I didn’t want to leave 2018 without noting a milestone for all of us here at Forrester who cover customer experience. It was 20 years ago, all the way back in September of 1998, when we inaugurated our customer experience research by publishing our first report about CX.

That report, “Why Most Websites Fail,” introduced the first version of our website review methodology, a type of expert review (or “heuristic evaluation,” for usability nerds like me). My editor, John McCarthy, and I developed the criteria after a literature review of the best published research of the day, followed by interviews with the authors of that research. I’m still surprised and grateful that I got to interview some of the people I had studied and looked up to for years, including two of my idols: Alan Cooper and Don Norman. Given how clueless I was at the time, they were both extremely kind while setting me straight on a few issues. In fact, it was Norman who told me, “Don’t write a report about usability; write a report about user experience.” Thanks for that!

We used the resulting methodology to review 25 major sites, having first interviewed a senior leader in charge of design for each site to determine their target customers and what they wanted those customers to be able to accomplish online.

Using our evaluation criteria, and the user scenarios our interviewees gave us, we tested the sites and found, unsurprisingly, that they weren’t very good. (Remember, it had been only five years since the first browser that could handle inline graphics became available, so everyone was still a newbie.) The sites were worst at surfacing content, which they buried under deep menus, and just as bad at helping customers find content with their awful search engines. (. . . not to mention that when we did find content, it was either not relevant or else incomplete on roughly half the sites.)

We weren’t sure at the time how our clients would react to our calling their babies ugly. To our delight, however, our clients loved it. Then, as now, many, if not most, companies were eager to improve their customer experience. The report also won Forrester’s “Best Research” award for the quarter, which earned it attention among our broader research organization. By mid-1999, we’d formed a whole team of analysts dedicated to covering customer experience — mostly digital UX — and begun a growth curve that continues to this day.

Over the years, we’ve had a number of great analysts help build our body of work, including founding CX team members Paul Sonderegger (now senior data strategist at Oracle), Paul Hagen (currently head of CX and innovation strategy at West Monroe Partners), and Randy Souza (now at MathWorks). We’re also grateful to former team member Megan Burns, who created the first version of our CX Management Maturity framework and co-created the massively upgraded version of our Customer Experience Index (CX Index™) that we use today — not to mention my co-author for Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business, Kerry Bodine, now CEO of Kerry Bodine & Co.

. . . which brings me to the end of 2018, where instead of one analyst (me) writing reports about UX, we now have over 20 people globally doing research on CX. And that doesn’t include the team of advisors for our CX Council (which networks CX leaders), our Customer Experience Index data team, our CX consultants, and the people on the Forrester Events team who help us produce our annual CX events in New York, San Francisco, London, Singapore, and Sydney. We’re especially proud of the fact that, for years now, the New York CX event has been Forrester’s largest annual event of any kind.

What’s next? In my opinion, today’s team of Forrester CX analysts, Council advisors, data analysts, and consultants is as strong as any we’ve ever had. Plus, there are a lot more of them! So as the field grows, we’re committed to growing with it and taking on the newest tough research questions. I hope you’ll follow us and let us know how you think we’re doing on that as we start our next 20 years.