At first glance, the news looks good for consumers and business buyers: Improving the customer experience (CX) is a top priority in a majority of companies. According to a recent study by Forrester, more than 90% of senior executives say that improving CX is a “top strategic priority” for their companies. Also, a 2014 study by the Temkin Group indicates that 90% of North American firms surveyed aspire to be “customer experience leaders” within the next three years. Unfortunately, a closer look reveals the rest of the story: The Temkin Group report shows that, despite their aspirations, only 10% of companies surveyed are “truly customer centric.” Furthermore, the Forrester study concludes that “a majority of firms will show up ill-prepared to achieve their customer experience leadership goals.”
Perhaps there would be less cause for alarm if the results of these studies were exceptional, but they are not. Scores on the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) have dropped to their lowest levels in nine years. After reaching a peak in 2013 (the high watermark of the ACSI), scores have declined in every sector except e-commerce and e-business. The aggregate ACSI is now very near the baseline of 1994, and five sectors scored lower than their first year of measurement: energy, information, manufacturing/durable goods, manufacturing/nondurable goods, and finance and insurance. Taken together, these trends and findings beg a simple question: If companies really believe that improving CX is such a top priority, why aren’t more of them seeing real gains in customer satisfaction?
Many explanations have been offered. Some assert that buyer expectations and requirements are progressive, and that customers are always harder to satisfy in the present than they were in the past. Others blame cutbacks in service and staffing due to challenging economic conditions. Others suggest that companies themselves aren’t quite sure how to deliver great customer experiences, or have failed to enable their employees and partners to do so. Absence of a clear CX strategy and/or executive leadership, lack of budget, poor cross-functional coordination, failure to implement a disciplined CX measurement and management processes, and a host of other factors also have been cited as obstacles to success.