As a strategy, customer experience runs the risk of devolving into the sort of absurdist platitudes that you might expect to find on a cat poster. Put the customer first. Learn to listen. Empathise.

All worthy virtues, to be sure, but these are things that are easy to say and hard to do, particularly at enterprise scale.

A more meaningful customer experience strategy replaces platitudes with programs that operationalise these virtues. Tap into the voice of the customer. Create the policy and process that help close the loop with customers, to restore relationships when — from time to time — the customer experience goes awry.

These programs also apply analytics that help companies see the forest for the trees, identifying patterns at scale to make remediation efforts something more efficient than a game of Whack-a-Mole.

But while what I just described may be the very epitome of a mature voice-of-customer strategy, it’s still not enough. In fact, I would argue that the things that make you successful in this sort of operational approach to customer experience can, if you’re not careful, become your very undoing.

Let me explain.

A couple years ago, my Gartner colleague Andrew Frank and I published the Intelligent Brand Framework as a response to what we saw as data-driven myopia — the tunnel vision that comes from indulgence in an abundance of data. We said that this data-driven myopia can lead to incremental thinking, as we’re drawn to minutiae, tempted to tweak and tune at the margins while larger opportunity for change eludes us.

We made the point that the corrective lens for this myopic vision is a sort of whole-brain approach to strategy and innovation — one that employs more than customer data. After all, our customers aren’t visionaries. As Henry Ford probably never actually said, “if I had asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me faster horses.” While it’s our duty to fulfill the brand promise and keep customers happy and whole, we shouldn’t count on their feedback as the guiding light of our strategic direction.

Over the horizon

That’s why the best customer experience leaders look beyond operational maturity. They look ahead of the headlights. They unpack customer feedback and unearth latent need. They suspend the traditional operational assumptions of the business to explore what customer experience could look like on future horizons. They are operational experts, for sure, but they don’t allow this operational maturity to stifle the creativity and lateral thinking that’s necessary to make customer experience a strategic advantage.

As customer experience practices mature, getting the operational parts right will become table stakes. And doing marginally better than your competitor will be noticed only by you.

The real opportunity for making customer experience your winning strategy is to look beyond optimisation. And to look beyond just operationalising your customer feedback.

The real opportunity for customer experience leadership is to discover the universe of possibilities that your customer and competitors never even contemplated.

That’s how companies (and sometimes industries) are made and remade.

*This article is reprinted from the Gartner Blog Network with permission. 

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