Reflections on 9 years in the field of CX analytics
Last week, LinkedIn reminded me kindly, marked the 9th anniversary of me working at GemSeek. Anniversaries, like birthdays and other temporal landmarks like New Years, offer a great opportunity to pause for a second and reflect on the past, to prepare for the future.
I will not bother you with too many personal things. Any journey that long is bound to include desperation, disappointment, doubt, and desire to just quit. These are all a normal part of life and I would be an outright lier if I say my road at GemSeek had only been a smooth one. Perhaps for some of you my experience can be insightful, and I'll be happy to share it. This is not my goal here, though. Here, I wish to offer you my thoughts on where the CX industry was 9 years ago, where is it now, and where is it heading.
The last 10-20 years saw a boost in the application of the Customer Experience perspective towards business management, and this is a very productive and much-needed boost. Put bluntly, adopting the CX perspective to business means asking, How is every single one of our decisions going to make the customer feel and think? Do our actions and initiatives add value to the customer?
It was about time, I think, that we realize that if a customer is not buying the product or service, there is no company. The customer will not buy unless the product contributes to where he or she intends to go, or to who or she intends to become. It is this realization that gives rise to our CX efforts and initiatives, and this perspective is here to stay.
What did I saw happening in the last 10-20 years, and where are we going?
1. The rise of the Chief Customer Officer
Ten-twenty years ago, it was relatively rare to have a person in the company responsible for CX in particular. Nowadays, this is a common occurrence, and what is more - more and more companies have this position on C-level; check out this interesting piece on the role of the Chief Customer Officer.
This is one trend I welcome most warmly, for it is my conviction that the alignment between teams and functions, or the lack of it thereof, is what often makes or breaks CX. This trend is likely to become more pronounced, as more and more companies realize that the CX path to growth is not a prerogative of the big corporations.
2. We witnessed the maturation of the field
This is evident in the fact that there are CX organizations and certifications, like the CCXP, magazines and websites specialized in providing CX insights, companies that only work in this area, events/conferences dedicated to the topic, and creation of specialized knowledge on CX disseminated via scientific papers and books.
There is still a lot to be done in the field though. For one thing, we do not all share a common definition of CX. This is not inherently bad, as it allows us to explore different avenues. Nonetheless, the accumulation of knowledge is only possible when we focus our efforts, and we and our clients will benefit from having a clear view of what exactly does CX include.
Right now, there are at least three conceptualizations that partially overlap: CX as a proposition, perhaps best exemplified by Pine and Gilmore's book The Experience Economy; CX as customer satisfaction, in which only customers have an experience with the company; and CX as the "internal and subjective response customers have to any direct or indirect contact with a company", advanced by Meyer and Schwager. I'm personally inclined to think from the third perspective, but the other two have merit as well.
The second development I expect to see in the field is more theories based on fundamental theories of human behavior. Right now, there is a gap in this field. Very few of the leaders in the field start from a profound understanding of what it means to be human to build a theory of consumer behavior, and a theory of CX from there. This often results in shallow insights and commonsensical advice. I think we stand to gain much from a deeper conceptualization of CX and its relation to the experience of being a human.
3. A technology boost
Ten years ago we didn't really have good specialized platforms for CX measurement and management. This is not judgment on my side. It's just a natural process of evolution, in which companies see opportunity in an area and focus their efforts in it. The recent IPO of Medallia and the acquisition of Qualtrics by SAP testify for the interest in the field.
Nowadays, we have a handful of very mature platforms, like Medallia, and Qualtrics, Clarabridge, and perhaps more than a dozen of others looking to grow. This availability of technology further boosts the attention we pay to CX, and helps companies to act to improve it.
The future probably holds the development of mid and low-market platform capable of delivering the essentials for companies to work on their CX initiatives. This will add further momentum to the CX domain by opening it to smaller companies or to the ones that are now starting their journey.
4. User-generated data
Ten years ago the major, if not only, source of customer attitudinal data was market research. The latter developed significantly in the last decade, moving towards shorter in-the-moment surveys that capture customer experience as it happens or briefly after this. Perhaps more vitally, we now have an ocean of data that instead of being generated by customers at company's solicitation, is being generated by users themselves.
Nowadays, we as customers leave thousands of traces of our consumption, and customer analytics companies are making the most out of it. Thus, text analytics algorithms are becoming more and more sophisticated and more importantly - accurate. It is now possible to go online, collect what customers say about your products and services, analyze it, and put it into action.
This, I believe, is another trend that is here to stay. Customers are unlikely to start sharing less in the future, quite the contrary, hence the capabilities for collecting and analyzing this data will become more and more vital. Text analytics algorithms will become more accurate and able to flag if there is a discrepancy from previously collected data, rendering them early warning systems.
5. The future is predictable, kind of
The accumulation of data and insights over time naturally allows us to tackle the real nagging question: what are customers going to do next. This wasn't possible 10 years ago, and not so much for lack of statistical methods, but rather for lack of historical data. Nowadays, in some industries at least, there is actually an overflow of data, and most of the others have at least the basic level needed to start experimenting.
To be sure, not everything is predictable - after all, the social world is more complex than the physical one (despite the popularity of the 'nuclear scientist' expression). But within certain reasonable boundaries we can actually build pretty accurate predictions about what customers will like or not, and which of our actions are going to move the proverbial needle. AI and machine learning is already successfully applied to areas as diverse as predicting the next music hit, predicting where people will look when they see an ad, and predicting which customers are likely to switch in the next 6 months.
This trend holds a huge promise for companies, for it allows them to act quickly and at scale unimaginable before. We will see more and more companies maturing to a stage at which they can predict customer experience, and can put it to practice. The major differentiator between companies in the future will be how good they are in anticipating customer behavior; ideally, they would know what will happen before it does.
6. Impact, impact, impact
If there is one sin the CX analytics field needs to address, and soon, it is the question of the impact of CX initiatives. While it might be fairly obvious for us that improvements in CX would contribute positively to the business, this is not always so for C-level execs or even for peers of the Heads of CX.
Also, not all initiatives are born equal. Clearly, prioritization between actions is a point of vital importance, for companies don't have endless resources to invest. The ones that will thrive will be the ones that develop what I'd like to call their action intelligence - the knowledge and skills to conceive, select, and execute the actions that matter the most.
The understanding of the impact of company's actions on CX is lagging behind other CX areas and needs to catch up quickly. There are positive signs in this direction, and more and more of my clients are trying to crack this question. Still, it is not a question that we can answer easily, and if we want CX to keep the place it currently holds, we need to make the estimation of the impact of CX initiatives on business performance a part of every project.
I hope this rather impromptu post inspires you to reflect on the CX journey you have taken so far and perhaps even dream a bit about where you want to go. I'd love to hear what you've encountered along the way - reach out to me to chat, or leave a comment below.
My best wishes for a great day ahead!