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Pitting CX efficiency against CX effectiveness is the wrong fight

By Tim Williams | Planning director

March 15, 2022 | 6 min read

Those working in the world of CX are not immune to the wrong-headed tendency to disregard alternative approaches outside their comfort zone. The result is that customers’ experiences are suffering. As part of The Drum’s Deep Dive into The New Customer Experience Economy, FourForty’s Tim Williams looks at how a change in this mindset can revolutionize effectiveness.


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Uncertainty causes us to seek security among the like-minded. But this can lead to an unhealthy drift toward factionalism. It’s hardly news that an increasingly polarized society is leading to a pandemic of entrenched opinions, narrow-mindedness and a lurch towards tribalism. To support one view, it’s no longer enough simply to agree to disagree with those who don’t; it has become necessary to dismiss any alternative out of hand.

Why this is happening right now is a cause for much debate. One suspected culprit is the role of social media. But it’s a moot point whether such technologies have caused us to split into opposing camps or have amplified something already present.

Another possibility is that such binary thinking is our default setting; that we have always sought the comfort that comes from being among ‘people like us’ who share our worldview, finding it useful to have an ‘enemy’ to blame things on.

It may also be that a willingness to consider alternative perspectives is an example of ‘luxury thinking’, requiring an environment of relative certainty and prosperity. Does such an atmosphere create more tolerance, or is a stable and prosperous society the result of it being more open-minded? This is a fascinating question, but what has it got to do with the future of customer experience?

The two schools of CX: efficiency and effectiveness

We’re seeing CX suffer from its own drift toward factionalism. This could be summarized as a debate between the ‘technology-led’ and the ‘human-led’. The former views a customer’s interaction with a brand essentially as an engineering problem. Seeking to craft a well-oiled machine where efficiency is key, technologists are likely to be advocates of nudging customers to cheap chatbots rather than resource-intensive call centers.

Success is measured in hard operational metrics: time saved and costs reduced. This group could be said to have a ‘minimum viable’ mindset, aiming to find the least resource-intensive way to drive desirable behaviors. A customer with complex needs or wanting to talk directly with a brand through ‘expensive’ channels is seen as a problem rather than an opportunity. This group sees no irony in talking about the ‘business requirements’ of a customer experience program.

The second, ‘human-led’ faction is more amorphous and diverse, but is characterized by giving far more weight to the customer’s requirements: ‘what exactly do our customers need and how can we be more effective in response?’ This group includes those who see effectiveness lying in powerful creative; who understand the value of service design and user experience; who study how customers really interact with a brand; and who use the (sometimes dark) arts of communication to influence behavior.

This view shares a belief in the importance of having a deep understanding of the customer and then following wherever that insight leads. It also recognizes the value of hard KPIs and shares with the ‘technology-led’ the ultimate objective of driving sales and sustainable loyalty. But it also sees value in ‘softer’ measures such as advocacy, affinity and customer trust.

To ask which approach to CX is right is to ask the wrong question

For a CX strategy to be successful and sustainable, it must blend elements from both philosophies. It must be efficient and effective. Technology is essential to do anything in a commercially viable way at scale. When applied in a smart way, it can positively enhance the customer experience. But for technology to deliver on its full potential (and return on its investment), we need to consider the customer needs and problems it can solve, as well as those of the brand.

Take for example, Abraham Lincoln’s famous quote: “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.” As both politician and lawyer, Lincoln was canny enough to see the importance of understanding those he disagreed with. We can all profit from this mindset. Now is an exciting time because the opportunity exists to cease arguing whether CX is an art or a science and to reverse the drift towards polarization through both factions learning from each other and, above all, working together.

Tim Williams is planning director at customer experience consultancy FourForty.

For more on The New Customer Experience Economy, check out The Drum’s latest Deep Dive.

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