"for our customers "only"" sign
PHOTO: Brandi Korte

Companies have made “immense progress” in their understanding of customer experience and what it takes to improve it. But have they truly changed their behavior to become more customer-centric? 

“On that curve, we are still early,” said Bruce Temkin, CCXP, customer experience transformist and managing partner for Temkin Group. “To have dramatic change, you need to have people who have skills and knowledge to do that, and it's all lining up. Over the next several years we’ll see acceleration and companies making changes based on the fact that we have more and more people who understand what to do.”

CMSWire caught up with Temkin and other customer experience experts in advance of today's CX Day, organized by the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA). CX Day, according to the CXPA, “celebrates the professionals and companies that make great customer experiences happen. It’s an opportunity to recognize great customer work, discover professional development opportunities, and strengthen professional networks." 

The organization is announcing awards, celebrating company success and hosting many online events in observation of the day.

To mark the day, we asked customer experience experts: Where are we with customer experience in 2018?

The Customer Experience Numbers Don't Lie

Numbers suggest companies can do better with customer experience, which is directly affecting bottom lines. According to the Temkin Group report, "Report: What Happens After a Good or Bad Experience, 2018," (paywall) 41 percent of consumers who had a very bad experience spent less with the company. 

Part of the challenge is consistency. Companies rate themselves as good or very good in customer experience on the phone with agents (67 percent), according to Temkin Group’s 2018 State of CX Management study (paywall). However, less than a third of companies believe they perform well in areas like in-store experiences (32 percent), on a mobile phone (32 percent), online chat with an agent (29 percent), on a computer, self-service (28 percent), on the phone with self-service (25 percent), across multiple channels (19 percent) and via chatbots (11 percent).

Related Article: How 2 Companies Transformed Bad Customer Experiences

CX Isn't a One-Trick Pony

Why do they struggle? Perhaps it's due to too many organizations still viewing customer experience as surveys and net promoter scores, said Diane Magers, CCXP and CEO of the Customer Experience Professionals Association. A customer experience professional who previously worked with organizations including AT&T and Sysco, Magers said she’s heard many tales from practitioners who call themselves customer experience-focused because they do market research or do user experience (UX) design.

The good news? Magers sees a shift with organizations and practitioners who view customer experience as a “holistic discipline.” She points to her own CXPA organization’s CCXP certification requirements. To obtain it, practitioners must pass exams and show proficiency in at least six areas that have a subset of competencies. “It’s not business as usual,” Magers added. “We see more people moving along the spectrum. They’re taking a couple of the competencies or components of customer experience, and they're starting to realize they can't just do one piece. I think we're also seeing it influence and enable other disciplines in the business.”

Can Strong Employee Experience Lead to Strong CX?

One way organizations can ensure quality customer experience outcomes is by taking a hard look internally. Magers is a firm believer that good employee experience programs can lead to better experiences — and she’s not alone. Researchers from Hallym University and California State University in Sacramento were investigating the connection as far back as 2012. “We used to hear employee engagement, which means you need to engage your employees so they do more for you and all of that,” Magers said. “But now it’s what I call moving beyond the bagels. Those are the basics. With especially the new generations in the workforce, you need to consider the employees the customer of your brand. And all the things we do for customer experience now can be shifted over and looked at the same way for employees.”

The companies that will stay ahead of their competitors in 2019 are those willing to invest in unleashing the potential of their people, said Olivier Camino, global COO and founding partner for Sitel Group. Flexibility, education and transparency are some hallmarks for strong employee experience that can lead to strong customer experience, he added. "Brands offering their workforce higher levels of flexibility, autonomy and creativity will benefit from a more productive and loyal workforce," Camino said. Employees, he added, appreciate companies that have engaged leaders who clearly articulate the organization's vision and values. "These values," Camino said, "must be clear, concrete and focused on people — empowering them to contribute their ideas to enhance experiences for themselves and their customers."

Related Article: Employees Can Make or Break Your Customer Experiences

Some Industries Continue to Ignore CX (at Their Own Peril)

Are all organizations currently invested in customer experience? Not quite, Temkin said. He sees some organizations — even today — not prioritizing customer experience because, well, they don’t have to. He refers to this as the "customer trapping mode." Organizations that offer must-have services such as cable or internet providers "trap customers into their product." 

"It’s not a bad strategy, right?" Temkin said. "It's likely even a better strategy than customer experience. It’s something customers need, and that’s great, business wise."

Customer experience hasn’t hit the pocketbook of industries like TV service providers — yet, Temkin said. “But as soon as competition increases, which is going to happen in that industry and is happening already, then that lack of focus on customer experience can be a major problem. And so you see the industries where customers can make more of a fluid decision are usually the places where there's been a much more active focus on customer experience.”

An example? The taxi industry is naturally forced to ramp up its customer experience game in light of Uber and Lyft. “Uber and Lyft said, ‘Let's not think about the taxi industry. Let's think about the actual needs of customers who want to go from one place to another,’” Temkin said. “Then, it's not a taxi problem anymore. It's how do we get people to comfortably be able to get from one place to another? What are their actual needs and wants?” It leads to customer experience maturity: when organizations collectively better understand what interactions change and what ultimately influences customer behavior. 

Related Article: Customer Experience Measurement: Back to Basics

Customer Experience Leads to Brand Purpose

Good customer experience is beginning to change the "brand purpose" of organizations in dramatic ways, according to Magers. There will always be shareholder expectations, but brands still need to have a purpose more than ever, Magers said. “It’s about creating experiences for the brand experience and having a purpose while connecting to all the things that we know Generation Y is going to want,” Magers said. “I think we're bringing that humanity back to business.”