Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"Sucking Less" is Not a #CX Strategy

Image courtesy of toolstop
In this day and age, is there any viable excuse for not focusing on the customer experience?

I was part of a panel that participated in a Google Hangout on Air hosted by Fonolo a couple weeks ago. During the Hangout, the panel discussed a few stats on - and trends affecting - customer experience.

My lead topic was about this statistic from recent Forrester research: 93% of respondents say that the customer experience is among their companies' strategy priorities; however, reality shows that only 37% of companies have a dedicated budget for initiatives focused on improving the customer experience. The question posed to me was: Why aren't organizations seeing the value of the customer experience? Honestly, that's an entire Hangout on its own, but we boiled it down to a few minutes of discussion.

Are organizations seeing the value of delivering a great customer experience? Clearly they pay lip service, but we know that actions speak louder than words. Do they really get it? No. There's no real commitment of time, resources, and budgets to initiatives that improve the customer experience. Obviously those companies have not seen the chart from Watermark Consulting that shows how Customer Experience Leaders have outperformed the market over the last several years.

I spend a lot of time talking to prospects and clients about how to sell the value of customer experience to company leaders. It’s so disheartening because it seems so obvious. Instead, what I see and hear is this:
  • Companies still don’t make the connection between a great employee experience and a great customer experience. This is the foundation.
  • They focus on sales and acquisition rather than on retention. It becomes a never-ending vicious cycle if you can't keep your customers.
  • They focus on metrics and metrics alone. Yes, what gets measured gets done. But if you're measuring the wrong thing, you're driving the wrong behavior. And if you're only listening (VOC) for the sake of measuring - and not for acting - then you're doing it all wrong.
  • "Well, we have a customer service department." It's not the same thing!
I think there are three types of leaders that fill up the "don't get it" bucket. (There are probably more; feel free to add them in a comment below.)
  • Those who just simply don't understand that great customer experiences drive business success.
  • Those who just simply don't care (to understand) that great customer experiences drive business success.
  • And those who think they don't need to focus on the experience because "business is good."
The first two are pretty straightforward. That doesn't make them OK, but I'll bypass those and focus on the third type.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend was telling me about issues that his company is having. The company is a mess, literally: bad leadership, no transparency, no communication, no onboarding or training, lots of turnover, and so much more. Yet the business (sales) is flourishing. How is that possible?  They have long-term contracts, so they've got a captive audience. And they don't deliver on all of the requirements within the contract unless the customer complains; so then the requirement is fulfilled, the box is checked, and the customer is "happy" again. This is no way to do business. That's an experience alright - not a very good one. And yet, they are doing well, in spite of themselves. Why? Because, in their industry, they suck least.

"Sucking least" is not a strategy. It's not even an excuse for not focusing on the customer. It's lame, and it's lazy. If they think the business is doing "well" now, imagine what it could be if they pulled themselves together, did right by their employees and their customers, and became the best in the industry, not just the one that sucked least. Imagine what their revenues would look like then. Imagine what that would force the rest of the industry to do. There are no competitive pressures to do better by/for the customer right now. It's a sad excuse, but it's certainly a reason that we have CX leaders and CX laggards.

So here's a thought... and I'm going to borrow from and add to something James Lawther commented in a previous post: Instead of trying to push the noodle up the hill, if executives within your company don't get it, maybe it's time for new executives.

On the Google Hangout, I give an example of just such a change (a new executive who "gets it") for a client that I work with. What a huge transformation for them. The Hangout video is unlisted, so I can't share it here in this post, but if you'd like to view the portion where we discuss this topic, go here.

Update: There's a discussion happening over at CustomerThink, where this blog is syndicated, around this topic. Check it out and/or add your thoughts below. And the guys over at Quality Digest have included this blog/topic on an episode of Quality Digest Video.

We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are. -Max Dupree


  1. Very well said and I'm seeing the same things. Companies are structured for a different era - and view things through a product lens. I for one believe that these executives that don't get it will have their hands forced in the not too distant future

    1. Thanks, Frank, for reading and for your comment. Lining their own pockets and calling that a successful business is just wrong... and that's what's happening here. Their focus is misplaced, and the organization is in turmoil. Leaders, I believe, have the responsibility to ensure that everyone is taken care of... everyone = employees, customers, and themselves last.

      Annette :-)

  2. Annette, brilliant as my idea was I'm afraid it has a flaw. There aren't that many executives out there who so get it. So if you find a spare one out there let me know.

  3. Great job, Annette, on the article.

    Personally, I think that 'sucking less' can be a viable strategy in the short term if that fits with what the customer wants and competition allows.

    However, 'sucking less' can only be a point on an ongoing journey and will be not be defensible or sustainable in the long term as competition and customer demands evolve.

    We have to be careful not to generalise about what is right or wrong for companies or customers and understand the relative positions of both. As Confucius said "a journey of a 1,000 miles starts with the first step". Therefore, perhaps 'sucking less', for many firms and their customers, is a good first step on a longer journey.


    1. Thanks, Adrian. As long as the company takes a step in the right direction, I'm all for it. But if they get stuck in a rut and forget who pays the bills, it could/will be detrimental... eventually.

      Annette :-)

  4. Quality Digest Live covers "Sucking Less is Not a #CX Strategy" http://bit.ly/1cQt7s7 [video]

  5. There is a new movement within the "C" Suite these days that is gaining some momentum. The idea is not to focus on the competition (by "sucking less") but to focus on the customer. It reminds me of the original "Miracle on 34th Street" where the heads of Macy's and Gimble's decide to focus on the customer and thereby engender customer loyalty - even if the sale is outside of their doors.

    Yes, that's a Hollywood script but, when you examine your own experiences at malls, your car dealership, your health club, your doctor, you'll find that those seemingly innocuous moments of honesty resonate and drive loyalty. People will come back and buy if you extend that trust to by providing value.

    Just a couple of thoughts...

    1. Thanks, Joe. Always appreciate and value your thoughts!

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