As we approach the end of another calendar year, it is always appropriate for bloggers, writers, thought leaders and professionals in general, to reflect on what has passed, as well as what is to come in the future. As a prolific writer on the subject of Customer Experience, I feel as though every article I publish is a reflection of sorts. However, when we reach the end of the year, it does seem sensible to combine all of my thoughts together to see if they make some kind of sensible conclusion!
When we reach the month of December, I am now regularly asked to share my thoughts – by many different people and organisations around the world. The more I have been asked this particular December, the more a phrase has continually leapt to the front of my mind – that phrase being:
The 7 Year Itch
Unusual – yet those who know me will agree that I often am! To explain why I see this phrase as the best way of describing the state of the Customer Experience Profession as we approach 2018, I would like to give you the Wikipedia (the font of all knowledge) definition of ‘the 7 year itch’:
The seven-year itch is a psychological term that suggests that happiness in a relationship declines after around year seven of a marriage. The phrase originated as a name for irritating and contagious skin complaints of a long duration. The phrase has since expanded to indicate cycles of dissatisfaction not only in interpersonal relationships but in any situation such as working a full-time job or buying a house, where a decrease in happiness and satisfaction is often seen over long periods of time.
Please note the last sentence – it is this reference to the phrase that I want you to think about. I first became aware of job roles containing the words, ‘Customer Experience’ in the early noughties. However, it was not until 2011, with the creation of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA), that the role became officially recognised as a profession. In fact, it was not until Bruce Temkin and Jeanne Bliss conceived the association that the acronym of ‘CX’ became an established way of referencing the concept.
We are now about to commence a new calendar year – 2018 – a year that will mark the seventh anniversary of the establishment of Customer Experience as a profession. Seven years that have seen thousands of committed, passionate, courageous, crazy, emotional, talented and amazing professionals, ensure that Customer Experience has become firmly part of the vernacular of business around the world. The one thing that cannot be denied, is that there are few businesses today who do not at least ‘talk’ about Customer Experience (even if they do not actually back up the talk with any action).
With this being the case, why am I concluding that the state of the Customer Experience Profession is akin to the marital equivalent of ‘the 7 year itch’? To answer that question, allow me to refer to an article I recently wrote to mark Customer Experience Day – in it, I explored whether Customer Experience was still evolving naturally, or whether it still required ‘revolutionaries’ to continue dragging organisations ‘kicking and screaming’ into a more customer centric world. The conclusion to that particular article was that despite significant advancements being made in technology, too many organisations continue to deliver inconsistent and random experiences that fail to meet the needs and expectations of customers.
In other words, I am suggesting that in the seven years since the profession was formally created, not a great deal has actually changed – for the consumer and for the employee. This is not to say that there are exceptions – of course there are. There are many examples of successes in customer centric transformation – but not enough. Every week, I personally continue to have experiences that frustrate, annoy and sadden me. Just last month, American Express spectacularly failed me as a customer – my experience epitomises the state of customer experience in many industries. This is what happened:
- End of September 2017 – I attempted to use my American Express credit card – it was declined
- A week later I tried again – the card was declined again
- On the 19th October I received the following letter from American Express:
- Rather than tell me they were conducting a review of my account, they just suspended the card without any thought or consideration of the effect this would have
- As a regular traveller, I could have been stranded in a foreign land!! Fortunately I have two other credit cards in case of emergency!
- I have never had a credit card ‘reviewed’ in this way before – I was rather surprised
- I contacted Amex to find out what was going on
- They advised me that I had apparently broken a condition in my agreement!!
- In essence, Amex accused me of money laundering!!
- I cannot go into specifics as to why – safe to say, I explained exactly what the circumstances of the transaction were (honest and legitimate) – no-one actually listened to what I had to say. Unless I provided the plethora of information they were asking for, my card would not be reactivated
- Having three global banks as clients, I asked their opinion – every one advised that what I was being accused of was ‘ridiculous’
- I refused to provide Amex with the information they were demanding
- On the 21st November I received the following letter
- It is the closest I have ever come to being made to feel like a criminal
The fact that this kind of things is still happening at the end of 2017 is, in my opinion, reflective of the current state of Customer Experience around the world. The following statement is published publicly on the American Express corporate website:
At American Express, service has been a hallmark of our company throughout its 167-year history. This service ethos comes to life every time we help a customer – whether with a simple, everyday request or in an emergency situation. We show the same care and commitment to service in our communities.
Really? I am afraid I do not agree. There are still so many examples of companies ‘talking’ a great game when it comes to Customer Experience, but the practical reality is remarkably different. No-one showed me an ounce of care or commitment!!
So whilst it has taken seven years for the language of Customer Experience to firmly establish itself, the reality is that despite saying it, far too few actually mean it. Far too few invest significantly enough in making Customer Experience something intentional and strategic. Far too few sustain their focus on it in the long term. Far too few see the improvement in customer and employee perception equally as important in the improvement in financial performance.
The risk is that we are getting to the point where people – business leaders; Customer Experience Professionals; employees in general – will start to lose faith in everything the Customer Experience Profession purports to be able to address. The phenomenal success that the profession has generated in creating awareness and understanding has led to ‘every man and his dog’ seeing Customer Experience as a way to make money. It is not! Even the professional association is at risk of being overwhelmed by ‘vendors’ – some of whom are well intentioned – others who are looking to make a quick buck.
The CXPA ‘supports the professional development of its members and advances the field by providing shared best practices and education, developing standards, offering networking opportunities, promoting the industry, and creating a better understanding of the discipline of Customer Experience’. The profession and the association that represents it globally is absolutely essential to ensure that the world does not lose faith in CX as a concept – but that the thousands of committed, passionate, courageous, crazy, emotional, talented and amazing professionals, ensure that Customer Experience sustains itself as part of the vernacular of business around the world AND increases its ability to drive the necessary demonstrable transformation to genuinely put customers and employees at the heart of everything that an organisation does.
As I conclude my final blog post of 2017, I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has read, endured, commented on, laughed and cried, at my many ramblings throughout the year. The fact you read what I write and support my work is never something I take for granted.
2018 will be an immensely exciting year for me – I will be marking my 6 years as an independent Customer Experience Specialist by releasing my first book – I cannot tell you how excited I am to share ‘Customer What’ – the honest and practical guide to customer experience – with the world. Look out for it towards the end of January.
I wish you all a very happy holiday, and a successful 2018!
Hello Ian, great article and observations, I completely agree with the sentiment, and have seen examples such as yours that indicate that not much has changed, certainly in the interim years.
I wrote an article recently comparing CX to the Total Quality programs from a few years ago where there appear to be many similarities. What I believe we will find is that after the rush of enthusiasm and hype around CX as we had with TQ, we will find things will go quiet and we will also see a gradual improvement in experiences as we did with product quality. This is driven as much by competitive and customer pressure as it is by consultative support and will be built by the tools and techniques established by the likes of CCXP etc. As CX professionals we need to ensure that the right approaches, techniques and tools are made available around a pragmatic approach that ensures CX is delivered profitably.
again thanks for the great article.
I’m in total agreement with your assessment and you should know that I’m in the same mindset given your previous blogs and our casual conversations. I also believe there’s another “7-year itch” at play in the world of CX and that’s within the organizations themselves that have started down that CX path and have either hit or are approaching the 7-year point. I’ll call this the “Corporate CX 7-year itch.” This is the point where the initial enthusiasm around CX among leadership begins to diminish and more questions start coming to the CX management professional as to why the organization is continuing to measure CX when what we are finding is that our customers are happy enough with us (based on the scores they are giving us) and in light of financial pressures to cut costs we don’t need to keep investing in CX. Some of that could be code for “I want to preserve my year-end bonus” and this is one way to achive that. I left one large public organization ahead of that wave (it was after 10 years) but the itch started around year seven. I’m currently working with another organization at the moment where CX just hit the 8-year mark and guess what? Yup, the itch is well underway there as well. My sample size may be small here, but I belive I might have identified yet another CX 7-year itch. I see it up to us CX professionals to help relieve the Corporate CX 7-year itch.
Interestingly enough, scientists have found that the reason scratching an itch offers relief is because scratching causes pain, which suppresses the itch, There’s something that corporate leaders can readily identify with – pain points, and the elimination thereof. It’s tactical (they don’t have to think too much) and relatively easy and inexpensive to administer. The objective would then be to proactively identify (or perhaps even create) some pain points within the organization where CX serves as the remedy – scratching the itch as it were before it actually happens. I don’t have a readily available example of how this might work in a real corporate situation but this is where creativity come into play. I could imagine this idea working a lot more easily coming from a CX consultant as I find they are taken a bit more seriously than internal CX resources who have a position and job-security to protect and preserve.
In any case, just as John Morris stated in his reply above, we CX professionals need to ensure that the right approaches, techniques and tools are made available around a pragmatic approach that ensures CX is delivered profitably. Careful and effective identification of pain-points that are creating customer discontent and potentially limiting revenues and profitability, done right, should start to releve or prevent that itch. Perhaps other readers here working within an organization might have an example of that to share. Ian, now you have inspired me to write a blog about this!
Here’s an nearly identical letter posted 5 years later in 2022: https://www.reddit.com/r/amex/comments/yzkbjj/what_do_you_do_when_amex_uk_tell_you_to_cut_your/