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CX Doesn’t Matter

Over the past few years, contact center vendors have mostly shifted their messaging from the technologies (ACD, routing, IVR, omnichannel, IVA, WEM, etc.) to customer experience, or CX. Outcome-focused messaging is an indicator of a sector maturing. The tech is beside the point, it’s the customer’s journey that matters. 

Along with this shift came an obligatory warning that businesses that don’t prioritize the experience of their customers will lose their customers. It comes up reliably in just about every contact center keynote and presentation with “obvious” claims such as ‘customers value service more than anything else’ or ‘most customers will change vendors based on a bad experience.’ These are warnings to invest in CX or risk losing your customers.


Great CX is the Exception 

At least the claims seem obvious. There’s a notable discrepancy between that conclusion and our day-to-day experiences. Great customer service is the exception, not the rule. We tend to avoid calling customer service phone numbers. When we do call these lines are frequently “experiencing unusually high traffic.” The modern experience isn’t frictionless, it’s filled with frustrating auto attendants and bots that waste our time.

In “How did customer service get so bad?The Financial Times recently observed that instead of the weather, “we are we’re more likely to bond over our gripes with banks, energy companies, online delivery firms, airlines, car insurers, retailers, dodgy broadband providers, the taxman…. Everyone, it seems, has a problem that urgently needs resolving.” 

It’s not just a UK phenomenon. Forrester recently published its US Customer Experience Index and concluded average customer experience in the US continues to decline and now sits at an all-time low. Here are some recent headlines of major CX failures that have come to my attention.

  • Sonos, the popular Wi-Fi audio solution, angered many of its customers with a poorly designed app refresh. Bombarded by complaints, the company did not respond well, and then added insult to injury with a terms of service change removing its promise not to sell their customer’s personal information. 
  • T-Mobile recently implemented a rate increase impacting customers that thought they had guaranteed rates. Users at Reddit filed a complaint with the FCC, and were told the price hikes were that the promotional price lock they signed-up for was not actually in the small print. The agreement states that if T-Mobile should raise rates, that it will pay the final monthly bill for customers that cancel within 60 days. 
  • In another example, Adobe is being sued by the FTC because it allegedly conceals substantial termination fees for its services and makes it difficult for customers to cancel subscriptions.


CX’s Dirty Little Secret 

I contend that none of these companies will experience severe customer losses for their actions. Which brings me back to this CX discrepancy. Everyone seems to agree that customer service is paramount, yet customer service is a punch line. 

There’s a dirty little secret in CX: Customers are far more-sticky than the fortune cookie claims. Most vendors don’t have to worry about customer loyalty. There are several reasons why.

Switching costs

It can be expensive to switch vendors. Switching costs are essentially the cumulative total of inconveniences of changing vendors. 

When a bigger bank bought my big bank, they locked me out of my funds for several days. It was infuriating, and I swore to change banks, but didn’t. Changing banks requires considerable effort. In addition to reprinting checks and moving the contents of safe-deposit boxes, one needs to inform and update all the parties that send or receive funds electronically. I think the banks know how hard it can be. 

Switching costs are more than time and effort, it’s also functionality. Many of us use our email systems as a filing cabinet. Changing email providers means having to move or lose that filing cabinet. I have a decade of email history on my account, so changing providers is not going to happen because of a few outages or offending ads. 

There’s also the unknown if a new provider is going to be any better. Maybe all banks routinely lock their customers out of their accounts. 

Lack of Alternatives

There just may not be a viable alternative. This is common with cable TV, Internet services, and airlines. The consolidation in the airline industry means most routes don’t have a lot of competition. If you live in Denver, you likely fly United and/or Southwest. Boycotting one or both will seriously limit your destination options. 

Loyalty Clubs

There are two kinds of membership programs that keep us “loyal” to retain our benefits. The airlines are credited with inventing the membership rewards programs. Rewarding customers for continued patronage makes sense, but these programs have devolved to prisons without bars. The so-called rewards are what we used to get free – checked bags or a live answer when we call. The “miles” too have changed to dollars spent instead of the badge of honor associated with hours in a seat.

Another form of loyality program is more transparent with a literal membership fee buy-in such as Amazon Prime or a Costco membership. Here, the cost of the membership gets distributed. Customers reclaim their fee, or even get ahead, by consuming more services such as “free” shipping. 


Sometimes, loyalty is formed more out of habit than satisfaction, or perhaps more accurately fear of the unknown. It’s easier to settle for a familiar ‘ok’ restaurant than gamble on an unknown establishment. Switching costs were discussed above, this is more about switching risk. 


CX: The Ultimate Irony

Whatever the reason, customer loyalty is much more ingrained than popular wisdom suggests. Many companies are not really asking themselves what they must do to improve customer service. Rather, they engage in active experiments to figure out just how much they can get away with.

Despite the indignations, customers usually remain loyal to their abusers. This persistent loyalty, despite poor treatment, is a modern-day take on the Stockholm Syndrome. Much like hostages developing an unexpected bond with their captors, customers seem to forge a perplexing attachment to the status quo despite repeated disappointments. Cellular providers typically have very low customer satisfaction rates, yet oddly benefit from high retention rates. 

While this comparison might seem exaggerated, it underscores a crucial point: our acceptance of subpar customer service creates a cycle of complacency, giving businesses little incentive to improve. The colloquial renaming of the contact center space to Customer Experience thus becomes the ultimate irony. No one said anything about a positive experience. 

The CX industry is currently consumed with generative AI. The driver isn’t to improve CSAT or the customer experience, but to reduce costs in delivering service. Bots can deliver subpar experiences at lower costs and without breaks. 

The situation does create an opportunity. While the obvious opportunity is to deliver exceptional and differentiating service, there’s a cheaper and just as powerful option: Deliver a slightly better customer experience. There’s an old joke about two hikers, and one has running shoes out of concern over bears. The first hiker says, “You can’t outrun a bear.” The second hiker says, “I only need to outrun you.” 

If you disagree with this post, talk to the hand (because it cares). 

Dave Michels is a contributing editor and Analyst at TalkingPointz.