There is an increasing demand to deliver certainty in our CX programs and initiatives. That’s understandable, given the unstable environment we’ve all been working in over the past eighteen months. But, how well are our tried and tested CX discovery and development methods really serving us? When a premium is placed on getting it right, are we ignoring the distinct possibility that something might actually go wrong?

Many of the organisations surveyed in the recent IDC InfoBrief [New Zealand's State of Agility 2021] responded that they considered their businesses to have a high degree of agility. That’s encouraging. But, I’m going to challenge this thinking a little simply because my concern is if we all start saying 'mission accomplished' when it comes to agility and our CX strategies, we might be heading for dangerous waters.

Complex vs complicated processes

There are two types of problems we often face, especially when understanding customer experience. Aaron Dignan’s Brave New Work draws the distinction between complex and complicated problems. Simply put, complex problems, while they may be very challenging to work through, have attainable and known outcomes. Complicated problems — which are very much the domain of CX journeys — in my experience, are messy. They have infinite variables and outcomes and are constantly evolving in real time.

Because most — but not all — CX-related problems deal with human behaviour and expectations, they tend to be complicated rather than complex.

The dissonance then arises when we try and impose a fixed, prescribed outcome to a journey that has no guaranteed end at all (like guaranteeing an arrival time when we have to drive across town in rush hour). We tend, then, to set off with false confidence. Of course, we need good governance and process, but what if we actually planned to be wrong?

Post-mortems? Try a pre-mortem

An effective strategy we run with CX teams is to have a pre-mortem. Establish whether you’re dealing with a complex or complicated issue and then mitigate as many variables as you can. It involves planning for multiple scenarios, for both the best and worst possible outcomes. Not planning for success — a fuller than expected turnout at your product launch, everyone hitting your home page on Day One, etc. — can be as much of a disaster as failure.

And the best practice I’ve found to head those potential calamities off at the pass is to use tripwires; small but important checks that can help you course-correct before it’s too late. What can we put in place that will tell us if we’re winning or losing?

In the savvy, spandex, and sequined world of stadium rock, the ‘No brown M&M’s’ contractual clause in every Van Halen concert is, perhaps, the best example of ‘tripwires’ deployed for all the right reasons. If you know — you know, if not it’s worth the read.

This comes back to some of the themes of the IDC InfoBrief — adopting an agile mindset and being able and ready to think on the fly. Flexing this ability enables an organisation to move with more purpose and appropriateness in the market.

There is no finish line

Right now, the market has never been so changeable. Customer demands are moving at speed and so frequently that we must adopt a mindset that our CX strategies can, and will, from time to time go wrong. Or at least not follow a predetermined outcome — especially those based on the old, solid, predictable thinking — as we’ll end up going wrong ourselves. How our organisations respond to these complications will increasingly determine the new waterline in customer experience.

If we adopt a mindset that accepts, maybe even capitalises on, the idea that our CX strategies will often go wrong, then we’re much more likely to be on the path to a good outcome. And the way to do that, I believe, is planning around:

  • How we recognise change
  • How we respond and adapt to being wrong
  • How we value and learn from being wrong.

Finally, something I think is critical, and it’s where agile thinking and behaviours are incredibly valuable also, is to acknowledge that there is no ‘done’ state in CX. We can’t tick the box, grab a flat white and see what’s next! What’s next is always happening – so we need to be able to flex, we need to be able to constantly assess where we’re heading and be prepared to correct our course.

There is no finish line. Every time we fix a problem in the process, we open up the door to a new and unforeseen challenge. And on the CX journey, that constant change simply means constant opportunity.

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