Editor's note: Eric Whipkey is a client-side marketing research practitioner.

Recently, while updating my LinkedIn profile, I read over an article that I had written for MRA’s Alert! magazine back in 2010. I basically wrote about the age-old concern of most market researchers that their reports were ending up as doorstops or bookends instead of as valued sources of insight. It struck me how this has changed very little, within the market research industry or consulting in general. I have heard the idea of going “beyond insights” discussed at many industry conferences recently yet most of us remain insight deliverers or recommenders.

But at another conference I attended this summer – Forrester’s Forum For Customer Experience Professionals East – I discovered (for me, at least) an entire group of like-minded people that has actually figured out how to drive implementation from their insights. These customer experience (CX) professionals go by titles like: customer experience officer; customer experience designer; vice president, customer experience; manager, customer experience; and member experience officer.

There were a select few large companies like Mercedes-Benz, USA Bank and TDBank, among others, who presented what they had done in both research and implementation. Consistent with these presentations, when Forrester talks about this role it sounds as though these CX professionals have co-opted marketing, marketing research, human resources and even parts of IT.

That is what it sounds like, at least. In reality these professionals are adept change agents and relationship managers with particular talents in marketing, market research and/or Web design. When it comes to human resources there is a big focus on conducting “linkage research” (tying customer satisfaction/brand equity, etc. to employee engagement), which is nothing new really. I was actually involved in some of the earlier research of this kind 20 years ago while working with Booz|Allen|Hamilton.

As is the consistent finding when doing this kind of research, happy employees make for happy customers and by extension increased revenues. These CX professionals are beginning to develop programs targeted on what drives both employee engagement and successful customer experience. To do this, they are marshaling all of these departments (HR, marketing, IT, etc.) to change things for the customer’s better.

Again, CX researchers are taking this research full-circle. They actually strive to create complete closed loops from the consumer insight through to improvements in employee engagement, easier-to-use Web site navigation, easier retail shopping experiences, etc.

In other words, they do not stop with insights.

Visually, this looks something like Figure 1. When I first saw this type of chart displayed by a major player in the retail space, it was kind of a revelation. This is what every market researcher hopes their clients will do with their research. But these CX researchers and functional heads have it as their charge to do just this – at least those who actually have real authority. (Unfortunately, not all of them do – some are department heads or authorities in name only. But that is a discussion for another day.) Where this is being done right, the CX officer, manager, etc., really is expected to make the circle shown in Figure 1 complete. In market research, we usually only get to see about half of this circle (Figure 2) and then we wonder, hope and guess.


I also discovered that there is an entire, seemingly duplicative, supplier market for these CX professionals, many of which are doing full-service market research but focusing on this rather lucrative space filled with established CX departments (mostly large Fortune 500 companies, i.e., Forrester clients). Others, however, like Medallia, Allegiance, ClickFox, Clicktale, Thunderhead, Maxymiser and OpinionLab, are offering full, closed-loop systems that incorporate market research with consumer feedback and client/stakeholder alerts. Most, if not all, of these tools require extensive enterprise-level cooperation, similar to what is required to install new CRM technology. But for those companies that are able to manage these enterprise-level relationships and data integrations, the solutions can really support closed-loop solutions through to implementation as the virtuous CX circle above depicts.

I cannot think of two other industries that seem to be engaged in the same work but getting to such different/more defined objectives. The other thing that I found interesting was comparing the vendors present at recent research-industry conferences with those found exhibiting at the Forrester conference. There is certainly some crossover in these two market spaces but the conversation and offerings being sold are far different, even when you have the same companies exhibiting. At a research conference you would mainly hear references to finding shopper insights, insights in general and/or innovation. But at the Forrester event, everyone, including companies that I had just heard talking about insights, was touting the customer journey, closed-loop programs, Web usability or UX design (in the CX space UX design is a big part of the business). By way of example, Table 1 shows some of the offers touted at MR conferences compared to those likely to be seen at a conference like Forrester’s.

Two market research markets

There are truly two market research markets at the moment. Forrester talks about the CXO (chief experience officer) soon to be eating the CMO’s lunch but market research should be paying attention too. At the least, we may soon be reporting to a CXO. But would that really be so bad? The track record in many companies of marketing having significant transformative roles is not so good.

Let’s think a bit about how our market research lives might change if we reported up to or became one of these CX researchers or leaders. If this imaginary company truly gave the CX role the authority to enact the changes that the research supported it might be thrilling – at first. But it could also be off-putting for some of us. It may be a little outside our comfort zone. Table 2 shows some of the pros and cons in terms of thrills and comfort.

If you look at the list in Table 2 and find yourself getting more excited than uncomfortable, then you may be ready to look into customer experience. If you find yourself feeling more uncomfortable than excited though, you might want to rethink your market research career choice. If you really think about it, all of these uncomfortable things have been complaints of market researchers for a long time. I cannot count the number of presenters I have heard who essentially whined about being pigeonholed to one client/subject area; having a limited focus; no one listening/acting on the research; the research being tactical rather than strategic; boring PowerPoints.

So, let’s take a good long look at this CX thing. Even if your company is not ready to change its corporate structure to add a CX officer, you may be able to begin a movement. If you want to check this out, I would recommend checking out what Forrester is up to or even the Customer Experience Professionals Association. I do not work for either of these organizations nor am I currently personally affiliated but I am thinking about it.

All I know is that these CX people seem to have figured something out and some rather high-profile companies are drinking the CX Kool-Aid. If you go for a sip, let me know what you think.