Caution on the Customer Experience Battlefield

Hank Barnes

Research Vice President, Tech Go-to-Market and Sales Strategies


My colleague Jake Sorofman recently shared some results from a Gartner survey on the high level of  priority  marketing groups have given to customer experience (CX) in their 2015 plans, calling it “the new battlefield.”   I could not agree more, but want to express a word of caution.


Old marketing approaches are losers on this battlefield.

CX is not about marketing on its own.   Marketing can’t deliver a great customer experience independent of sales, service, and any other part of the organization, and your ecosystem,  that impacts how a customer perceives your company  and your products (and/or services).

Yes, personalized experiences during the buying process matter.  Yes, using extensive data analysis to gain insights for that personalization matters.  But those are just elements of the experience.  What matters most is consistency end to end—from the time buyers first learn about your company through the buying process and beyond–as they use the product and get value.    Without a holistic approach, you are really only hoping that you can deliver a great experience.

Before I joined Gartner, I was part of technology companies that believed in the importance, and value, of customer experience.  But those companies could be myopic.  We’d say  things like, “Customer Experience is about great content management” or “Customer Experience is a subset of digital marketing.”  We’d try to skew the customer experience focus to fit our products.   I’ve come to realize that does not help anyone.

If you are going to fight on the CX battlefield, you better bring a unified force of marketing, sales, service, and more.  In fact, you might want the front line of your battle force to be your advocates–current customers and influencers that love what you do and have seen for themselves the value you provide.   The main weapons on this battlefield are trust, credibility, and shared context.   Dazzling spectacles that entice can work, but if they aren’t steeped in authenticity, it will be a temporary win that  will soon be followed by losses.  The backlash when people discover reality will be huge.  Service realities matter the most in customer experience.

So, if you are part of a marketing team that is placing big bets onf CX, make sure you don’t think you can go it alone.  Your effort has to be an integrated part of a whole.  If marketing is still viewed in your organization largely, or solely, as “the people that generate leads”, you will fail.    That internal perception will wreak havoc on your efforts to create great experiences.

Is Marketing up to the challenge?  We’ll see.

Despite being proud to consider myself a marketer, I have my doubts.  I still feel that for this to work, a different approach is needed–something I blogged about a few years ago.  It will be interesting to see what happens.  But it will be a shame if the CX concept gets derailed due to half truths and disconnects across the customer lifecycle.

None of us can ever forget, we can’t “own” the customer experience.  It lives in the perceptions created in each customer’s mind by the all interactions they have with our companies.

Jul 17, 2015