CX and the Need to Nix the Metaphor of War
WHEN Carl von Clausewitz penned the tome On War in the early 19th century, he certainly did not have customer experience in mind. But in his articulation of the “fog of war” he proves that he gets us.
“War is the realm of uncertainty; three-quarters of the factors on which action in war is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty. A sensitive and discriminating judgment is called for; a skilled intelligence to scent out the truth.”
Now, go back and replace “war” with “customer experience.” I’ll wait right here.
This is especially true when we examine marketing and the battle for growth. Marketing’s culture, the very language marketers use on a daily basis, is steeped in the language of war and violence. Marketing executes campaigns—phrasing really only used by marketers and the military. Marketing targets. A marketing blast. Marketers celebrate when small actions go viral: Like handing out smallpox-infected blankets, we enjoy when something we knowingly unleash infects an unwitting population. We hide code in the pixels to spy on behaviors. We stalk our prey. Battle lines are drawn to identify, cut off, and segment our enemy, carefully noting their behaviors to exploit weaknesses.
Think this language of battle only exists in marketing? Think again. Why do we talk so much about call “deflection” in the contact center? Is the customer actively throwing something so terrible our way that the appropriate response is a giant digital shield around our agents to protect them from an enemy bent on chaos and destruction?
Take a moment to look up the word deflection: It literally means to change direction after hitting something or to have something/someone deviate from an intended purpose. An example used: “The bullet was deflected harmlessly into the ceiling.” So is the customer the bullet or the gun? Because neither sounds the way we want to describe customers who had the temerity to call the 800 number in the hopes that their questions could be answered, or their problems solved.
In military war games, the application of intelligence and enemy tracking, especially through friendly force-tracking systems, is key to developing a winning strategy by understanding the behaviors and context of a target to determine the optimal time, attack vector, and defense posture needed to win both the battle and the war.
Go ahead and let me know when this stops feeling like a pitch from any number of customer intelligence or customer engagement tools out there. In this war of customer experience, we know exactly who the enemy combatant is.
The enemy combatant is our customer.
CX has put the customer at the center of that target for decades, applying any and all forms of technology to find ways to manipulate decision making, eliminate counter-offenses from rogue competitors, focus and bombard targets with messages until they relent and click. The weapons of choice have expanded into an omnichannel arsenal so sophisticated and specialized they can be automated to fire at precise targets at will. The ammunition for it all is a never-ending stream of data flowing from a hose with no off lever.
Now imagine that in this decades-long game of war, someone comes along and says, “Sorry but we intend to cut off a key stream of ‘skilled intelligence’; in fact, we are going to demand that you proclaim openly and clearly to your enemy what ammunition you have collected and how you will be using this ammunition and give clear opportunity for your enemy to walk off the battlefield with zero penalty or threat of future attack. Not only that, but we are also going to cut off the supply of weapons and ammunition you obtain through other parties. Then we are going to shield locations and addresses; you won’t even see where the enemy is and it will be totally their decision if they ever want to share that detail with you.”
Bedlam would ensue. Chaos in the streets. Panic.
The death of the third-party cookie, the introduction of Apple’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT), email privacy in iOS, and all of the other measures that we lump under the generic term “privacy” have sent some executives into a tailspin. The demise of the cookie, in particular, has been slowly ratcheting up the stress levels as brands and agencies come to terms with just how often third-party cookie data is leveraged for everything from “personalization” (yeah, I put it in quotes) to campaign optimization.
But let’s take a breath and just look at consumer behaviors in the wake of the ATT launch in iOS 14.5. According to a study from AppsFlyer, over 13.2 million app users were shown a prompt requesting permission for data exchange; 39 percent of those end users tapped the allow button. The highest rate of “allow” opt-ins were across apps like photography (64 percent), retail (44 percent), finance (42 percent), food and drink (42 percent), and non-gaming apps (42 percent).
Upon further investigation, organizations with higher levels of pre-existing engagement and connection with customers saw healthier allow clicks. Organizations that took the time to articulate the value a customer would receive thanks to allowing the exchange of data also avoided falling off the opt-out cliff. It could be argued that these are the brands that put down their weapons and chose to have an open and honest value exchange discussion with their new partner, their customer.
Customers are tired of being treated like the enemy, being forced to dodge and weave their way through “moments of delight” that can often be impersonal, self-serving, and aggravating. This new age of the customer is asking CX and digital leaders across the organization to rethink this posture of war.
CX leaders must shift from being the general perched on top of that hill looking to pierce the fog of war. Organizations winning with CX are crafting engagements where the language of partnership, collaboration, and co-creation is front and center, and instead of serving as military rank and file, teams are empowered to be those seasoned hosts or hostesses that intuitively know the exact moment their guests could really use another glass of wine. If the world is living in this new party known as experience, the real craft for leaders is to know and understand how teams can be at the ready with all the right tactics to keep the relationship and revelry going.
Instead of being the ammunition, data is the ultimate experience playlist that keeps the party going. Thanks to data, hosts and hostesses of experience parties know who did and didn’t RSVP, who loves to chat over martinis, who doesn’t drink, who is lactose-intolerant. These generals-turned-hostesses are architecting spaces and strategies so agile that anyone can accept that last-minute curveball of Kelly being vegan. After all, you wouldn’t dream of forcing Kelly to eat chicken, yet that’s exactly what you would do if Kelly were the enemy; you would deflect her requests and serve her chicken while explaining that there were plenty of other vegetables on her plate.
It is easy (and understandable) to have big and bold reactions to the new path of privacy and customer-valued and -defined identity. These shifts can feel like the rug is being pulled out from under our strategies. But they are also an opportunity to lean into the behaviors, intentions, and higher-fidelity signals our customers are leaving across our own first-party sources.
Regardless of where the cookie crumbles, the first thing we need to accept and change is our culture. We need to admit we have been fighting a war. We need to wave the white flag so we can see just how many of our customers are relieved and ready to welcome us to a new party.
Liz Miller is vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research, covering the broad landscape of customer experience strategy and technologies.