The best CXOs see 2021 as a fresh opportunity to tackle the challenges faced in the past year. Here's what they are talking about.

Gregory Ng

Gregory Ng, CEO, Brooks Bell

Entering 2021 feels like whiplash for retail CXOs.

COVID-19 changed consumer behavior almost instantly, and after nearly a year of adapting, it’s time to reset and reexamine their teams’ roles in driving business outcomes.

No part of a business is better equipped to solve evolving customer needs and behaviors than an experimentation team—but those operations need to adapt to keep pace with change.

I have ongoing conversations with chief experience officers (CXOs), all with their own unique set of challenges in getting a handle on what’s driving their customers to make purchases in an increasingly ecommerce focused retail environment. But while their obstacles may vary, I find the very best are discussing how they think about experimentation and where their teams focus their energy.

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The top CXO conversations happening right now

The best CXOs see 2021 as a fresh opportunity to tackle the challenges faced in the past 12 months. A million factors may have changed in a single shopper’s life since the beginning of 2020, and CXOs are approaching this task like an anthropologist. It’s going to take data, yes, but also making some changes in how the experimentation team operates. Here are the five conversations I see happening among the smartest CXOs and their experimentation functions in 2021.

  1. How are our teams structured? Chances are most CXOs’ company organizational structures are not set up optimally to address changing consumer behavior brought on by COVID-19. This prevents them from uncovering valuable UX and CX insights and act on them. A common misalignment of the structure is when a UX director sits under a customer success team without influencing CX or UX decisions. CXOs should know about all customer experience areas, including the technical and design side.
  2. Who is our best champion? Once a team is aligned correctly to collect these valuable insights, getting them to—and taken seriously by—the C-suite is a challenge for a person best described as a “catalyst.” A dictionary will tell you this means “a person or thing that precipitates an event,” but to an experimentation team, a catalyst is so much more. This individual translates data into the language of the C-suite. The catalyst is the key to getting buy-in for experimentation. They unequivocally advocate for using data and insights to understand customer behavior and how it helps move important levers for the business.
  3. How mature are we? Another vital conversation among CXOs concerns the maturity of their experimentation operations. CXOs should have a clear idea of where they land in terms of maturity but also should challenge their team to grow into the next step by year’s end. All experimentation and testing cultures go through different levels of maturity but typically fit into the following categories:

○    Understanding: The least mature, this experimentation function is small and just familiarizing themselves with the basic strategies needed to glean helpful insights like A/B testing.

○    Proving: Moving up in maturity, this function is beginning to test theories, gather more data, and create attributable business value.

○    Scaling: Now up and running, the experimentation team is bringing proven tools and methodology to other departments or business areas. Their experiments are repeatable and roles are more clearly defined.

○    Innovating: The most mature, innovative experimentation functions have a strong catalyst, full C-suite buy-in and are considered thought leaders on the topic of experimentation.

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  1. How do we determine success? One of the smartest plays for CXOs this year is to reexamine how customer levers are evolving. In the year ahead, focus on gaining insights from your team, not just experimentation for the sake of experimentation—be the architect, not just the carpenter. Beyond numbers and insights, also look at success from an organizational standpoint. Are you more able now to pivot and adapt the business to your customers than you were in 2020? Are you better positioned now to pivot and adapt the business to your customers than you were in 2020? It’s OK if the answer is no or not quite. For CXOs, there isn’t an actual endpoint or finish line. Instead, it’s all about the journey to becoming nimbler and giving customers what they are asking for.
  2. What can we learn from 2020’s data? Finally, strong CXOs know there is a goldmine of data from 2020 waiting to be dissected. The data is a fossil that has captured customer change over time, and your team is the archeologist that will uncover insights. Will the shift to ecommerce be permanent? Do customers like curbside pickup, or is it just the most convenient option now?

The savviest CXOs foster this dialog among the experimentation function and advocate for the resources and support their team needs at the C-suite level. But they aren’t just talking—they’re acting. Retailers who have the data and insight to quickly adapt to their customers’ new, preferred shopping habits are positioned best for the future. It all starts with a conversation.

Brooks Bell offers analytics, A/B testing and personalization consulting.

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