Introducing the CX Onion: How customer insights flow (or don’t flow) through an organization

"Decoding the CX Onion: Insights into Customer Feedback

Information flows every which way through your organization. It’s like a river—a river that flows in a thousand different directions at once.

Sometimes the flow of information might feel calm, allowing for periods of reflection and introspection. At other times information comes at you fast, propelling the organization forward into new challenges. And just like a river, information flowing throughout your company encounters obstacles and barriers, impeding it from where it really needs to flow.

Understanding how different types of information travel through your company is essential to navigating the challenges of growing a business.

And what’s the toughest type of information to share effectively and efficiently?

Customer feedback.

We know by now that customer experience (CX) is foundational to any successful business. So why is it so hard to transform customer feedback into meaningful insights that shape the future of your business?

Because of something we’ve dubbed the “CX Onion.”

What is the CX Onion?

Picture the flow of customer insights throughout your organization.

Every insight starts from an interaction with a customer. Raw, unfiltered customer knowledge is only available at the initial interaction between a customer and your brand. That could be your support or sales team if you run a software company, or the store manager at a retail company. It could also be another feedback collection point, such as an NPS survey or a review on the app store.

This raw data is mission-critical, because it’s where you can hear the customer’s thoughts, opinions, and experiences. It’s unbiased. It’s straight from your customers’ mouths (or keyboard), and it reflects what they’re actually feeling and thinking more than any other data you have. It’s unfiltered.

That key customer data sits at the center of the CX Onion.

Cross section of an onion with the title 'The CX Onion' at the top. The word Customer is at the center of the onion.

Your customer data is at the center of the CX Onion.

Now assume that among all that unfiltered customer feedback sits an insight that could dramatically influence and improve an aspect of your company.

That insight has to travel through a bunch of concentric layers to reach a point where it can be acted upon. Most companies have at least four layers:

  1. Frontline staff needs to perceive the information as important enough to share with their manager.

  2. Their manager then must agree with them and pass it on. They might try to summarize or synthesize feedback from several customers before handing it over to the head of their department.

  3. The department head filters it to determine what’s important for the company executives to know, then reports it further up the chain.

  4. The executive responsible for that department has to digest the insight and then share it with the broader executive team and/or take action.

Cross section of an onion with the title 'The CX Onion' at the top. Each layer of the onion is labeled: 1. Customer, 2. Front-line, 3. Manager, 4. Department head, 5. Executive. Each layer has a arrow pointing from it to the next layer as you proceed from the core of the onion to the outside.

Insights have to travel through every layer of the onion to reach the executive.

The larger your company is, the more layers the CX Onion will have.

You might already be thinking: Isn’t this how all information is shared in an organization? What’s the big deal?

You’re right. Most information travels through an organization in exactly this way. But not all information is created equal, and customer insights are some of the most valuable information you have.

How the CX Onion impacts strategic decision-making

A great customer insights program should drive tangible improvements to bottom-line metrics.

That only happens if the essential customer insights are available to your execs, because they’re the ones with the decision-making power to drive meaningful changes.

But here’s the problem: Since they’re so far away from the customers, they only receive fourth, fifth, or even sixth-hand information (or worse!).

The real impact of the CX Onion is two-fold. By the time information reaches the outer layer of the onion—execs responsible for strategic decision-making—you’ve got two big problems:

  1. Customer feedback is completely watered down.

  2. It’s been far too long since receiving that initial feedback.

Watered-down insights are inaccurate

Have you ever played the Telephone game?

Illustration of kids playing the Telephone game, whispering a phrase down the line until the last person says it out loud to see how accurately they all communicated the phrase.

The telephone game demonstrates how clear insights get watered down as they’re repeatedly shared | Source

If you haven’t, it works like this: A group of people (usually kids) sit in a circle. One person starts by whispering a phrase or a word to the person next to them, who whispers what they heard to the next person, and so on. The final person says the phrase or word out loud, usually to realize that it sounds nothing like what the original person said.

It’s the perfect illustration of cumulative error.

When information has to go through multiple people, the likelihood of the same message coming out at the end is very low. Each time the message is transmitted, the risk of error and misinterpretation increases.

It’s true when you’re a seven-year-old playing a game at recess, whispering a simple word or phrase. Now add to that the usual complications of sharing information in a remote work environment or throughout an organization filled with competing priorities.

It’s easy to see the potential bottlenecks and challenges:

  • Each layer of the CX Onion might communicate in a different format, e.g., a presentation, a Slack message, or a one-on-one meeting. Every format can confuse, alter, or skip parts of the message.

  • Every person in the communication chain has to believe the information is important, relevant, and worth sharing. They each add their own understanding and interpretation to it.

  • No one layer of the CX Onion is primarily responsible for sharing insights. Frontline staff want to solve customer issues, their managers are managing their team, and the department head is accountable for CX metrics and budget. When everyone is responsible, no one is responsible.

  • All information is subject to individual bias. Perhaps the way a case was handled makes an individual look bad. Maybe a manager errs on sharing too little information to avoid wasting their boss’s time. Maybe the department head decides not to share a relevant detail because they assume it’s common knowledge.

The outcome? It’s very difficult to convert customer feedback into actionable insights that drive your business forward.

Your execs—the only ones with the full context and picture of your business—rarely get the opportunity to decide if customer feedback should result in a change or not.

Slow information leads to lost opportunities

The second big issue with the many-layered CX Onion is that it slows down information.

It can take weeks, if not months, for executives to hear about a potential customer problem. By the time they’ve heard about it, it’s natural for their immediate reaction to be: Do customers even still care about this?

These delays can be incredibly costly for a company.

Say you’re a software company that’s just released a huge new feature. The primary goal of the feature is to drive conversions, but there’s a payment bug that’s stopping some customers from buying. If it takes weeks for executives to hear about it, you can’t recover the customers you’ve lost due to that bug.

When customer feedback has to travel through layers of people to reach the right audience, it’s like trying to run a race in quicksand. Every step becomes significantly harder.

Our CEO, Ryan Stuart, summarizes why it’s important to speed this process up:

“The quicker insights travel to the outer layer, the better the decisions you’ll be able to make.

If you’re an exec, you often don’t care about the “why” behind a situation until you really need to know it. And then, when a situation comes up where you do need to know the why, the two things that matter most are how long it takes to get the why back from the relevant team, and how confident you can be in it.”

The layers of the CX Onion make both of these questions difficult to answer.

A customer insights process that works

Customer experience has overtaken price and product as the key brand differentiator.

What does that mean in the real world? It means customers are more loyal if you’ve created an excellent customer experience. The experience you create is an integral piece of the purchasing and retention decision process.

In fact:

The easiest way to consistently improve your customer experience involves two steps:

  1. Cut through the CX Onion

  2. Share ownership of customer experience

Cutting through the CX Onion

The key question to solve the challenges of the CX Onion is straightforward: How can information efficiently pass from the center of the onion (your customers) to the outer edge (your decision makers) without slowly laboring through each layer?

Even companies with a customer insights team will process, filter, and restrict access to information. That makes sense in some contexts—too much data is overwhelming—but it means your execs often have limited access to customer insights. Since every individual in your company has a different perception of what’s essential, everyone filters information through their own criteria. No one has the full picture.

That’s why the ideal communication line should go directly from the onion’s center to your executives.

Cross section of an onion with the title 'The CX Onion' at the top. Each layer of the onion is labeled: 1. Customer, 2. Front-line, 3. Manager, 4. Department head, 5. Executive. There is a green laser line leading from Customer directly to Executive, showing a direct communication path.

You need a direct line communication line from your customer to your decision-makers.

That’s the whole reason we built Kapiche. Using the latest natural language processing techniques, Kapiche can automatically uncover the themes that are important to your customers (note the emphasis). The moment something is recognized as important to your customers, it’s accessible and visible to anyone across your organization. Your executives will always have the information they need to address issues—long before they become systemic and hurt your customer experience.

Shared ownership of customer experience

Customer experience is traditionally treated as the responsibility of frontline staff—namely, your customer support team.

The logic goes that since they’re the folks interacting with the customer, they’re the only ones who can change how customers perceive the company.

And that’s actually true to some extent, but it’s reductive. Even negative experiences can be turned around by a great frontline support team. But customer experience issues—pain points for your customers—always start before an interaction with your support team.

Reaching out for customer support is a reaction. It’s a step your customers take after something has gone wrong. And while your support team may be wizards at troubleshooting, fixing the root of the problem often lies with a different team.

Maybe the customer is frustrated because they’re struggling to understand different pricing options. Maybe they’re experiencing a technical limitation stopping them from using your product as they’d hoped.

Looking at these issues through a global lens and understanding how they influence customers across the board isn’t the responsibility of your frontline staff. They can support your customers and help them succeed, but they can’t (usually) fix the underlying issues causing those problems.

Long-lasting and far-reaching change can only be driven by company leadership. That’s why your execs need to take shared ownership of creating—and continually improving—a great customer experience.

If your execs can easily keep their fingers on the pulse of how your customers feel, then they’re finally in a position where they can achieve that elusive goal.

How Kapiche solves the CX Onion

Kapiche transforms how you make business decisions. With Kapiche, you can:

  • Act faster,

  • be better informed; and

  • be more customer-centric.

Take Village Roadshow Theme Parks as an example.

They ran a special multi-day event, and they used Kapiche to analyze customer feedback while the event was running.

In real-time.

Because Kapiche enabled them to analyze and process customer feedback quickly, they could see the event was popular, their customers were satisfied, and revenue was being generated. These insights gave the leadership team confidence in the event, and they made the decision to extend the event while it was still live.

Decisions like these are impossible—or are major gambles—without quick access to reliable customer insights.

Are you looking for ways to level up your customer insights program? Do you struggle with the information flow through your organization?
Book a free demo with us today to learn how you can uncover actionable insights in no time.

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