If you’ve made some improvements in your organization’s customer experience (CX), then bravo — go ahead and celebrate! 

But then get back to work. The path ahead may be even harder.

Great Customer Experience Doesn't Happen Overnight

Companies can’t deliver great CX overnight. CX success requires a persistent commitment to improving over an extended period of time. As companies build their capabilities, they evolve through what Temkin Group has identified as six stages of CX maturity: 

  • Stage 1: Ignore: Company does not see customer experience as a key differentiator.
  • Stage 2: Explore: An ad-hoc group is established to understand how the company can improve customer experience.
  • Stage 3: Mobilize: A full-time executive leads the effort to improve customer experience and the company establishes a cross-functional governance system.
  • Stage 4: Operationalize: Company redesigns many of its operational processes using clear insights about customers.
  • Stage 5: Align: Customer experience behaviors are widespread across employees and they are supported by the company’s standard measurement and incentive systems.
  • Stage 6: Embed: Company delivers great customer experience without focusing on it explicitly. It comes as a result of the entire organization being committed to the company’s clear sense of purpose.

To understand where companies are on the maturity ladder, we looked at the results from more than 200 companies that completed our CX Competency & Maturity Assessment. 

The results, which are part of the report State of Customer Experience Management, 2016, show that only 10 percent of companies are in the top two stages of CX maturity, while nearly half are in the bottom two. And yet, in that same research, we found that more than half of large companies want to lead their industries in CX within three years.

Discord Between CX Ambitions and Capabilities 

Wow. So in spite of a lack of great CX capabilities, there’s a whole lot of CX ambition. In order to achieve their lofty goals, companies will need to accelerate their path up the CX maturity ladder. 

But how easy will that be? Can companies just push their way up to higher levels of CX maturity?

We examined what it takes to evolve through the six stages of CX maturity and found an interesting phenomenon: it’s not a linear path. There's a large gap between stage 3 (Mobilize) and stage 4 (Operationalize), which we call that the chasm between “fluff” and “tough.”

As companies evolve through the stages of CX maturity, they take on increasingly more difficult challenges. They begin by attacking the “fluff.” In these early phases, companies attack superficial issues. They eliminate problems, fix broken processes and find ways to improve customer experience. 

Learning Opportunities

All of this can be very valuable, but it does not in and of itself establish a foundation of lasting success.

In the upper three levels of CX maturity, companies attack the “tough” items. 

They not only improve customer experience, but also infuse customer-centric values and behaviors into on organization’s culture. They change the way that companies hire, train and promote people. They integrate customer experience efforts into their operational efforts, so that good CX is just part of running the business. And leaders inspire their organizations to be empathetic about the needs of customers.

Is Your Company Stuck in Fluff or Tough on CX?

While companies may muscle their way through the first three levels of CX maturity using a strong centralized team to drive change, this approach alone won’t bridge the chasm. That’s because the tough stages of maturity require a more widespread adoption of customer-centric practices. 

Here’s some of they ways fluff differs from tough:

  • Beliefs: In fluff, companies view CX is as being very important. In tough, companies believe that their brand requires great CX
  • Improvements: In fluff, companies solve problems affecting customers. In tough, companies create processes that repeatedly deliver great CX
  • Leadership: In fluff, leaders support and endorse CX efforts. In tough, leaders change their behaviors to embody and reinforce customer-centric values
  • Employees: In fluff, companies have active efforts to engage employees. In tough, employees understand their link to fulfilling customer promises
  • Insights: In fluff, companies have closed-loop voice of the customer programs. In tough, decisions are based on a deep understanding of customer journeys

Like any chasm that you choose to jump, be thoughtful about your approach. You’ll need strong support from across your organization. If you have that in place, then give it a shot. It may be difficult to clear the gap, but you’ll be thrilled when you land on the other side. 

Title image "So near..." (CC BY 2.0) by  drewwt 

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