I recently prepared a presentation on Client Experience as an organizational capability that I will be delivering at the Client Experience Management Africa (CEM) conference in Cape Town. The idea that I was tentatively proposing was that Client Experience Management (CX) could be conceived of as a “high-order” organizational capability. In other words, CX can be viewed as a core competence, or power, the organisation possesses and that this core competence in some way allow the organisation to differentiate itself from its competitors in the market. What I was attempting to do was to move CX out of its traditional practice-orientated role, into one that describes a fundamental and essential property of the organisation.

“High-order” capabilities are distinct from operational and practice orientated capabilities in several fundamental ways. Firstly, operational capabilities are effectively business processes and organizational routines that allow a specific “job” to be done. Thus, in a lending business context, effectively and efficiently granting credit relies on well through out rules and processes. Credit granting would be effective if the business is characterized by low default rates. Similar, credit granting is efficient if it entails quick turnarounds with minimal amounts of “re-works” or requests for more information.

It is difficult to view CX purely as an operational capability. It has operational elements to it, for example, measuring customer sentiment and implementing service recovery efforts. But importantly, there are characteristics that are more strategic in nature. For example, redesigning a customer journey based on customer insights or changes in the market or competitive environment requires am “integrative” understanding of the business, its clients and the context within which it operates. Frequently, a set of choices must be made that deals with how scare organizational resources are allocated and configured.

Thus, I believe it is possible to distinguish between an operational CX capability and a strategic or “high-order” CX organizational capability that are nonetheless integrated. “Events” at the operational level could inform decisions or actions at the organizational level. Similarly, the organizational level CX capability “shapes” the operational capability and influences how CX is executed as routines and practices.

If we accept that a CX organizational capability does exist, two questions then become relevant. Firstly, how does such an organizational capability emerge; is it purely a sum of operational factors or are there of “forces” at play. Secondly, once such an organizational capability exists how is it sustained?

These questions cannot really be answered in a short post and will be fleshed out later. The position I however take is that organizational capabilities are emergent in nature and cannot be reduced, or fully explained, by combining a set of lower level factors. In other words, purely cataloguing CX practices and how they are implemented will not fully explain the high-level organizational capability. Rather, there are a set of “mechanisms” at work, including “effective practice execution” that allow this capability to emerge. Importantly, there could also possess mechanisms that “work against” the emergence of the capability. For example, it is possible to speculate that a “reinforcing customer stereotypes” mechanism could exist that negatively impact the higher-level organizational capability. The presentation that I am giving at the conference steers well clear of such “theoretical” considerations and only lightly touch on these topics. I intend to explore them more fully here. So what this space for more discussion on “Client Experience Management as a higher-level organizational capability”.