Customer experience is fraught with seeming contradiction.

We're told incessantly how important digital and mobile marketing is. Heck, Facebook recently found that mobile video is far more engaging than good, old-fashioned TV!

We're told customers listen less to businesses and more to themselves, peers and trusted influencers. The oft-repeated stat is that B2B customers have 90 percent of their research done (and their decision-making) before they even contact a company about a purchase.

Yet new research suggests that "in-person communications" remain critical.

The CX Paradigm

Conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and the private Silicon Valley-based tech company Genesys, the study, “The Value of Experience,” pointed to the impact that high-level focus on customer experience (CX) can have. (Genesys sells CX and call center technology.)

For instance, when a CEO is in charge of the CX initiative, a majority of companies (58 percent) reported much higher profitability.

When CX investments are a priority, about the same percentage reported better revenue growth than competitors.

EIU interviewed 516 senior-level executives (nearly one-third CEOs) around the world, including 91 in North America. The respondents came from nearly two-dozen industries and from smaller firms of less than $500 million in revenue as well as larger enterprises.

Despite this growing importance of customer experience — and here comes another seeming contradiction — North American firms lag behind their global peers in acting upon it.

Get it Together, North America

Only 55 percent of North American respondents claimed CX is "very important" investment priority; globally, the average is 63 percent.

About one-third (36 percent) of North American firms have responded by increasing CX investment by at least 10 percent; globally, that number is 42 percent. And when it comes to measuring ROI for CX, only about half of U.S. respondents admitted they did it versus 61 percent worldwide.

The report painted a muddled picture to the outsider, but it appears the picture is muddled within, too. The report’s authors wrote:

"North American firms show signs of difficulty in grappling with the complexities of implementing customer experience innovation, especially considering disagreement in the C-suite regarding what barriers present the most formidable challenges. This is probably the biggest explanation for the relatively pessimistic view taken by North American executives regarding their own customer experience success."

'We're OK'

Yet there are North American CX champions who argue that things are better than they may seem.

Nancy Porte, vice president, global customer experience at the Melville, N.Y.-based analytics firm Verint Systems, points to customer experience ratings from organizations like Forrester's and Temkin Group, where put select North American companies at the top.

"Customer experience leadership examples can be found all over the world, but North America is definitely not lagging behind in that regard," Porte said.

She agrees, however, that C-suite leadership is "extremely vital, without doubt" to CX success, especially at the outset of an initiative.

"Initially it’s imperative for the customer experience manager to work with multiple members of the leadership team to help define the strategy and communicate consistent support of the program," she added.

Perception vs. Reality

Perhaps a more nuanced picture is provided by Koren Stucki, vice president of CEM Consulting at Reston, Va.-based customer experience software firm Clarabridge.

"Often times, the experience [companies] believe they are delivering is better than what customers actually perceive it to be, resulting in a sizeable gap.

Additionally, many companies still struggle to fully buy into what it takes to transform the business to be more customer-centric, including C-level executive sponsorship, investment in the right strategic and analytical resources, and prioritization of improvement initiatives against other organizational efforts," Stucki said.

Perhaps we should wait for the next survey to give our final verdict?

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  Title image by Paul J. Morris.