Six Ways to Get from CX Thought Leadership to CX Performance Leadership

Thought without action or strategy without operationalization do not get you anywhere in business. The same concept applies to customer experience.

Over the years, there has been a lot of thought leadership, but only a handful of companies have really ascended to performance leadership. In fact, the customer experience performance of most companies has either dropped or remained flat at best in 2017 and 2018, according to Forrester Research's CX Index). These companies are missing the middle between thought and performance leadership, which is action leadership. What holds many companies back in CX action is risk.

So how can you lead in action, and ultimately, performance, while mitigating risk? These six steps might help:

1. Go bimodal.

Gartner talks about bimodal IT, and McKinsey and others about two-speed business. In the slower mode (Mode 1), you have the systems of record, which are operation-critical and keep the lights on. Messing with these systems is risky, and there is no wonder they do not get updated frequently. The faster mode is for exploration and experimentation, which is where the systems of innovation and differentiation fit (Mode 2).

CRM and transactional ecommerce systems are good in customer data management and tend to fall in Mode 1. On the other hand, customer engagement systems need to keep up with the warp speed of technology progress and fast-changing consumer trends to deliver differentiated CX, and naturally fall into Mode 2. If you want to lead in CX action, you will have to innovate, which means you will need to master Mode 2, while mitigating risk. A business can afford fast failures, accompanied by fast learning, in Mode 2 since Mode 1 systems won't be impacted, thereby reducing operating risk.

2. Pilot in pads.

In American football, there is the concept of practicing in pads (rather than without, which is a softer approach) before the actual game. It is a practice session that better simulates the hard-hitting real game and prepares you better for it. Likewise, when you pilot a technology, go with production pilots instead of toy sandboxes. You will get a more realistic view of the actual performance and business value of the technology with this approach.

3. Go with risk-sharers, not shirkers.

Many solution providers pretend to share piloting risk, but most shirk risk, foisting it all on the buyer. Beware of risk-sharing pretenders who have their invoices in your inbox with the billable clock starting to tick before they even leave the building!

4. Put innovators in charge.

Innovation diffusion or adoption models (customer engagement technology included) were based on frameworks from Everett Rogers, Geoffrey Moore, and others. Rogers' model consisted of groups of buyers—innovators, early adopters, early majority, later majority, and laggards, based on characteristics such as financial resources, risk profiles, etc. Moore argued that there is a chasm between early adopters and the early majority. Gartner has a similar model for enterprise buyers and enterprises themselves, using the term Type A for aggressive adopters, Type B for mainstream adopters, and Type C for conservative ones. While Type C buyers have had unflattering labels like laggards attached to them, they have had good reason to be conservative in an IT world replete with implementation fiascoes.

Put innovators or Type A executives in CX action leadership. However, with a zero-risk consumption model like ours, even Type B and Type C buyers could become swashbuckling action leaders like Type A!

5. Create an action culture.

Tolerate fast failures, as long as they are not overly frequent and your team actually learns from them. Thought leadership with zero risk tolerance is a sure-fire formula for inaction leadership and eventual irrelevance in the market. With risk-free innovation consumption models, fast failures can almost always become fast successes.

6. Action leadership is both a sprint and a marathon.

Partner with vendors that have a proven track record in creating value in rapid sprints. While CX transformation is a marathon, taking it on in bite-sized sprints with a focused scope for each sprint will not only speed up time to value and keep up the momentum but also reduce risk of big failures.

With these best practices, you can walk the thought with CX action and get to performance leadership while passive thought leaders just think themselves into irrelevance.

Anand Subramaniam is senior vice president of global marketing at eGain.

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