Some companies have customer experience managers or departments, and others do not. Why is that?

Who should own customer experience and what does that entail?

In an ideal world, everybody should champion the customer and their experience; certainly everyone within marketing, ecommerce/digital, sales, product development, service design and leadership.

That’s what happens in startups, and it’s easy to do when you’re a small band of merry men and women led by a charismatic founder. But how easy is it for a big multinational? How does that actually work?

At a recent Econsultancy roundtable where we discussed customer-centric and design-led business, the discussion occasionally stalled as delegates explained what customer experience meant in each of their organisations. Some were defining departments and roles, others a mindset.

The customer lab

Some companies may have a customer lab responsible for CX strategy but also more broadly product innovation. This type of incubated unit may bear similarities to a design studio and a customer insight department, headed up by a chief customer officer.

Separate units for product innovation are a common theme of digital transformation. Arguably they also allow for a more design-led approach to customer insight, often defined as ‘jobs to be done’.

Customer insight or jobs to be done?

The jobs-to-be-done framework (as described by Clayton Christensen) is based on solving customer problems or meeting customer needs, rather than defining a customer by their attributes (demographics, behaviour etc.).

This framework isn’t really that new, it’s an integral part of service design that is now bleeding into marketing. In some ways, it’s a reassertion of the concept of usefulness, in the face of mounting volumes of data which threaten to obfuscate the customer need.

Yes, 2017 may be the year of data lakes and data ops (see Ashley Friedlein’s 2017 marketing trends), getting control of first-party data and structuring it properly to ‘market to machines’, however there’s a simultaneous need for clear design-led decision making.

This need to solve customer problems is what has led some companies to align their organisational structure around key parts of the customer journey, rather than by business function.

Should org structure follow the customer journey?

In some organisations, customer experience ownership is achieved with departments responsible for different journey stages such as acquisition, on-boarding, payment etc.

This structure resists functional silos (digital, marketing, finance etc.) and may encourage teams to tackle problems channel-agnostically.

There’s plenty of theory about organisational structure and whether products or customer journeys should span functional verticals. A long and thoughtful blog post by Stratechery on Apple’s unique organisational structure is well worth a read.

The blog post asserts that Apple’s organisation around expertise rather than products (a unitary or integrated org) allows it to create products with superior UX, but may well hinder the company in creating and iterating services. A comparison is made with DuPont, which eventually separated its explosives and paint divisions after the First World War, as the strategy needed for the respective products was entirely different.

There is perhaps a correlation to the idea of customer journey departments here. If, reader, you work in a company with such a structure, please do leave a comment below and give an idea of how this works.

Design as a service

Another factor to consider is the idea of design as a service, sort of like a devolved customer lab. This may mean design teams, possibly assembled from notional functional silos and managed by a project manager or customer officer.

For example, all the UX experts may still sit together day-to-day, but each could be assigned to a different design team, where they conduct a certain proportion of their work on a particular service or customer interaction.

Do we need to redefine ‘experience’?

One of the issues with assigning responsibility for the customer experience is the fact that it is a broad church. Where once it may have been about CRM, now its tentacles have spread, largely thanks to digital’s impact on multichannel marketing.

In a terrific article about CX, Tim Walters from the Digital Clarity Group breaks this down by referencing the work of J.M.C. Snel in her 2011 dissertation “For the Love of Experience.”

Snel breaks experience into three vectors:

  • The environment: This is the thing that is experienced – e.g., Disneyland, a city park, a meal, a movie, a mobile web page.
  • The encounter: This is the interaction of an individual with the environment.
  • The effect: This is the result of the encounter, a judgment or attitude held by the individual. (Which is significantly influenced by prior expectations.)

Listed like this, one can see the idea of customer experience stretches far into the organisation and, as Snel comments, the idea of customer experience management probably focuses too heavily on the environment (building a digital product, say), rather than on the encounter.

The encounter is about understanding what the user wants to achieve in context. This harks back to jobs-to-be-done and service design.

Some conclusions…

  • ‘Customer experience’ is not a definitive term, nor is it always a useful one.
  • Though a mindset should prevail, there has to be accountability and therefore metrics.
  • Improving customer experience may be more a product of increasing collaboration between functional silos, or breaking them up completely to align with the customer journey
  • There must be leaders that champion a design-led approach.
  • Large organisations may need to incubate new CX departments in order to change culture and processes.
  • What’s in a name? Customer experience managers may be analagous to UX managers, to customer insight managers, to heads of analytics, or some combination of these roles.

If you’re reading this and you’re an experienced digital leader or an expert in design or UX, you’ll probably realise that I have little practical experience in organisation design, or indeed of large multinational companies. Please do wade into the comments and put me straight.

To learn more on this topic, book yourself onto one of Econsultancy’s Customer Experience Training Courses