Why do many customer experience programs fail to deliver results? Over the last 10 years, I’ve been working on customer experience (CX) projects with dozens of organizations on four continents. Some of these organizations have been at the beginning of their CX journeys, others more mature. Here are some of the reasons why CX efforts stumble.


In general, too many projects and programs aimed at improving the customer experience do not achieve the expected results and benefits. A KPMG Nunwood research shows that despite all the efforts from organizations in the past few years, customers in UK do not feel improvement in the experience they get. Similar is the situation in the US. The Forrester CX Index indicates stagnation for a 3rd consecutive year. Here are some of the common mistakes from organizations, that I have observed throughout the years.

  1. Don’t realize that there is a difference between what customers say they want and what drives value for the organization

When Disney asked its customers what kind of food options they want in their theme parks, the majority of people answered that they want healthy food options such as salads. Disney however knows that most customers don’t eat salads in their theme parks, they eat hot dogs and hamburgers. People say, hey I’ve come here to have a good time, I deserve a treat, I’ll get a burger.


In our practice, we see this with almost every organization we work with. Here are some examples:

  • We worked with a US hospital system and conducted research with patients. What patients said is most important to them was the amount of time they spend with their GPs. However our analysis showed that what truly affects their behavior and brings value to the hospital system, was not the mean time spent with the doctor, but whether the doctor listens to them, acknowledges their concerns, and shows that they know them. You could imagine the type of actions and costs associated with following the path of “more time spent with the doctor” – extending the time allocated to each patient means fewer patient visits per day per doctor, so less income, more wait for patients all in the name of customer experience but the irony is that the metrics would not improve at all because what customers have said they want most is a deception, as they themselves may not be aware of their inner drivers. By contrast, acting on the true value drivers required a quick course on active listening and creating a deliberate experience, that triggers the value drivers. All things that didn’t require much investment but would lead to an actual improvement.


  • Working with a world-renowned credit card company, customers said that the most important aspect of the experience for them was that “the acceptance of the card”. The reality was, however, that the card had never been more accepted at that time than at any point in the past. So why have customers stuck with them for 20 and 30 years? Our analysis showed that the biggest driver of value for them was the feeling of prestige and pride with being their cardholder – i.e. providing symbolic value. You can imagine again the type of costs associated with following these different strategies – reducing the margins so the card is accepted by more merchants or working on the prestige of the offering.


  • We had similar findings working with Telecoms in the Middle East, Water Utility company in the UK, and many more. In fact, in more than 60% of the cases, the biggest drivers of value are different from what customers say is most important to them.



  1. Don’t measure the Customer Experience Before and After to show the benefits


Another major problem is that organizations don’t measure the CX or the aspects that their initiatives will have an impact on. This is of crucial importance because for CX to succeed it needs the support of the C-level executives. And what C-level executives care about are results. If you can’t show results, then the support may not last for long. In order to show results, you need to measure the various aspects of CX.


A few years ago we trained a team at a US insurance company on how to do Journey Mapping and how to redesign an experience. About a year later we checked on them and they said that they’ve done two projects but they felt that the enthusiasm inside the organization was fading. We asked what are the results but we found that they did not measure the CX aspects, neither before nor after the changes and thus they could not show any results. Their managing director expressed an opinion that they may have not selected the right journeys and aspects to focus on. That’s why it’s important, before such type of projects to gather data about the aspects of the customer experience, customer conversion, sales, costs, reviews, referral rates, complaints, etc.


  1. Measure only the CX Outcome but not the CX Aspects


Typically, organizations are measuring the quality of CX using so-called “outcome” or loyalty metrics such as the Likelihood to Recommend (Net Promoter Score ®), Customer Satisfaction, Ease of Doing Business, etc.


These are important measures, but just measured by itself will not give an indication as to what CX aspects would move the needle on them.


Customer comments (verbatim) are also very useful, but most of the time they are insufficient as a base for setting a wholistic strategy. We are currently working with an energy provider and by reading and tagging customer comments you can see that price is mentioned in both positive and negative comments. We also found that in certain markets there were equally positive and negative comments relating to price. This shows that clearly there are other aspects that affect customer’s perception of price but customers are not able to verbalize them (and possibly are not aware of them themselves).


The statistical analysis showed that, as it often happens, the price was not the main driver of value for the energy company and the were other conscious and subconscious aspects of the experience that had the biggest impact on customer attitudes and decision-making.


That is why it’s important that you use not just outcome metrics and customer verbatims but that you also measure the key aspects of customer experience that have the biggest effect on those outcome metrics and financial performance. To do that you need to first find out what those key CX aspects are.


  1. Don’t Define the Intended Experience


Unless you have defined the intended experience, even with the best intention, different people and departments will do what they think is good for the customer or the organization… But the thing is that different people have different views as to what’s most important or best for customers – some look for efficiency, others to portray traditional values, be innovative, or aim at wow-ing customers. These are all very nice but also different and in some cases of conflicting objectives. This was it’s next to impossible for the organization to move in the same direction and as a result, the CX gets stalled.


You could easily test this with a simple experiment. Ask people to write on a post-it what is the experience you as an organization is trying to deliver? If people look back at you as if this is some type of exam you are giving them or thinking this is some type of a trick question, or that it takes them a lot of time to write something down, then this tells you something. Chances are, that you’ll get many different answers, and if that’s the case, then you need to define the customer experience you are trying to deliver.


  1. Work on Complaints, but don’t do anything with Compliments

Once, a client in Dubai was explaining to me in detail, with lots of pride how they handle complaints. I said “Great, what do you do with compliments?”. A sudden moment of silence followed and then the revelation that they don’t do anything with compliments. Organizations can learn from compliments as much from complaints. Working on complaints is working on diminishing the negative emotions in the experience, but this doesn’t mean that positive emotions will automatically appear in the experience. Learning from compliments about what creates positive impressions and memories and trying to replicate those experiences on a broader scale would elevate the positive emotions in the experience and turn merely satisfied customers into advocates and brand ambassadors.


If things just happen with no reasons to complain but also nothing out of the mere process, then people would typically rate you with 3 or 4 on a 1-5 scale. But if there is a reason for compliments too, then they can give you a top box mark. Research from Xerox found that the probability of customers buying again equipment from them in the next 18 months is 6 times bigger if they rate them with 5/5 than with 4/5.


  1. Work on Customer Experience, but not on Employee Engagement


Is it possible to consistently deliver a great customer experience, if you have apathetic and disengaged employees? Most certainly, not! There is logic, isn’t it? But this logic is also tested.


In Temkin Group’s, state of CX Measurement report for 2018, there are 51 companies, that deliver above average CX (CX Leaders), 62 companies that deliver slightly above average CX (CX Moderates), and 82 companies that deliver average or below average experience (CX Laggards). They found that the percentage of CX Leaders who earned “good” or “very good” employee engagement ratings is more than 5-times larger than the percentage of CX Laggards.


Gallup, on the other side, reports, that employees who are engaged are more likely to improve customer relationships, with a resulting 20% increase in sales.


However, Working on Employee Experience you could fall into the same trap as what we described in #1. Employees, similarly to customers, may tell you one thing, but the things that influence most their attitudes and behavior to be other.


Here is an example of a company that has defined both the experience they want to deliver to Customers (#3) and Employees.


They have also created a logo (internal branding) for their program for Customer and Employee Experience. The number 5 refers to the 5 emotions they target in customers and employees: “Cared for, Understood, Successful, Trust, Happy”.

And here’s what they have prepared for the “Day of the Employee” – little packets, to thank employees for going the extra mile.


  1. CX Responsibility but no Authority


Someone needs to be responsible for the CX, to measure it, to track the researches, to constantly look for innovation and improvement, to do trainings, to look after progress on the different CX initiatives, to advise other departments on CX matters and to be consulted with, when there would be changes that will affect the customer experience.


To drive changes, however, the voice of this person needs to be heard and have weight inside the organization. That’s why responsibility without authority is not enough. And this leads us to point #8…



  1. A Board Member Must Lead


For a sustainable change, you need not only support in principle but in practice. And so it’s important that a member of the Executive Council is the sponsor and personally involved with the management of CX and implementation of CX initiatives.


What the C-level executives are most interested of course are results. This brings us back to #2 (measuring the experience before and after to show the results), #3 – measuring not just the experience but also the aspects that affect the outcome measures and #1 finding and focusing on the key value-driving aspects.


It typically takes 2.5 – 3 years to see a sizeable change in the metrics and results on an organizational level (could be quicker on journey level or for some “quick wins”). This may seem like a long time, but the reality is that for most large international organizations it takes a long time to put the wheel in motion, then to implement the changes, then for customers to take notice of these changes, and finally, this notice to be reflected in the CX metrics and financial performance.



  1. Don’t consider it as a Change Management Program


Here are some of the Change Management Activities needed for sustainable CX:


  • Executives – It’s necessary to work with the Senior Leadership to present the vision for CX and to motivate the teams to overcome the natural resistance to change in a more delicate way.
  • Middle-Management – Building on top of the work with senior executives, develop the skills of their direct reports to coach, get feedback, and to motivate the teams to deliver the desired customer experience.
  • Teams – Engage the teams so they can understand more about the desired change and why it’s important, how to adapt and apply the principles of the desired customer experience into their daily work. In most cases, it’s not about doing more work, but doing work in a new. more customer-centric way.
  • Champions – Train a small group of Champions / Ambassadors of CX, who could support the CX work by assisting and coaching employees in the different teams, lead cross-functional meetings for the exchange of “know-how”, seek opportunities for improvements, etc.


  1. Don’t Communicate Enough


Last but not of least importance, it’s crucial to communicate and provide updates on the different program activities, so this doesn’t become a “flavor of the day” thing. Communicate the research insights, the roadmap progress, milestones achieved, etc. These communications need not come only from the Communications or the CX Department. The CX needs to be constantly reminded in communications from the CEO and other senior leaders. The CEO could do a video introducing the intended customer experience and then to remind the organization with every occasion not just what is being done in the implementation of the strategy but also on a personal level, how he/she is living by these principles when meeting customers.



Bonus #11 (because why should we limit ourselves to 10)

Oftentimes, people think that they know what customer experience is and say things like “I know what customers want, I myself am a customer” or “it’s different for us, customers only buy based on price” etc. In many cases, their views are based on their own biases and prejudices. Therefore it’s important to improve their understanding of CX and Behavioral Science (cognitive biases that affect customer decision-making) by sharing customer research insights, examples, communication, and most of all – results.


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