unhappy woman sitting in glow of computer
By focussing on short-term profits, everyone — both companies and customers alike — loses PHOTO: Niklas Hamann on unsplash

Customer expectations are rising much faster than organizations’ capacity to meet those expectations.

The customer has awoken. For decades they have been comatose, anaesthetised by clever advertising and marketing aimed at pulling their emotional strings and directing them to buy substandard products and services at inflated prices.

Digital has awoken the customer. Digital has empowered the customer by giving them the tools to share and compare. The masses are now able to mass organize in a way never before possible. The masses are now able to communicate en masse.

As the customer rises to a never-before attained level of empowerment, organizations are beginning to reap the whirlwind of decades on disinvestment in customer experience driven by technological innovation. From automated phone systems, to outsourced customer support, to production-line localization, organizations have spent the last 30 years boosting profits by exploiting their current customers.

In most organizations, there is a culture of contempt for the current customer and an equal contempt for those who serve and champion them. Customer service is at the bottom rung of organizational hierarchy. In fact, it’s of such low strategic importance that it’s often outsourced.

The most dangerous occupation in many organizations is the true customer champion. At best, your career will stall. At worst, you’ll be fired. You’ll be seen as a troublemaker, a complainer, someone who doesn’t play the game. You’re the one who slows project delivery down, who is constantly asking for rewrites, coding and design tweaks. You’re that annoying voice that’s always saying: “We need to test this with customers.”

In 1977, 32 percent of U.S. shoppers experienced some issue in shopping. In 2017, that figure had risen to 56 percent according to the 2017 Customer Rage Survey. Of those consumers who filed a complaint, 79 percent were not happy with the issue resolution, according to a study by the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

The quality of customer experience (CX) has worsened, according to Forrester Research 2017 U.S. Customer Experience Index. In the 2017 study, the number of brands in the ‘excellent’ category fell to zero.

The overall UK Customer Experience Excellence (CEE) score dropped from 7.33 in 2016 to 7.08, a record low for the UK. “The vast majority of UK brands are struggling to keep pace with rising customer expectations,” according to David Conway, Director at KPMG Nunwood.

Why has this happened? Because organizations have used technology to boost short-term profits by exploiting their current customers and, where possible, replacing their employees with technology. One of the consequences is a growing extinction event for companies. According to Credit Suisse, the average life expectancy for an S&P 500 company is under 20 years, down from 60 years in the 1950s.

Obsession with short-term profits and exploding senior management bonuses has had another consequence: declining productivity. “Economist Robert Gordon has shown that US productivity growth slowed from a pace of about 3 percent per year between 1930 to 1970, to an average of about 1 percent since — excluding a brief spurt in the late 1990s and early 2000s,” according to a March 2017 article in Quartz.

How do we turn this around? An obsession with delivering long-term value to current customers. That’s how the likes of Amazon and Google have thrived. We need to build a current customer culture.