B2C companies have always argued that Customer Experience is at the centre of everything they do – but in reality, the focus has for a long time really been on selling the right products to consumers, rather than the individual. 

However, the onset of digital has put the customer – and understanding their needs – firmly at the centre. This change created a delta between a leadership team’s desire to place the customer at the centre, and day-to-day operational realities. It’s one thing to place the customer at the heart of your business, but to do it successfully, an assessment of pan-organisational operating behaviour and practices is needed. The switch for many B2C companies has led to them using technology as some kind of silver-bullet for customer centricity, rather than looking at the whole operation.

While technology will continue to be at the heart of Customer Experience, the next evolutionary step must be led by a role, not just the application of technology. That role is the Customer Experience Strategist – a person whose job is to anticipate and adapt to ever-evolving customer expectations and experiences.

Over the past five years, many C-suite leaders have asked me: “How do we prevent, or minimise, the impact of the next trend to avoid being caught off-guard and slow to respond to consumer demands?”

This is a great question because there will always be emergent technology-led trends that can have a profound impact on how retailers engage with consumers from within, and across, channels. The reason the question keeps getting asked is not due to the impact of digital, but because it is easier to point fingers at technology as the challenge. In reality, the challenge is usually addressing an organisation’s ability to anticipate and understand how it must adapt or introduce new operating models.

One of the common mistakes B2C leaders made in the past was treating Digital – and ergo Customer Experience – not as a fundamental challenge to the businesses whole operating dynamic, but as a technology trend that affected the day-to-day operations of specific channels. This narrow and reactionary focus left many woefully ill-prepared for the shift needed for Customer Experience to work across the organisation as a whole.

The root cause of this issue is the disconnect that typically exists between the corporate strategy department and the channel-based focus of customer experience roles. Customer Experience strategists need to be at the heart of the corporate strategy team, answering to the CEO and C-suite leadership team – not a departmental role. Otherwise, it continues to be a role with isolated influence on an immediate use case, or requirements for a channel, rather than fundamentally changing the whole organisation.

The purpose of the Customer Experience strategist role is to anticipate and assess nascent trends and recommend how the company should prepare for them, from within the corporate strategy department. This ensures a mechanism is in place to act on changing Customer Experience behaviour with enough lead time to plan an appropriate course of action. In turn, channel-specific Customer Experience specialists can focus on meeting the demands of near-term dynamics.

There’s no question that this new direction is essential to the future success of B2C organisations in an environment where customer expectations continue to rise, and brand loyalty is easily lost. It requires agility, bravery and commitment, but the rewards will be great for those with the vision and determination for change.

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