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The CX Imperative and The Role You Play in Making Business Personal

Every now and then, I am asked to write the foreword for a great book. And, every now and then, I say yes. The deal is always the same. Once the book is released, I ask that I’m able to publish the foreword in full to share with you here.

My friends Lars Birkholm Petersen, Ron Person and Christopher Nash wrote a book, Connect: How to use data and experience marketing to create lifetime customers.

As they describe, marketing is going through a revolution that rivals the impact of Gutenberg’s printing press. Customers are in control and marketers have become an unnecessary annoyance. It’s more important than ever to have connected marketing that is relevant to customers’ needs across myriad channels.

Connect is written as a hands-on guide for succeeding in the new age of marketing as connected customers demand world-class, relevant, and personalized customer experiences.

The CX Imperative and The Role You Play in Making Business Personal

“You cannot create experience. You must undergo it.”
Albert Camus

Digital Darwinism occurs when technology and society evolve faster than the ability for anyone or anything to adapt. We live in a time when digital Darwinism is only accelerating.

Many strategists realize that the world is only becoming more connected, not less. Yet many executives still wonder when all of this crazy txting, selfie-taking, snapchatting, lunch tweeting, shenanigans is going to finally fizzle out. I don’t know about you, but I’m already dusting off my rotary phone and digging out my floppy disk collection just in case we do decide to go backwards.

Not really.

You get it. I get it. Do we really need yet another pep rally to celebrate our like-minded perspectives and passion to bring about change. Yes. In fact, we need to rally ourselves together and march the importance of the changing customer right on up to the C-Suite. We must drive home the importance of customer-centricity for not only the benefit of people but also the future of our business as well as our place in the market.

See, customers in all of their connected glory are evolving with or without us. At the same time there’s a mind-boggling lack of urgency and a resulting sparsity to support, resources, and budget to understand and engage this rising connected customer.

Ladies and gentleman, we have ourselves a CX imperative. But before we go any further, I must press pause for a moment to share something stark yet commonsensical; technology isn’t the answer. That’s right. Even though we’re faced with radical changes in customer behaviors, expectations and preferences as a result of technology, to lead the next generation of CX does not begin with technology. It starts with people.

As such, the opportunity for CX requires elevated discussions where organizations assess current experiences against a vision for what they can and should be. For example, is today’s customer experience a byproduct of our brand promise? Do we deliver against our stated intentions and is that experience reinforced at every touch point?

Approaching CX in this fashion takes what is typically today a bottom-up approach and shifts decision-making to a top-down model. And we all know that true transformation comes from the top. The difference though is that implementing CX initiatives with both, top-down and bottom-up strategies sets the foundation of which customer-centricity can build and flourish. One is directional, the “North Star” if you will, where customer experience initiatives map against a vision for how brand promises are enlivened and reinforced before, during and after transactions. It sets the standard for investments in technology, engagement, insights and pilots. It also sets the standard to follow and benchmark to measure against for all those who are responsible for the experience, wherever and whenever it’s formed or affected.

The result is a brand promise that’s measured by the experience customers have and share. It ladders up the importance of CX transcending it from a functional role to that of an enterprise-wide philosophy. 

Good intentions are just the beginning, but it’s not enough.

Let’s assume that businesses, for the most part, want to do the right thing. After all, they’re making increasing investments in CRM, social, mobile, digital, et al. With spending comes sincerity and intention, right? After all my years of advising executives and researching the evolution of markets, I can honestly say that executives seem to care. I can’t say that I’ve ever heard anything from executives indicating any intention of dethroning the customer as king.

I can’t imagine sitting in a boardroom and hearing leadership reveal a new direction of anti customer-centricity…”Team, we just don’t care about our customers. And to be honest, we could care less about their experience. We believe this to be a shorter, sweeter path to profitability and earn outs.”

Depending on which definition you align with, CX is often characterized by the perception a customer has after engaging with a company, brand, product or service.

Truth is that a notable number of companies do believe that CX is critical to success. According to CX research published by Oracle, 93% of senior executives across multiple industries say that improving CX is one of the top three priorities for the next two years. And, another 91% state that they want to be a CX leader.

If CX is a critical pillar to build relationships and business outcomes, why is it that we are still fighting the good fight? If so many executives agree that the future of business lies in CX, why are we spending this time together right now? What’s the point? The answer is that there’s a disconnect. The link between aspiration and intention is separated by vision and action.

To my surprise (well, not really), Oracle[3] found in its research that only 37% of executives are actually beginning to move forward with a formal CX initiative. Considering that businesses race along with the speed and agility of a cinder block, I’m sure that even this initial group of leading businesses will not make significant progress to establish a competitive edge someday soon. But some companies will aggressively invest in CX and innovation in products, processes and services and that will set the stage for disruption.


The customer landscape is shifting. It always does. This time, however, the door to Digital Darwinism has been kicked off its hinges. Technology and society are evolving faster than the ability to adapt. Consumers are becoming more connected. As such, they’re more informed. With information comes empowerment. And with newfound connectedness and power, customer expectations begin to shatter current sales, marketing, and support models.

Social, mobile, and real-time each contribute to a new reality for customer experiences and engagement. This isn’t news. In the previously referenced study, Oracle found that 81% of executives agree social media is critical for success, yet 35% don’t support social media for sales or service.

Businesses either adapt or die. Ignoring it hastens Digital Darwinism. Jumping in without understanding or intention is a moonshot without aiming for the moon.

This isn’t just a channel strategy.

This isn’t just a technology play.

This is a shift from CX as moniker for describing, studying or automating “Customer Experience” toward a new movement where CX now screams for us to “Create Experiences!”

Indeed, customer experience happens with or without you.

The CX imperative needs you to make the business case.

In your organization, people are talking about CX right now. But for some reason it’s just not a priority. Actions don’t reflect promises. In CX, you must create a sense of urgency to accelerate to match or outpace the speed of market transformation. Without doing so, a sense of urgency will be created from the outside-in.

It’s not just about the customers you have today; those who are not already your customers represent your future growth. The bottom line is that customers are willing to pay a premium for great experiences and that has a bottom line impact.

The Rise of The Chief Experience Officer…Or Someone to Take Accountability for the Digital Customer Experience

While everyone is talking about CX, someone must take accountability for it.

Today, social, mobile, and other traditional channels online and IRL (In Real Life) contribute to creating or reinforcing brand salience and resonance.  It’s not uncommon to hear in any creative meeting these days how brands must consider omni-channel approaches to create a true 360 experience.

The question I have is who is ultimately in charge of defining the customer experience and upholding standards in each moment of truth? If customer experience was plotted on a RACI chart, who would have the “A” for accountability?

The evolution of business sees the rise of new roles and leadership traits to push things forward—especially at a time when it’s so easy to push back on change. Now’s the time for a CXO or Chief Experience Officer, someone who can design, orchestrate, and enable experiences. The CXO is the catalyst for bridging the gap between the experience economy and taking action; translating lip service to execution.

User experience (UX) strategist Lis Hubert shared her vision for a CXO in a 2011 article for UX Magazine, where she outlined the necessary responsibilities to, “have someone responsible for curating and maintaining a holistic user-, business-, and technology-appropriate experience… at the C-level.”

It’s time for a chief experience officer to become an architect of this new journey. Without it, digital customers see different messages on different devices with click paths that are often not consistent or optimized for their true state of mind or the native environment of each screen and platform they use. Said another way, different groups are responsible for different channels and when none of them works together to create a desired experience, the brand is diluted. Customers suffer through a clunky series of inconsistent and frustrating sites or landing pages, and as a result, connected customers miss an opportunity to build a stronger, cohesive relationship with the brand.

This happens for many reasons of course.

The email team doesn’t work with the web team.

The social media folks don’t work with the marketing department.

The advertising agency doesn’t talk to the public relations or marketing communications.

Customer service doesn’t even know that a UX team exists.

The result of this disarray is reflected in the lack of integrated CX programs and budgets. Disparate tools are then employed throughout the organization that creates dissonance rather than internal and external linkage throughout the customer journey. Instead of unifying people, processes, and technology around new touch points, we instead fuel internal politics and debates that prevent everything from coming together.

Basically, everyone who touches the customer at some point in the journey is not aware of the impact that they have in each moment of truth. As such, the journey is inconsistent, directionless and rife with obstructions. Without a complete view of the dynamic customer journey as it exists for connected customers, there can be no integration, harmony or true optimization. More importantly, without a centralized strategy, there can be no standard, directive or governance for how groups collaborate to design an empathetic, holistic and congruous experience at every touch point, in every moment of truth, on every device.

What we’re really talking about is someone who can bridge marketing, sales, service, and technology to create a frictionless path between customers and the business…at every step of the journey. The CXO owns the entire customer lifecycle and brings people within the organization together to do it. To break down walls, someone must be able to show how and why everyone can and should work together and also what’s in it for them. A CXO isn’t tied to any one function but instead someone who has everybody’s best interest inside and outside the organization to redefine the experience and how it’s formed and sustained.

Today’s customer journey is far more complex than ever before. The need for supporting traditional touch points with one-size-fits-all CX strategies, systems and processes is only trumped by every new touch point and corresponding expectation and behavior we have yet to organically or systematically embrace.

Starbucks gets it.

They invest in CX to serve up premium experiences around the world every day, millions of times each week. CX could focus on simply delivering drinks to customers. Instead, Starbucks studies and optimizes the relationship between customers and baristas beyond the transaction. To Starbucks, each interaction is unique and to CEO Howard Schultz, unique experiences are everything.

Consider how Starbucks humbly describes this experience on its “About Page” at…

It’s just a moment in time – just one hand reaching over the counter to present a cup to another outstretched hand.  But it’s a connection.  We make sure everything we do honors that connection – from our commitment to the highest quality coffee in the world, to the way we engage with our customers and communities to do business responsibly.

Starbucks famously spent less than $10 million on advertising between 1987 and 1998. The company did however invest significantly in designing, delivering, and supporting desired customer experiences. As a result, the company grew by over 2,000 stores. Many credit Starbucks’ popularity. But at the heart of that rapid expansion is the company’s elevated vision of customer experience and in turn, the experience customers should have and ultimately share. As a result, customers form a personal connection with the brand where experience becomes a catalyst for ritual visitation and ardent self-expression.

In mid-2012, the company appointed Adam Brotman, formerly senior vice president of Starbucks Digital Ventures, to an entirely new executive role, chief digital officer. Here, CX meets UX at the intersection where digital meets IRL (In Real Life). While his title is CDO, you could easily think about it as a new type of CXO, chief experience officer.

Brotman is now in charge of Starbuck’s digital projects, including web, mobile, social media, digital marketing, Starbucks Card and loyalty, e-commerce, Wi-Fi, Starbucks Digital Network, and emerging in-store technologies. Brotman shared with CNET that he sees this role as essential to the company’s ongoing success “as the coffee it sells.”

“Digital has been an essential part of how we build our brand and connect with our customers… there’s been such a seismic shift in our interactions with customers that we needed to pull it all together and make it a priority,” Brotman said.

Starbucks isn’t alone in its focus on creating an exceptional customer experience (CX). Disney. Nordstrom. Warby Parker. Uber. Virgin America. Zappos. Each of these companies shares a deliberate vision and intention to elevate customer experiences and relationships. The difference now is the role digital plays in the overall customer journey and lifecycle and the new touch points that open and close in each moment of truth.

CX is now making its way to executive row and as a result, will require a new perspective to align business objectives with the evolving expectations of connected customers.

Creating the “Undercover Boss” Moment

For experiences to mean something they not only need to evoke emotion they need to first be inspired. Often we lose touch with the nature of customer experience because we’re focused on steering it or responding to them remotely or after experiences are felt. One of the greatest drivers in CX isn’t as much about ROI, efficiency or scale, it too is an emotion. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another and it inspires improvement and innovation in CX.

To earn support for a more purposeful CX initiative, we need a little empathy to make the case at every level. We need that “Undercover Boss” moment.

We can’t blame executives for not getting it. Day-in and day-out, they report to stakeholders and shareholders. They make decisions based on input from like-minded direct reports. They communicate in boardrooms, golf courses, and resorts. They track progress in numbers and charts.

While this may be an over generalization, it is this over-the-top stereotype that says in other words, the life and language of the C-Suite is often disconnected from the everyday customer experience. But to make the case for a CXO, it’s now our job to give them the “Undercover Boss” moment.

Have you ever watched the popular TV series, “Undercover Boss?” It’s a wonderful series that places key executives in the roles of lower-level employees and sometimes as customers, in disguise of course, to experience a “day in the life of” internal and external stakeholders.

Over four seasons, well-known brands including 1-800-Flowers, NASCAR, Subway, MGM Grand, Norwegian Cruise Line, TaylorMade, and even the Chicago Cubs underwent the “Undercover Boss” moment. What’s fascinating is that even though the ending of the popular show rarely produces any surprises, it the struggle of the executive journey that is particularly sweet and savory.  Executives feel frustrated. They taste humility. Some endure humiliation. A few are actually fired from their undercover jobs.

There’s a bit of schadenfreude that encircles us as we witness the trials and tribulations of business leaders buoyed by a strong sense of validation. And toward the end of each episode, it always happens, that breaking point, that aha moment, that spark where exasperation transforms into empathy. What happens is the shift from an emotional moment to that of hope and orientation.

Emotion washes over logic.

A gathering ensues.

A declaration is made, “change is coming!”

An admission is shared, “I forgot what it was like…”

Tears flow, goose bumps propagate, and applause, joy and relief fill the air.


It’s then and only then that we see the true promise of experience.  It is by walking in the footsteps of our customers (and employees) that we learn how experience, CX, unfolds, stitches together, unthreads, or perhaps most importantly, leads to outcomes we think materialize only to learn what we think and what often happens are in fact different.

Empathy is a gift. It is the foundation for which CX is built upon.

Deep down, we all wish our executives could undergo this journey. The good news is that they can with your help. The case for CX can only be made by walking executives through a day-in-the-life of customers to show what isn’t working and how much it’s costing the organization in revenue, loyalty, growth, and market share.

Customer-centricity is inspired by the empathy that is felt simply by letting your business be human. CX is as much about improving experiences as it is about becoming part of the experience. If empathy is about understanding and sharing the feelings of another, business and the philosophies and processes that define it then must become human. When we take a human approach to engagement, customers feel the difference.

Nothing begins without you…and that is why you are the hero and this is your journey. The future of CX is in your hands. Feel it. Design it. Advance it.

If you don’t lead it, who will?

About Brian

Brian Solis is principal analyst and futurist at Altimeter, the digital analyst group at Prophet, Brian is world renowned keynote speaker and 7x best-selling author. His latest book, X: Where Business Meets Designexplores the future of brand and customer engagement through experience design. Invite him to speak at your event or bring him in to inspire and change executive mindsets.

Connect with Brian!

Twitter: @briansolis
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