Recently, we found ourselves taking part in the annual conference hosted by B2B Marketing on the emergent discipline of CX – or customer experience. It’s a new, nascent field with some very old principles, and focused on the end result, not on any one technology or channel. So, it promises great things for the future. There’s just one problem… Nobody can really agree what it is.

Sure, B2B Marketing’s Joel Harrison defines it as a paradigm that encapsulates and aligns all customer touch-points and interactions before, during and after purchase. But, during the conference, we saw how everyone had a slightly different take on this; a different perspective contaminated by their own experience. An advocate based marketing agency would see CX as an evolution of DM. A social media outfit would, naturally, see CX as a socially-driven concept. A fox, presumably, would see CX as the next evolution in chicken coop infiltration methodologies.

It’s clear that we need a universal view of CX – beyond a standard definition like that given above. What does it mean for organisations and what does the CX future look like?

New name, old principles

One of the more pertinent points raised on the day was this: customer experience is common sense – but not common practice. And this is the crux of the CX argument. It’s a return to old-fashioned values and truly ‘living the brand’; a resurgence of face-to-face conversations and interactions, tangible relationships and live event-based marketing plans.

As with so many other paradigms, CX has osmosed its way into the B2B sector from B2C – a world of myriad, labyrinthine routes to purchase on every screen and every street. In B2B, things are slightly different, but still very much the same. It’s still about ‘human-to-human’ dialogue. Buyers are invariably loyal to their old suppliers, but still take time to research alternatives. But increasingly – as B2B Marketing’s benchmarking report shows – buyers value interpersonal relationships and the experience of dealing with a supplier, even more than factors like price or quality. Experience, it would seem, is the real differentiator.

This is nothing new. But it is telling that practitioners stress that CX isn’t just about ‘customer service’. It’s beyond this. It’s about trust and integrity; authority and openness. It’s like the high-street banks who, in the face of increasing automation, are sitting you down with a real bank manager. It’s the critical component supplier who isn’t on the phone trying to flog you something, but who’s on-site with you, aiding in solving a problem. Helping, not selling. It’s all very old-fashioned, but it’s now classed under a universal paradigm that affects your whole business – from the inside out.

Kick-starting CX from within

CX is all-encompassing, reflecting the gradual evolution of the commercial realm from product focus to customer-centricity. Crucially, it’s not just ‘a marketing thing’, which is why the viewpoints we talked about earlier – DM, social media, foxes, etc. – are fundamentally flawed.

CX takes in customer service and commercial management. It hinges on brand storytelling. It involves your social and communications mix; your events strategy; influencer engagement; your entire brand promise and image, and everyone in and around your business – which is where employee engagement and employer branding comes in. Putting the customer experience at the core of your business means fundamentally shifting all parameters, starting from within the business, and securing the endorsement of board-level executives. All of which, together with the disparity of attempts to define CX, calls for the centralisation of the discipline – via the creation of a new type of executive…

The rise of the CXO

Shaun Smith and Andy Milligan have posited an organisational model of ‘Triad Power’: a triumvirate of marketing, operations and HR functions, with the CEO at the centre. It’s an effective model for the responsive, flexible organisational control needed in the age of CX – but we want to suggest taking it one step further.

It shouldn’t be the CEO sitting at the centre any more – it should be the Chief Experience Officer; the CXO. Someone whose entire remit is to realign the corporate culture to uphold and enhance the customer experience at all levels of the company. They should have a commercial grounding, certainly – preferably from a marketing background – but they’re a new type of leader. One who can join up all the touch-points and stages of CX, instilling change throughout the company and optimising all its activities through the lens of the customer experience.

It’s a bold proposal, this creation of a new fulcrum within the business. But it’s not going from a standing start. Take how we run things here at Wyatt. We’ve restructured our business to dissolve the boundaries within – and a crucial part of this is our cluster system. Instead of being a traditional, siloed account management department, it’s a set of multidisciplinary teams, all surrounding, focused on and driven by the client at their centre. The customer experience, necessarily, drives everything we do.

That’s just one step on the way to total implementation of CX thinking. Over the next few years, invariably, its definition will be cemented, grounded and further explored. But when the corporations of tomorrow adopt a new structure, appoint their first CXO and bring back the face of their brand…well, saying “we told you so” wouldn’t be right for our customer experience, would it?

Thoughts? Comments? Want to share your views on CX? We’d love to hear them. Drop us a tweet @WyattIntl. In the meantime, you can download the FREE B2B Marketing guide to developing killer customer experience here.

Challenging boundaries since 1964