I've often said, it's not "all about the _____." It's about everything. Focusing on tech or people or process alone is rarely a road to success. The more years I spend looking at technology and the ways that organizations leverage it, the more I find this to be a universal truth.

So let's apply this idea to customer experience. The notion of tapping into happy customers for profit has been part of business for centuries. Hospitality has known about the importance of the customer’s heart since its inception.

A Short Recent History of Customer Experience

In more recent years, 1998 brought us B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore’s The Experience Economy, heralding the rise of a shifting market where customer satisfaction was something to be fed through deep assessment and design. Where we learned from the history of exceptional experience providers who demonstrated an opportunity for increased revenue by tugging at the heartstrings of their audience through all five senses. That work gave way to a multifaceted CX landscape.

In 2004, Gartner published Esteban Kolsky and Ed Thompson’s "How to Approach Customer Experience Management (CEM)," which spoke depths to the multifaceted, cross-organizational scope of the CEM and the need for deeply collaborative processes and assessment.

Fast forward to 2012's "The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge," by Doc Searls, which raises the stakes even higher, speaking to massive model changes where the customer is truly driving the relationship, an explosion of vendor relationship management (VRM), and the dismantling of “adhesionist” customer traps. Where vendors are challenged to have an experience game so seamless, so high quality, that customers can’t help but engage.

The Challenge: A Cultural Shift 

To some, this might sound utopian, particularly to those who are facing the daunting realities of the work and cost associated with the forecasted shift. This brings me back to my universal truth. These coming shifts are doomed if not executed by well-oiled, synergistic cultures that are focused and committed to an overall success story.

This, like so many other potentially powerful changes, requires a shift in vision, communication, education and collaboration within a culture of agency. Selecting single elements of technology or process won't grease the wheels. There needs to be a big vision focus on the measures, motives, and in fact, the relationships. Sound familiar?

Think of the oft-lauded Zappos example. Sure it's a badly bruised formerly living horse, but it's an important one that speaks validity to the possible. Theirs is a solid story of consistency and collaboration that permeates the culture. It is an organization of deep process, but also one of recognized humanity. The ten-hour phone call is a prize example of this. This performance doesn't come from a siloed, partially effective organization that's measuring CSAT or volume and leaving it at that.

So here's the question. Will a majority of organizations be ready with the skills and the technology to handle this work? Will the opportunity of providing great customer service elude all, but the Zappos of the world until the machines are smart enough to do the relationship building we’re working to understand?

To get to the promised land we've got work to do, and it's going to take more than a siloed tech team to do it. We’ll need the development and stewardship of a healthy culture with carefully crafted engagement strategies that straddle the needs of customers and employees, as well as the earnings report. We’ll need quality information that is retrievable through elegant systems, where touch points with the organization are responsive, effective and expertly designed. Where delighted customers part with even more of their cash because of a satisfying experience, a sense of relationship, and reward from their chosen brand.

So the gauntlet has been thrown down. Who's in?

Editor's Note: This is the first of Megan's articles for CMSWire. Until her next, why not catch up on some other thoughts on the Customer Life Cycle Experience