CX by the numbers

The business case for serving customers digitally

Companies that invested early in customer experience technology are better poised to remain resilient and drive growth today. Pre-COVID 19, they were already seeing significant business results from their efforts, and their progress is accelerating, according to a global survey by ESI ThoughtLab and ServiceNow.

“In the past, people could say, ‘we’re running our business successfully as usual, so why do we need CX?’ Today, if you really understand your business, CX is how you need to run it,” says Bruce Temkin, head of the Qualtrics XM Institute.

Most companies are behind with digital CX

What progress have you made in implementing key aspects of a digital customer experience? What progress do you expect in 3 years? Largely or fully implemented responses shown.

On the whole, there aren’t many companies that say they’ve made substantial progress in any of the 11 foundational practice areas of CX asked about in the survey. One reason: Just 21% of organizations say they’ve largely or fully developed the skills they need to make these projects successful.

That finding isn’t only indicative of the state of digital CX at most companies, but previews more challenges ahead.

Despite the slow start, it’s clear that CX is a priority for the surveyed companies. The percentage that expects to make substantial progress over the next three years is more than double today’s rate for every one of the 11 areas.

A smaller number of leaders stand out from the pack

What progress have you made in implementing key aspects of a digital customer experience? Largely or fully implemented responses shown.

A small group of companies—just 27% overall—qualify as CX leaders. These organizations are three to four times more advanced than other organizations across the 11 CX practice areas, with the widest gaps in aligning CX strategy to business goals (a 43 percentage point gap), installing a CX management system (a 51 percentage point gap), and identifying key customer touch points (a 44 percentage point gap).

The companies that have invested and accomplished the most with CX tend to be the biggest and fastest growing. Thirty-eight percent have revenues of more than $5 billion, and 47% have annual revenue growth exceeding 10%.

A higher percentage of organizations in financial services (39%) and telecom (33%) are CX leaders; a lower percentage are leaders in manufacturing (25%), healthcare (23%), and the public sector (16%). Yet even among financial services firms, which as a group have invested more than any other sector, just 22% say they have made significant progress in all 11 areas.

Digital CX processes save time and accelerate progress

In which areas have you made considerable progress in digitizing the customer experience? Respondents selected all that applied.


CX leaders are far ahead when it comes to digitizing a broad range of customer-facing processes, according to the survey. Among the ones with the biggest gaps between leaders and the rest of the field: customer enrollment (69% of leaders say they’ve made considerable progress compared with 32% of all other companies); billing and payments (87% vs. 62%); customer service administration (76% vs. 54%).

Companies aren’t investing in these digital processes “simply to run a report or to drive a metric,” says Temkin. “They’re creating an environment where they can actually jump to a more advanced level of CX because they have a better understanding of their customers, which will fuel action.”

Deeper CX investment yields bigger returns

What level of investment are you making in the following digital technologies to improve the customer experience? What return are you achieving? High or very high responses shown.

Leaders have done a better job investing in technology that can support a large number of CX programs. Of 16 areas of tech investments covered in the survey, CX leaders invest the most—and are seeing the biggest returns—in cloud-based platforms, cybersecurity tools, and mobile devices and apps.

The rest of the field, in contrast, lags far behind in each of those areas. The survey showed another aspect of this leader-laggard divide: All companies are making similar investments in AI, but leaders are seeing far higher returns.

In fact, the survey shows a significant gap between leaders and the field when it comes to ROI across many tech investments. Leaders are about twice as likely to report a high return on investment in chatbots, predictive analytics, and customer experience management platforms, among others.

Leaders are poised to pull further ahead in the years to come

What progress do you expect to make in implementing key aspects of a digital customer experience in 3 years? Largely or fully implemented responses shown.

More worrisome for CX laggards is how the leaders plan to extend their lead. Although most companies anticipate making big gains in CX over the next three years, leaders will effectively lap the field, judging by survey data.

Within three years, for example, CX leaders say they will have mastered CX implementation roadmaps (83%) personalized experiences (81%), customer workflow automation (80%), and other facets of CX. Companies that don’t accelerate their investments will just find themselves further behind. The COVID-19 pandemic has only raised the level of urgency.

“I don’t know of a leader today who can say they will be successful even in the next six months without truly understanding what their customers’ changing needs and feelings are,” Temkin says.