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Be Wary of “The Year of the Customer”

Charging into the new year, it’s easy to want to name what’s ahead of us. I am seeing a few enthusiastic sorts claiming 2020 will be “The Year of Experience,” “When Experience Finally Wins” or “The Year of the Customer.”

I ask you to greet these well-meaning mantras with appropriate suspicion.

For one, a quick Google search will bring you articles that claim 2019 was “The Year of the Customer.” That same search will tell you that 2018 was too… and 2017, and 2016…

Maybe 2020 is the year the prognosticators get it right?

Here’s the even bigger issue: Anytime we label a finite timeline, project or program as the “thing” that will address our customer experience issues, we discount the very nature of customers, experiences and humans ourselves.

The ONLY way customer experience becomes a valuable part of business is when we treat it like a business discipline. It can’t be a yearly theme, because then the year comes to an end. What happens to customer experience then?

I am NOT seeing headlines claiming this year will be “The Year of Sales” or “The Year Payroll Finally Wins” because it’s accepted that selling is an ongoing part of any business and you can’t put payroll on a short-term timeline. Why do we act like customer experience is so different?

What are the best ways to ensure your customer experience focus doesn’t become a well-intentioned but short-term project?

3 Ways to make every year the Year of the Customer:

1. Understand the connection between customer experience success and business outcomes.

A lot of CX teams report on individual metrics as a cause for celebration.

If your customer survey response rates go up, is that a win?

It might be, but it might also be a sign that your customers are looking for a way to communicate with you and that’s the only avenue they feel is available to them. Reporting on an increase of response rates isn’t reporting on what a great customer experience could be doing for your company.

Instead, look for how customer experience initiatives are connected to the overall goals and objectives of your business strategy. Will an increase in response rates lead to better customer feedback? Great. Then what? What will be done to act on that feedback? How will you close the loop with the customers who provided the feedback? And how will you measure success on the changes you make?

Reporting on data for data’s sake is not improving the customer experience OR delivering value for your organization. Without thoughtful approaches to this, customer experience can become a short-term “fad” at your organization.

2. Seek out the best practices and create standards from them.

Even at organizations with overall lousy Net Promoter Scores (NPS) or down-in-the-dumps Customer Satisfaction rates, there are individual customers having individually great experiences.

Typically, this is because a superstar employee has gone above and beyond, working around cumbersome internal processes or finding ways to exceed expectations with a smile. These superstars are often known by name. “If only we had more Sarahs!” might even be a common refrain.

When these customer champions leave your brand, those happy customers they served quickly become unhappy. Whatever Sarah or Stephan did to make up for the usually-less-than-stellar experience leaves with them.

Seeking out these superstars means you can learn what they’re doing and start codifying that behavior across your organization. But you have to make the effort to do this, which means looking for the bright spots among the depressing data.

Instead of reporting on the meager changes of bad experience metrics like NPS or C-Sat, look for those outliers who responded to your surveys with positive feedback. Is there a pattern there? Is there a specific location, product line or even individual who is consistently delivering for customers?

I bet you can connect the dots from those happy customers to larger purchases, extended lifetime value or even referrals. Instead of lamenting about the “lack of Sarahs” it’s an opportunity to find out what’s different. Start putting Sarah’s behaviors and actions into standard operating procedures. As you roll out the new ideas, track those metrics and see if there’s an improvement.

And for goodness sake, make the effort to show Sarah Superstar a lot of appreciation and recognition. Showcase her as an example and reward her for what she’s doing. Improving Sarah’s desire to stay with your company has an ROI of itself.

Show leadership how tracking customer experience is actually a way to retain superstars as well as propagate best practices throughout your organization. This is not a one-time thing, obviously. This is a culture shift that can pay off consistently.

3. Do what’s right, even when it’s hard.

The idea of a short-term “CX Program” leads to bad decisions. It’s tempting to add those hidden fees in fine print instead of upfront language with the hopes customers will not really see what’s happening.

Customers eventually will see what’s happening, and when they do it’ll be worse.

I’ve watched as salespeople have offered steep discounts to new customers to meet their quarterly quotas, while loyal customers are overcharged but told the new deal is “just for new customers.” We’ve all had the experience of a service rep or enthusiastic salesperson hand us a survey just to tell us “If you can’t give me 5 Stars, please let me know why now.”

These awkward and uncomfortable experiences for customers are known pain points. But employees who are asked to deliver short-term results are willing to behave in ways to serve themselves rather than the customers they’re supposed to be serving.

Creating a culture of customer experience means knowing there are short-term pain points that can lead to long-term results. If your customer journey stinks, another survey that gets “gamed” by employees won’t lead to better business outcomes.

Sometimes you need to throw out a great idea when customers tell you it’s not so great for them. Sometimes you need to offer resolutions proactively when something went wrong, even if you estimate that many customers wouldn’t bother to call.

These are hard choices, but they are the right choices. Don’t let short-term goals lead to long-term gotchas.

To Recap:


  1. Understand the connection between customer experience success and business outcomes. Reporting on data for data’s sake is not improving the customer experience OR delivering value for your organization — it’s how you act upon that data that matters.
  2. Seek out the best practices and create standards from them. Find the positive outliers, look for common patterns, and then build new systems to turn those outliers into the new normal.
  3. Do what’s right, even when it’s hard. What’s great for you or your team might not be great for your customers. Don’t let short-term goals lead to long-term gotchas.

Moving from a short-term “customer-experience-is-a-program mindset” to a long-term “customer-experience-is-just-part-of-business” mindset means moving hearts and minds in your organization. It means noticing the sideways glances and questions of “oh, I heard we were doing something around customer experience” comments but not succumbing to them.

It means learning, being brave and leading by example.

So don’t make 2020 the “year of the customer.” Make this the year your organization becomes a CX leader for every year in the future.


About Jeannie Walters, CCXP, CSP

Jeannie Walters CCXP CSP small square photoJeannie is an award-winning customer experience expert, international keynote speaker, and sought-after business coach who is trailblazing the movement from “Reactive Customer Service” to “Proactive Customer and Employee Experience.” More than 500,000 people have learned from her CX courses on LinkedIn Learning, and her insights have been featured in Forbes, The Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal and NPR

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