There’s this interesting phenomenon that Bain uncovered, the delivery gap, which I dubbed the CX Perception Gap several years ago:

80% of executives believe that they are delivering a superior customer experience, while only 8% of customer agree.

There’s a pretty big divide between executives and customers, and I think that gap has only closed a little bit. I’ve seen other stats over the years (that one was from 2005) that bring the two a bit closer together…

In 2017, Capgemini found that 75% of companies believe that they’re customer-centric, while only 30% of consumers agree.

…but it’s certainly not much closer. There’s a lot of work to be done for that to happen.

Problems To Be Solved

I bring this up because I was reminded of those quotes/stats as I read a Marketing Charts article about the problems that CEOs want their CMOs to solve. Findings from research conducted by Boathouse among 150 CEOs from top U.S. companies were quite interesting.

When asked the top five problems that they’d like Marketing to solve, the following were most-frequently mentioned:

  1. Create new customers, retain existing customers, drive revenue growth (52%)
  2. Drive sales and grow market share (45%)
  3. Stay ahead, differentiate, grow faster than our competition (44%)
  4. Improve our brand/reputation (41%)
  5. Transform the company’s narrative in the marketplace (40%)

After those five, serve our customers better (personalization, etc.) came in number seven, with 32% of responses. Innovate our company’s products/services and drive employee culture/engagement/retention were both down the list a bit with 24% of mentions each.

OK. So, I’m going to state the obvious: they are all related. To me, they all sound like they could be solved by doing the work to design and deliver a great customer experience. It’s all about the customer, right?!

Why Is There a Gap?

Let’s go back to that delivery gap. Why does the gap exist? Bain cited two key reasons:

  1. They referred to the first reason as “a business paradox,” where companies’ growth initiatives hurt their main source of sustainable growth: loyal, profitable customers. They do so by trying to suck more revenue out of each customer by doing stupid little things like higher transaction fees, hidden fees, etc. On top of that, they focus on acquisition over retention, misdirecting their attention away from their current customer base. This paradox is laced with discounts, coupons, freebies, and more. All in the name of growth.
  2. And good relationships are hard to build; it’s challenging for businesses to keep promises made and to maintain a dialogue with customers that allows companies to adapt products and services to their changing needs. Bain believes that customer understanding efforts backfire because companies focus more on collecting and analyzing data ad nauseum, as well as on metrics, than on doing what it takes to improve the experience. No argument there. Doing what it takes to move the needle isn’t always the right thing for the customer. Improving the experience to move the needle is the way to go.

Those were Bain’s reasons (with my thoughts added) from almost 20 years ago.

What Are CMOs Doing To Solve Problems?

So, what are CMOs doing today? Are they solving these problems? How? And how are they being supported by their CEOs? Are they getting budget and resources? Or are CEOs focused on growth and doing whatever it takes to achieve that (but not the work that sustained growth/retention requires)?

What are you seeing in your organization? Is your CEO supporting the work (with commitment, resources, etc.) that CMOs need to do to solve these problems?

According to FasterCapital, customer experience is a priority for CMOs. I don’t think any of us doubted that. I’m just curious what they are doing. Is it cosmetic? Is it just work focused on the pre-purchase part of the customer lifecycle? Or are they focusing on the entire customer experience lifecycle? Is it surface-level things? Is it deep-rooted work?

It’s got to be deep-rooted, and that means it has to start with the customer – customer data and customer understanding. Anything less, and they are feeding the narrative of the two key reasons for the delivery gap. (Never mind that the culture must be one that creates the foundation for the outcomes the CEO is looking for.)

The Work Starts Here

To begin with, CMOs must make understanding their customers’ needs, preferences, behaviors, problems to solve, and jobs to be done a priority in order to create personalized experiences that resonate with customers. There are three ways to achieve that customer understanding.

  • Listen. Don’t just ask customers about the experience, listen, as well. There are a lot of different channels and ways for customers to tell you about their needs and desired outcomes and how well you are performing against their expectations. Combining that feedback with the breadcrumbs of data that customers leave behind as they interact and transact with your brand gives you a robust understanding of their expectations, what’s going well and what isn’t, and more.
  • Characterize. Research your customers. Talk to them. Identify the jobs they are trying to do and problems they are trying to solve. Create three to five key personas that represent the various types of prospects and customers that (might) buy from you or that use your products or services.
  • Empathize. Walk in your customers’ shoes to get a clear understanding of the steps they take to do whatever job it is they are trying to do with your organization. Map their journeys to understand the current state of the experience. Create a service blueprint to understand what’s happening behind the scenes to create and facilitate the experience. And ideate and reimagine the future state experience.

If you’re not doing this work, it’s going to be really tough to solve any of your CEO’s problems.

In Closing

The problems that CEOs want solved are all part of this circular argument that we get to have regularly: It’s all about the customer. Without customers, we have no business. Without employees who design, build, sell, service, etc., we have no need for customers. Build the business case. Help them understand what customer experience is. And the benefits of starting with designing a customer-centric culture. With the right foundation in place, everything else becomes easier.

If you are unable to understand the cause of a problem, it is impossible to solve it. ~ Naoto Kan


Annette Franz is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, speaker, and author. In 2019, she published her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the “Customer” in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business); it’s available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. In 2022, she published her second book, Built to Win: Designing a Customer-Centric Culture That Drives Value for Your Business [Advantage|ForbesBooks], which is available to purchase on Amazon, Books A Million!, Target, Barnes & Noble, and thousands of other outlets around the world! Sign up for our newsletter for updates, insights, and other great content that you can use to up your EX and CX game.

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