Busted: 7 Customer Experience Myths

Marketers and industry experts discuss the top mistakes that undermine customer experiences and how to fix them.
Customer Experience

Part of creating a great customer experience requires separating myth from reality.

In the rush to embrace customer-centric practices and drive revenue, it's easy for companies to focus on adopting new strategies without analyzing how these approaches impact their customers and whether they're sustainable. Here, analysts and industry experts identify some of the biggest myths that can undermine a business's efforts to improve the customer experience and how to avoid those pitfalls.

1. One-to-One Marketing is the Ultimate Goal
Despite the value of communicating with customers on a highly personalized, one-to-one basis, aspiring to deliver this level of customization at every touchpoint is not necessarily practical, argues Carol Wentworth, senior vice president of marketing at retail company Performance Bicycle. "There's a common belief that one-to-one communications is the ultimate goal and I think we need to understand the return on investment on this first because it can take a lot of resources to get there," Wentworth says.

If Performance Bicycle were organizing a bike riding trip for a group of cyclists at a similar experience level, for example, each participant would receive similar content preparing them for the trip. "We could personalize the messaging, but it doesn't make sense to make the content highly individualized since everyone needs to know the same things anyway," Wentworth notes. Taking a strategic approach to personalization and identifying key areas where customers appreciate receiving an individualized experience is a smarter use of resources, she adds.

2. All Data Should Be Centralized
Like a drumbeat, the message that centralized data systems improve operational efficiencies has been reverberating through businesses. But assuming that the more data that is centralized and made available to the whole organization the better, is a mistake, warns Ian McCaig, chief marketing officer and co-founder of Qubit, an experience and data management provider.

A lot of businesses embark on ambitious data management and warehousing plans, but "without a strategy for acting on the data, businesses are setting themselves up for failure," McCaig says. "You can't just bolt together datasets and expect everything to run smoothly." By the time a company is done migrating all of its data into a centralized system, for instance, some of that data could be outdated or not useful to other departments.

"There should be a happy medium between investing in centralized data systems and keeping some information in silos," McCaig adds. "Identify what your objective is for pulling data together first, and then identify the datasets that you'll need to intelligently orchestrate that experience or objective."

3. A Channel-first Mindset Is the Best Way to Engage Customers
While it should be common sense to avoid this approach by now, many companies still engage customers with a siloed mindset, McCaig notes. "We've seen it happen at meetings [with prospects] where companies have channel silos and don't understand why they have a poor customer experience," he says. This is a backwards approach, McCaig explains.

Although it makes sense to engage with customers across multiple channels, a company's engagement strategy should be based on the customer and not the channel. "The most successful businesses don't build around channel silos, they build around customer segments. That way they're focusing on the customers' preferences and providing relevant information in a way that's manageable."

4. Overhauling Operations Quickly leads to Quicker Profits
Transitioning from established business practices takes time however, which leads us to the next myth: Embracing change means overhauling the entire company. Informing employees that the company must become customer-centric is one thing but executing that vision is another. "When customer experience is everything, it's nothing," observes Gartner analyst Jake Sorofman. Companies need "clear leadership and direction" to ensure that "well-meaning stakeholders don't work at cross purposes in their attempts to earn customer loyalty and advocacy."

Indeed, the best way to drive change is by "starting small with quick wins," McCaig says. "Start with building a better experience for a segment or a core group of customers and expand on what you've learned," he says. "Start small and prove that there's real value to what you're trying to do before taking on larger tasks."

5. Customers stick to one channel of communication
There's a common misconception that customers have a single preferred channel of communication, such as Millennials being mobile-first and older consumers preferring print. Pigeonholing customers this way leads to a poor experience notes Gina Ferrara, senior analyst at analyst firm Madison Advisors.

"Customers may start with one channel and finish a transaction on another channel, and what companies often don't consider is that the channel mix is not a linear path," Ferrara says. "That's why it's important to give customers multiple options [for engaging with your company] and have a system for managing those touchpoints."

As an example, Ferrara points to college students. It may appear that digital is the best way to engage a college-age consumer, but there are instances when they prefer certain information like financial statements mailed home in print for their parents to handle. Savvy companies track the rate of customer interactions across various channels and adjust resources accordingly. "You can't automatically assume that one channel is in the past while another is the future," Ferrara adds.

6. Customer experience belongs to certain parts of the organization
It's easy to assume that customer centricity is largely the responsibility of customer-facing departments like marketing or customer service. After all, if you never meet the customers, it's unlikely that your job affects their experience. Wrong, Ferrara says. "CX shouldn't be limited to just one department like marketing, it's something that concerns all parts of a company," she notes. And when selecting a chief customer officer or similar role, it's a mistake to assign that person to a specific department.

"A chief customer officer should report to the highest level of the business," Ferrara advises. "Having the backing of a CEO or senior officer is important because it can make it easier to introduce changes that might otherwise be ignored." Furthermore, a chief customer officer who has experience working in a variety of departments and roles will have a better understanding of departmental concerns and can more effectively collaborate with employees across departments.

7. No complaints is a good thing
It's tempting to assume that a lack of complaints means your customers are satisfied. That's not necessarily true, points out Jay Baer, a customer experience consultant and author. In fact, companies should strive to make it easy for customers to submit complaints. "If you accept the premise that complaints are free market research, the more complaints you receive the better," he says.

Also remember that unsatisfied customers may not complain, they'll just stop doing business with the company. Smart businesses avoid this situation by providing clear instructions on how to leave feedback and promptly responding to customer concerns. Savvy companies also follow up with customers to let them know if their ideas or suggestions were implemented.

The bottom line is that understanding your customers and acting in their best interests is critical to delivering the best experience possible.