The Inconvenient Truth About Many Customer Experience Strategies

There’s a simple reason why many customer experience strategies fail to deliver their desired results.


[Editor’s note:  This post was last updated on September 21, 2022.]

Interest has steadily grown in customer experience (CX) as a competitive differentiator.  As a result, companies have invested significant time and energy in crafting and executing on customer experience strategies.  But there’s a fundamental problem with the approach taken by many organizations:  Their customer experience strategies are strategies of convenience.

I’m not referring to convenience from the customer’s perspective (though providing a convenient and effortless customer experience is, appropriately, a centerpiece of many firms’ CX strategies).  Rather, I’m referring to convenience from the company’s perspective.

As one frustrated CX executive put it to me recently, “We only do CX when we have time for it, when it’s convenient.”

Take a moment to let that observation sink in, and imagine how it makes that CX executive – or any employee with a customer-centric bone in their body – feel.

Countless organizations have launched customer experience improvement strategies, only to abandon key tenets of their plans when the going gets tough.  This is likely why 81% of CX initiatives fail, and most firms’ CX maturity is poor despite years of trying to strengthen it.  Examples of this dysfunction abound:

  • Products get launched to satisfy an arbitrary executive deadline, even when everybody knows the offering isn’t ready for customer consumption.
  • Customer feedback is solicited but then diplomatically disregarded, simply because it doesn’t align with internal views and agendas.
  • Service centers are deprived of the staff they really need, despite the all-too-familiar 800-line greeting advising “how important your call is to us.”
  • CX programs and staff – once hailed as critical elements of a company’s strategy – are quickly recast in downturns as discretionary activities, and subjected to disproportionate budget and headcount cuts.  (An ironic course of action, given data showing that CX-leading companies tend to be insulated from the worst effects of a recession.)

Bad things happen when a CX strategy is effectively a strategy of convenience, when supposedly bedrock company values and beliefs are set aside in favor of what’s expedient.  Efforts to create a customer-oriented culture crumble, as employees get wise to the fact that the company’s CX strategy was mere corporate window dressing.  Customers, too, become disenchanted, as they lose confidence in whatever “customer-first” mantra the company had been propagating.

Granted, sometimes tough business decisions have to be made.  Projects have to be deferred, headcount must be cut, budgets need to be tightened.  But when these changes cut to the heart of what your organization supposedly stood for, that’s when you know you have a problem.

Imagine if luxury hotel chain Ritz-Carlton (known for its high-touch, impeccable service) relaxed its vetting process for prospective employees, in order to recruit faster.  Imagine if Patagonia (known for its environmental advocacy) pulled back on its 1% for the Planet charitable giving program, in order to boost profits.  Imagine if Zappos (known for its friendly and conversational customer service reps) began enforcing strict 800-line call talk time rules to raise employee productivity and reduce operating costs.

All of these actions are unthinkable, because they would undermine fundamental components of these companies’ CX strategies.  If they were under pressure to speed recruiting, or boost profits, or raise productivity, they’d do it in a way that wasn’t diametrically opposed to everything their brand was supposed to stand for.

When adversity hits, it’s not just individuals who show their true colors – it’s institutions, too.  Whether triggered by external events or internal issues, challenging times have a way of stripping the veneer off an organization.


“Challenging times have a way of stripping the veneer off an organization.”


Companies that had previously promoted comprehensive CX strategies might come to realize that theirs was indeed a strategy of convenience, a strategy forged by buzzwords instead of beliefs.  As painful as it might be, that’s a healthy realization to have (and better sooner rather than later).  It should quickly trigger a course correction, with management signaling, through words and actions, a shift in strategic focus.

Other organizations will come to a different conclusion.  During periods of crisis or constrained resources, they’ll come to rediscover and reaffirm the customer-centric philosophy that originally put them on the path to CX differentiation.  And while they might have to make some adjustments to their tactical plans, it will be around the margins, and will not call into question the authenticity of their customer experience commitment.

CX-oriented strategies are good for business, but only if they become part of a company’s DNA.  Perhaps the best litmus test for that level of commitment can be found in how an organization responds to the most challenging circumstances.  When times are tough, look for those companies that stick to CX-focused operating principles, even when it’s not convenient to do so.  Those are the firms whose CX strategies are more foundational than facade, and they’re the ones that will win the day.

[A version of this article originally appeared on]


Jon Picoult is founder of Watermark Consulting, a customer experience advisory firm that helps companies impress customers and inspire employees, creating raving fans that drive business growth.  Author of “FROM IMPRESSED TO OBSESSED: 12 Principles for Turning Customers and Employees into Lifelong Fans,” Picoult is an acclaimed public speaker, as well as an advisor to some of world’s foremost brands.  Follow Jon on Twitter or Instagram, or subscribe to his monthly eNewsletter.


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