When CX Breakthroughs Become Baselines

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I REMEMBER the first new car I purchased shortly after graduating from college. It had two features you almost never see today—standard transmission (better known as “stick shift”) and hand-operated (a.k.a. crank) windows. I thought nothing of it. It was great. It drove much better than the beat-up used car I had been driving, and it had absolutely everything I needed. Fast-forward a few decades and it’s amazing how many features I now “need.” My current car is not glamorous by any measure, but it has seat warmers, lane control warnings, a back-up camera, and many other features that have become mainstream.

Here’s the best part: The buying experience has evolved as well. I was able to research, find, and purchase exactly what I wanted, all online. Those breakthrough innovations are now the baseline features and experiences that I expect with future car purchases. What “must-have” innovations will be next?


The year 2020 brought a whole new type of innovation. The COVID-19 pandemic forced people to work differently, shop differently, travel differently—live differently. Businesses have responded with some of their greatest and fastest innovations. And you know what? Some of us are discovering these new innovations are not only a suitable temporary replacement but might actually be a better solution.

For example, a common service our company provides is to facilitate in-person workshops on a variety of topics. Nothing replaces the interaction of an in-person workshop. But one of our biggest challenges in the past was coordinating the schedules of attendees, particularly if we were working in a large company with multiple locations. The complexity of getting a dozen or more busy professionals together from various locations often delayed projects for months. Faced with the challenges of the pandemic, we were able to quickly become savvy users of a digital whiteboard platform. Schedules were accelerated and clients were amazed at how easy and productive an online workshop could be. And while in-person interaction is valuable, a solution that eliminates the hassle of aligning schedules and arranging travel might just outweigh the in-person benefit.


As we launch into 2021, we’re all hopeful that life will return to normal. But what will “normal” be? Consider how much your routine has changed in the past year. Now consider your customers. Their lives have changed too, and the experience you deliver now will likely need to be different than what you delivered pre-pandemic. Customer experience leaders will need to adjust. But the good news is that it is an opportunity for innovation. And innovation is not limited to product features. It is critical to consider the experience customers have working with your company.

Innovation is essential, and it never ends. The pandemic has simply made it even more important to understand the needs of your customers. Here are three practical steps to consider:

• Connect with your customers. Recent studies show the majority of companies don’t have a formal process in place to gather customer feedback. If yours is one of those companies, get something started. If you have something in place, look for ways to take it to the next level so that you can better anticipate the needs of customers in this rapidly changing environment.

• Find the human-digital balance. One thing we learned with the pandemic is that the digital experience really matters. More and more, customers want the ability to do things themselves—search for options, place orders, arrange delivery, access service, and troubleshoot issues. And yet, when they want personalized help, a human solution is necessary. Companies today need to provide the right balance of human and digital experiences.

• Intentionally design the customer experience. Too often CX leaders are more reactive than proactive. We’re often focused on finding issues and fixing them. While this is certainly important, now is a great time to be more proactive by intentionally designing the best CX. Map out your customer journey to really understand what customers go through in interacting with you. Fix the problem areas, but also look for innovative new ways to make the experience easier, faster, and more personalized. As we emerge from the pandemic, it’s a perfect time to be innovative.

Innovation, in fact, has become a crucial responsibility for CX leaders. To effectively serve customers, we need to be ready to adjust and develop breakthrough experiences, even if we know they will soon become baseline expectations. 

Patrick Gibbons is a principal at Walker, a leading customer experience services firm. He can be reached at pgibbons@walkerinfo.com.

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