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Who is accountable for making the customer agenda really work?

It’s probably down to one person

Last week one of my customers asked me a question: why are respected practitioners commenting that Customer Experience is failing? It’s not a question I particularly enjoyed being asked but the evidence is unfortunately there. Bob Thompson of CustomerThink made the points in a recent article very bluntly:

  • Only 23% of respondents from his study found they were getting tangible benefits from their investment.
  • One of the scarier statistics uncovered was that 93% of customer experience initiatives are failing.

If you were a CEO looking at all the alternative proposals for business impact, you could easily conclude that working simply from the business return/time and risk triangle there are other initiatives that have greater return over less time and lower risk. A slam-dunk for any C-level executive pitching a more attractive alternative. What is getting more concerning is that Gartner is reporting that the customer perception is CX is slipping. As an observation, this is a distortion: the pace of expectation is changing faster than the ability of the company to keep up. This is of course worrying but it should come as no great surprise. A desire for agility has been on the agenda for some time now but the results for most are slow in coming.

Is Customer Experience in danger of dying?

The importance of customer has been around since mankind started to trade – way before money as a medium of exchanged was ever invented. The discipline that we formally term “Customer Experience” has been around by and large for 15 to 20 years. It has promised large but has not delivered anything like its potential. That is not to say that the industry has not been of value. Companies and customers are considerably better off than if traditional product and service centric thinking had universally prevailed. The disappointment was – and still is – that it’s not delivering enough.

What we may be seeing is the end of Customer Experience as it is traditionally practiced. All the evidence is there.

It made my teeth curl when I saw an opening for a Group Head of Customer Experience post for a tier 1 financial institution advertised as a 55,000 GBP/year post in the mid-management tiers. I already knew this institution was following traditional CX because everybody else did and they needed to be seen to be putting a tick in the “me too” box.

Every half-decent independent customer experience practitioner should have job and consulting offers coming out of their ears. They don’t. They must work extremely hard to win business. They write numerous blogs, create videos, speak at conferences. They must because there is not enough demand for their services. That reflects one thing. Companies are NOT sufficiently recognising the importance of CX and NOT doing their very best to make themselves the very best CX organisation they could be.

Understanding symptom and cause

There are lots of views given why CX has not measured up for many: a lack of interest in customers, poor execution, lack of formal identity in the traditional organisation structure, long-term commitment of the leadership, speed of change in customer expectation, lack of alignment of CX across the silos – to name just a few. These are all true, but there is a single greater point that is less often discussed:

The lack of engagement and support from the CEO.

The ultimate accountability for what the organisations stands for lies with the CEO. He/she may be influenced by what their senior management teams are saying but ultimately the accountability for the real vision lies with the CEO. How can a Head of Customer Experience create and implement a customer charter as a report to – typically – an operational or marketing head? I would suggest it would be a slow process. In some companies it would be impossible.

Ask yourself

  • What would happen if CEO’s took on the customer agenda as a driving accountability?
  • What would happen if a CEO mandated the senior management team to drive the customer agenda into everything the company did – customer facing or not?
  • What would happen if leaders, managers and employees had a significant part of their compensation and targets tied to customer success?
  • What would happen if the CEO made the business responsible for customer experience?
  • I am not suggesting that all the issues mentioned earlier would disappear, but progress would dramatically accelerate. I would propose that new market leaders would appear. I would expect that the pace of change would rapidly accelerate. I would even suggest our business world would become a bit simpler.

I am not suggesting that this transition is an easy task but whilst we have a control and command driven organisation structure which is still the case for 99.9% of companies this single step would change the DNA of the whole organisation.

So, shouldn’t Customer Experience Mark 2 focus on the CEO because they are the real holders of the key to success?

Charles Bennett

Founder & CEO. Charles is an acknowledged leader in customer-driven performance change using both best practice and emerging next practice perspectives. He leads, mentors and coaches in both strategic and operational initiatives. A strong believer is the potential for "supercompany performance" he innovates using next practice thinking and methods to enhance the business. He researches heavily to retain his reputation as a thought leader, which he has applied across 40 countries, multiple sectors and companies such as Citibank, Nielsen, Microsoft, Vodafone, Tracker and governments in Middle East and Asia. Contributes to business journals and often invited as a speaker or chairman to events all over the world.