The Customer Experience Crisis

What’s your worst customer experience nightmare?

You didn’t have to struggle to think of one, did you? In fact, several incidents probably came to mind immediately.

Maybe it was the time…

  • An expensive new purchase broke, and the store wouldn’t let you return it.
  • A seemingly minor billing error took months to fix, generating late charges, billing reminders and too many frustrating phone calls to count.
  • You needed immediate technical support. Instead it took days to resolve and your business lost revenue while waiting.

We all have these stories, and unfortunately for the companies involved, we love to share them with almost anyone who will listen.

Start talking with your friends and colleagues and the tales of customer woes grow bigger, the extremes of idiocy more unbelievable. Add a few drinks to the mix and the one-upmanship can reach epic proportions.

Sadly, these aren’t fish stories, they’re real bumps along the customer journey.

When these bumps and potholes become pervasive, the cumulative inconvenience turns into a full-blown crisis of customer experience. For companies that aren’t paying attention, the potential impact is huge.

It Starts on the Inside

At a recent monthly meeting of my business book club, the WIT Bibliobabes, we wandered off topic and started comparing notes on our personal stories as well as professional perspectives on this problem.

Many of the women in the group have managed IT, operations and support organizations for companies large and small. They know the litany of challenges from the inside out:

  1. Reps have to get customers off the phone faster, so they can handle more calls.
  2. “Reduce support costs – at all costs,” is a common mandate from management.
  3. Good employees are hard to find, so companies settle for less.
  4. Employers don’t pay enough to retain top talent and turnover is high.
  5. Aging systems don’t interact well and important details get lost in translation.
  6. Businesses can’t connect the dots or the data from one department to another.
  7. Executives believe “Our customers aren’t going anywhere, so why should we care if they’re happy?”

…and the list goes on.

Few of these issues are directly related to the support employees themselves. As vital as front line employees are to the success of your company, often poor customer experience is not their fault. It’s a leadership issue.

The Law of Corporate Motion

If you want forward movement in your business (aka growth), you need to understand Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Management action results in employee or customer reactions:

Rude employees? Bad training.

Intractable policies? Poor management decisions.

Lack of ownership? Penalties for going off task.

In business, when this cycle of action / reaction results in unpleasant outcomes, it’s called “The Law of Unintended Consequences.” More accurately, these are unanticipated consequences. They should have been expected, if only someone at the top took the time to think through the downstream impact of their actions.

Instead, management forges ahead with myopic vision, blindly ignoring the downstream impact of incessant cost cutting decisions, yo-yo cycles of centralized / decentralized structures, wandering strategic focus and failure to plan for the inevitable future state of the market, the economy and technology.

The end result is a looming crisis in customer experience. With the exception of a few stellar organizations whose commitment to excellence is unwavering, the majority of businesses in America are on shaky foundations when it comes to their customer relationships.

The upheaval of communications wrought by social networks and ubiquitous mobile devices is lost on slow-moving firms. Disgruntled buyers can send a message around the world in seconds. Videos of customer experience screw-ups trend on Twitter and appear on major news channels almost instantly. In this environment, the implications for brands are significant.

Business can’t hide from customers. They can’t deny their power or value. Whatever you do, serving customers is the foundation of your business.

Success in the coming years will be defined not by those who make the most at the customer’s expense, but by those who make the most of their customer experiences.

[Tweet “If you can’t seamlessly deliver value to customers, someone else will. #cx”]

All those excuses about the systems that are too difficult, costly, or complicated to change and the processes that serve internal purposes but not customer needs are moot. If you can’t seamlessly deliver value to customers, someone else will.It may take time for the empire to erode, but eventually that foundation will crumble and a more customer-centric competitor will take your place.

If you’re not on the customer’s side, you’re on the outside.

Knowing that, where do you want to be?

Image by: Rene Asmussenfoto via

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