Entry-Level Roles in CX—How Do You Break In?

Author Bio

Author Bio

Choosing a career in customer experience (CX) is not for those uncomfortable with gray space. You don’t always have the clear, binary results of the “big four” professions—medicine, accounting, law and engineering. You either complete the surgery successfully, balance the books, win the case or build the bridge successfully or not. Results in CX range from the softer type, like building out a CX program to begin with, to evolving into what we all strive for, actually enhancing business outcomes via changed experiences for customer and employees.

In my last post I discussed educational backgrounds for CX careers, which are still not well supported in higher education beyond a handful of masters’ degree certifications and industry/provider certifications in certain methodologies.

One thing I missed, however, is a matter of debate in some circles. In the CXPA Community, a forum for CXPA members, there was a discussion this week about whether CX should be called out as its own discipline. Opinions varied, but it’s clear there is still confusion in the market about what CX is.

Breaking into the field, then, could be approached many different ways, without the direct path of a CX degree. We all know CX professionals who have come from different parts of their organizations with a special focus or approach to CX. For example, in the 80s and 90s when process improvement was king, the smart companies paid attention to the customer’s experience, while squeezing out efficiencies and cost. The balance often tipped more in favor of the company, however, and led to poor experiences. This is my theory as to why CX is now king—customer revolt due to better online experiences. No news there.

Yet process improvement still makes a good background for CX if one doesn’t get too hung up on inwardly-focused initiatives. A great CX isn’t all about fixing potholes, according to Dan Heath in his new book with brother Chip, called The Power of Moments, launching October 3 on CX Day. Fixing key moments and elevating experiences must be balanced.

Some believe that a data or business analytics background is the best entry-level job for CX. While data analytics is absolutely critical to a mature CX program, couldn’t that be true about any field right now? There’s a reason I keep checking with my 20-year old college student about his proclivity for math—“are you SURE you don’t like it?” In 2016 Glassdoor listed Data Scientist as the best overall job—as voted by those who work in it. High pay even at entry levels, open doors wherever you go…but that doesn’t even sound like a CX career, does it?

No, most CX professionals have hacked the jungle with a machete, starting as Market Researchers brandishing SPSS charts, advertising account directors working on corporate brands, sales people who “know the customer” but have never read a research report, process engineers and customer service people with contact center backgrounds. 

Any of these professions are a decent place to start (better than the “big four” professions), but knowledge of only one discipline cannot sustain a CX career alone. The truth is most of us find our way to CX through a combination of these disciplines…a little product management here, a little client success directing there, and a dab of change management to round it off. And that’s fine for setting up CX programs, and achieving results if you have a very committed executive leadership team.

But without that benefit, it can be a long slog. So I’d recommend the following to the multi-talented business person who has experience in marketingresearchcommunications changemanagementprocessengineeringproductmanagementbrandmanagementcustomerservicedataanalytics:

  1. Fill in the most important gaps first, or surround yourself with people who can, particularly in change management and experience design.
  2. Don’t settle for merely setting up programs. It’s not enough to keep your executives interested and won’t keep you in your seat past a few years.
  3. Yes, find an analytics person who sees more than numbers but can tell stories based upon the customer insights you gather—your job will be that much easier.

More education is great too, but forget the MBA—shocking, I know—and look into organizational leadership and development degrees or any degree that will provide more of the softer skills (combined with some key hard skills regarding data and business models) that you’ll need to impact an organization beyond the data. A career in CX is wild, wonderful and experiences that require YOU to have a broad background.