The Future Of Customer Experience Management

Christopher Meyer and Andre Schwager’s February 2007 Harvard Business Review article “Understanding Customer Experience” brings, perhaps for the first time, the topic of customer experience management (CEM) to the senior management plane. While, overall, the article is quite good, one thing stuck out like a sore thumb — the authors’ definition of the term:

[CEM] captures and distributes what a customer thinks about a company.”

We used to call that market research.

But I’m not here to argue about the definition. Instead, I see this definition as a milestone and potential turning point in the evolution of customer experience management.

In their 1994 book Beyond The Hype, three Harvard b-school professors postulated that the strength — and weakness — of many management techniques was that they could be defined in different ways to suit different purposes. Case in point #1: Reengineering, which was originally conceived as the redesign of cross-functional business processes and later, as it become more ingrained (and infamous), as synonomous with layoffs and downsizing. Later on in the 90s, knowledge management similarly meant many different things to different people.

From my perspective, management concepts go through a predictable cycle of four stages. They: 1) begin to dot the management press with articles from early proponents; 2) gain strong acceptance when credible case studies highlight the superior performance firms realize from deploying the concept; 3) fall out of favor as copycat firms begin to over-use the label and apply it to initiatives that shouldn’t be funded (but get funded anyway because they have the label); and then 4) become part of the fabric of management if — and only if — they’re truly a worthwhile management concept.

When CEM first started appearing as a term a few years ago, I thought it was the perfect antidote to reengineering. Whereas reengineering was about process redesign from the firm’s POV (reduce cost and cycle time), I thought CEM would evolve to be about process redesign from the customer’s POV (reduce cycle time IF it resulted in higher satisfaction, add cost IF it resulted in higher satisfaction).

But that hasn’t really happened. David Raab recently commented on the variations of CEM frameworks, and the inherent differences they wrestle with regarding function vs. emotion, moments-of-truth vs. all experiences, static vs. interactive experiences, and expected vs. actual experiences. In many firms, the term customer experience has been hijacked by the Web site designers and applies only to customers’ online experiences.

So whither CEM?

CEM has labored in stage one for a while now. But whereas Michael Hammer’s HBR article from long ago helped kick reengineering into stage two, I doubt that Meyer and Schwager’s article will do the same. It failed to pull together the conflicting perspectives of the CEM frameworks that are out there, and, just as importantly (if not more so) it failed to provide the high-profile (and credible) case studies that demonstrate the radical and/or transformational impact CEM might have on a firm.

The heydays of management techniques like reengineering, knowledge management, or CEM don’t last forever — they get anywhere from two to five years to gain accpetance, and if worthy, become part of how future managers run their organizations.

Customer experience management is probably in the middle of that lifecycle. If proponents don’t come together to reconcile the conflicts in their frameworks and provide credible high-profile case studies that capture the attention of senior execs — before the end of 2008 — then CEM won’t be a term we’ll hear a lot about come 2010.

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7 thoughts on “The Future Of Customer Experience Management

  1. David, I have to respectfully disagree with you that the examples you provide are success stories of customer experience MANAGEMENT. You’ve provided a nice list of firms that deliver a good (maybe great) customer experience. But what are the common links between them regarding the methodology or approaches they’ve deployed to designing and delivering a great customer experience?

    This is part of the problem with the discussion around customer experience and CEM today. A firm can deliver a great customer experience — but not necessarily utilize any CEM framework or approach to do so.

    Here we are in Feb 2007, and everyone and their mother has heard how Disney and Starbucks provide a great customer experience. They were doing so long before the CEM term came into existence. But no where has anybody really tied what they’ve done to a CEM approach or framework (despite all the books that have been written).

    Last point: All management techniques are “optional” — but unless they’re compelling, they won’t catch the wave. No one has made CEM compelling yet, and I think the HBR article missed its shot to do so.

  2. Ron, I don’t think the great customer experiences delivered by those firms are accidental. Each firm definitely has a methodology–indeed, a culture–to make their experience happen. Maybe their methodologies are different but that doesn’t bother me. I think many different methodologies can work. What really counts is management commitment.

  3. I agree with David. Leading companies are figuring out that if they design a differentiated, valued experience and deliver it consistently that they have a competitive advantage that is difficult for competitors to duplicate. In large part this is because the methodologies and mechanics are hidden within the corporate culture and internal processes. It does not matter that CEM is an accepted methodology, but that it is a vision and business strategy. it matters that it is more than words. It matters that it is delivered by every department in the company. It matters that employee compensation reflects the corporate commitment to produce greater numbers of customer advocates. Customer experience is not in a lifecycle (except maybe for the consultants and technology companies who promote their way of doing CEM). I would even argue that its death will come only if it becomes a standardized best practice rather than a promise to relate to customers in such a way that they are ecstatic over the experience.

  4. Thanks for your comment Dale.

    For me, good management approaches and practices don’t “die” — they become part of the fabric by which we manage organizations.

    But with lack of clarity around what “customer experience” is, and the hijacking of the term by the Web designers, the potential value that’s bottled up in the various CEM frameworks that are out there may never see the light of day.

    Without more clarity, “customer experience” will continue to be a buzzword — and not take its (rightful?) place in the fabric of management.

  5. Hi.
    I am Javier, the founder of Trendirama.com, a community of online amateur writers. We write about the future of everything. I would like to invite you guys to write an article on the Trendirama.com website, perhaps based on what you mentioned there. Maybe you can write “The future of customer management”? It is up to you, you choose the subject.
    You would get a link back when you link to your own article, if you wish.
    You can even re-use some of what you’ve written here, in the last part of the article, “your view and comments”. That would save you time and still be interesting for readers.
    Don’t underestimate this opportunity!
    Look forward to hearing from you

    Best regards
    Javier Marti
    http://www.trendirama.com

  6. Pingback: Marketing Productivity Blog » Blog Archive » Measuring Customer Experience ROMI #1: Nice to New Customers

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