XXV.3 May-June 2018
Page: 74
Digital Citation

The CX Tower of Babel: What CX descriptions tell us about corporate CX initiatives

Michael Thompson

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While user experience (UX) has its share of fuzzily defined roles, I'm constantly amazed by my inability to use a customer experience (CX) job title to predict that role's responsibilities. This is both surprising and disappointing. Increasingly, both UX and CX profiles use similar vocabulary: voice of the customer (VOC), customer research, design thinking, innovation, customer journey, and so on. You might even expect the two profiles to be somewhat interchangeable.

back to top  Insights


In my experience, however, the shared terminology tends to be rather superficial. I don't see much overlap in actual practice between CX and UX activities. Designing successful customer experiences should really be the goal that guides the expectations for CX roles. Why do CX roles seem to vary so much?

To explore this question, I collected 287 job descriptions from publicly available listings between May and July 2017 that had CX as part of the title [1] and then analyzed the text. Job descriptions (JDs) provide a range of insights beyond the responsibilities: the organizational structure into which the role reports, the metrics by which the role will be judged, as well as the expected experience levels, educational background, skills, and even the required personal traits. In this way, they provide a detailed view into how companies are interpreting the large investments they're making in CX [2].

Why is it critical to understand how CX is being defined? Clear and consistent descriptions of roles and responsibilities are a necessary ingredient to a successful organization. They reduce risk during the recruiting process for both the hiring team and the candidates. Consistently defined roles also help teams collaborate. For example, when activities such as customer research are conducted by different teams across an organization, having a shared understanding of methodologies, process, and expectations for insights will improve the quality and usefulness of the research. Understanding how CX is defined enables the building of bridges between the CX team and its most natural organizational ally: the UX team. While these teams should be collaborating in their efforts to understand customers and to build great experiences, this will happen only when they share a common understanding of the research and design involved in great customer experiences.

My analysis of CX roles and responsibilities demonstrated significant variability in how companies defined their CX activities. First, the term customer experience and its acronym are used to create dozens of titles. Almost half the titles were variations of CX manager (26 percent), CX director (15 percent), and CX strategist (8 percent); however, there was a long tail of ambiguous CX job titles including CX followed by terms like lead, associate, guide, designer, assistant, owner, advisor, and coordinator.

Second, the diversity of JDs behind any of these titles was striking. Some CX assistant or CX project manager roles had wide-ranging CX responsibilities and impact, while many CX manager roles basically involved greeting clients entering the showroom floor. In such a context, three years as a CX manager has little predictability. Pity the CX recruiters reviewing CVs.

back to top  What Is CX?

To help identify patterns in this cacophony of JDs, it is first necessary to provide a baseline definition of CX. Gartner defines CX as: The practice of designing and reacting to customer interactions in order to meet or exceed customer expectations and so increase customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy [3].

Forrester's is similar: The web of relations among all aspects of a company—including its customers, employees, partners, and operating environment—that determine the quality of the customer experience [4].

Nielsen and Norman expand the concept of UX to be similar to these analyst definitions of CX. User Experience: UX encompasses all aspects of the end-user's interaction with the company, its services, and its products [5].

To deliver this broad context, CX requires:

  • Cross-departmental activities
  • Coordinated oversight and governance
  • CX research including both quantitative and qualitative methodologies
  • Analysis and synthesis of customer research data from any given study and across a range of diverse inputs
  • Design skills to conceive of new concepts as well as improvements to existing touchpoints, products, and services
  • Mentoring, training, and knowledge sharing
  • Measurement of progress toward CX goals.

back to top  CX Job-Description Categories

I assessed each JD using the above list. While many described broad-ranging responsibilities, a given JD needn't specify all of them. Narrowly defined CX JDs could be relevant if described as part of a broader context of CX activities (e.g., the CX role is complemented by researchers or designers). I also assessed the level to which the experience requirements matched the job description. The results of this analysis yielded three categories of CX JDs (Figure 1).


CX in Name Only. By applying the role expectations above, 46 percent of the JDs were roles that would not qualify as CX roles in the context of a serious customer experience initiative. For example, a number of the roles labeled "customer experience manager" were simply call-center managers whose focus was to optimize call-center employees' activities and processes. These JDs rarely connected to any other CX touchpoints, activities, or roles (e.g., CX researchers or designers). Other JDs in this category were typically more akin to a concierge function whose role was to reduce friction in their individual clients' interactions with finance and other departments, or even help retail customers on the showroom floor. The CX scope was ad hoc and one-off. Other CX in Name Only roles involved simply managing a CRM system or providing sales-process training.

ins03.gif Figure 1. Three categories of CX job descriptions.

Somehow, it is encouraging that these customer-facing roles adopt the veneer of customer experience, at least in title. Such roles do in fact contribute to improving the customer experience, albeit in limited ways. CX should be part of every employee's role. The limitation of these roles in particular, however, is that they fail to look for systemic CX improvements. In fact, by superficially addressing certain experiences isolated from others, they may even perpetuate a suboptimal overall CX.

CX Lost at Sea. Twenty percent of the JDs described traditional roles yet appeared to "bolt on" a few CX activities. I labeled them Lost at Sea roles because the CX activities listed were devalued by the overwhelming nature of the other responsibilities. For example, one CX coordinator JD included, among other responsibilities: customer support via chat and phone, website design, content management, conversion funnel optimization, and website analytics. Added to these already broad responsibilities, the role was required to "find and execute CX improvements that lead to large savings."

Of course, it is possible to find a candidate who brings experience measuring, researching, and designing improvements to CX in this context. These job descriptions, however, left out any responsibilities (and time!) for CX activities such as research that might reveal insights leading to CX improvements. These job descriptions also did not refer to any other CX team or resources on which the CX coordinator could rely.

CX Hopefuls. The remaining 34 percent of the JDs described CX roles whose responsibilities primarily focused on true CX activities. The JD either had a broad scope ("work with stakeholders across customer touch points") or explicitly fit into a larger CX initiative (e.g., "work with CX leadership" or "insights will be used by...").

In general, the JDs in this category listed combinations of the following activities:

  • Setting up voice of the customer (VOC) programs
  • Defining CX metrics
  • Design thinking
  • Evangelization of CX results
  • Driving organizational change
  • Customer-journey mapping
  • Hiring, managing, and or mentoring CX talent
  • Defining a CX vision
  • Connecting CX activities to business outcomes
  • Collaborating across team boundaries
  • Working within and across a larger CX initiative.

Even if they're only one-third of the total CX job-description sample, these JDs offer promising evidence that some organizations are providing a proper scope to CX investments. One important finding is that about 15 percent of the individual job descriptions in this category were JDs from the same company. For example, one company had three open positions for two CX managers and one CX director. This demonstrated that the new hires were part of a concerted investment.

It is important to note that even within this CX Hopefuls category, many of the JDs had significant gaps in terms of the skills and experience they required. The following are the three most concerning aspects missing from these CX JDs.

Undervaluing qualitative research. Only 34 percent of the CX Hopefuls JDs explicitly mentioned qualitative research as part of the CX role. Instead, they tended to emphasize only quantitative research inputs. Most of those that did mention qualitative research included only focus groups and some variation of "talking to customers" [6].

Any good customer researcher knows that there are whole categories of hypotheses that cannot be effectively answered by quantitative inputs or even interviews and focus groups. Ethnographic research, for example, can provide deeply contextual insights that lead to breakthrough experience designs. Without a broad background in research that includes qualitative methodologies, it is almost certain that CX roles will struggle to identify the real contexts in which customer pains occur.

Forty-six percent of the JDs were roles that would not qualify as CX roles in the context of a serious CX initiative.

Undervaluing analysis and synthesis. Any customer researcher will tell you that one of their most challenging tasks is to make sense of the data they collect. Customer feedback channels are diverse—from social media to call centers to Web analytics to continuous and ad hoc surveys. To these channels add investigations to answer specific customer hypotheses (e.g., mystery shopping to understand the buying process). The process and tools for analyzing these different data inputs can reveal the insights that drive dramatic CX improvements.

While analysis and synthesis should be part of any CX researcher skill set, only 5 percent of the CX Hopefuls made analysis explicitly part of the expected skill set. Granted, analysis and synthesis may be implicit in a researcher's activities and therefore not detailed in a job description. I would argue assuming these skills are a given is dangerous. There is a tremendous gap between someone who runs focus groups or interviews, or who has used Google Analytics, and a trained researcher who has experience in sense-making from data collected across many methodologies.


Missing design skills and design training. Surprisingly, less than one-quarter of the CX Hopefuls JDs made training and experience with design processes an explicit part of their role description for roles that required the "design" of CX. Of the remaining JDs, some emphasized the importance of knowledge of agile processes, which at least implies the CX role has some interactions with those building the product or service or delivering the enhancements. Even design thinking, which includes certain aspects of "design process," appeared in fewer than 25 percent of the JDs in this category.

Whether focused on services, physical spaces, or digital products, an outcome of CX activities must include the actual design or redesign of these CX touchpoints. Designing a CX implies knowing about the process of design—the psychology of design, lean product or service development, prototyping, testing, validation, iterations, and so on. Without this background, CX practitioners will be very limited in their ability to drive CX improvements, whether by their own efforts or by overseeing the design work conducted by others.

back to top  Conclusion

Despite the wave of CX initiatives launched by companies in recent years, my investigation indicates that the CX roles supporting these initiatives do not seem well matched to the activities required to design successful customer experiences. There are several ways to address this. First, companies building out a CX function must put more rigor into understanding the implications of designing CXs. A VOC program without qualitative research is incomplete. Analysis and synthesis are not learned on the job. Design is not simply generating a new idea as a response to a research insight. Second, companies must recruit candidates that fulfill those requirements or implement significant training programs to improve their CX profiles. Third, CX needs more formal education programs modeled after UX curriculums and emphasizing the basics of research, analysis, and design.

My analysis also could benefit from further research. For example, are there unique characteristics of the companies posting JDs within the CX category that correlate with better JDs? Perhaps companies with a B2C focus are more likely to recognize the breadth and depth of the CX role. Perhaps certain industries are more open to a more holistic view of CX? A deeper text analysis could focus on such variables.

Another analysis direction could focus on the difference between JDs and the new hire's actual activities after 6 to 12 months. While the reality of a job is often a lot less interesting than a JD crafted by idealistic management and HR, it is possible that training and mentorship for CX skills compensates for the shortfalls of the original JD.

A final point: UX roles can learn a lot from the CX JDs. CX roles, for example, are much more aligned with business outcomes such as churn reduction, loyalty, and sales. They also tend to emphasize the importance of quantitative data and the use of customer metrics. UX practitioners could increase their visibility and value to both the market and their corporate colleagues by embracing such requirements in their own roles and responsibilities.

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1. Specifically, I searched for job openings using the term customer experience or its abbreviation CX in the title. I excluded CX consultant roles—I focused on CX roles working inside a company. Clearly, there are "CX" roles that may use other terms such as client experience, and the wide range of user experience JDs may also imply a broader CX role. It should be noted as well that executive positions, such as customer experience officer, are not typically posted on job sites but are more likely found through executive search consultants. As such, they were not represented in my research.

2. Using JDs as proxies for understanding CX activities has its limitations. Because they are written collaboratively by a number of different stakeholders, they may evolve into a Frankenstein's reflection of many team members' idealistic but unrealistic views of a CX role. Nonetheless, they do signal the aspirations that the hiring team has for the role. They also set expectations for candidates.




6. Note that only in some JDs did they imply other teams were conducting qualitative research (e.g., "Use quantitative and qualitative data"). In a significant percentage of CX Hopefuls, no mention was made at all.

back to top  Author

Michael Thompson has 25 years of experience building and leading product management, research, and design functions at Apple, Business Objects, SAP, Telefonica, and startups, as well as within consulting companies. Currently, he is a CX consultant and professor in UX and CX master's programs at both ESNE and IE in Madrid.

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The Digital Library is published by the Association for Computing Machinery. Copyright © 2018 ACM, Inc.

Post Comment

@Eduardo (2019 01 21)

If it is true that some companies are investing in the CX area, many of them do not understand or know what the vision of the department should be.
In Mexico, there is no CX area in the vast majority of the companies and in which the area exists, they are limited to “customer service” through a call center or public relations area. They don´t believe that greater profits can be generated through a serious and defined CX strategy. (2019 10 14)

The company where I work, has been working on improving CX team, defining roles and creating new process that allow a better experiencie for the customers. however, I think there is a lack of training on what CX functions really are.