NASHVILLE — Here in the world capital of country music, what would the opening lines of Forrester’s US 2022 Customer Experience Index be if it were a hit country song?

Maybe something like…

"Blame it all on supply chain, we just don’t see no CX gains.
Customers here, customers there.
We just can’t get loyalty; we’ve got nothing to show.
Lost all focus on customers; lost our touch on customer care."

Thanks, Garth.

Even Garth Brooks, famous country singer and member of the prestigious Grand Ole Opry near the venue for Forrester's CX Conference North America event this week, can't help CX professionals sing their way out of this.

Customer Experience Quality Drops

Forrester, on the eve of its customer experience conference this week here at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, reported nearly 20% of brands are seeing a drop in customer experience quality, the highest proportion of brands to drop in one year since the inception of the survey seven years ago.

CX quality has fallen back to early 2020 levels — and this news comes one year after brands made gains. Forrester sees a waning focus on customers even though customers expect more from digital and hybrid experiences: only 3% of US companies are customer-obsessed, “putting customers at the center of their leadership, strategy and operations." That marks a decrease of 7 percentage points from the prior year.

Rick Parrish, VP and research director at Forrester, called these numbers “unfortunate” and said for brands to regain CX momentum, “leaders will need to refocus their behavior on helping their companies become customer-obsessed."

Where exactly are the top brands shining in CX, according to Forrester? Elite brands — the top 5% of companies in Forrester’s CX Index — beat others in providing emotionally positive experiences for customers.

“Emotion continues to be a key driver for delivering high levels of CX performance,” Forrester officials reported.

About 54% of customers who report positive emotions like feeling happy, valued and appreciated are willing to forgive brands that make mistakes, according to Forrester. Also, an average of 59% of customers this year trust the brands they interact with, and that’s 2 percentage points higher than the 57% of customers who trusted brands in 2020.

Forrester's Customer Experience Benchmark Survey, which collects data to calculate Forrester CX Index scores, is based on more than 96,000 US customers across 221 brands and 13 industries.

Related Article: Do You Have the Traits of a CX Leader?

Brands Prioritizing Wrong Focus for CX

No one seems to be off the hook from growing economic and sociopolitical forces. Airlines, auto manufacturers and hotels suffered losses in their average CX Index scores, according to Forrester. Researchers attribute this to environmental factors like rising costs, supply issues and staffing shortages.

“Something I've noticed is that brands are forgetting the ‘customer’ part of the customer experience,” Ken Peterson, president of CX at QuestionPro, told CMSWire. “There are a few things happening, like a lingering hangover from the COVID pandemic. Some brands are trying to recover missed profits from 2020–2021 and positioning it in the name of ‘safety.’"

The most prominent example is hotels that are dropping cleaning and room services, according to Peterson. However, this takes away from the experience, he added, because whether you took advantage of it or not, you no longer have a choice.

Airlines, he added, bought out pilots to retire to cut costs. The result: now there is a shortage. And as more people are trying to get that post-pandemic vacation, the seats are filled up, and the service is lacking, even before cancellations.

Learning Opportunities

Retailers, meanwhile, fall back on "supply chain" as the reasoning behind any out-of-stock merchandise even where that isn't the case: a local bottled water company, for instance, has plenty of stock but is complaining that the retailers are not putting it on the shelves due to labor shortages.

Related Article: Design Thinking in 2022: Centering the Customer Journey, Embracing the Metaverse

Put Focus on Customer Journey, Not Channel

How do brands get better here? Hank Brigman, SVP of Service Journey Strategies, referred to the evolution of the available/expected channels. The more channels, the greater the complexity of delivering consistently good customer experiences, those that create positive emotions, he added.

“In this growing omni-channel customer ecosystem, we need to focus less on the channel and more on the purpose of the individual’s service journey,” Brigman said. “Think of it this way: it’s not a channel strategy, it is a service journey strategy by channel. That is customer-centric, and that is what creates better outcomes for customers, employees and the organization.”

The evolution of available channels is complicating customer experience management for organizations, Brigman added, and companies need to get back to focusing on the customer and what they want to accomplish.

“As companies are adding channels, they are focusing on the tool or channel and not on what the customer is trying to accomplish,” Brigman said. “If a customer can’t accomplish their purpose in the channel they are in, it's bad for the customer and bad for the organization.”

Put Focus Back on Customer

Garth Brooks said he’s got friends in low places. Brands need customer friends in all kinds of places, no matter external forces.

“Doing better?” Peterson asked. “That is easy: put the customer back in the focus, and not rely on ‘safety’ and ‘recovery’ (of margins) in the business. Remember that most customers have been through the same things on a personal level — missed work, less money, accelerating inflation."

"Empathy, in person or digital, is not saying, ‘I've experienced it too,’" Peterson explained. "It is, ‘I completely recognize we can better help your situation.’ Offer solutions and not excuses. I know this sounds like every soapbox rant out there on this topic, but it is more true in today's world than it ever has been.”

Editor’s note: CMSWire is onsite this week at the Forrester CX North America conference in Nashville. Hit up managing editor Dom Nicastro if you’ve got a great CX story to tell.