Technology first or feedback first? Both need the customer in the loop or your CX programmes fail

Updated: Jan 31

Customer experience management (CXM) is a highly confused affair. However, you can cut through the nonsense if your remain laser focused on the objective and humble enough to know that sometimes CXM is not the right answer.

Customer experience is simply 'the experience the customer has.' This means you walk in the customer's shoes. At a basic level, this means gaining a closer understanding of who the customer is - what they think-feel and do. The outcome being customer value creation either through a technology first approach or a feedback first approach.

Technology first - 65% of cases

This is where you as a business realise you are falling behind the curve in terms of 'the experience the customer has'. For instance, your contact centres do not offer live chat, whereas your competitors do. This is less the case of demonstrating ROI than you cannot afford not to do it. Likewise, as a brand you may want to differentiate via technology. Hence you invest in and aim to get ahead of the curve via AI or new ways of creative engagement. This is less the case of knowing the ROI than a desire to push the envelope and gain market share.

This domain is best represented by the old quote supposedly made by Henry Ford: 'If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

So where is the customer in this? The answer is, in the loop of development through a clear focus on customer KPIs.

Here are a few examples that illustrate why it is essential to build with the customer-in-mind:

Designing a self-serve portal without the customer-in-mind

You cannot just push a piece of tech out there, say we have improved the customer experience and run away. For instance, the self-serve portal that zero dev pointed customer experience in the build; was targeted on a customer KPI (10% portal use by customers vs B2B); and then, surprise-surprise, failed. Meanwhile the vendor and consulting team had run away, shouting about how great they were at customer experience; how they made it so easy and frictionless.

Using intents to redesign the omnichannel experience and forgetting to engage the customer

On the one hand, eliminating or automating intents that cause effort for the customer and the business is best practice. For instance, my intent could be logged from voice records as 'wanting to know where my parcel is'. From the data it's pretty simple, the 'experience the customer has' is adequately represented by the ID. The resolution, to put the tracker information on line, delivers both customer and business value.

The only problem is, does a catalogued intent always represent the experience the customer has? For instance, my intent could be classified as 'being really concerned about a lost item'. With the best will in the world, this will never be eliminated entirely (unless you want to bear a huge cost), so engagement is required with a human. But what is the customer experience of this engagement? The ID does not tell us about the need for a warm, friendly, speedy, knowledgeable engagement with good follow-up.

A catalogued intent does not tell us how the customer feels about their experience

Likewise, even when you have a clear idea of which intents to categorise and change, you still need the customer in the loop to design the new experience; you can't just depend on lifting and shifting good practice from one environment to another. For instance, what if you're over 75 and want to call; what if the chat bot fails in design; what if an ID'd issue 'look up my parcel location', leads to further issues such as 'why is it taking so long' and then I can't find your phone number on the website; what about cultural differences and how content is ultimately expressed?

Critically, in design, intents will clash. Especially when content has not been designed with the customer in mind. Compare the intent to find a sales bargain vs the intent to find how to return an item. Now consider which one wins out in a badly constructed website.

Also, are we talking 'as-is' intents or desired 'to-be' intents? If the latter is important, what are they and how have they been tested with the customer?

Another problem arises if the catalogue of intents is set to overall satisfaction. Then you may come up with key issues that resonate over many IDs e.g. we don't like your brand or your sales reps are rude. Or find out that perhaps the omnichannel environment is not relevant at all, in its impact on overall satisfaction and your efforts are best spent elsewhere.

Finally, can we even trust our review of intents? After all, volumetric data only records intents that have been logged. But what about those that are not logged? For instance, many issues may be lost simply because the customer did not record their dissatisfaction by engaging with the firm - this is known as silent attrition.

When the strategic customer experience programme is really about saving money

A final example is the cement company that kicked off a customer experience programme only for it to get hijacked and turned into a contact centre cost saving exercise. No harm in that, except where is the customer KPI? This company, managed to answer the phone more quickly (sales funnel issue), and measure the customer advantages objectively via time saved while comprehensively failing to understand that customer's were not that bothered. Likewise they released e-pod software (no more delays scanning and filling in paperwork) which customers hated. Surprise, surprise, the CX programme was closed down.

The company from the outset could have avoided these problems if they had asked themselves the question: what is our true intent? If it's to save money, then the CX programme could have been redirected to ensure that any cost-to-serve programme did not degrade customer experience. A far better strategy that pretending that the company was concerned with customer value creation.


Now not all these issues are right for a customer experience solution. I totally get that. But the 'experience the customer has' should and must be made clear with user testing and through proof of concept. And critical to all this is a clear view of the customer experience KPIs (for more on that refer to my blog on the use of Cynefin).

I think the main thing here is a combination of a top-level a hard KPI (number of customers using the site/ completing a sale, or reduction in churn), together with quality KPIs based off ethnographic and qualitative input i.e., the metric "more stories like this, fewer stories like that."

What it is not about is the use of gameable metrics such as tNPS, especially when measured by a vendor or outsourced consultancy with skin in the game to 'sell you more stuff'. You can, by the way, always tell that's the case when they quickly shift from talking customer to talking cost savings (customer not included) or fail to talk about context.

Customer first - 35% of cases

This is far easier to explain. It's simply a case of listening to customers and closing the loop between insights and action through a CX Design function that has authority. I would also go so far as to say, that since CX Design is motivated to understand the customer they should have sign-off rights in terms of the technology first approach as well.

Of course, this requires great understanding of customer research i.e, not a kneejerk reaction to embed NPS or CES but a full understanding of cognitive science, qual, quant and ethnographic techniques. And a good understanding that journey maps reflect personas and insights think-feel, do.

That 'to be ideas' require multi-stakeholder co-creation.

The weak spot here is how CX Design as a function and research in particular is degraded in most businesses. How many times have I led a research programme to define the customer personas and journeys only to find at the end of the programme that all I have achieved is a list of stuff.

This is why any customer first approach has to start with the end in mind. Do we also have budget to do something, to trial and test, to put in place the right listening posts both qual and quant?

Any anyway what Henry Ford really said was:

"If there is any secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person's point of view and see things from that person's angle as well as from your own".

p.s., note I said your CX programmes will fail; your cost saving programme may not. But even here customer insights may have something to say about how to save money. It's just that save money for the business is often not aligned to better customer experience.

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