I recently spent the day at the Marketforce 20:20 CX Summit in London listening to someexcellent speakers debate the state of the nation in the world of Customer Experience (CX). It has been a while since I attended a conference and so I was interested to see how the discipline had progressed.

The conclusion, depressingly, was… not very much.

I have had the pleasure and privilege of meeting some excellent CX practitioners and companies over the past few years. However, this remains an immature area of business whereby the individual experts tend to be constantly busy in full time roles or interim work (/ speaking engagements), whilst those businesses in the vanguard continue to set a direction that many of their peers are simply incapable of following.
Why? My logic is based on the argument that, in the world of the customer, there are four main types of company:

1. Those that give the single fingered salutes
Firstly, there are those companies that just don’t give a da*n about the customer – and why should they? Not every product or service needs to feel the warmth of a client at every sale. You could be in a great business making mass market products that generate a lot of profit with a “pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap” mentality in a world of throw away consumerism. As long as you give them what they want, you do not necessarily need to care about them.

2. Those trying the baby steps
These are companies that need to spend all their effort on fixing the basics (or, put nicely, creating operational excellence). In these businesses, customer data is collected and basic metrics are tracked. There are pockets that focus on the customer, often in areas such as call centres where front line staff are dealing with complaints on a daily basis. However, problems tend to be fixed as they arise – there is no end-to-end planning. More worryingly, the key trait is that there are few execs that can even claim to “get it” never mind push it strategically.

3. Those that are fighting the good fight
There are many companies in this space – they feel proud and should do. In these businesses, there is a new language around needs, personas, missions and journeys. Companies use the acronym NPS at Board level – some have even progressed to using their own measurement systems. Overall, there is a commitment to the concept of “Customer Experience”, often lead by a “Head of CX” or even a “CX Director”. All good so far.

4. Those that are the Shangri-Las[1]
Finally, there are the companies that are not just cool, but impressive, both fiscally and operationally. These businesses earn their quarterly profits almost effortlessly whilst continuing to drive innovation and market leadership. They can almost predict future interactions with their customers, who in return are passionate about (or at least admire) the brand and want to be involved in it. Failures are simply opportunities waiting to happen. Beautiful words – but portrayed by only a small number of companies world-wide.

So – why should we sack all the CX Directors?

The reasoning is based on a very specific question raised at the CX Summit, namely:

“How do I convince my Board that CX is a strategic area for the business?”

The prevailing mood at the conference was that businesses had accepted the need for CX and that many companies were now showing a genuine commitment. However, at the Board level, the world is still run by left-brained people that are logical in nature and so require rational outputs on which to make decisions.

CX suffers from the fact that it is a discipline that is associated with the right brain (i.e. emotions) and so spends too much of its time talking about softer subjects such as needs, missions, journeys, etc. Boards just find this topic too difficult to understand and so will never treat CX seriously.

As a result, the only response offered at the Summit was that CX had to prove itself by measuring successes quantitatively so that they could be presented to the Board in a logical manner. I.e. we cannot beat them, therefore, we need to join them.

And that, unfortunately, is why we need to fire all the CX Directors.

The answer to the question “How do I convince my Board that CX is a strategic area for the business?” is – “You don’t”. Customer Experience is NOT a strategic function – i.e. companies don’t require a Board level role where they talk about unmet needs, NPS scores or service design based propositions.

What you need is a different question, namely:
“How do I convince my Board to become a customer-led organisation?”
Customer-led organisations are the Stage 4 businesses defined above (the Shangri-La’s). These are the companies that CX Directors aspire towards such as Google, Disney, Virgin or Zappos that have a fundamentally different DNA to the businesses that many of us work in today. In these companies, CX is not a Board level position, it is an over-arching ethos that the Board whole-heartedly adheres to.

So, if this is the question – what is the answer?

Having worked with many companies over the past few years, we have seen five common threads emerge:

1. You need the right conditions – A burning platform is a force for change
The “burning platform” is a terrible phrase but unfortunately apt. Businesses need a strategic reason to make fundamental changes (often at speed). Without this, they will not have the guts to profoundly alter their existing behaviours.

2. You need the right support – visionary leadership is key
You need the person at (or very near) the top to be on-side that a customer centred approach is the only way forward. Without a cornerstone sponsor that wields power on the Board, you will never get permission to be bold.

3. You need education based (partly) on fiscal numbers
Whilst there is an emotional argument to say that being focused on your customer is a good thing, there are actually enough case studies globally today showing that customer-led businesses have far higher ROI than those that are not (Forrester and Temkin tend to have the best tables). There are many ways to educate a Board and the numbers are key, but never forget the benefits of taking the Board out of their every-day environment to show just how powerful direct access to the customer can be.

4. You need a structured approach that directly links your customer to your corporate goals
The building blocks for a customer-led business are actually not that difficult – there is no secret sauce. There are well defined steps that can connect market opportunity and unmet customer needs to new solutions and financial returns. You simply need the right skills in place to deliver it.

5. You need a roadmap that links quick wins to long-term change
Most companies fail to move from Stage 3 to Stage 4 because they are unwilling to pay for a 3-5 year process to build the concepts of CX into the DNA of the organisation. Therefore, you need to show quick wins early and link them to many incremental changes, rather than building a large scale big-bang. However, the Board needs to see these quick wins as merely being proof points of a 3-5 year vision that they need to buy-into. Without this, they will never succeed.

All this leads to some much better news for the CX Directors in the process of being sacked as a result of this article. CX needs to be a Transformational role within the business, not a functional expertise. Think of it as a higher calling – to be the hero, or guide that leads the business towards a new dawn. You need to be the person that is taking the issues of “burning platform” and building a strategy for the business that fundamentally changes the DNA of an organisation.

If you have the title and are sat on the Board – then very well done. Stop talking about CX and use your position to start talking about how the Board should build a Customer-led Company.