As regular readers have probably noticed, I’ve been referencing the massive research project we undertook last year often in recent blog posts, especially while sharing learnings.
Today I want to take you behind the curtain and describe the impetus for the project, explain some of the methodology, and tell you about my motivation and goals. To do that, I need to start at the beginning.
Once upon a time, I was a customer experience failure.
Back in the olden days (olden in CX terms, anyway, as it was more than a decade ago), I led a customer experience program in a division of a large health insurance organization.
There were two clear business problems to solve. I had executive support. I had strong voice of the customer.
And despite all of that, I failed to drive any change.
I knew others were more successful. Even in those early days, there were inspiring articles that shared how this company or that was driving phenomenal business success by improving the customer experience. So I knew it was possible.
But try as I might, I just could not move that needle.
Searching for answers
When I left that role, I was determined to figure out where I went wrong. I talked to hundreds of people involved in improving customer experience and shared many of the lessons I learned on this blog, in speaking engagements, and in my first book.
Always the optimist, I tend to channel Thomas Edison: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
The most important thing I learned back then unfortunately still holds true: My experience was far from unique. Even now, all these years later, most programs still fail to drive change.
We all know that improving customer outcomes is a sound and powerful win-win way to help a business prosper.
But easier said than done, right?
As CX programs have proliferated, they have created their own silos, focusing on their own metrics (i.e., survey scores) and their own definition of success (i.e., improving those survey scores), rather than infusing and integrating their work throughout the business.
New threats, same challenges
There’s mounting evidence the problem is dire. In his 2019 report, Customer Experience at a Crossroads: What Drives CX Success?, CustomerThink CEO Bob Thompson found that only one in four CX programs could show either quantified benefits or a competitive edge earned through their efforts. One year later, Forrester Research predicted that one in four CX professionals would lose their jobs because of a lack of business impact.
And that was before the pandemic!
The combination of these reports and the maturity of CX as a discipline in recent years motivated me to renew my research into how successful programs show business impact. I wanted to understand how the connection between improved customer and business outcomes could be more widely accepted and understood than ever, yet so many still can’t budge that needle.
Most importantly, I wanted to understand how those CX leaders we call “Change Makers” are succeeding while so many are falling short.
Are they doing different things, or doing things differently?
B2B is harder
I’ve always been particularly interested in business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-business-to-consumer (B2B2C) companies, even though many consider them less “sexy” than the household-name organizations that sell directly to customers.
B2B companies cover a broad spectrum of industries, including manufacturing, software companies, and distributors. B2B2C companies are those that may ultimately service consumers, but they sell through separate companies and/or intermediaries. (Think of insurance companies as an example of this model – whether for life, property and casualty, or health insurance, many companies sell through independent agents, giving them both a B2B and a B2C component.)
B2B companies make up 60% of the economy, but there are very few resources to help organize efforts around customers when those customers are other companies.
Most CX sources cite business-to-consumer (B2C) examples such as Amazon, Best Buy, AirBnB, and USAA. These are great companies, but it’s difficult to apply the lessons of their success to the more complex environments of B2B companies.
Let me show you why.
Best Buy, a B2C company, succeeds when it convinces one shopper to buy a laptop, or another to buy a kitchen appliance.
But for UKG, a creator of HR, payroll, and scheduling software? To make a sale, they must engage with multiple levels of their customer’s organization, from the Chief Human Resources Officer to the Procurement Office.
And Best Buy may not interact with that shopper after the purchase (until the next one). But UKG might maintain a relationship with hundreds of their clients’ staffers distributed across continents, languages, and cultures.
Who we looked at
Owing to this complexity (and several other factors), B2B organizations are typically much less mature in managing their customer experience. When looking at CX maturity, the XM Institute reported that 59% of all companies are in the lowest two-fifths of customer experience management stages. When you focus on B2B and B2B2C companies, that rises to nearly 80%!
But that also means about 20% of B2B and B2B2C companies are nailing it. They are creating great customer experiences that inspire their customers to stay longer, order more, and cost less to serve.
So in early 2020, those are the ones we set out to fully understand, to use as a guidebook for the rest of the industry. It took about a year. We conducted more than 150+ hours of qualitative interviews and engaged more than 300 CX professionals.
We also conducted a survey that got to the heart of the challenges CX pros are facing. (Spoiler alert: it’s a three-way tie between organizational complexity, not having the right people, and a lack of leadership buy-in.)
In addition, I shadowed three exceptional Change Makers for an extended period, watching how they approached their activities and where they focused their time and efforts.
Focus for impact
Most participants led customer experience efforts within their organizations, but we also talked with Finance roles, CEOs, Marketing and Sales leaders, and anybody else who could help us paint a complete picture of what was going on in an organization. (Remember, the key to CX success is driving organization-wide change. Just as you can’t create an effective customer journey map without talking to customers, you can’t understand CX impact by talking only to the CX department.)
The results of this massive research undertaking were even more illuminating than we’d hoped, and we were able to identify specifically what separates the best programs from the rest.
We learned that Change Makers do indeed have a fundamentally different approach to their efforts. Here’s the high-level summary:
They focus extensively on business outcomes (rather than survey scores) by using the Chain of CX Value to guide their efforts. They use effective change management techniques to drive customer-centric transformation across their organizations. And lastly, they utilize the capabilities of the CX Tech stack to monitor, measure, and orchestrate their customer journeys.
I am currently writing a book that covers all of our findings in detail, including spotlighting the real-world success stories of the three companies I shadowed, plus many, many more tales from our interviews.
But there is much, much more to come.
Keep an eye on this space and follow me on LinkedIn to ensure you don’t miss anything, and to add your voice to the conversation.