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Customer Experience and Design

Strategy Ain’t Bean Bag: Lessons from Our CX Maturity Survey

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My colleagues and I spend our time pulling the levers of design thinking, digital innovation, and customer experience to enable transformation for our clients. Our effort turns market insights into strategic initiatives, organized into comprehensive, multi-phase plans. We do this for organizations large and small, legacy and new, across many industries.
When starting our work, we need to know the strengths and weaknesses of our client’s customer experience capabilities. We often ask them to participate in a CX IQ assessment, our proprietary customer experience maturity diagnostic. Results from CX IQ surveys provide us with an understanding of organizational capability across seven critical CX dimensions. The diagnostic also tells us how company leaders perceive their CX strengths and weakness and the degree to which leadership is aligned attitudinally.

Strategy Lags Behind Other CX Maturity Dimensions

Since first offering CX IQ assessments in 2015, respondents have consistently ranked one dimension as the lowest: Strategy. In doing so, they attest to having CX strategies insufficient to the task of achieving CX goals and guiding the organization toward a higher state of maturity. (In our survey, the Strategy dimension involves concepts like clarity of vision, team and employee alignment to the vision, awareness of competitor actions, use of prioritized roadmaps, and so on. The Culture dimension has consistently topped the rankings with Design Processes, Insight, Operations, Measurement, and Technology landing in-between.)
Why does Strategy earn the lowest marks? What makes getting it right so difficult? And what’s at stake if strategy shortcomings go unchecked?

Four Common Strategy and Vision Gaps

CX IQ participants aren’t alone in their strategy woes. In a 2017 survey, one-third of executives cited a “lack of a clear [digital] transformation strategy” as a key inhibitor to success. Looking closer, our CX IQ results point to four interrelated strategy challenges leaders must be ready to resolve.

1. Unclear or Disjointed Vision

Despite knowing that a clear, concise strategy is a basic requirement for business success, many leaders falter when faced with creating and communicating a robust future vision. CX IQ respondents report that their current digital and CX strategies drop the ball on fundamentals like anticipating competitor initiatives and consumers’ changing expectations or articulating a plan for unifying experiences across channels. These elements are fundamental to a compelling digital vision; the link between digital maturity and cohesive digital vision well-established.
A 2015 MIT Sloan Management Review study reported that while only 15 percent of respondents from digitally immature companies said their organizations have a “clear and coherent digital strategy,” more than 80 percent of digitally mature companies do.
Leaders can minimize vision gaps by ensuring strategy inputs take an outside-in approach — for example, employing primary research to uncover customers’ unmet needs and goals, then using the resulting insights to fuel innovation and shape future plans. In this way, customer needs act as a unifying guide around which strategic ideas can form.

2. Competing Priorities and Lack of Focus

Our survey respondents often report that CX efforts are beset by numerous competing priorities and a lack of focus. Employees’ time is spread thin across many disparate initiatives and shifting priorities. As a result, tasks fail to be completed before the next urgent item lights up the dash and overtakes the to-do list. In such organizations, managers quibble over their divergent approaches to meeting digital goals. Without focus, seemingly incompatible philosophies give rise to a race for CX project funding and resources.
A 2017 McKinsey & Co. study uncovered the same problems, ranking “lack of focus” number three on a list of the top ten digital transformation barriers. “Running too many competing initiatives dissipates management focus and starves promising ideas of the resources they need for a successful scale-up.”
What to do? For one, leaders should score and rank potential innovations using effort, value and readiness to assign priorities. This approach enables direct linkage between innovation opportunities and broader enterprise goals. Scorecards should be shared broadly to foster consensus. Making changes to prioritization later on is expected, but the same rigor must be used so as to maintain focus as needs change.

3. Lack of Alignment

A third barrier surfaced by CX IQ is lack of alignment — disagreement about CX vision, objectives, initiatives, or means of implementation. While poor communications often lie at the root, rapidly evolving customer expectations and shifting demands also contribute to the problem. Low alignment makes it difficult to maintain an up-to-date vision for CX across functional groups.
A 2018 report pointed to “fuzzy definitions” as a leading cause of digital strategy failure, noting that companies that misunderstand digital “struggle to connect digital strategy to their businesses.” A strategy built upon data and insight and embodied by visual depictions of the future state can reaffirm purpose and prepare people for challenges ahead. Absent a clear path forward, organizational alignment crumbles and resistance to change grows. But by establishing a shared vision early on, teams remain aligned and motivated.

4. Lack of Ownership

Our survey results point to lack of ownership for CX initiatives as another top strategy inhibitor. Because many organizations have not defined success metrics that bind business performance to CX excellence, ownership of individual CX initiatives becomes hard to clarify. We saw an example of this recently as we worked with a maker of consumer products to assess its CX maturity. Most employees who took the CX IQ survey strongly disagreed with the following CX IQ survey questions:

  • Our management team has made a commitment to support the CX road map with an adequate budget and staffing resources
  • Our CX vision is well understood by all employees, and they know how their individual role contributes to the company’s CX goals

Digging into the findings, we uncovered a gap between the (loose) vision for CX held by senior management and the funding commitments made to business unit leaders. Furthermore, we found no measurement framework existed to connect company goals with CX performance. Employees wore many hats and worked in a near-constant state of heightened urgency. As a result, nose-to-the-grindstone employees lacked clarity in how their work related to other teams and contributed to overall success.
To address lack of ownership, leaders must ensure CX vision is understood by employees, and that each knows how his or her role contributes to the whole. We worked with our client to develop a CX vision statement and establish consensus around CX opportunities across departments. We created role descriptions inclusive of CX activities and responsibilities, and a governance framework to enable engagement by leadership and key stakeholders.
For those looking to win on customer experience, it’s imperative to have a well-formed digital and CX strategy — and for the entire organization to embrace it. From top management to the sales floor to partners around the world, everyone who interacts with customers or supports them indirectly must understand the CX vision and how his or her role helps bring it to life.

Take our free, online self-assessment to learn more about your organization’s CX maturity. The assessment takes about 10 minutes to complete and provides:

  • Your overall CX IQ score
  • Benchmark score comparison with US average
  • A summary of your CX strengths and opportunities
  • Actionable recommendations for your key areas of CX opportunity
  • Functional team leader alignment

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David Stallsmith

David has expertise in applying user insight and design thinking methods to solve complex customer experience, marketing, and employee engagement challenges. He’s an accomplished strategist with extensive experience across a range of industries, notably branded manufacturing, technology, financial services, retail, and healthcare.

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