Who Needs Customer Experience Certifications?

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We have entered the age of the customer - when companies only win by being customer-obsessed and delivering exceptional experiences. This is great news for customer experience professionals. Their skills and expertise are in demand, and at Forrester Research, we expect customer experience to continue its maturation into a full-fledged profession.
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We have entered the age of the customer--when companies only win by being customer-obsessed and delivering exceptional experiences. This is great news for customer experience professionals. Their skills and expertise are in demand, and at Forrester Research, we expect customer experience to continue its maturation into a full-fledged profession.

Unfortunately, the lack of university degree programs or even rigorous training for customer experience hinders that maturation process, and contributes to a shortage of qualified CX professionals. That makes it harder for CX leaders to build high-functioning teams that can drive business transformations. According to data from a recent Forrester survey, while 73 percent of companies aim to be CX leaders in their industry or across all industries, only 25 percent say their CX programs actually improve customer experiences. What holds them back? One culprit: They don't have the right people with the right skills. Only 21 percent of companies we interviewed said that their firm's CX program had effectively improved internal CX capabilities.

In my latest report for Forrester, "Who Needs CX Certifications?", I look at the CX certification programs created by vendors and the Customer Experience Professional Association (CXPA) that try to fill the education and training void in CX. The programs fall into two categories:

- Voice of the customer (VoC) certifications. These offerings cater to CX professionals who specialize in collecting and analyzing feedback from VoC programs. They train and test on topics like selecting listening posts, turning insights into action, and creating closed-loop follow-up processes. Think of MaritzCX (formerly Allegiance), Medallia, and Satmetrix.

- Customer experience certifications. These programs certify that participants understand the competencies underlying the six disciplines of customer experience -- customer understanding, strategy, design, measurement, governance, and culture -- and provide an overview of core skills like journey mapping. The providers here include ASU's W.P. Carey School of Business, Beyond Philosophy, the CXPA, Global CEM, Senteo, and Strativity.

While today's CX certifications are not without merit (my CCXP signals I have an interest in CX and am versed in the related skills) they are no substitute for the rigor of an executive degree program, nor do they emulate the learning that comes with years of on-the-job experience. Why not? Because the current crop of certifications are:

- Insufficient. Of the certification programs we reviewed, none provide more than a week's worth of training or classroom time. That is not enough time to cover the content in sufficient depth, let alone mold a CX professional.

- Incomplete. Some programs train participants in basics like mapping customer journeys, but, overall, their curricula lack sufficient CX skills training. None of the programs offer enough training in design processes, research techniques, or how to map CX ecosystems that support customer journeys.

- Informal. Many of the certification tests are open book -- and virtually all certification candidates pass the tests. As a point of contrast, more than 80,000 aspiring lawyers took the Bar Examination in 2013, and just 68 percent passed. The vast majority that passed had completed three years of law school before taking the test.

Even though existing certifications are not perfect, they are not devoid of value either. CX pros still need to sharpen their skills, train their teams, and develop new sources of talent. And so I recommend that CX teams look closely at the certification programs and determine if any meet their needs. Besides the two categories of certifications--VoC & general CX--the certifications also vary in the amount of training they offer, whether they're more appropriate for novices or more seasoned CX pros, and whether they are conducted virtually or in-person.

And I think CX pros have an opportunity--an obligation even--to encourage providers to create more rigorous certification programs. Beyond Philosophy, Satmetrix Systems, and Senteo have created more advanced certifications. And the CXPA is about to announce an authorized resource and training. That's a good start.

Companies should develop or source more comprehensive training that teaches deeper expertise as well. For example, several companies have worked with Strativity to create customized training curricula. And companies like BMO Financial Group, Cleveland Clinic, and Nationwide Mutual Insurance have created their own CX curricula and are developing their own certifications.

Ultimately, I believe that universities will start to offer coursework, certificates and even degree program in customer experience. It's just a matter of time. For now though, head on over to Forrester to read the rest of my report on how to make the most of the existing CX certification programs.

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About the Author: Sam Stern is a Senior Analyst at Forrester Research serving Customer Experience professionals, serving Customer Experience professionals. Learn more about Forrester's customer experience practice at forrester.com/customerexperience.

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