around the many components necessary for CX excellence.
- By starting with the basics in each of these components across-the-board, and creating a roadmap that builds sophistication across the flow year by year, companies will see synergies and greater yield on CX investments.
- In doing this, the non-front-line departments and employees at all levels can shoulder a great deal of CX improvement and innovation that they’ve historically been excused from, yet typically have the ability and desire to weave into their day-to-day work as long as customer intelligence and CLV are compelling; they are the bottleneck for ease-of-doing-business in ways that can reduce a lot of unnecessary monetary and emotional costs.
- Commonalities among the companies that are always on the “top 10 list” of most loved companies include ease-of-doing-business that in and of itself compels customers to engage with the company in all the ways that bring about business advantages. This is the holy grail of CX ROI.
- Lynn Hunsaker, ClearAction
From my perspective, 2015 will be the year of “use it or lose it” for CX. A lot of chief executives have been funding “faith-based” customer experience efforts. They have trusted the word of experts that CX is good for the bottom line, that happy customers are beneficial customers, etc. Unfortunately, many CX efforts remain stuck in listening mode – they are collecting the voice of the customer but failing to drive beneficial changes to the way the company does business. Many VoC practitioners struggle to overcome the inertia of their listening efforts; they can’t make the transition to a more transformative model. Chief executives are going to tire of this failure to prove ROI and scale back on VoC / CX funding or outright pull the plug on entire efforts.
- What will be a primary focus for CX in 2015? “A little less talk, and a lot more action.” Programs that fail to yield actionable insights and beneficial change will be downsized or cease to exist. CX practitioners failing to generate ROI will face challenge obtaining budget or even find themselves in new industries (or even reverting to their old, pre-CX jobs).
- What CX challenges new or old do you think most companies will face in 2015? The failure to migrate from listening to transformation is finally going to impact poorly-performing CX initiatives. In some cases, executives have funded several years’ worth of VoC listening for modest returns on CX improvement. CX practitioners will be told to produce results or be defunded. Some will rise to the occasion, target their efforts on action and change and thrive. Other will fail to overcome VoC listening fatigue, be unable to convert their energies to driving action and organizational transformation and cease to exist.
- As a discipline what will be essential for CX next year? The CX discipline must focus efforts on action and transformation, even if it means scaling back on voice of customer listening posts. Forget broad and wide listening – it’s time for targeted, impactful organizational change.
I’m seeing / feeling so many signs of a market bubble in the Customer Experience world. Something’s got to give. Strong programs will get stronger. Good programs will find the energy to improve. But weak initiatives that fail to yield a positive benefit to their cost will cease to exist
- Sarah Simon, Confirmit
I think you’re right about all those points, Sarah.
- Lynn Hunsaker, ClearAction
Sarah, thanks for sharing this and I applaud your more cynical perspective. Mine started more cynical then I started thinking it would not be as welcome. So now that you have cracked the egg, let me say that I agree with what you say but also add my bit of cynicism through a question. What is the CX provider and consulting community doing to help the situation you described? In some instances, it appears to be not much. Maybe 2015 needs to be the year they take the bull by the horns. I'm in that camp now that I've transformed from practitioner to consultant so I'm about to swallow some of the same medicine.
-Karl Sharicz, CX Partner
Karl, welcome to the Dark Side. Muhahahaha...
One step vendors/consultants can take is to get clients to stop overeating at the VoC trough! Yes, my view might make my head of Sales go into cardiac arrest. But selling more and more surveys is not the road to CX success! Some of the least successful client programs I've seen are the ones with literally dozens of disconnected surveys that do absolutely nothing but annoying the customer. I much prefer to see a client focus on a small handful of targeted surveys (such as one strategic relationship assessment plus 3 carefully chosen you going surveys) - and emphasize action resulting from those select few surveys.
It's ok to have blind spots of those areas are less critical than others! Measure high priority elements of your business, drive intensive action in response to those findings ... And leave the rest be. Right now I have clients who are bloated from and overwhelmed by an all you can eat voice of customer buffet. It's like $1 beers at a college bar - at some point, the more responsible party has to pull the plug and say: Stop! You've had enough!
I guess I'm calling for CX practitioners to step away from the dollar survey beers, focus on quality over quantity of feedback, then grab their insights and get moving! Get on a survey diet and work hard exercising their customer experience improvement muscles.
-Sarah Simon, Confirmit
Thanks, everyone. There have been a lot of great thoughts and suggestions. I can't say I disagree with any. I'll add my two cents worth...
I think things in 2015 will be business as usual. I don't think because we flip the calendar that everyone comes back to work on January 2 with a new appreciation for all things CX. (Sarah and I are in the Sisterhood of Cynicism. ;-))
Having said that, here are some thoughts.
When we make predictions, we need to consider the various CX maturity levels and how many companies are at each level. I think we have that top 5% - the CX Leaders - that get it, are on it, and know what they need to do today and next year. I feel like when we make predictions, we speak to these folks because our predictions tend to be about the "what's next" or the "what's going to take the CX/CX strategy to the next level" or the next whiz-bang thing. I'm not saying that's a bad thing; I'm just saying that, for someone who hasn't even started yet, it's daunting. Or worse yet, they think they need to start there - now. When we all know there are steps we go through to design and ultimately deliver a great customer experience.
The ones we should be focusing on in 2015 are the ones who haven't even started yet or who are just getting started. These are the folks who need to know how to get started or how to do best what they are doing today in order to move to the next level, respectively. There are so many companies who still need help getting the basics right that thinking about emotions or proactive service or the Internet of Things is only on their wish list right now. They'll get there, but they need to put one foot in front of the other, first. Baby steps.
The other piece that I think is a must-have for 2015 (as it should be every year) is a focus on the employee experience. There is so much data out there that employee engagement levels are at their lowest ever. That leads to churn and a whole host of other problems, not the least of which is a bad customer experience.
From a CX professional standpoint, I think we need to (a) make sure CX is clearly defined and (b) lose the label for everything now. It's not a catch phrase or a phrase of the day/moment. How do we get companies to stop misusing it, to stop calling every position they are trying to fill a CX position? It dilutes what we are trying to do, and it doesn't help our cause.
- Annette Gleneicki
Sarah, If you need the support of an ex-customer to validate everything you have said, I’m here to stand tall. Call on me any time. I came out of a corporate environment where it was a 100% daily focus on financials to the detriment of just about everything else including the customer. Business is a system and unless it’s viewed and treated as a system by those in leadership positions it will remain a singular focus and a perpetual race to the bottom. I’m actually quite appalled at how some people can land in leadership positions yet don’t have an ounce of leadership in their blood. I digress. You’re right. It’s the shiny new object syndrome. In my practitioner era, I generated a lot of customer data. The front-line staff accepted it, took it to heart, and we guided their actions and made gains among customers, albeit incremental ones. Change management requires leadership engagement and intervention and all they could come up with is an avoidance strategy by claiming we must need more data. More data my ass!! What we needed was managerial courage and leadership willing to see a system and commit to what mattered most to customers—that would have fed their financials even more. The problem for some CX practitioners is that they are in this alone or not in an influential enough position within their organization to deliver the “stop, we’ve had enough” message and survive long enough to tell about it. This is where some CX providers in my humble opinion are missing the boat and actually doing a disservice to the CX discipline. Tossing a pile of technology on the CX practitioner’s plate along with a pat on the back and a good luck Chuck and see you next year at contract renewal time. That’s what can and should change with CX providers but, as you point out, a services / consulting / change-management approach is less lucrative. When it’s only about growth, profitability, shareholders, and in particular executive bonuses, that’s what you’re going to get. If I’m overstating this, please temper me.
-Karl Sharicz, CX Partner