When I ask government employees why improving customer experience (CX) is so important, I often hear a version of the same answer: "It's the right thing to do." But I'm not about to take an easy answer like that at face value, so I dig deeper.

I try getting them to admit that they're really motivated by the CX mandates in Executive Order 13571, the digital government strategy, and agency mission statements. Time and again, I'm politely told I have it backward. These documents were inspired by the core moral imperative to improve government CX, and they exist only as practical guidance for agencies in pursuit of this obligation. The maxim is the motive; the documents just articulate it. I next try arguing that government employees are motivated by the political quest for public acclaim — that they pursue customer experience improvement simply because it will make them or their agencies popular, winning them promotion or reelection. Again, they tell me I'm all turned around. Doing the right thing for the customer is the real motive, and luckily the American people reward it.

Maybe their answers aren't surprising, given that many government employees chose public sector careers due to their dedication to public service. But what about customer experience professionals in the private sector? Are they motivated by a moral imperative, too? In recent interviews with companies at the top and bottom of Forrester's Customer Experience Index (CXi), I found some surprising answers.

Just like their government counterparts, interviewees from companies with the best CX often tell me that improving customer experience is "the right thing to do." And just like their government counterparts, I push them on this claim. I try getting them to admit that creating greater value for the company, not a moral obligation to the customer, is their real motive. That generating greater value for the company is the right thing to do, and improving CX is merely the best way to do it. But again I'm told I have it backward, that the ultimate inspiration for improving customer experience is the moral obligation to the customer, and greater value for the company is an advantage that flows from doing the right thing. One interviewee from the C-suite at a CXi leader put it succinctly when he said, "Improving customer experience is the right thing to do, and we find that if we do the right thing, the rest falls into place." Of course, by "the rest" this CX officer meant trivial things like profit and market share — both of which his company has been increasing since it ramped up its CX initiatives a few years ago.

Skeptics will say that improving customer experience can't really be a purely moral imperative, since it carries with it so many practical benefits. Maybe they're right. After all, most of the honorable things we do are based not solely on the belief that virtue is its own reward but also on our knowledge that goodness begets many practical benefits. People will like us; they'll give us things; we'll get a warm fuzzy feeling of virtuousness. If this is the case, then improving customer experience isn't purely moral, but it is at least as moral as most other good things we do.

And that's evidence that this slice of the political and economic worlds are set up right. When the moral and the self-interested line up, when doing the right thing produces positive practical benefits, when improving customer experience generates approval for government and profits for businesses — that's a sure sign that we are headed in the right direction, in both spheres.