Your customer experience (CX) is the product of the interactions between your employees, partners, and customers within your operating environment. Forrester has labeled this as a customer experience ecosystem. It's important to understand CX ecosystems' two components — the people and the operating environment — for two reasons: 

  1. People participate in the ecosystem if they get value from it. Each actor in the CX ecosystem is asking, "What's in it for me?" Employees want things like professional development, recognition, and advancement. Business partners want access to customers, sales support, and strong revenue growth. And the customers expect quality products and services that meet their needs.
  2. The operating environment affects people's definition of value. Every ripple in the operating environment changes what employees, partners, and customers value and how they expect that value to be delivered. The economic downturn, for example, meant that many workers valued stable work over things like personal fulfillment — which is reflected in Gallup's report that just 32% of US workers are engaged. Many software companies transitioning from delivering server-deployed software to cloud services has changed how those vendors' traditional channel partners are compensated, going from large payouts on perpetual licenses to annuities from subscriptions. And disruptive sharing-economy upstarts, like Uber, have reset consumers' expectations of how they find and use services as diverse as car services, hotels, and office rentals.

The challenge for CX pros trying to manage their CX ecosystems is the speed at which their operating environments can change. The rapid changes to Volkswagen's stock price and level of government scrutiny in light of its emissions-test-cheating-software revelation speak to this. This means that CX pros must continuously be in contact with the people in their ecosystem, gathering information on how they're responding to changes in the operating environment and providing those constituents with information that helps them get the value they seek in this interaction. But reciprocally sharing insights and information means that businesses have to be comfortable with openness — and many companies still aren't in an age where their employees, partners, and customers can interact on Facebook and Twitter.

Forrester has described the type of company that is capable of collaboratively interacting with the CX ecosystem as a social business. Don't mistake this for a company that's expert at sending tweets and gathering followers. We defined a social business as an organization that removes barriers between individuals and information while making it easy for people to find and engage with those who can help them solve customer and business problems. I'm in the midst of research tackling how CX teams:

  • Establish collaborative relationships across their CX ecosystems.
  • Hold these relationships together through changing operating environments.
  • Use technology to facilitate these relationships.
  • Convince their business counterparts of the value of these relationships.
  • Measure the success of these relationships.

At this early stage of the research, we've already encountered promising stories. For example, a 20-year-old software company is rekindling its business growth phase in part through collaborative product road map development with its partners and customers. But we need more stories that flesh out this narrative. So if you're interested in this topic and want to participate in this research, please reach out to me. You can also share your thoughts on this topic in the comment section below.