In January, a gentleman who’s one of my LinkedIn connections and whose thinking I admire greatly, published an article that gave me pause. It was called, “4 Customer Experience Trends and Predictions for 2018“. I wanted to take it at face value and believe every word of it. But I was challenged from the outset because the article started like this:

With every new year comes new customer experience [CX] trends and innovations. On the horizon for 2018 is an increase in customer advisory boards, new job titles, and the next frontier of customer experience-related innovation management.

It won’t surprise you to know that any appearance of innovation at all — let alone appearances in two consecutive sentences — has my Spidey Sense tingling. And it didn’t make me very hopeful about a 2018 that promised more layers in bigger bureaucracies, to say nothing of the fact that some of those layers would comprise ostensible pursuits as ephemeral as innovation management. (?!) Yet I still kept thinking, “Leave it alone, man. Let it go.” Fate had other plans.

Salt in the Wound

In February, another article was published. This one was called, “An Inconvenient Truth: 93% of Customer Experience Initiatives are Failing…” Uh oh. Like a geyser of kerosene showering my fire of skepticism, it said this, in part:

The CX movement is roughly 20 years old (since early books were published). Actually, you could start the CX clock a decade earlier, with Jan Carlzon’s groundbreaking 1987 book Moments of Truth … The CXPA was launched in 2011 to make CX a real profession … My study found just 23% of respondents claiming tangible benefits from CX investments … and only 30% claim success in terms of tangible benefits or differentiation.

What does it say about customer experience as a practice or a discipline if it’s still the source of ineffective wheel-spinning more than 30 years after its concoction? And what does it say about innovation if it’s yielded results innovative enough to be fairly considered a failure? I don’t know. But I do know it’s par for the bureaucratic course.

Size Matters

Once the organization — any organization — is large enough, no one needs to care about anything. Executive functions (making policy) are separated from work (conducting the activities that generate the revenue that pays for the overhead of which the policy-makers ultimately are a part). Thoughtlessness and lack of accountability are compounded by anonymity and invisibility. The hand-offs begin. And the reason no one cares or has to care is that the impenetrability of the bureaucratic pettifoggery is absolute.

As long as the right people go through the right motions to keep the right people happy, the status quo is preserved. So few people actually do anything substantive or meaningful that the customer experience is nothing more than a concept and a buzzword for everyone above the people who might interact with the customer. Chances are the customer is a persona or a semi-fictional figment anyway. If that weren’t true, why would we be writing about, talking about, or touting things with highly dubious track records as if they were viable?

Plan B

If we lose our appetite for letting this customer-experience palaver run on any longer — or if we come to the realization that double-digit failure rates may constitute something of a red flag — maybe large organizations can do what small organizations do. Find someone who actually does something and commission that someone to approach a customer and ask just two questions:

  1. How are you doing?
  2. How are we doing?

The answers should yield pretty good indications of the customer’s experience.

If we can’t reverse the trend of bureaucratic obtuseness, one of my predictions for 2018 is that common sense will still be sucking wind.

Image by Alexas-Fotos, courtesy of