How to Turn CX Buzzwords into Meaningful Definitions

by Jeannie Walters

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What did you think the first time you heard the term Customer Experience?

Many years ago, I was speaking with a marketing executive when they revealed how they really felt about this whole idea of “customer experience (CX).”

In their view, CX was just another buzzword being tossed around as novel business jargon. 

You can imagine how I, somebody who’s been dedicated to customer experience for over 20 years, reacted: I completely understood where they were coming from.

Why?

Because in this marketer’s case, leaders in their organization had suddenly started talking about the importance of customer experience… but it was presented as a sort of theoretical idea. CX wasn’t defined for their business, and their role in it wasn’t made clear.

Customer experience was seen as something like a dream… “make customers happy, it’s as simple as that!”

If CX was being presented to you in such a way, I’d expect you to see it as a buzzword too. 

But, of course, customer experience is so much more than that.

Or I should say, good customer experience is more than that.

Because customers are interacting with your brand, your communications, your products, your payment process…whether you care about their experience or not.

Brands that care about customer experience treat it as a strategy, a mindset and a discipline. And they manage it according to their vision, values, mission, and their own definition of success.

Those are big concepts that many business leaders weren’t taught. Traditional business education and even traditional business plans don’t even mention customer experience.

Customer service gets a nod for when things go wrong for the customer, but often CX is discussed in broad terms like “delight the customer” which can be interpreted as both “that sounds nice, now what?” to “not my job since I’m not in customer service.”

Customer Experience has come a long way, but lagging organizations are still catching up

Now consider how CX has grown up in the last three decades.

  • Executives call themselves CX professionals, with professional titles like Chief Customer Officer and Chief Experience Officer.
  • Some of the most successful industry disruptors, Amazon, AirBnB and Virgin among them, proudly claim that success because of their relentless focus on customer experience.
  • And a whole category of measurement theory and metrics was born to collect, understand and act on customer feedback. 

So how, exactly, does CX get reduced to the idea of a buzzword? A fad? A trend? A bit of jargon?

Well, in many organizations it’s still treated that way.

Leaders are seduced by the idea of customer experience. But the effort behind that idea is very real, and it’s frankly more difficult than most people think.

CX isn’t just asking for feedback and then doing something to delight customers. It’s collaborating and creating the right vision, the right teams, the right data, and the right mechanics to deliver. 

CX is considered a buzzword…more than we’d like to admit. 

Definitions are worth debating, because the lens of the leader and the organization absolutely influence how CX is defined. And now other buzzwords are blending and in some cases taking over how CX is viewed:

  • Technology and platforms, like Customer Experience Management (CEM) tools and Customer Data Platforms (CDP), are referred to as if they are CX.
  • Voice of the Customer (VoC) programs and Net Promoter Score (NPS) are sometimes the shorthand used interchangeably at organizations when they are discussing CX. 

And while these tools and terms are important, they can never stand alone to refer to CX as a whole. 

How can we turn buzzwords into useful definitions?

When we reduce terms to buzzwords, it’s almost a cue for our teams to ignore them:

  • Leaders toss around terms like “engagement” and “transformation” in ways that make those terms seem less important than they are.
  • We aim for an exceptional “journey” for our customers but are only referring to marketing.
  • We ask ourselves if our “culture” is really living up to a customer-centric experience but we don’t do anything more about it.

I’m not claiming to be Merriam or Webster, but I do think talking about our approach to the words that fill the CX glossary is a conversation worth having. These are not buzzwords when they have meaning behind them. 

Just for kicks, here are three buzzwords I think are worth defending. 

  1. Engagement
  2. Culture
  3. Transformation

Here’s why.

Engagement

To become a truly customer-centric organization, engagement is not only critical, but it’s costly if it’s not there — both for your customers and your employees.

Customer Engagement means connecting with customers emotionally. It means creating a real relationship that improves their loyalty and increases their positive feelings. It means building a customer experience WITH your customers, not just for them.

Employee Engagement means connecting employees’ daily duties with the bigger vision, every day. It means internalizing what promises were made to customers and then living up to those promises.

Not engaging employees is like not putting fuel in your car and wondering why it’s not working. Leaders must engage employees to deliver a great experience.

Culture

Culture is so much more than a buzzword! Culture impacts everything you do, from who you hire to what you create.

If your culture is one of chasing monthly sales goals and rewarding only those top performers in the front of the customer’s journey, it’s impossible to walk the talk of “we care about customers.”

If your culture oppresses the truth because employees don’t want to get in trouble for speaking up about issues they see, then your customers will live with increased effort and pain that is never addressed.

A customer-centric culture is where innovation and imagination around the customer experience live.

Transformation

I know what you’re thinking: “Really?” 

Believe me, I’ve had my fill of the term digital transformation, too. But hear me out…

Transformation is a permanent and critical word for any CX leader because doing business today is unlike doing business in the past:

  • Loyalty is not granted generationally based on what brands our parents used. Instead, loyalty must be earned with each and every interaction.
  • Every touchpoint, every service response, every communication, must be representative of an amazing experience.
  • Transformation is simply a MUST for most organizations today. They must transform not only how they do business, but WHY. They must transform their experience both inside and out.

Digital transformation, specifically, is a funny way of saying we have to build the experience on the digital platforms that enable better experiences.

Personalized, meaningful experiences at-scale can only happen with robust and well-considered digital experiences for both the organization and customers. This is not going away, this is simply the way of the world.

Don’t dismiss buzzwords, instead make them meaningful

Buzzwords can be annoying, yes. But they become leadership buzzwords because a bunch of us realize they’re necessary!

The next time you feel the urge to roll your eyes and dismiss a buzzword, seek out the core principle behind the buzzword. If a word is being thrown around in your organization without meaning, that’s an opportunity to give it meaning by defining the term and then communicating it across the organization.

Our latest Year of CX resource can help: Launching next week, we’re premiering the first edition of our Customer Experience Glossary, designed to help identify what many CX and CX-adjacent terms really mean so you can make the most of them. To get an alert as soon as the glossary is released — as well as getting access to all our other CX resources — subscribe here .

These buzzwords have power behind them. I challenge you to look beyond the buzz to see what they’re really trying to say.

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Jeannie Walters

Jeannie Walters is the CEO/Founder of Experience Investigators, a global Customer Experience consulting firm. She has 20 years of experience helping companies improve loyalty and retention, employee engagement, and overall customer experience. Jeannie is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP,) a charter member of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA,) a Professional Member of the National Speakers Association, LinkedIn Learning instructor, TEDx speaker, and President-Elect of the National Speakers Association Illinois chapter. Learn more here.

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