Focused on the shiny and missing the [entire] point

I’m sitting at an executive forum of about 30 different leaders from a bunch of different industries, listening to them discuss very similar problems. The big themes are:

  • We aren’t seeing the returns from our CX investments.
  • We aren’t moving fast enough.
  • We’re not growing our customer base as fast as we want.
  • We aren’t retaining at the level we want.
  • We’re afraid. 

Some days it’s like déjà vu all over again. Talk about #NailtheCXBasics!

I feel like I’ve seen a lot in the world of experience/engagement/marketing/behavior management. And a few years ago, I started to get really concerned about what I was hearing and seeing in the industry of customer experience. 

A few things first:

I’ve been working in consumer engagement since the late 1990s. It has been called a ton of things over the years, but my entire career has been built on the premise of helping consumers to get something they need. Or, helping companies get a specific behavior from consumers. 

I kid about this, but I’ve designed products and experiences that have done just about everything from getting you to invest in my fund, to upping your contribution to your 401(k), to encouraging you to buy my pre-cut refrigerator cookies, to enrolling in a health savings account, to losing weight, to taking a certain drug, to shopping at a specific store. 

I started writing about customer experience five years ago, after nine years of working as a CXO. Frankly, when I was leading multiple massive customer experience transformations, I never had time for anything — especially writing.

I started speaking, and being interviewed, about customer experience 13 years ago. My first interview on the topic was in 2007 (with Forrester) when I was named the Chief Experience Officer of Cigna. As the first person to have this title (at least at a big company), a lot of people wanted to talk to me about what I was doing. What I was doing? I was moving numbers. The right way.

I’d learned by doing, and had figured out a methodology that worked really well. I’d proven it at four (maybe five) companies. It wasn’t something I could put into a box, but it was a way of thinking about customers that felt different than what I was seeing in the marketplace.

I decided to start Chief Customer because I wanted to share this with more people. 

Back to my concern …  

I’m seeing customer experience practitioners spending a ton of time and effort on all the shiny things and not nearly enough time on the important stuff. When I say the important stuff, let me be super clear:

  • Yes, the world is moving at an incredible speed. 
  • Yes, jobs are being automated faster than we ever thought. 
  • Yes, everything seems to need to be digitized yesterday.
  • Yes, if you aren’t using AI or VR or whatever new thing someone has invented, you’re already behind the curve.

But those things aren’t really the important stuff. That’s the shiny stuff.

And a side-note P.S.: there are approximately 1.8 million, (yes, MILLION) people on LinkedIn today who call themselves “Customer Experience Experts” and talk constantly about all the things you need to do.

And I’m here to tell you, there is no such thing. I’ll say it again. 

There is no such thing is a “Customer Experience Expert.” Period.

I say this because there is no one size-fits-all approach to customer experience differentiation. There is no one set of rules, or set of things, you can do in a specific order to get you miraculous results. 

Some of us have learned this the hard way. Some of us have learned through an incredible amount of trial and error in the field. Most of my best learnings have come from my most massive failures … if you run into me at an event, feel free to ask me about the bracelet story. (That’s all I’ll say about that for now.)

However, not all is lost. There is something you can do that will have incredible impact, and so many companies skip it. 

Instead, companies jump right to spending a ton of money on journey maps! Or massive customer experience programs! Or a ton of technology improvements!

The reality is, many companies try to spend their way out of making the hardest changes. The changes that will actually ensure you’re delivering what your customers really want. The basics. 

That’s it. The basics.

Honestly, most of the time, customers are pretty darn satisfied as long as you deliver on those basics.

Every. Single. Time. 

The best thank you card, or set of loyalty points, or insider perks will not save your relationship with a consumer, or a customer, or a participant, if you’re not delivering the basics. 

Think about your own experiences with the companies you interact with. I’ve told travel stories many times before — and it is such an easy example to use. You can give me the best suite in the hotel, but if I find someone else’s hair in the tub, or a bug in my bed, we’re done.

You can move me across the tarmac for a tight connection in a Porsche — but if my flight doesn’t leave on time because of your equipment failure, we’re done.

You can deliver packages to me two days earlier(!) than requested. But there’s a reason I chose that delivery date. I travel for a living and I’ll for sure be returning the ruined product after it sat out in the Florida rain for those two days.

So many companies, frankly, fail at delivering on the basics. Whether it’s not picking up the phone, or sending a nasty letter when it isn’t necessary, or not having a website that answers simple questions. So many things just core to delivering a product or service, are missed.

Yes, for a truly successful customer experience transformation, you need a strategy. You need to change the culture. You need to do a ton of things. 

But I’ll say it time and time again:

Some of the biggest-impact things I’ve built in my career were simply based on delivering the basics consistently. Curious to know if you’re delivering those basic needs? Ask your customer-facing team members. Sales. Service. Whoever actually touches your customer daily. Ask them one single question:

What is the thing our customers expect us to do that we fail at?

The answer to that question will give you years of work.

Next month, we’ll do a bit of a look back at this past decade and a look forward into the next.

Until then, remember — your customer is in charge.