Attending an industry event is a great way to hear about new solutions, learn from experts in your field and network with peers. It’s also an opportunity to watch marketing teams and salespeople perpetuate the latest buzzwords and hyped-up ideas (shiny objects).
I don’t think I’ll ever forget when I saw a booth promoting a “cloud omnichannel solution for millennials.” I have no idea what they did (and I’m not sure they did either), but they helped me fill up my buzzword bingo card!
Why does this happen?
The tension is real. Solution providers are often in hyper-competitive markets, under intense pressure from boards, investors, and shareholders, and desperately trying to deliver a clear value proposition and differentiated offer that prospective buyers can understand easily.
A great example was a statement I once heard by a marketing leader during a planning session, “If we ever want to get the attention of investors, we just need to find a way to use the term AI wherever possible in our messaging.” Great for fundraising, but not so great for solving the problems of customer experience teams. No wonder people can be distrustful of marketing.
Or then there was the executive who told an entire team, “The product doesn’t need to exist. If people want it and are willing to pay enough for it, we’ll figure out a way to build it.” Oof! Statements like that make it hard to distinguish what’s available in a solution today, what’s on the roadmap, and what’s downright vaporware.
It all creates confusion. Not just for prospective buyers but also those working inside these solution providers. And, as Donald Miller, the author of How to Build a Storybrand, would say, “If you confuse, you lose.”
It’s a product paradox: chase after the shiny objects for relevance or the perception of innovation (but risk creating confusion or lacking clarity) or don’t and risk irrelevance or seeming behind the times. The winners find a way to walk the fine line between the two. They do that by demonstrating an understanding of a few essential principles.
There’s no easy button.
Shiny objects are exciting. They stir the imagination, fuel innovation, and paint a picture of a future, better state. We all want shiny objects, and, in part, it’s so we can pretend that there’s an easy button to solve the problems in front of us.
Spoiler alert: There are no easy buttons in customer experience.
We’re not going to eradicate the need for humans to assist customers; there will always be blind spots in the customer journey, and yes, employees will still quit, and customers will still leave. The best solution providers understand this and don’t get caught in the trap of treating the shiny object as a cure-all. Instead, they understand and articulate clear and focused use cases and help their prospective customers identify tangible ways to address and overcome their pain.
The fundamentals matter.
Speaking of pain, a failure to consistently deliver on the fundamentals is why most customer experiences turn south. It’s not necessarily because you’re not on the cloud, not using ChatGPT, or not leveraging the full capabilities of an AI-injected everything. People are given incorrect information, promises aren’t kept, something goes wrong, or there’s a complete breakdown between expectations and reality.
Solving these issues often rely on people and process change as much as, if not more than, technology. Everyone would invest in the tools if it were as easy as buying new technology. The world would have better customer experiences: no more tears, escalations, or fun YouTube videos about airlines breaking guitars.
The best solution providers recognize how the shiny object has significant implications on people and processes and help prospective customers make sense of those impacts. They’re acutely aware of everyone’s desire for an easy button and are willing to walk alongside customers to lessen the burden of inevitable change management. They know that for the shiny object to succeed, some discipline and rigor must apply to doing the fundamentals right.
Innovation has many forms.
When people talk about being innovative, the natural tendency is to think only of a new frontier or bleeding edge type of innovation. These are the sexy projects that grab attention and have people pining to take part in them. Most CX shiny objects are viewed and positioned as bleeding-edge innovations. It makes them fun to talk about, but it needs to include the reality of where most innovation happens. The best solution providers know this and find connections to everyday innovation in which more people participate and have the potential to deliver deep and meaningful impact.
Incremental innovation, which happens as part of a continuous improvement process, invites all employees to find and implement changes that can impact the customer experience.
I once heard the story of a Chick-Fil-A franchise trying to improve their drive-thru times.
Their challenge? Only being able to fry so many sandwiches at one time.
Their innovation? Double-stacking fryer baskets to exponentially increase their capacity to serve – and get people through the lines. This discovery eventually expanded to other locations and became a standard practice they use company-wide today.
Before they go after selling the bleeding edge use case for their solution, leading technology providers invest in helping their existing customers understand how to make the most of their current state. They demonstrate to prospective customers how it can help them affect their day-to-day in small but consistent ways. They introduce ideas for incremental innovations that anyone can take hold of and quickly test, validate, or iterate on. This affirms their understanding that their solution isn’t a cure-all and demonstrates an investment in helping a business nail the fundamentals.
Hold each other accountable.
A unique dynamic can happen between customer experience leaders and solution providers. It’s one where both sides honestly share where they’re successful and where they’re not. It’s where both bring their expertise to conversations and trust the other to know their business best. It’s challenging each other to push comfort zones to deliver the greatest possible outcomes, knowing everyone’s best interest is in mind. It’s something to which we should all aspire. It’s something that we should grow to expect and require of each other.
It doesn’t matter if you’re reading this and work at a solution provider, manage a customer experience program for a financial services company, or answer phone calls all day. We must find a way to balance finding and deploying innovations and improvements while working on the basic building blocks of providing accurate information, delivering quality products and services, and keeping our promises. That will only happen when we stop chasing shiny objects for the sake of excitement and pay greater attention to improving the fundamental reasons for bad customer experiences.