Thursday, January 11, 2007

Customer Experience Management May be Stuck in the Chasm

Enough already about brands! Somehow I’ve gotten sidetracked onto that topic, which is so inherently fascinating that it’s tough to give up. As a parting shot, I’ll cite Apple’s conflict with Cisco over the “iPhone” name as more proof that customer have relationships with brands, not companies. For example, note Cisco general counsel Mark Chandler’s statement “The action we’ve taken is about protecting our brand.” (“Cisco, Claiming Ownership of ‘iPhone,’ Sues Apple”, The New York Times), January 11, 2007, page C13). If relationships were really with companies, then the product name wouldn't be all that important. But Apple wants the iPhone name to extend its iPod brand--and apparently feels this is so valuable that it's worth fighting for.

The iPhone announcement also highlights another favorite theme of this blog: that the smart phone is emerging as a multi-channel device presenting new, unique opportunities for customer experiences. Actually, this point has now been made so often in the media that it’s probably not even worth arguing here anymore.

So let’s get back to my primary topic, implementation of customer experience management. (Did you know that was my primary topic?) I’ve been re-reading Geoffrey A. Moore’s classic Crossing the Chasm, which describes why so many technical innovations fail to gain broad market acceptance. Although the book is about the high-tech industry, its concepts probably apply to managerial innovations like customer experience management. Certainly CEM appears stuck in the chasm between adoption by a small number of early adopter "visionaries" and the acceptance by a larger market of early majority "pragmatists."

As Moore sees it, the difference between visionaries and pragmatics is profound. Visionaries seek radical change to gain strategic advantage. Pragmatists want incremental improvements to existing processes. No amount of enthusiastic preaching by visionaries will attract the pragmatists. In fact, it probably scares them off. Pragmatists need to be convinced that a proposed change is risk-free. This means leading them through a step-by-step description of a complete solution to whatever problem the innovation is claiming to solve.

I’m beginning to suspect that this is why CEM has apparently stalled in its growth. (I know many people would argue it hasn’t stalled at all—see my post Reading the Hype Meter for Customer Experience Management for why I think differently.) Current proponents are visionaries who present CEM as an all-encompassing change that will revolutionize every organization it touches. They don’t show how it can employed in a limited way to solve a particular problem. In fact, from a pragmatists’ viewpoint, they pretty much shoot themselves in the foot by arguing you shouldn’t and can’t deploy it incrementally.

I love the grand vision as much as anyone. But if CEM is going to spread throughout the business world, its advocates may need to tone down the rhetoric and start by thinking small.

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