The 3 big challenges CX is facing in 2024

March 15, 2024
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I’m fortunate enough to have been attending CX conferences for the best part of a decade, from Amsterdam to Dublin, Chicago to New York, it’s been really exciting watching the space evolve around the world. 

Last week I was speaking on a panel at a CX conference in London.

As always it was a day full of interesting conversations and presentations from a wide variety of engaging speakers. 

What’s presented at conferences is almost always at least one step away from the cutting edge.

Maybe because cutting edge projects are considered too sensitive to share.

Or perhaps it’s because people aren’t ready to present an initiative before they’re sure that it has worked!

However, they are still a good bellwether for the industry.

CX remains a relatively new and evolving discipline, it’s why it’s such an exciting place to be.

It’s brilliant to see organisations try new and more advanced approaches and have success. 

Reflecting on how things have changed over the last few years, it’s apparent that the discipline is on a strong upwards trajectory, something that is clearly demonstrated by what people are doing and showcasing at events.

However, it’s equally clear that challenges remain, some new, some ever present.

None of them are insurmountable by any means, but reflecting on the event, my main takeaway was how important it is to recognise the unique challenges posed by the CX space as it evolves. 

By acknowledging them, these challenges can more easily be overcome.

Challenge 1: CX is inherently cross-disciplinary

Harnessing CX to drive the success of your organisation is difficult, there are so many different moving parts.

A wide variety of teams impact the experience of the customer and this means there are different disciplines that operate within the CX space. 

It’s possible to improve the experience of the customer through A/B testing, through user research, through monitoring and improving customer care - just to name a few. We have a whole post on the top 5 Strategies to improve retail customer experience that highlights a few of the cross-disciplinary ways to approach CX.

All of these teams and disciplines bring different tools and methodologies, helping to improve the experience in different ways.

Taking an example, individual user interviews provide valuable in-depth information, but they’re less useful for achieving other goals such as spotting emerging problems at scale.

Perhaps because of this, it can sometimes feel like there is confusion in the messaging of what should and should not be done, what works and what does not.

What's true in one discipline and scenario might not be true in another. 

This lack of clarity is sometimes exacerbated by the fact that, when advocating a point of view, people typically like to make a point strongly.

This is not unique to CX, we see it everywhere. It’s more interesting that way, it gets people to sit up and take notice.  

Sales is dead!  

Email marketing is dead!  

Why you should never do X, Y or Z! 

Given the nature of the CX space however, this can add to the confusion of what best practice looks like or how a problem should be approached. 

To illustrate this let's take a behavioural economics point “What customers say they will do, and what customers actually do, is often different”. 

This is absolutely true, however it would be possible to misinterpret this and draw the conclusion that you should ignore what your customers say. 

The fact that customers’ words and actions sometimes don’t match up, is something that needs to be borne in mind when listening to what they have to say, but it would be a mistake to decide that listening to customers is a waste of time. 

There is also an incredible amount of nuance, a perception formed by the customer may not impact their next action, but that's not to say it won’t impact your business.

We’ve probably all been in a situation that looks like this:

Month 1: “I’ll never use them again”, 

Month 2: “Ugh actually it’s less hassle to use them until I have time to find a better option” 

Month 3: “Ah now I have time to find a better option…good riddance”

Focusing on the right things and harnessing the different disciplines in the right way is a part of the CX puzzle.  

Challenge 2: CX requires judgement and interpretation 

Delivering a great customer experience relies on having the right data, the right interpretation and sound judgement. Analyzing customer feedback at scale can be very difficult if you are going in blind.

There’s almost certainly going to be some trial and error in there too. 

Unfortunately customers won’t just give you the answer. For some things customers may effectively tell you what you need to do.

Or it might be so obvious that no interpretation is required.

For example, when receiving feedback like “The toilets are dirty” it doesn’t require too much interpretation to understand what action should be taken.

Likewise for feedback that says “It would be great if it saved my details for the next purchase”.

Often for areas that are broken or not working there may be a direct link between the problem and the solution.

However, achieving a customer experience that delivers the economic benefits of CX is reliant on a lot more than just fixing problems.

If it was that easy everyone would be delivering great customer experience.

But even if it that was all that was required, there are plenty of problems which have a big impact on a business but are much more conceptual (e.g. Value, Trust etc). 

Using Trust as an example, if customers are leaving you because they don’t trust you e.g. “Something always goes wrong, I no longer trust you, I’m switching to someone else”.

It’s obviously crucial to know this. It’s obviously a problem. However the specific action to take to reduce this trust based churn is not so immediately obvious. 

It’s an important point to recognise.

The customer can tell you about their experience, they can tell you what they thought and felt, but it isn’t for the customer to tell you what you should do about it. 

When you think about it, how could they?

Without an in-depth understanding of what’s possible, your capabilities, your P&L, your ability to make changes etc - how could a customer tell each business specifically how to make their experience better?

Instead it is on us to convert the intelligence gathered by understanding the experience of the customer into a winning approach for our businesses. 

This point was neatly illustrated by a talk given by Lisa Fraser, Executive Director of User Experience Research at JP Morgan Chase.

Her brilliant session on How to leverage our understanding of psychology and design to craft better waiting experiences for customers was one of the highlights of the day for me.

She focused on the waiting experience and different ways of managing it.

A great example she gave was from an Airport.

They knew that customers didn’t like waiting for their bags to arrive, so they tried what most people would try first; they shortened the waiting time for bags to arrive as much as logistically possible. 

They got it down to 8 minutes.

Not bad, yet people were still unhappy.

It simply wasn’t possible to reduce the waiting time further.

So they took a different approach - they set the arrivals gate 7 minutes walk from the baggage carousel, therefore reducing the time spent actually standing around and ‘waiting’ to 1 minute. 

The result was content customers, a better experience. 

Because, as it turns out, it’s not the time that it takes to get your bags that is the crucial point, it’s the time spent waiting whilst doing nothing.

Feedback told them that customers were unhappy with waiting, but by understanding that occupied time feels shorter than unoccupied time, they adjusted the experience to eliminate the specific aspects that led to dissatisfaction. 

A customer would never give you that solution. 

An organisation that understands that it is their job to listen to customers and find the solution is always going to triumph vs an organisation that expects the customer to simply tell them the answer. 

Challenge 3: CX just got more confusing 

With the best intentions what used to be called Customer Support, Customer Service or Customer Care is now often referred to by people operating in this area as Customer Experience.

As one of the speakers at last week’s conference said “Customer Service is not the customer’s experience. It is the experience of a subsection of your customers”

The Customer Service experience is just one element of the customer experience, it is not Customer Experience. It deals with the (hopefully minority) subset of customers who have had a problem.

But actually it’s narrower than that, as it deals with the even smaller subset of customers who have had a problem and who were motivated to get in touch about it. 

A basic line diagram is a neat way I’ve seen used to articulate this. 

A-D is your total customer base. 

A-B is those customers (hopefully the vast majority for most businesses) who haven’t had a problem and are happily using your product or service without the need to contact Customer Support

B-D represents the portion of customers who have a problem

C-D represents the portion of customers who have a problem and who then bother to get in touch.

NB: the specific ratios may of course change business to business.  

This is not me having a dig at Customer Support / Customer Service / Customer Care, it represents a key part of the customer’s experience. 

However given CX is the holistic experience customers have with an organisation, calling one small element of it CX leads to confusion. 

On the face of it you could say what does it matter if Customer Support is rebranded to Customer Experience?

And in a way it doesn’t.

But when two different things are referred to with the same name it increases the scope for confusion.

This means it’s now more important than ever to ensure that everyone in the organisation is really clear on what Customer Experience actually refers to.

Just like only focusing on fixing problems, an organisation that is only focusing on this one element of the experience, rather than the holistic experience, is destined to be unsuccessful.

The dangers of such challenges…drawing the wrong conclusions

Although still reasonably nascent, CX has now been around for long enough that people have invested in it and had the chance to see initial results.

Inevitably with something that is not easy, there is now a cohort of organisations who have tried to implement CX strategies and been unsuccessful.

The danger exists that the wrong conclusions are drawn from this lack of success.

An extreme example could be the conclusion that CX is not relevant or ‘doesn’t work’. However there is also the risk that the wrong things are blamed for the lack of success.

This failure to recognise the real underlying causes can lead to organisations focusing on changing the wrong things. 

The specific metric being used is a good example. NPS remains polarising.

There are those that swear by it and those that swear about it. Like any tool, if used badly it is a lot less effective and it’s easy (and admittedly sometimes quite funny) to make fun of instances where it has been deployed where it really shouldn’t have been.

NPS is not right for everyone, but unless the execution is spot on, is it valid to point the finger at any metric and say it doesn’t work? In my experience it’s far more likely to be a failure of execution than a failure of a metric.

Flaws in implementation can take many forms - conflicting KPIs, suboptimal understanding of ‘what's driving the score’, no action being taken, teams targeted on something which they have zero idea how to impact etc - and these flaws contribute to a failed execution and a loss of faith.

I suspect the debate about NPS will continue for a while longer, but there is a danger that it distracts from the real issue.

The metric used is not what determines success.

Switching metrics is a moot point if the more fundamental elements of understanding customers and then operationalising and delivering success through customer experience are not addressed. 

Final reflections

So 3 thoughts to end with.

Firstly, what a fantastic puzzle customer experience is to try and solve.

What a brilliant discipline to be working in at the beginning of 2024.

Sure on a bad day it might feel impossible (but you could say the same of most things on a bad day), but the reality is it offers everything that a great role should; mentally stimulating, opportunities to innovate, constantly evolving, the goal of improving something for others.

Not to mention a great bunch of people to be on the journey with. 

Secondly the very nature of CX - cross disciplinary, impacted by many teams, rapidly evolving - means it’s sometimes possible to get pulled in different directions or lose sight of the fundamentals.

It’s not easy and sometimes we make it more difficult for ourselves.

It’s important to remember when understanding the customer that there is always interpretation involved to translate the experience of the customer into business success. This is what makes it so challenging.

We all want actionable insight but that should not be confused with hoping the customer will ‘just tell us the answer’ or simply doing what the customer tells us - there is a lot more to it than that.

Lastly, when looking at all of the things that you could do, it’s sometimes hard to know where to begin.

When there is so much debate about which metric to use or what actually works it can be confusing.

If watching the CX space evolving over the last decade has taught me one thing it is the importance of doing the fundamentals really, really well.

Start by understanding what your customers think and feel throughout their journey with your organisation and build from there.

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