Customer experience accreditation has become a popular ambition for CX professionals. But is the entire area of CX certification fundamentally flawed? CX experts Colin Shaw and Alex Mead recently discussed their differing views.
by Colin Shaw
We know from industry research from the likes of the Institute of Customer Service and Forrester – as well as personal experience – that despite all the attention on it, customer experience is either stagnating or not getting the results CEOs desire. Some might say it is because of COVID, but I don’t think so.
While I have my opinions, I do not have all the answers about why experiences are poor today. Buy by understanding other people’s views, you can improve your thinking.
Enter, Alex Mead, chief customer service experience officer. Like myself, Mead’s career is operational – starting as a customer service agent with a headset on for a water utility company where 90% of the calls were complaints. He was good at empathising with customers and calming them down. However, he also realised that he couldn’t always help customers the way he should. Eventually, his diligence led to a promotion as a team leader, supervisor, and up from there. At this point in his career, Mead describes himself as a ‘customer service experience champion’ who thinks customer experience is not working.
Mead has been a frequent poster on LinkedIn about CX and the problems we are facing, and I recommend that you read some of his posts. Mead is particularly critical of customer experience influencers; and specifically, those who have never held an operational role and are theoretical rather than practical in their approach to customer experience.
One of Mead’s posts, in particular, caught my interest, as it argued that we should stop all customer experience accreditation now. Out of 197 people who voted in his LinkedIn poll, 65% agreed with this.
Now, I don’t agree, nor do I think the issue is as black and white as this. However, I like civil disagreements. So what does he have to say about customer experience certification? I would encourage you to listen to the podcast to hear Mead’s words precisely, but I’m also providing a summary of our debate below.
Mead’s argument: We should stop all customer experience certification now
Here is a summary of the issues that Mead has with CX accreditation.
Customers want information and they want the organisation they contact to own their issue and help them get that information. This definition means a customer-centric organisation should have excellent contact centres, intuitive digital interactions, a brilliant social media presence, and an outstanding customer relationship management (CRM) system.
However, these tools are not enough. There is much more. As an example, the organisation should also have:
Empowered staff who can own customers’ issues.
Short call centre queues.
Individual chats (as opposed to five simultaneous discussions per representative).
Complete customer order and history information, even from third-party providers.
However, customer experience accreditation doesn’t touch these areas. It doesn’t fix a broken call centre or a poorly designed chat experience. It doesn’t connect your CRM with the point of sales to inform agents about the customers. Instead, it shows how to journey map, incorporate analytics and Voice of the Customer insight into your organisation, but accreditation in these tools does not address the real issues plaguing contact centres today.
Not helping matters is that there are the same 25-56 influencers peddling accreditation courses on LinkedIn – and amongst these there is a distinct lack of operational experience on the ground in a contact centre. Selling customer experience without ever having worked with customers is akin to selling snake oil as it means that their accreditations are meaningless in the real world of customer experience.
And then compounding the overall problem there is the broader issue of the fact that most people in charge of CX do not know what their customers want.
CX experts continually push customer service experience vehicles that customers don’t want. For instance, customers do not want to chat or use voice recognition technology to get their answers – they just want to contact a company and get answers without hassle.
Instead of pushing these unwanted tools, customer experience professionals should challenge the old ways of doing things. Leaders in the movement should have methods for an organisation to think differently about interacting with customers. In other words, what’s available today as far as training is terrible and useless. CX leaders MUST make sweeping changes to training initiatives that emphasise practical applications instead of high-minded theories.
My response: Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!
In my view, we DO need to train people on the concept of customer experience and what it is at a top level as too many people simply don’t get it. So, I disagree with that part of his argument.
However, I do agree that the training should have practical applications in the company and many accreditations do not provide this. So, in other words, strategy and thought process are great, but then you need to do something.
Now, what about Mead’s opinion that many of the so-called customer experience experts haven’t ever worked in a customer-facing position, and therefore don’t have the practical experience to put their high-level theories into practice in the real world?
I have sympathy with this view, but it is up to individuals to decide to whom they listen. This area is also a differentiator for some influencers. For example, I called our company Beyond Philosophy to make the same point. You need to understand the philosophy and have a strategy – but then, like Mead, I say you need to DO something. Hence, the name is Beyond Philosophy because we go beyond philosophy and do something.
One of Mead’s other points that I agree with is that customer experience accreditation earned in two days doesn’t qualify one to work in customer experience – and he proposes that instead it should be like a Learner’s Permit for driving, so that accredited CX individuals are ready to work in a customer-facing role to get practical experience that will then bridge the gaps of their theoretical training.
So, we agree that we need to be training people at different levels. However, he thinks all training should be practical and not theoretical and I don’t agree with that. I say understanding the theory is the first part, and getting practical is next. Ultimately, I disagree that we should throw out everything and start over.
We should still have accreditation, but it should be taught in levels. I believe in market forces. Loads of people are taking this training so there is clearly a demand for it. It should begin with training at a top level of what Customer Experience is. People should understand that customers are not rational but instead have emotions, and these feelings influence their behaviour in experiences.
However, once you have conveyed these high-level ideas, the training should then get into the details of how you can fix an experience to evoke the emotions that get customers to buy from you.
I do agree that the people who train should use these concepts in the field with the training team. For example, when I was at British Telecom (BT) running the call centre, I would train my team in high-level concepts. Then, we would all implement activities to evoke these emotions in the call centre at a detailed practical level.
Common ground: Training should be practically-based, not theoretical
Where we agree is on the importance of the practical aspect of training.
However, Mead says he would throw out the theoretical piece entirely and replace it with educating the team on what a customer experience is for their business. He would include teaching techniques for assessing the opportunity for the customer experience. For example, his training would consist of using work-along exercises (AKA ride-along appointments) in different departments to surmise how what happens in day-to-day operations causes complaints that come into the contact centre.
Then, he would add an advanced course that teaches people how to present what they find in terms that matter to the stakeholders. So, for example, he would teach people how to present to the executive board in terms that get their attention, like the estimated missed revenue that occurs with a 25% drop-off rate at the contact centre.
Ultimately, Mead believes we should abolish certification entirely as it is and replace it with his version of practical application – and also ensure that a two-day training session on top-level CX concepts from someone that has never worked with customers before would never be allowed to constitute a qualification to work in CX.
My counter-argument boils down to the present training is OK for top-level concepts, supported by the fact that so many people take it. However, it is only the beginning. Further on-the-job training is critical to success. Overall, there seems to be a lack of practical training.
Again, I encourage you to listen to the podcast to hear Mead’s words rather than my summary.
If you haven’t read Mead’s posts, you should because they are interesting. Of course, I can’t entirely agree with everything he says, but that is the essence of discussion and learning. By hearing each other’s arguments, it can create more agreement than you might at first think is possible. It is here that we find progress.
So, should we stop all certification now? In my opinion no – but we should ensure that we address the practicality of it. So on this level, Mead and I agree.
What do you think?
Colin Shaw is Founder & CEO of Beyond Philosophy LLC who help organizations grow by improving their Customer Experience and identifying hidden unmet needs. As a result, the Financial Times selected Beyond Philosophy LLC, as one of the best management consultancies for the last two years.
- Colin is recognized by LinkedIn as one of the ‘World’s Top 150 Business Influencers’, as a result he has 289,000 followers of his work.
- The Top 50 Customer Service Experts of the Decade (2010–2020) Nextiva
- Brand Quarterly readers also voted him one of the ‘top 50 Marketing Thought Leaders’ over 50′ for two years in a row.
Colin has written seven bestselling books on Customer-driven growth. He is the co-host of the highly successful The Intuitive Customer podcast. Colin is a commentator on CNN, BBC TV, NPR, LBC and many other publications and media.