The inaugural International Customer Experience Awards is taking place this November 20 in the capital of the Netherlands, Amsterdam.

The gala event will reward the world’s most customer-centric businesses and organisations, that will be judged by an expert panel of key global CX industry figures.

Among these judges are the 2018 International Customer Experience Awards Ambassadors, each representing his or her country at what will be the planet’s biggest ever celebration of CX. In a new series, CXM World is publishing exclusive interviews with – and opinion articles from – the Ambassadors, as the event approaches.

For more information on entering the awards, click here.

Ambassador: Mike Wittenstein

Country: USA

Occupation: Customer Experience Designer and Strategy Consultant at StoryMiners, one of the world’s first CX Design firms.

Hi Mike, tell us a little about your professional background, and what drew you towards the concept of Customer Experience

I was lucky enough to stumble into working with some amazing people. Their thinking has shaped my own. At graduate school, I studied under Dorothy Riddle, one of the early service marketing researchers and a professor at Arizona State University. She taught me the difference between service marketing and product marketing.

I went on to work at IBM at the time of the dotcom boom. There, I met Stephan Haeckel, who introduced me to the idea of thinking about strategy as an ecosystem of commitments that create value for customers. A lot of US companies organise themselves around processes that make money for their shareholders. To do that, they often take resources out of the value-creation processes – just the opposite of what customers want.

I learned from Steve that systems thinking is about changing the way you organise your enterprise. By giving your customers more of what they want, shareholders get more of what they want too. It’s perfect for many CX-focused organisations.

During my time as IBM Global Services’ eVisionary, I also met CX expert Lou Carbone. He taught me how to shape experiences that match a firm’s strategy. My knowledge of journey mapping, storyboarding, and other techniques which we use at StoryMiners today started with Lou.

Putting Dorothy’s, Steve’s, and Lou’s ideas together has let me work front-of-house (a restaurant term that means everything the customer sees) and back-of-house (a company’s inner workings) at the same time. CX is truly about both sides. When you have the latitude to change the way your company works, you can serve customers better and enjoy a better bottom line.

You’re a judge and Ambassador at the ICXAs – what themes do you hope to see in this year’s presentations?

I’m expecting to see a lot of best practice because so much of the literature and what’s available to new practitioners is best-practice oriented. However, best practice usually only gets you to second or third place. Why? Because if you’re copying what somebody else did, chances are they’re going to be further ahead by the time you arrive at their old destination. 

I’m really hoping to see some fresh, risky, breathtaking, and innovative ideas where the CX practitioners have been able to win over the heart of their organisations to try something new. Everyone talks about experimentation-friendly firms, but very few companies truly adapt easily or quickly to new ideas. They’re often very, very conservative even in a healthy world economy.

What aspects of CX are popular among businesses/organisations in the US?

People enjoy having more options and less friction. However, they are also looking for experiences, not just transactions. Of course they want more efficient transactions and better accountability, but they also want to ‘experience’ it. The difference between an experience and a transaction is emotion, and emotion happens a lot more when companies use their people and processes to deliver an ‘individualised’ moment.

For example, the app that I use to track some of my workouts at the gym – it sends me a weekly summary. Without any extra effort on my part, I get valuable information, individualised for me like number of sessions, muscle groups worked, coaching hints, and benchmark stats. Having that insight makes me want to keep using that app. I noticed that now I’m ‘hooked’. The same thing happens when you walk into a store and you get personal attention.

What areas of CX could be improved in your home country?

Research shows there’s no question that being more customer-centric and being more adaptive is a winning strategy. It’s a good balance between short, medium, and long-term thinking.

I think the biggest weakness in US-based Customer Experience efforts is probably corporate governance. I wouldn’t say it’s the lack of understanding because there’s so many people that say, oh yeah, we want to be more customer-centric. But the ability to switch one’s heart and one’s thinking at the executive level is still very, very difficult to find. 

What does the future hold in terms of CX? Can you offer any predictions, based on your experience, for the coming years?

A lot of people will tell you automation, but I think that that’s such a niche part of Customer Experience. I don’t think that the whole world wants to be more efficient all the time. Of course, being efficient is a good thing – I’d like to spend much less money; I’d like to save a lot more time and waste less doing things I don’t like.

But is that really Customer Experience or is that just good operations? Customer Experience should include the extra elements that make a transaction or service memorable and more valuable.

To deliver more of that kind of value, I think the smart money is going to be on corporate governance making organisations more responsive to their customers by design, which means several things. For example, including customers regularly in internal company meetings, especially in co-design sessions.

I also think we’re going to see more ways of measuring the value that organisations create for customers, including emotional value. That’s not just a Customer Experience issue – it’s going to bring in service design, UX, corporate governance, operations management, HR, training, and finance. It can’t be siloed. At the end of the day, a great experience is delivered by a great company – that means everyone in it, not just a few on the front lines.

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