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Leaning into Disruption: Executive CX Framework

Practical  insights from industries turning consumer disruption into business opportunities

Source: ASCI Benchmarks

Executive Summary

Social and economic disruption is impacting enterprise brands across every industry, at an unprecedented level of velocity, complexity, and scale.

Industries such as retail, financial services, media, and CPG are faced with drastic shifts in consumer and market dynamics, which have struck at the very heart of long-established business models and competitors. The developments in 2020 have accelerated and catalyzed these trends, which center around omnichannel customer experiences, forcing an urgent yet transformational response from businesses. 

Executives need to carefully consider the choices they make to survive and thrive in this rapidly evolving market, and ask if their organization is set up to truly deliver on dynamic consumer expectations today and in the future. 

To transform from the current siloed approach to one that can deliver seamless customer experiences (CX), irrespective of the channel, platform, device, or touchpoint, businesses need to question and change the way they invest in data and technology; as well as the teams who manage them.

In this whitepaper, we explore how the ongoing disruptions have impacted major industries, and how they are responding to the challenge. We offer a framework for business leaders to approach the ideal of a CX-ready, CX-first organization designed to deliver optimal experiences in any environment.

Section I: 3 New Realities in a CX-First World

Executives are caught between multiple tough choices today. The global pandemic has catalyzed extreme change in an already dynamic environment, where omnichannel customer experiences have steadily been emerging as the linchpin of business success. 

What new customer personas and journey will emerge? The conversations continue to rage: should a brand invest more - or less - in CX during a crisis? What is the impact on your digital transformation plans when  your customers are forced to go digital overnight? Who will come back to traditional channels once they experience the convenience and speed of the virtual world? What offline experiences, if any, should you try to recreate in these new channels? Which channels should you stop, start, or continue investing in?  How do you measure the business impact of your CX optimization efforts, and say with certainty that your investments are moving the needle? What new metrics can help measure performance in this omnichannel world? 

Most executives will be familiar with these vexing questions, for which there are no absolute answers. However, we can distill the essence of these questions down to three new realities.

  • First, in the complex new world, your customer is at the center, and the brand experiences you deliver are the only way to exercise any meaningful influence over their buying decisions and preferences. To stay relevant, executives must continually redefine what ‘experience’ means to their customer’s evolving needs.
  • Second,  a channel or campaign centric approach will no longer work. In the omnichannel CX era, any notion of silos between online and offline channels is non-existent - at least in the customer’s mind. Executives need to find an organization-wide approach to delivering seamless customer experiences.
  • And finally, a fluid, flexible approach to deliver CX is the only way to solve for the challenges of today, but also remain responsive to whatever comes tomorrow. This calls for executives to invest in flexible data, tools, teams, systems, and processes that can endure and deliver in an uncertain future.

The acknowledgment of these new realities helps us frame a critical question facing business leaders today: how to build an organization that can evolve with the dynamic nature of CX over the long-term? Executives need a substantial answer to how these new realities will change the way they organize and invest in data, teams, and processes, and what KPIs they will use to measure progress and success in the new paradigm, even as everything around them continues to evolve.

Section II: Insights from Industries Challenging the Disruption

Consumer behavior shifts, catalyzed by the health and economic crises, have forced brands across industries to modify business models, relook at products and services, and how they need to organize operations in order to deliver engaging customer experiences. Enterprises that have made substantial progress have not just redefined what CX means in their context, but have consciously built organization-wide enablers with a holistic approach to CX. 

Our analysis of major industries weathering severe disruption helps draw universal insights on addressing the CX challenge.

Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG):

The consumer’s preference for digital and direct-to-consumer (D2C) models can no longer be denied. It is forcing the biggest CPG brands and players to think about how to pivot and serve these new needs and expectations. For many CPGs, this means managing first-party data for the first time and exploring alternate and new channels after several decades of working with established marketing and distribution channels. While COVID-19 has resulted in the closure of many physical stores, it has also catalyzed a new openness to digital shopping among various consumer segments.  A special post-COVID edition of the  Fuqua School of Business- Forbes CMO survey revealed that online sales have grown 43% between February and May 2020, accounting for 19.3% of all sales. CMOS surveyed said that even though overall marketing budgets could shrink, there will be a greater proportion of investments in digital offerings and experiences.

In the CPG space, this degree of openness to digital engagement is forcing brands to pivot to or develop a viable digital engagement strategy as well as explore D2C  business models, all in the effort to get closer to the end consumer. CPGs making the shift successfully are already starting to see the strategic advantage. They have found a similar scale and reach as the ‘middleman’ model, but also experienced the power that comes with owning customer data - an aspect that has handed ownership of the customer relationship back to CPG brands. The playing field, however, across consumer categories, is far more level than ever before. Enterprise initiatives such as Kraft Heinz’s Heinz to Home and PepsiCo’s Snacks.com coexist with challengers and disruptors such as  Home Chef and Peatos . It is not just about the product or price, but the experience that comes with ease of shopping, brand engagement on social media, product packaging, speed of delivery, and the ability to connect with the customer, as Nike’s D2C pivot, supported by its hyper-personalized Nike Plus Membership shows us how this can be a successful strategy.

New business models, a holistic approach to CX, and investments in first-party data and solutions for personalized experiences can be competitive differentiators in consumer goods. The winners will be brands that best understand the consumer, and who know how to turn data into winning experiences - not the one with the deepest pockets or traditional market clout.

 Fuqua School of Business- Forbes CMO survey

Retailers

The effect of the pandemic crisis has been almost devastating to the retail sector. Several top retail brands went out of business or closed a large number of stores. While COVID-19 and other recent developments have brought vulnerabilities in global retail supply chains into sharp focus,  it has also shown us how established retailers that failed to meet customer expectations struggled to remain profitable, mainly because of their adjust to meet shopper demand during the crisis. A recent McKinsey report found that the top reason for online shoppers to switch brands (48%) was product availability, followed by convenience and value. 

Retailers are more pressed than most industries to develop a holistic approach to building customer engagement and loyalty, and build systems suited to these new business models. For instance, the best-designed site UX or product offer won't matter, if the item is not in stock at the moment when customers click-to-buy. 

Further, retail executives have been forced to redesign CX for customers who no longer live in ‘online or offline’ binaries, but have embraced a preference for fluid omnichannel shopping. For example, they may shop online but return products in-store, try out products in-store but purchase online, or post complaints on social media, expecting immediate redressal. When it comes to engaging with retail brands, a customer does not see boundaries between channels, and neither should a brand. 

For the retail sector, this has meant the emergence of hybrid models that blur the line between in-store and digital engagement and experiences. Data and technology-powered innovations have enabled competitive advantage in the form of AI-based analytics to create and hyper-target microsegments, transform traditional loyalty programs into value-based subscription models, and blend real and virtual experiences with AR, proximity marketing, and wearable devices. Brands such as Bonobos (acquired by Walmart), Warby Parker, and Sephora are setting new goals for retail CX. Walmart is a great example of an established retailer investing in bridging online/offline experiences and operations, which has helped them not just thrive during the COVID crisis, but get even closer to customers needs and preferences.

These digitally savvy, technology-enabled retailers have demonstrated that when data flows freely between core business functions such as product design, supply chain, finance, and marketing, customer expectations are met more optimally. With intelligent use of first-party data and technology, the best retailers today are moving away from transactional interactions towards engaged relationships that boost customer lifetime value.

Financial Services

Consumer finance is another sector that has traditionally achieved reach and scale with a large network of ‘middlemen’. However, consistent with the omnichannel CX driven trend, consumers today are looking for direct and digital-first relationships even with their financial services providers. Young consumers are particularly open to experimenting with non-establishment players who offer innovative new approaches to manage personal finances. 

 While financial services companies may be more comfortable than most industries when it comes to using data to power decisions, executives are still tasked with transforming into modern, customer-facing enterprises offering smooth, seamless customer experiences without the red tape and obfuscation usually associated with these services. Brands are in a race to optimize digital footprint, build employee-experience infrastructure that helps their people thrive in a digital-first world, and meet the security and privacy guidelines and standards that govern them without inconveniencing users. A  2019 survey of the financial services sector found that improving customer experience and operational efficiency were the top long and short-term business goals for over 80% of financial sector executives.

The biggest challenge has been to shift from the traditional ‘customer service’ approach to a CX-focused approach. Though the customer’s ideal experience in this context could seem basic - convenience, relevance,  safety, access, transparency, and even empathy - translating these into real-life CX moments is a task that demands a different approach to leveraging customer data than banks and financial services are traditionally used to. This approach needs a drastic change in mindset rather than a technology overhaul. 

Even when large financial enterprises have mature data and technology infrastructure and skills, they may lack the agility and flexibility to be truly responsive in the omnichannel world. Executives at enterprise-scale organizations realize that bigger no longer means safer, smoother, or better - at least in the customer's mind. The explosion of financial services challengers such as   Simple, Ally, Kabbage, and Chime offer innovative solutions, but also focus on the experience. Traits common across both - successful leaders and challengers - include the agile use of data, analytics, and technology in experimental new ways, driving unprecedented transparency, convenience, and control for customers, and offering products and services grounded in customer needs.

Media

The media industry has traditionally been advertiser focussed, but several disruptive trends in the space are forcing media enterprises to relook at more sustainable, customer-centric business models for now and the future. From search and social media disrupting traditional news distribution models, to the seemingly unstoppable dominance of walled garden digital advertising platforms such as Facebook and Google, there is increasing pressure on media and publishing companies to connect with consumers in new and innovative ways. With media and content often being treated as a value-added service rather than a stand-alone product, the challenge for the industry intensifies. 

For executives in media and publishing, ‘owning the audience relationship’ with superior CX is more critical than ever. Towards this, they are building digital capabilities that help focus on better understanding audiences, predicting audience interests, driving long-term engagement, and offering micro-segmented opportunities to advertisers based on content consumption triggers and signals. 

New-age leaders such as Amazon and Netflix have already revolutionized content personalization with the use of data and technology; but established brands such as The New York Times and newbies such as Spotify are also winning audiences with their focus on personalized experiences across channels, platforms and devices.

In media more than most sectors, audiences are constantly evolving their content consumption preferences, and brands need to be responsive at each turn. So, successful media organizations remain laser-focused on a deeper understanding of audiences through data, in order to drive subscription renewals, higher ARPUs, and monetization opportunities, while always remaining cognizant of the balance between consumer privacy and advertiser needs.

Disruption Patterns and Constraints

As this overview indicates, most companies now operate in an experience economy, where success hinges on an improved ability to predict customer behavior and win with CSAT - the only universal metric with the potential to impact revenues, profitability, and ROI over time.

The goalposts have shifted, no matter what industry you operate in. With customers at the center of the experience-driven organization, where should executives begin to build an enabling structure around it?  Even though industry-specific disruptions and challenges may vary, we see common threads that will resonate will business leaders across sectors:

  • Shifts in consumer behavior: the increasingly complex omnichannel buying journey, and the increasing importance of CX in that journey have forced business leaders to  re-evaluate existing business models
  • Shifts in business models: finding new, channel-agnostic ways to serve customer needs powered by data, advanced analytics, and technology. Together with shifts in consumer behavior, these new business models have necessitated deeper structural changes in businesses
  • Shifts in organizational capabilities: building the capabilities - people, processes, and tools - for seamless, integrated, efficient, and future-proof operations

Even as they navigate this new CX-first environment, organizations are discovering that their ability to understand and engage with customers is severely limited by ill-suited technologies, the lack of control over data,  or the need for costly, manual resources. As a result, many brands are finding customer lifetime value decreasing even as customer acquisition costs increase. Business leaders across industries are challenged with finding an efficient and effective way to manage and act on the data. Central command centers such as Customer Data Platforms (CDP), with their ability to manage, analyze and operationalize data and execute CX operations seamlessly are proving to be the hub for enterprises to do this intelligently, at scale, securely and in perpetuity.

Section III: Framework to Build a Modern CX-First Organization

Shifts in consumer behavior, business models, and organizational capabilities are the 3 imperative on which a framework to address the CX opportunity can be built. Unpacking and responding to these 3 imperatives with appropriate strategic choices will help business leaders design their own CX roadmap which is both future - and crisis-proof.

  • Shifts in consumer behavior: listen to  and understand your customer’s needs
  • Shifts in business models: experiment with new revenue streams and service delivery models
  • Shifts in organizational capabilities: build a high-performing organization that moves faster and smarter

Shifts in Consumer Behavior: Listen to and Understand your Customer’s Needs

Listening to consumers: whether brands turn to social media to observe and engage in conversations, or gather real-time insights from customer feedback, adapting the customer experience in real-time, in response to changing needs, is more important than ever before.  Brands are also using these new channels and platforms to connect directly with customers, who expect equal responsiveness on any channel.

Making it possible: being flexible enough to quickly adjust messaging and tactics in response to positive or critical customer feedback, sentiment or expectations can be a significant differentiator. Your CDP serves as the command and control center for deploying new or modified messages across all channels with agility and speed, measuring response, and iterating to improve on an ongoing basis. 


Delivering experience at each stage of the journey: brands need to consistently deliver great experiences before, during, and after the purchase, to build optimal customer lifetime value. This demands visibility across all business functions impacting CX. The convenience and ease of pre-purchase browsing,  friction-free sign-in, selection, checkout, payment, and refund processes;  smooth and speedy product delivery; the quality and eco-friendliness of product packaging - these are all opportunities to enhance and differentiate the experience, and all functions - finance, IT, product design, packaging, supply chain, and logistics - are involved in creating them. 

Making it possible: by operating at an enterprise-scale, CDPs are capable of collecting and integrating data from across business functions, enabling the brand to build a truly complete profile based on the most current view of each individual customer.


Building for dynamic preferences: for some time, consumers have placed greater value on experiences over product—but the definition of ‘experience’ changes with time and circumstances. For instance, during the pandemic, shoppers have let go of long-held favorite brands in favor of those able to offer mobile ordering and curbside pickup. Many customers will likely continue with this behavior post-crisis. Others will revert to in-store shopping behaviors, but most likely with vastly altered in-store behavior, seeking hybrid models and more contemporary in-person formats. Either way, brands need to prepare where consumers are constantly reevaluating their choices, priorities, and preferences based on multiple factors.

Making it possible: with a CDP, it is possible to stay in tune with changing channel preferences and shopper behavior trends as they shift over time, while also enabling dynamic responses as changes happen.


Acting on data-driven signals and behavioral triggers: data is the best- and likely only- way for a brand to predict and respond optimally to diverse customer signals and triggers. Organizations need to be set up to gather, analyze, and act on the massive waves of customer data. While data is readily available, the challenge is to harness it into action.  Without visibility across channels, customer segments, and lines of business, teams are flying blind when it comes to delivering great experiences.

Making it possible: understanding customer needs–and being ready to serve them at scale—requires listening to data-driven signals. Your CDP is the central hub for bringing these signals together as they relate to your customer, so you can use data to guide you through these unprecedented shifts in consumer behavior.

Shifts in Business Models: Experiment With New Revenue and Delivery Models

Channel-agnostic service delivery: brands are scrambling to increase their digital capacity to serve customers during the crisis, even as entire channels and revenue streams are vanishing (brick and mortar) or booming (virtual events). Progressive brands are reconsidering how they engage with the everyday lives of their customers, shifting away from channel-first or device-first approaches to customer-first service delivery models and revenue streams. 

Omnichannel brands that have invested in customer knowledge will continue to see the data provide a depth of insights which helps to keep connecting in new ways. Those who haven't will find that influencing customer behavior - whether it is nudging offline customers online, or driving web customers onto a mobile app -  depends on having the right customer data and the ability to act quickly on that data.  Anything less will only act as a quick fix.

Making it possible: with its ability to unify diverse customer behavior data points, your customer data platform (CDP) is the ideal platform to manage personalized and relevant experiences across all channels; at an individual and segment level, while constantly testing and refining tactics for more predictable outcomes.


Delivering experience at each stage of the journey: brands need to consistently deliver great experiences before, during, and after the purchase, to build optimal customer lifetime value. This demands visibility across all business functions impacting CX. The convenience and ease of pre-purchase browsing,  friction-free sign-in, selection, checkout, payment, and refund processes;  smooth and speedy product delivery; the quality and eco-friendliness of product packaging - these are all opportunities to enhance and differentiate the experience, and all functions - finance, IT, product design, packaging, supply chain, and logistics - are involved in creating them. 

Making it possible: by operating at an enterprise-scale, CDPs are capable of collecting and integrating data from across business functions, enabling the brand to build a truly complete profile based on the most current view of each individual customer.


D2C operations: with consumers seeking closer, more authentic relationships with brands they trust—and off-late, having difficulty finding the products they want due to store closures and supply chain gaps —many brands are accelerating their efforts to launch D2C operations. Brands that have tended to leave the last mile product delivery to downstream partners now find that their 3rd party retail partners own all the data about consumers and their shopping behaviors. To build and own the customer relationship – and data - directly, brands need to invest in robust D2C infrastructure that enables friction-free, consistent, and reliable interactions and transactions across channels.

Making it possible: implementing a CDP can help brands get a fast and stable head start with building direct customer relationships, sustaining on-going engagement across channels, and deepening brand loyalty, retention, and revenues over time.

 

Shifts in Organizational Capabilities: Build a High-performing Organization that Moves Faster and Smarter

Re-aligning your business to get the most from data and technology:if keeping pace with customer preferences is business critical, then data is the key to realize that goal. Data about customers and their behavior flow through every business system, but they need a way to connect the dots and turn diverse data into meaningful insights. Such rich insights need to be coupled with the ability to deliver orchestrated messages across complex omnichannel networks, at scale.

Making it possible:  CDPs are a reliable single platform for data collection, management, analytics, activation, and orchestration, with the power and stability to do it at the scale and speed global consumer brands need.


Streamlining your CX stack: today’s tech stacks are siloed and built with an inherent channel bias, which has resulted in “frankenstacks” loaded with point solutions, many of them redundant. Brands that are focused on delivering an integrated CX do not have the luxury of investing time and resources on systems integrations or trying to get point systems to pass data back and forth to each other. These stopgap approaches compromise data security, speed, and scale - all the key success parameters to win with CX today.

Making it possible: Increasingly, CX teams are turning to strategies and systems such as CDPs that facilitate centralizing customer data and insights, and enable easy access to that data to activate campaigns – all without compromising on agility, scale, security or speed.


Empowering teams with processes, tools, and skills: customer-centric organizations need to be nimble when it comes to designing and deploying great customer experiences. That demands constant testing and iteration of CX efforts, but over-reliance on technical specialists to define audiences for each test slows business teams down. Brands want systems that empower business people with the tools and processes to self-serve, allowing customer-facing teams to make faster, more accurate decisions to improve experiences as they go. This need is even more critical at a time when many customer-facing employees will be working remotely for the foreseeable future

Making it possible:  your CDP serves as a single platform to analyze and action customer data, giving your entire organization—whether remote or in the office—a single view of CX across all channels, and a centralized place to build and manage seamless, personalized customer experiences.


Working with new customer-centric measurements and metrics: customer lifetime value is built up not so much by the success of a campaign as the success of the overall CX strategy. Campaign centered metrics are inadequate in a CX-first world. Marketers need to focus on metrics that truly matter to their business goals of customer lifetime value and profitability. To support this approach, brands need to define new customer experience-centric KPIs, steering away from built-in biases where KPIs roll up to a channel or campaign, and not to the customer.

Making it possible:  your CDP serves as the central location for defining, evolving and keeping track of your “North Star” KPIs as well as your line of business measures that keep everyone focused on the customer experience.

Section IV: Create Your Own CX Roadmap

Customers aren’t the only ones reevaluating their choices and preferences in an uncertain present and future. The most customer-centric brands are reevaluating the way they invest in and manage the data, processes, and teams that enable a customer-centric, data-powered future.

Most executives today acknowledge that building an infrastructure to capture, manage, and leverage customer and business data is the only way to make intelligent decisions even in uncertain times. This approach, backed by powerful technologies such as customer data platforms (CDPs) are set up to help the brand remain flexible and responsive to changing customer behavior, needs, and expectations. So no matter what changes, your business is ready to respond with relevant and delightful experiences. 

Additional Resources: Empower Your Organization to Focus on Creating Better Customer Experiences

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