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CX Is Complicated, Not Complex

Jim Tincher Jim Tincher 10/28/2021

The Cynefin framework, developed more than 20 years ago by researcher and management consultant David Snowden, remains a solid context for strategic decision-making.

It helps categorize business issues, enabling you to respond more effectively…and in the process, create a successful, science-based approach to improving customer loyalty.

The framework defines five states:

  • Simple (aka Obvious, Clear) Marked by repeating cause-and-effect patterns and consistent events that represent “known knowns.”
  • Complicated Representing “unknown knowns” and requiring some effort and expertise to reveal cause-and-effect relationships.
  • Complex The “unknown unknowns” marked by flux and unpredictability.
  • Chaotic High turbulence with no clear cause-and-effect connections, requiring urgent action to establish order.
  • Disorder Comprising a domain of shifting, unknowable states with no clarity.

Know where you stand before you act

Understanding the category of the challenge you face is a critical first step. It will guide how you manage your approach.

Some companies assume that customer experience (CX) is Simple. These organizations staff CX with a manager-level person, often from market research, who primarily focuses on surveys and survey reporting.

In this view, customer needs are known, and the primary role of CX is to report on the current state of customers so that existing teams know how to react.

These organizations typically don’t make much progress.

Many other companies feel that CX is Complex. This thinking holds that there is no “right” approach. Instead, competing ideas vie to improve the customer experience. If LinkedIn could be considered a community, it would place CX in this category, as so many different approaches jostle around and clash there.

(That’s just one reason – there are others! – that you can’t rely on advice or concepts promoted on LinkedIn for your approach. Too many bad ideas gain traction and it’s too difficult to judge results or effectiveness.)

Complicated states require fact-based management to discover the right answers for your company and your customers.

I think we can all agree that CX is not Chaotic (though some days…), because there are clear causes and effects in how customers respond. Thankfully, Disorder isn’t in the running either.

No, CX falls squarely in the Complicated bucket, requiring expert diagnosis to reveal cause and effect relationships, which exist but are unclear.

Effortless isn’t the ultimate goal

An example of how LinkedIn makes CX seem complex are the posts I’m constantly running across that tout that the best way to improve CX is to simplify.

This appealing approach has the misfortune of not working.

Nearly every piece of data I can find confirms that while simplifying the delivered experience does reduce disloyalty, simplification efforts don’t lead customers to purchase more or stay longer – the hallmarks of true loyalty.

Yet the seemingly intuitive practice of focusing on providing effortless experiences persists. A combination of factors fuel its longevity, including simplistic thinking, vendors looking to sell simplification products (“Just centralize everything on our platform, and customer experience improves!”), and a lack of scientific approaches.

The research is clear that an emotional connection is the hallmark of loyalty. And this leads to one of the differentiators between complex and complicated states: complex situations are filled with “unknown unknowns,” areas that require pattern-based leadership and need to be discovered as you go.

Build on what you know

Instead, CX presents “known unknowns.” We know that an emotional connection is critical to CX. We just don’t necessarily know how to create that emotional connection. Instead of pattern-based leadership, complicated states require fact-based management to discover the right answers for your company and your customers.

Analyzing what those rare organizations with successful B2B CX programs are doing – including Dow, Hagerty, Aramex, and UKG – it’s possible to structure a fact-based approach to understand and improve the customer experience.

To replicate their success, build the capabilities needed to show how your operations impact emotions. Those emotions, in turn, impact behaviors, which impact loyalty. Then use technology and change management principles to structure your approach.

This approach is designed around the needs of B2B and B2B2C organizations, but the same concept translates to B2C ecosystems.

It is possible to discover the right way to manage your customer experience. But doing so requires you to thoroughly analyze what is true about your customers and their specific needs. Then you can use that knowledge to design the right interventions to elicit a targeted emotional outcome to create loyalty.

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