Customer Experience

20 Years In: The State of the CX Profession

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A key theme of the Forrester CXNYC event was how customer experience can and should drive growth for the business. Yet the headline from Forrester’s 2018 CX Index stated the industry appears to be plateauing. Consumers said that brand experiences are overwhelmingly mediocre—62%—and the number of consumers who think experiences are above-average continues dropping each year, from 18% in 2016 to 15% this year.

Harley Manning, Forrester Research, at CXNYC

In a post-event podcast discussion, Harley Manning and I both reflected on our 20+ year careers in CX. Despite this year’s Index results, we both agreed that the industry has come a long way. CX used to be a specific capability but now has enterprise impact, contributing to topline and bottom line success.

The DNA of Today’s CX Leaders

Organizations all (nearly) now understand that ownership of the customer cannot sit in a single silo and CX has become a boardroom issue. We saw this with several of the leaders on stage at the CXNYC event and Harley and I remarked on the different types of backgrounds we see filling the CX lead seats, from Jami Blake at Tiffany’s who started her career in the call center and now leads the Voice of the Customer practice, to Alice Milligan from Citi who comes from a more traditional executive background and is now responsible for ensuring a seamless experience across all touchpoints.

Despite varied experience, these leaders all have several things in common. Most notably, they are using change to their advantage–as a catalyst to execute strategic initiatives faster, develop essential talent, apply technology and invest in powerful partnerships.

As we all know, it is no longer a choice to reinvent, but rather a question of how well you are able to do it, especially in established industries. We see this from consistent CX leaders like USAA, as well as new innovations from large incumbents like Marcus by Goldman Sachs and BOOK by Cadillac. As Milligan said on stage at the event, “You need a strong backbone for transformation.”

Innovation Unseats Inertia

However, the speed of change and the rising expectations of consumers are likely large contributors to those results we see in Forrester’s Index. Brands and practitioners need to find solutions to keep pace. IBM’s recent C-Suite study showed that 75% of businesses that reinvent to outperform place a high value on experimentation. Most adopt agile methods for quicker learning and faster failure. Harley made an excellent point when discussing Design Thinking, pointing out that discovering a false assumption can end up saving an organization millions in not designing the wrong products or establishing incorrect positioning.

Scott Lieberman, IBM iX, at CXNYC

There’s also an opportunity for advancing our tools and techniques as practitioners. I noted during the many sessions I attended that most have changed very little over the years. Standout iX clients focus on standard techniques like personas and journey mapping but are also often utilizing sophisticated analytics. Journey analytics did not exist 20 years ago but offer a much more detailed view of customer and results. In my own presentation, I spoke about AI as a tool customer experience professionals need to more thoroughly embed in the fabric of experiences. AI poses the opportunity for much more than chatbots; with this technology, we have the capability to create more human experiences for both customers and employees, delivered at speed and scale. That’s a topic for an entirely separate blog post, but great food for thought.

Champions for Change

In the end, it’s not about any one tool or methodology. This event was a great reminder that while a single great leader, a cool experience or a seamless technology implementation can be inspiring examples, we need more than that to climb past this professional plateau. Customer experience is at the center of a complex framework for every business, but Marketing can’t do this work alone. All leaders pushing forward the Digital Reinvention agenda need to fundamentally reimagine how their organization intends to innovate, operate and engage its environment, customers, employees and partners.

In a world where change is constant, the organizations that remain open to change have the greatest ability to move the needle with customers. Whether you’re a CX vet or not, we all know that when the user wins, we all win.

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Vice President/Partner, North American Leader, IBM iX

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