Navigating The 2023 Downturn: Customer Experience Leaders

Customer experience (CX) leaders have an opportunity to help boost their organization’s resilience during this bout of economic turbulence and prepare for future growth. Those who can prove the ROI of their work are most likely to succeed. However, any CX leader can rise to the occasion if they differentiate with a bold CX vision and strategy, prioritize CX improvements that lower costs quickly, tighten focus on the emotional aspects of CX, invest in critical accelerant skills, and become the ultimate utility player.

Rick Parrish and Judy Weader

Keith Johnston, Angelina Gennis, Christina McAllister, David Truog, Daniel Portillo, and Shayna Neuburg

Boldly Go Beyond Your Comfort Zone To Ensure Resilience And Growth

CX leaders enter 2023 with a rare and compelling opportunity: to boost their organization’s resilience during this bout of economic turbulence and help it prepare for a burst of growth when the boom times return. CX leaders who can prove the ROI of their work are most likely to succeed in this year of reckoning for CX programs. However, any CX leader can rise to the occasion if they set aside the plans they made last year — when they expected to grow their budgets and teams in 2023 — and use their CX skills, enterprise perspectives, and influence networks in new ways. CX leaders should:

  • Differentiate with a bold CX vision and strategy. During turbulent times, organizations feel safe with CX strategies that try to appeal to the entire market or that resemble competitors’ strategies. However, these strategies fail to generate real customer loyalty when the brand needs it most. To stand out from the pack — especially this year, when CX differentiation will erode in an unprecedented three-fourths of industries — CX leaders must embolden their visions to pursue differentiated experiences. Focus the CX vision and strategy on devotees — consumers who already are, or could be, deeply loyal to the brand and cheaper to serve and retain — rather than lowering loyalty and raising costs with a one-size-fits-none experience. Then, help the organization embrace customer obsession so that it can generate CX innovations to fulfill this vision.
  • Prioritize CX improvements that lower costs quickly and protect revenue. As organizations prioritize cost cutting over revenue growth, CX leaders must follow suit and identify ways to cut costs — ideally without sacrificing CX quality. When organizations must make cuts that will harm CX, CX leaders should identify ways to mitigate that harm. To help make smart cost-cutting decisions, CX leaders who have formal prioritization frameworks should ensure they’re advanced enough to identify what changes will lower costs and how these changes will affect customer experiences. CX leaders without prioritization frameworks should start with Forrester’s beginner-level CX prioritization approach. These efforts can uncover or help justify novel solutions to long-standing costs. Three of the most common solutions? Simplifying the online customer login and payments experiences, consolidating employee-facing tools so they can provide better CX in less time, and moving to a virtual contact center.
  • Tighten focus on the emotional aspects of CX. Emotion, rather than ease or effectiveness, is the most important dimension of CX-driven loyalty across industries. However, when budgets are tight, organizations often make cuts that degrade the emotional quality of the experience, such as by slashing their contact centers. This destroys a vital connection for customers, who are more likely to feel vulnerable during tough times, and it hurts CX-driven loyalty for both B2C and B2B brands. CX leaders should preserve experiences that create positive emotions — especially in fraught customer support journeys. For example, they can clear the barriers that prevent contact center agents from being emotionally present for customers. CX leaders should also identify digital interactions that help create emotionally positive experiences and learn how to make other digital interactions just as emotionally resonant. In virtually every vertical in our Customer Experience Index (CX Index™), experiences are emotionally better when they combine both digital and non-digital interactions.
  • Invest in critical data, design, and journey skills. These skills are “accelerants” that help CX teams understand, improve, and manage the customer experience — and ultimately elevate teams’ impact. The 80% of CX teams that we predict will lack these skills in 2023 will remain stuck on basic find-and-fix work, unable to help their organizations innovate to thrive in a tough business environment. CX leaders who are hiring in 2023 should prioritize candidates with these skills. CX leaders who aren’t hiring but whose teams lack these skills should help current employees develop them. Even without training budget, CX leaders can provide time for employees to use free resources. These include data science courses offered by MIT and other universities, design thinking courses from IBM and other providers, and certification courses that are part of the Forrester Decisions service. Regardless of budget status, CX leaders must deepen their teams’ commitment to steer the insights-to-action lifecycle; apply a design framework and develop a design practice; and evolve to lead a journey-centric organization.
  • Become the ultimate utility player. As layoffs and restructurings mount in other parts of organizations and some CX projects are put on hold, CX leaders should find opportunities to use their teams’ skills beyond the usual scope of CX work. This will deepen CX teams’ value to their organizations and cement their place at the center of future customer obsession transformations. For example, CX teams can: 1) use their journey mapping and service design skills to help new or restructured teams develop workflows and collaboration strategies; 2) use measurement skills to help other teams develop measurement architectures specific to B2C, B2B, and B2B2C companies; and 3) analyze consumer behavior to help colleagues in product and marketing reduce the risk of launching new products and entering new markets. CX teams can also provide indirect help by mobilizing CX champions to regrow lost connective tissue and ensure that the organization functions smoothly until everyone finds their new footing.

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