Customer Experience Transformation is the new black!

As a marketing chap with a few remaining shreds of self-awareness I both love and loathe a buzzword or two. We’ve all heard them bandied about – “Wearables” was very much 2014 and the year before it was all about “big data”. Well, I can tell you now 2016 will be the year of “Customer Experience Transformation” and this time I think we may actually be on to something. Contrary to the fads gone by, CX transformation is an ambition that doesn’t begin or end with a piece of technology or a platform. It permeates everything a business does and every point where it connects with a user, with a single goal: to provide a service or product that places customer needs at its heart. My bet is that it’s here to stay.

So, my next question would be – if this is so important why am I still getting frustrated with some of the services I receive and why are so many brands falling short of our expectations?

Firstly, it’s worth clarifying that customer centred marketing is nothing new to senior marketing folk. The idea that everything your business does should be informed by what your customer wants and needs is something that most people in the business aspire to. So, if I’m expecting marketeers to hang on every word I’m saying when I talk about CX transformation, I can forget about it.

Business transformation (be it digital, IT or CX) often happens in one of two scenarios. Either you have a truly progressive and visionary leader who is driving a customer centric agenda (e.g. Apple) or your back is up against the wall and it’s a choice of transforming or going under (e.g. Burberry).

In both situations the CEO and the board can drive this agenda from the top down. Objections around team structure, ownership and process can be addressed head on without slowing down or deviating from the ultimate ambition of a business with its customers at its heart.

That said, there is a third scenario that is increasingly becoming the biggest driver for transformation within a business. More often the CX transformation agenda is borne amongst senior marketeers, usually where two teams feel there is more to be gained by aligning their objectives around their customers. These guys have a rough road ahead of them. They will face objections from other parts of the business who fear what this means for them, their jobs, their teams and their resources. For good reason too - change is scary and the unknown is really scary. Sadly, this customer centric ambition often remains just that… an ambition. And after years of seemingly getting nowhere, talented and visionary marketeers will move on somewhere else where they are more likely to affect change.

No business can ever say it is transformed, that they absolutely understand their customers and have utilised all available technology to deliver the prefect experience. It is a moving target - habits change and customer expectations fluctuate constantly. Rather, it is about a fundamental shift in how a business is structured internally and how it co-ordinates everything it does, from communications to operations to logistics, around the needs of their customers. As corny as it sounds, it’s about the journey not the destination. Sorry!

Going back to those senior marketeers who want to drive change, how can we agency folk help them? What can we do? Firstly, accept that business reality trumps everything every time. When delivering a CX strategy, it’s all about the execution. I can’t tell you how many CMOs have told me about filing cabinets of strategy documents that have been left unimplemented (or even unimplementable).

In our experience, building a “coalition of the willing” has been incredibly effective. This entails delivering a CX framework around the resources and objectives of willing teams alone then immediately demonstrating to the business how this is realised against a live brief. With a compelling business case to demonstrate to the broader business the aim is to use more carrot and less stick to bring others on board.

I’m definitely not saying this is the Holy Grail and the ultimate answer to these challenges, but it is a step in the right direction. The sooner us agency folk get that CX transformation is as much about strategy as it is about winning hearts and minds the sooner we can get back to making up some awesome buzzwords for 2017 and beyond!