The Current State of Customer Experience

Q&A with Augie Ray
September 1, 2021

Customer experience (CX) programs must focus on getting the basics right, such as voice of the customer (VOC), governance, personas, and journeys, in order to succeed. Throw into the mix a global pandemic that has accelerated digital transformation and digital commerce faster than many brands can keep up with, and these elements become even more vital for CX success.

To get a pulse of where CX programs are today, we sat down with Augie Ray, vice president analyst in the Gartner Marketing practice, following his Gartner Marketing Symposium/Xpo 2021 session – “Customer Experience 101: Does Your CX Program Have What It Needs to Succeed?” – to discuss the challenges marketers face in executing on the elements critical to a successful customer experience and how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted CX strategy.

Q: What challenges are marketers facing today when it comes to customer experience?

A: In addition to all the trials that 2020 and 2021 have brought, marketers still have the same CX challenges as always. We continue to see marketing focus on short-term customer results, such as purchase frequency and increased engagement, rather than leaning into longer-term, customer-centric objectives.

The goal of CX is to guide organizations to create powerful CX outcomes that improve customer satisfaction, strengthen attitudinal loyalty, reduce churn, lower cost to serve, lift referral volume, and improve lifetime value. Marketers may not have the influence to truly affect sustainable change across the end-to-end customer journey, and as a result, they can remain focused on the path to purchase for which the marketing department is most responsible.

Q: How have marketers adjusted their CX strategy since the COVID-19 pandemic?

A: One of the most immediate CX impacts we saw from the pandemic was a change in how companies listen to their customers and monitor evolving needs and expectations. While some companies temporarily reduced or eliminated relationship and transactional surveys for customers, we eventually saw clients get more serious about surveying, listening, and monitoring for month-to-month shifts in consumer attitudes, expectations, and behaviors.

Another big shift last year in marketing was the prioritization of customer retention over acquisition. Early in the pandemic, companies struggled to maintain supply chains and meet expectations, and as they saw traditional sales channels interrupted, there was more focus on keeping existing customers and not filling the pipeline. Over time, we’ve seen priorities shift back to a more balanced strategy, but even in the best of times, the adage remains true: It’s cheaper to keep a customer than to find a new one.

Q: How do you see CX shifting, if at all, in 2022?

A: The watchword for 2022 is “preparation.” Marketers can prepare by continuing to monitor and listen for customer expectations, wants and needs, which will continue to shift with the ongoing pandemic experience.

Another way to prepare is to develop scenarios for 2022. Don’t simply plan for a single positive, stable environment. Marketers should consider what they’ll need to be agile if economic conditions are more challenging. Last spring, one bank developed two similar campaigns for summer but with different messaging—one was optimistic with “back to normal” messaging and the other had a theme more oriented to “We’re here for you during difficult times.” As the US experienced its second COVID surge last summer, it was a simple thing for the brand to deploy the messaging that matched the situation in the world and the mood of its customers.

Finally, I think we’ll continue to see brands focus more on segmenting customers by customer value. Regardless of whether 2022 is healthy or challenging, keeping and growing their most valuable customers will remain an evergreen strategy.