Blog post

Four Ways Customer Experience Projects Can Go Off the Rails

By Jake Sorofman | February 21, 2017 | 4 Comments

digital marketing

There are a lot of reasons customer experience projects can fail, from lack of visible executive support to misaligned incentives to a culture that doesn’t celebrate and reinforce the primacy of the customer. But, even when these things are adequately addressed, customer experience projects can often go off the rails. Why? Four specific anti-patterns may be to blame:

  1. When personas are hallucinated—perhaps the most common and fundamental misstep I see in customer experience projects is the tendency to confuse actual customer insight with a sort of customer mythology. With time, our anecdotal experiences and internal biases distort our true understanding of customer need, becoming something that may resemble the truth, but isn’t the truth in fact. On this flawed basis, we often create a sort of hallucinated persona through the lens of how we imagine our customers to be or how we choose to see them. More often than not, perhaps unsurprisingly, the result is a customer experience that wildly misses the mark.
  1. When personas aren’t translated into journeys—in customer experience strategy, personas are necessary, but insufficient. Why? Because they’re abstractions of customer preferences, motivations and goals that aggregate a diverse set of needs into a single static snapshot. Personas become actionable only when they’re translated into customer journeys, which help to articulate the fuller dimensions of how these needs change over time. Personas without journey maps often turn into something like window dressing for customer experience projects: they convince us we know our customer when what we know is little more than a hollow abstraction.
  1. When CX investments aren’t prioritized—customer experience projects that treat every customer and every moment on the customer journey with equivalent urgency are doomed. The truth is that not every customer is of equal value, nor is every moment on their journey. And when we fail to segment customers economically and separate the magic moments from the more ordinary ones we run the risk of boiling the ocean. The same is true when we fail to triage what’s conspicuously broken today before we dive headlong into the universe of possibilities for tomorrow.
  1. When outside-in isn’t translated into inside-out—we’ve all been taught that customer experiences should be designed from the outside-in, from the perspective of our customers’ needs and goals. But the reality is that the customer experience is executed from the inside-out. Another common point of failure in customer experience projects is the inability to adequately translate the “front-stage” customer experience into the messier “back-stage” realities of how the business runs. This requires an effort to bridge the divide between the current- and desired-state, which begins with a clear translation of the CX project goals—often big, bold and ambitious—into a pragmatic cross-functional work plan.

What other anti-patterns do you see? Share your comments below.

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  • Dennis says:

    Good points. #4 is critical and should be first be approached by standardization and alignment across multiple teams.

  • Judy Willis says:

    All great points, Jake. I find that many clients develop personas but don’t develop the customer journey maps, so they don’t know which touchpoints they need and when along the selection and buying process.

  • You capture it in #4 (“back-stage” is a great way to think about it) but I think it warrants a call out as well. Customer Experience projects can go off the rails when we don’t step back and look at the complexity. Can we take things away and get the same results? Is there excess, can we make it simpler, more elegant?

  • Jeff says:

    Lack of employee training on customer experience and journeys. Most people still don’t know what it is so hard to execute something the culture doesn’t understand.