There’s a Consumer Trust Crisis, and Smart Firms Will Shape CX to Address It

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Around the world, customer experience (CX) quality has largely stalled. Forrester Research’s 2017 Customer Experience Index for U.S. brands revealed a CX leadership gap—not a single company emerged this year as the benchmark for “excellent” CX. In fact, CX quality worsened across the board.

The CX Index reveals troubling results:

• Losses were broader and deeper than gains. Twice as many companies sank as rose: Of 314 brands in the CX Index, 49 lost points and only 24 gained points. Overall, companies that worsened lost an average of five points.

• Excellent scores disappeared, while the number of poor scores increased. The number of companies in the excellent category fell to zero, and the percentage of companies with poor scores rose from 20 percent to 23 percent.

• Elite brands’ scores stayed flat—again. The top 5 percent of companies across all industries are considered “elite brands.” Of these 18 elite brands, 16 showed no statistically significant score change.

• Nearly all industry front runners dropped points as their CX improvement stagnated. Seven of 21 industries had new top brands, but none of the seven were catapulted by major gains. In fact, in four industries, the previous highest-scoring brand sank; the new leader merely remained flat.

So why this stagnation? Multiple data sources show that customer confidence is up, spending is up, and expectations are rising as consumers interact with brands more than ever. But the data also shows that trust in companies has dropped precipitously.

Four factors have sparked this collapse in trust: (1) more frequent and extreme misleading or false statements from politicians and executives; (2) stealth propagandists planting false claims that millions of consumers propagate; (3) the power of platforms like Facebook, Google, and Twitter to speed up and scale up the spread of falsehoods; and (4) the belated and (so far) weak response of these tech giants in acknowledging and remedying their role in dispersing disinformation.

The best companies will address the trust crisis head on in 2018 by responding in the following ways:

Companies that own their values will break away from those that merely borrow them. Consumers expect companies to demonstrate authenticity, transparency, and accountability. Those that deliver CX rooted in core values will draw customers; on the other hand, those that borrow their values and stage their superficial experiences will continue to be called out for all to see across social media.

Smart companies will deepen customer understanding beyond the low-hanging fruit. While 88 percent of companies now use journey mapping and other methods to find and fix glaring problems, many run into large-scale impediments. CX pros at leading firms will move beyond ad hoc initiatives, probe deeper into root causes, and work to instill the discipline required for outcomes to scale and last.

B2B firms will move from “just selling” to customer success management (CSM). A shift in B2B CX is taking place as firms strive for loyalty by delivering effective, reliable, and trustworthy experiences. CSM practitioners earn trust by strengthening CX management practices to ensure that promises made to clients in the presale period don’t fall into a post-sale transition gap. A growing number of B2B companies will start to see CX as no longer merely a nice-to-have but as an absolute survival skill—and the pathway to growth will come through CSM.

Companies will increasingly serve distinct communities rather than the mass market. Jack-of-all-trade brands slipped across the board in our CX Index this year—an indication that businesses struggle more and more to be everything to everyone in the age of the customer. We see specialty brands continuing to raise the bar as new CX leaders emerge by serving narrower sets of customers more deeply.

Consumer trust and CX go hand in hand. As companies recognize the urgency behind rectifying the trust crisis, leaders will rise based on how they respond. The most progressive companies will seize the opportunity to build trust with their customers through authentic brand-rooted experiences. The chance for companies to capture market share by delivering breakaway CX is there for the taking. For companies that engender trust, the customer advocacy and revenue gains will be theirs to reap.


Ryan Hart is a principal analyst at Forrester Research serving customer experience professionals. He focuses on customer-centric service design, mobility, experience creation, localization, branding, organizational transformation, and digital engagement principles.

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