BY PAUL HAGEN AND DIANE MAGERS

Today’s enterprises have two choices: Evolve their customer experience (CX) or get left behind.

To grasp the depth of the problem, look no further than the retail sector. Last year, roughly 7,000 brick-and-mortar stores closed up shop, according to a report by FGRT, cited by CNBC. And it wasn’t only small businesses taking the hit. Recognizable names like Toys R Us and RadioShack were among the thousands of closures.

The problem extends well beyond retail. In an age of broad digital disruption, the adaptive imperatives apply to every industry’s customer experience. Just as digital behemoths like Amazon are successfully outpacing traditional retailers – the company’s stock rose by over 50% last year – emerging digital enterprises in healthcare, banking, law, education and manufacturing are setting new customer experience bars in those verticals.

 

With digitization reshaping customer behaviors and expectations, the onus is on traditional enterprises to adopt a more agile approach to the customer experience–one that continually adapts to the evolving consumer.

When it comes to driving enterprise adaptability, most professionals see it as a strategic imperative. The problem is that nobody’s leading the charge.

As a recent survey we completed at West Monroe Partners customer experience leaders and practitioners revealed the notable majority of companies – 61% – place adaptability toward the top of their strategic priorities list. But when it comes to who owns adaptability efforts, there’s not a clear answer. Instead, responsibility is all over the map, from the CEO (according to 28 % of those surveyed) to marketing (23%) to IT (20%) to no one at all (also 23%).

This lack of a centralized approach to improving adaptability means that for most organizations, it’s more of a talking point than an action item. Our survey found that a mere 17% of respondents say their company’s agility efforts are deployed companywide with measurable results.

Instead, the single largest percentage of respondents – 48% – says their business agility strategy is still firmly planted in the preliminary phase. For these enterprises and many others, the challenge is how to turn an ad hoc and experimental approach into a concrete strategy that’s embedded in business culture. That’s where customer experience leaders can take charge.

Why customer experience decision-makers should lead the agile push

When it comes to owning the agile push, customer experience professionals are uniquely suited to fill the role.

First, they’re already close to customers, channeling much of their time and focus toward understanding what things look like from the patron’s vantage point. Second, they’re accustomed to working in a mode of rapid experimentation or “fail fast,” which is a central tenet of the Agile methodology (the ability of a business to change quickly due to internal or external threats). Finally, the cross-departmental nature of customer experience leaders’ responsibilities means they’re already primed for the interconnected work that’s central to boosting agility.

With customer experience leaders empowered to lead the agile push, they can focus on building out capabilities that accelerate agility. These capabilities include:

  • Developing high-performance technology architecture. Enterprises cannot successfully deploy agile without an adaptable technology infrastructure. That means doing away with inflexible monolithic systems in favor of performance-focused architectures. To effectively build out this capability, customer experience leaders should link up with IT to strategize architecture focused on communication and adaptability.
  • Creating a culture of employee engagement. Adaptability is a collective mindset, and all employees should be on board. With many companies, that will mean phasing out traditional hierarchies in factor of an open and iterative culture. To achieve this, leaders should be prepared to continuously communicate this cultural change across all levels and departments of an organization.
  • Following the “North Star”. What do you want to achieve with a shift to agile and why? These are the two questions customer experience leaders should ask as they prepare to adapt. The answer should be summarized in a “North Star,” the guiding framework for a company’s journey to greater agility. As leaders design this North Star, they should focus on articulating a common purpose with concrete, measurable outcomes.

For enterprises across industries, the customer experience challenge is an existential one. Those who don’t face it with strategic steps risk extinction.

The key to a successful strategy begins by empowering decision makers as agility leaders. With customer experience professionals at the helm, companies can create an adaptable framework to meet the needs of their customers and keep pace in the digital age.

Paul Hagen is senior principal in West Monroe’s customer experience practice. Diane Magers is CEO of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA).

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