Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Customer Experience Management Needs More Hype (I'm Serious)

The phrase “customer experience” pops up more and more often in vendor promotions and other business discussions. But somehow “customer experience management” (CEM) doesn’t seem to have reached the status of a truly hot buzzword. By that, I mean there is little hype suggesting that CEM is the solution to all your problems, or that your company must adopt CEM or fall hopelessly behind its competitors.

This may or may not be a good thing. Hype in general is rather unattractive because it substitutes mindless conformity for serious thought. But hype also supports the large amount of continuous effort required for new ideas to penetrate the collective consciousness of the business world. They need the repetition provided by years of articles, conference presentations, and vendor promotion. From a purely practical standpoint, you need enough interest for analysts, journalists, academics and consultants to make a living talking about a topic before much has really happened with it. Without the weight of hype behind them, good ideas vanish before they are adopted.

One obstacle to the hyping of customer experience may be that the term is used in different ways. Web marketers think of it as what site visitors see, and talk about optimizing the experience in terms of managing page flows, improving response times and delivering interactive graphics. Customer service vendors use the term in connection with problem resolution and customer satisfaction. Others, including Client X Client, view of customer experience as encompassing all contacts between a customer and a brand. Obviously we’re right and they’re wrong, but that’s not the point. I don’t think the conflicting definitions are really the problem. After all, any successful buzzword is adapted by different people to mean different things.

Rather, my personal theory is that CEM hasn’t taken off because technology vendors haven’t wrapped it into a package. I can definitely buy a CRM system or a Business Intelligence system or Services Oriented Architecture technology, but who—apart from the specialized Web and customer service vendors--offers “CEM Software”? It’s not merely that people selling these systems have marketing budgets to promote the notion, although that’s part of it. It’s also that businesspeople prefer problems they can solve by buying something. Otherwise, it’s like going to the doctor and being told you have an incurable disease—or, more precisely, a disease he has no medicine to cure but you can keep under control with diet and exercise. That’s just such hard work.

It’s also why support groups like Weight Watchers or Alcoholics Anonymous are so important. People want some sort of help with their problems, even it’s just talking about them with fellow sufferers. Of course, customer experience management is not a disease. It’s an opportunity to do things better. But the point remains that people will shy away from addressing it unless they are offered help. More formally, they need a structured approach that can help them manage the process with a good chance of success. Whether this is consulting or education or technology, I suspect customer experience management will never really enter the hype cycle until someone provides it.


MRHoffman said...

Customer experience is like water, it is everywhere and we take it for granted until it is polluted, scarce, absent or expensive.

David Raab said...

Thanks Dale. I'm still waiting for that BusinessWeek cover to know CEM has arrived. Nice blog you have there--lots of good stuff.