Customers and organizations have widely different views on how well brands meet CX expectations, and there is no indication that the gap is narrowing.

Only 10% of customers surveyed by Acquia strongly agreed that most brands meet their expectations for what they consider a “good experience.” Yet 82% of marketers believe they meet customer expectations with regard to customer experience.

Among the biggest issues cited by consumers:

  • When I engage with businesses online, I feel like I am treated as any other generic customer, not as an individual with my own needs (cited by 66%)
  • Brands do not do a good job using my personal preferences to predict my needs (60%)
  • I often feel that brands who should know me don’t know me very well (60%)

It’s important to close this gap. According to a 2021 Emplifi survey, 1 in 6 online shoppers will abandon a purchase because of a single bad experience. (Registration required for survey.) Of those who say they are loyal to a brand, 63% say they will switch to a competitor after a poor experience.

Preliminary results from a SAS survey — due for release in late March — show a similar discrepancy, according to Jon Moran, the company’s Head of Martech Solutions.

Experts cite a few different reasons for the disconnect between brand CX efforts and customer perceptions:

Absence of CX Inclusion

According to the upcoming SAS survey, 85% of companies are CX followers or laggards, two classifications that fall outside the "CX Champion" tier. 

Tying CX strategy to a company’s digital strategy makes the biggest performance difference, as it ensures the creation of enterprise-wide CX goals and key performance indicators (KPIs), according to Moran. Based on the SAS survey, champions are three times more likely than laggards to link CX and digital strategies. Yet less than 40% of organizations are heavily focused on making this connection.

Additionally, the followers and laggards tend to use top-down decision making in determining their CX strategies and policies — even though there might not be a true head of CX — rather than delivering CX through cross-functional and decentralized teams, finely tuned systems and collaborative platforms designed to fuel speed and innovation.

“Companies need to make CX an integral part of overall digital and corporate strategy,” Moran said. “New corporate initiatives are often left as stand-alone efforts. Even with strong senior executive support, such initiatives must fight for attention and prove how and where they add value.

"To avoid this pitfall, CX champions elevate CX strategy to the level of overall digital — and organizational — strategy. Doing so ensures that CX will operate using clear objectives and KPIs that cascade through the company.”

The Staffing Challenge

Staffing shortages continue to challenge brands’ CX efforts, according to Jenni Palocsik, Verint Vice President, Product Strategy Group Operations. Last year, the company released a report on the Engagement Capacity Gap, with an update currently in the preparation stages.

“Two years into the pandemic, organizations can see a future of constant change and continued challenges — particularly in the midst of significant employee retention challenges amid the Great Resignation and widespread disruption in the global supply chain — issues that seemingly have no resolution in sight,” Palocsik said.

“While work from home has become the go-forward workplace paradigm, organizations are implementing new tools and tactics to respond to the need for setting employees up for success that’s sustainable. As well, there’s a need for kinder, gentler more human-centric engagement — and companies are devising technology-infused strategies to safeguard both employee wellness and the delivery of empathic customer engagement.” 

To address the workforce challenge and shrink the customer engagement gap, Palocsik recommended:

  • Empower employees to knowledgeably and empathetically provide customer support, increasing engagement
  • Create sustainable remote work solutions, enabling collaboration and nurturing employee wellness
  • Find the right balance between automation and human interaction, using technology to support self-service and human-enabled engagement
  • Support digital-first engagement to orchestrate customer journeys with a connected experience across the channel of choice
  • Create meaningful connections across all channels, breaking down silos and using analytics to turn data into insights
  • Ensure attention to detail for compliance assurance, fraud prevention and data security

Related Article: How Talent Shortages Are Impacting New Technology Adoption

Lack of Measurement, Analytics

CX followers and laggards aren’t tangibly measuring CX and have limited use of analytics and AI. However, both are increasingly important to close the CX perception gap, according to Moran.

“Organizations must be keenly aware of how effective their CX efforts are now — and what they should do next,” Moran said. “CX champions are analytics power users and leverage analytics throughout the CX process. They also stand apart from the pack in terms of the progress they are making toward ongoing mastery of AI.”

Craig Charlton, SugarCRM CEO, agreed: “Data fuels the actionable insights that sales, marketing and service teams need to act decisively at every critical touchpoint — to drive high-definition customer experiences — and to reverse the Great Customer Resignation.”

Learning Opportunities

Volker Hildebrand, SugarCRM Senior Vice President of Product Marketing, added, “It starts with removing blind spots: understanding what your customers want and predicting what they need next. It continues with a focus on eliminating busy work — making it easier for customers to engage and empowering employees to create the experiences customers expect. Finally, it removes roadblocks and friction points to enable brands to consistently deliver on their promises.” 

Moran also cautioned companies to avoid “random acts of technology,” saying it's tempting to use every type of available technology. “However, absent a solid CX strategy, organizations can easily end up with disappointing results. As the survey indicated, organizations with the poorest levels of CX are just as likely — sometimes more so — to be using the latest technologies, as are their more successful peers.

"True CX champions take a more thoughtful and coordinated approach to adopting and implementing technology.”

A Focus on the Wrong Metrics

Though measurements are certainly important, companies tend to measure the wrong things, according to Joseph Michelli, author of multiple CX books, the latest titled "The AirBnB Way."

“Customer experiences are like a sense of humor," said Michelli. "We think ours is excellent, but it’s up to others to validate our perception. The perceptions of leaders and customers continue to diverge. While leaders see supply chain bottlenecks and reduced staffing as contributory business challenges, customers see them as experience breakdowns. 

"Since leaders view current conditions as transitory, they can underestimate the impact of experience delivery issues on customers. For example, putting up a sign saying 'please be patient — we are short-staffed' may seem considerate — but to the customer, it’s little more than an excuse for slow service delivery.”

Most managers and leaders want to create an engaging customer experience, added Michelli. “However, performance metrics can favor cost-reduction or sales performance instead of improving customer ease, increasing customer referrals or driving customer delight. Finally, customer experience often becomes siloed or relegated to a set of initiatives as opposed to an enterprise-wide responsibility, business strategy and decision-making guide.”

Related Article: 3 Metrics Will Drive Marketing Outcomes in 2022

Lack of Consistent Engagement

There is a disconnect between consumer and brand perception because consumers view their experience with a brand in its entirety, according to Kurt Schroeder, Avtex chief experience officer.

“Customers don’t delineate between sales, customer service, messaging, etc.,” Schroeder said. Instead, they focus on the big picture. Unfortunately, many organizations look to improve interactions across siloed channels rather than drive engagement consistency as a whole. 

"As a result, the customer may have a great experience with sales and a lack-luster experience with customer service. Different systems, leadership, processes and resources stand in the way.  Instead of organizing around the customer, most organizations have organized around functions, unintentionally providing a disconnected and inconsistent customer experience.”

Narrowing the CX Perception Gap

Brands who wish to position themselves as CX champions — and not laggards — need to develop a digital-first strategy that takes evolving customer wants into consideration.

With knowledge of what causes the CX perception gap, as outlined above, companies can better understand what customers want, implement calculated changes and drive engagement.