Customer experience (CX) has rapidly moved from an ideal to an operational mandate. As Forrester’s CMO, customer experience is one of my four strategic priorities. It’s also tied to my compensation. How’s that for focusing the mind?

I’m not alone. Creating a superior and differentiated customer experience is a core strategy for most companies — a pillar of who you want to be. It’s likely in your mission statement, annual report, 10-K, strategy deck, or company culture declaration. In a Forrester survey, “improving the customer experience” was tied with “growing revenue” as the No. 1 business priority over the coming year. Great CX is the big ambition in the sky.

For many, it remains an ambition.

The feedback I get from executives is consistent with my own thinking and Forrester’s body of research in this area. CX can’t be an attitude, tagline, or one-time corporate initiative. It has to be a different way of doing business, a new kind of operating model.

That means addressing the complex areas like people, process, and culture.

At Forrester, I keep returning to the basics to help us take simple but important steps forward. Here are five observations from the frontlines:

  1. Change your perspective. We have a sense of how customers are supposed to traverse different touchpoints and a sense of the experiences we want them to have. But that’s not the starting point. CX is about the customers, on their terms and in their voice. Sounds basic, but that fundamental reorientation requires a surprising level of tenacity and discipline.
  2. Improve your visibility. Like many firms, we relied on customer satisfaction (CSAT) and advocacy metrics to understand what our customers thought about us. But those metrics provide no insight into understanding customers’ actual experience based on the most powerful human element of all — emotion. Without that visibility, one is blind. And being blind is scary if you are seeking to drive CX gains. Think of being a CFO without a business intelligence environment. CX analytics that consider the quality of the customers’ experience will be like BI — indispensable to any mature understanding of CX.
  3. Connect experience to operations. It’s not just that CSAT or advocacy tools miss the mark for CX; they also don’t tell you how to make systematic and surgical improvements to drive continuous improvement. There are real changes to make to people, process, and technology that drive real impact. Guessing is not a plan. To spend real money (and your political capital for that matter), you need to be able to model different investment scenarios to see how they will pay off.
  4. Have a lot of seats at the CX table. Marketing, sales, product, finance, and technology are all part of our company’s sustained CX program. This is not a one-time “tiger team.” We look at CX holistically and make decisions and investments accordingly.
  5. Parallel-process. In the beginning, there is always tension between “analysis paralysis” and getting quick wins on the board. The way we overcame that tension was focusing on outlier areas that our clients called out directly. We had a high confidence that we could move the needle and get some early wins, and practically speaking, it allowed us to practice working as a team, avoid overscoping projects, and take action.

In a world where empowered customers are influencing the fate of companies, CX is a business discipline that all executives will need to understand, if not master. It goes well beyond understanding satisfaction or lifetime value. CX measures something very different: our value to our customers. As we go, I can imagine that our CX effort will inform our culture, our operations, the new competencies we will need, our incentives, and our technology. It will be, in short, us.

Victor Milligan is the CMO of Forrester Research.