I’ve developed a bit of a cheese habit throughout the pandemic.

I’m not sure if it’s a coping mechanism or sheer boredom (though cheese is delicious, so perhaps no explanation is needed). But I’m beginning to suspect it may have to do with that conveniently located cheese shop ‘round the corner and their commitment to something called the business of experience (BX).

Like my local cheese shop, companies that are good at BX obsess about what their customers want, have the entire organization deliver (not just marketing, sales and service) and customers like me love it.

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Companies that are good at BX obsess about what their customers want.

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But while researching what customers want, I stumbled across one perplexing statistic.

At the onset of the pandemic, the share of marketing executives who placed customer experience (CX) as their top priority dropped to just 6% — a whopping 33% drop from only six months prior.

Why had CX become less important when I felt that experience had never mattered more?

And if executives have ruled out the importance of CX in the wake of the pandemic, how could our research so confidently assert that experience (albeit, in a more holistic, BX sense) should matter to businesses more than ever?

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Customers care about how businesses deliver 

We learned the pandemic hadn’t so much changed the what as it has altered the how of experiences. The cheese shop around the corner didn’t stop selling cheese, but it sure had to adapt how it accomplished that.  

When I looked more closely at the priorities that dramatically increased in importance as the pandemic wore on, it turns out marketing execs haven’t abandoned experience at all.  

Instead, these newly critical priorities show that what experience means has shifted. That shift explains the fundamental ways that BX is a departure from CX. 

For example, marketing execs say it’s become far more important to: 

  • Equip employees with the resources necessary to sustain customer relationships 
  • Infuse customer experience thinking across organizations and partners, at all levels 
  • Deliver on promises, meeting customer needs and expectations in all phases of [the] life cycle 

Marketing execs increasingly see that customer experience is best delivered by employees empowered with the right tools and immersing in a culture that places experience at its center. 

A cheesy example  

Well, come to think of it, the cheese shop  which was almost entirely analog before COVID-19 – first digitized its inventory for convenient online shopping. That could have been the end of it (and it has been for many businesses forced to go digital).  

But thshop employees also recognized that their job was to educate and proselytize unknown cheeses (and potential pairings) to patrons 

Pre-pandemic, this would have been achieved by in-store cheese samplings or tastings and chatting with the knowledgeable cheesemonger. In the new physically-distanced-and-certainly-not-in-store universe of the pandemic, the staff got creative. 

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The cheese shop  which was almost entirely analog before COVID-19 — first digitized its inventory for convenient online shopping.

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Patrons could digitally make appointments to chat with
knowledgeable staff (tele-mongering!). And cheese/wine tastings were converted into ticketed online events led by the staff (with cheese & wine delivered to your door) 

Neither of these solutions was particularly high-tech, but they didn’t have to be: They were high-tech enough to let employees create great, cheesy experiences for customers.  

More than a marketing initiative 

Perhaps it’s no surprise that “delivering on promises, meeting customer needs and expectations in all phases of [the] life cycle” was the most important marketing initiative before the pandemic 

But by July 2020, nearly 10% more marketing execs believed it to be “very important. That’s because customers experience brands holistically and their needs and expectations evolve depending on contextMany brands have had to pivot practices to accommodate shifts in customer expectations beyond traditional product and service boundaries. Think of the groceries that began to offer senior hours and far more robust grocery pickup services 

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Early in the pandemic, my hallowed neighborhood cheese shop also worked to meet those demands by not only going entirely digital but also soliciting customer input on what other pantry items to stock (toilet paper, anyone?). 

The pandemic has impacted how marketing execs (but really, all of us) think about experiences.  

Investments in innovation to the more traditional customer experience will almost certainly make a comeback in the future. Think of experimental new technologies that might incrementally smooth a checkout experience or more algorithmically sophisticated customer service chatbots.  

But BX  the idea that experience is an enterprise-wide responsibility  is here to stay. (And so are my cheese orders 😊) 

Ivy Lee

Associate Manager – Accenture Research

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