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Navigating the service provider landscape for customer experience success


As customer expectations for superb and even unparalleled customer experience intensify, companies of all sizes, industries and locations are feeling the pressure to transform their businesses in ways that, even two years ago, weren’t urgent or on the radar screen. Now, as organizations are realizing the criticality of customer experience management (CEM), they are starting to integrate customer-centric thinking into all aspects of the business, including business strategy, business processes, IT systems and organizational culture. But quite often these organizations find that their number of experienced internal resources for leading and staffing CEM initiatives are not only scarce but are engaged on other strategic projects. This scarcity of skills and experience is leading many companies to engage one or more external service providers to help tackle and staff their complex requirements for strategic CEM projects.

The dependency on service providers immediately creates a dilemma because the CEM service provider landscape is dotted (no, crammed) with all kinds of companies—ranging from global systems integrators and well-known management consultancies to small digital agencies and specialty marketing/communications companies. Given this kind of landscape, how is a corporate executive to know which company has the best skills and which type of company is best suited for her organization’s CEM journey? Figuring it out starts with understanding the market segmentation for service providers, then understanding which firms fall into which category and then determining which firm(s) meet your organization’s requirements. Still, the picture is murky because service providers are undergoing a massive number of mergers and acquisitions, making it harder to figure out which firm is good at which CEM component and which company is wildly over-exaggerating its prowess. And then there’s the complexity of the marketplace, since the CEM initiative may range, for example, from business strategy, user research, and content design, to technical implementations, custom coding, and software solutions.

While the types of companies that fit the definition of a CEM service provider run the gamut, categorizing service providers based on the type of markets, processes and applications they pursue, as well as the knowledge and experience they possess, helps organizations better understand a complicated, and very large landscape. The five CEM service provider market segments to choose from are identified in the table below:

Service Provider Category: Description Example:
Advertising and/or Creative firms These firms inspired the “Mad Men” TV show, offering  the creation, planning, and management of advertising services, including programmatic, branding campaigns, and online/offline creative services. Leo Burnett Worldwide, Young & Rubicam
Communications and/or Marketing firms These firms help with external strategic communications by combining both analog and digital, leveraging marketing technology stacks, and creating marketing tactics. Edelman, Weber Shandwick
Management Consulting firms These firms offer strategic advice in internal operations and business transformation. They analyze existing business processes and devise strategies to help increase operational efficiency, transform processes and improve profits. McKinsey, AT Kearney
Digital/Interactive Agencies These firms design capabilities in a digital-first world by hiring a new breed of technologists that work closely with creative firms. WundermanRazorfish
Systems Integrators SIs build complete technology solutions by integrating hardware, software and networking components from multiple vendors. They are fluent with certain technology platforms and understand how to connect CEM solutions with a client’s existing technology stack. Accenture, TCS, IBM

For additional insights about the service provider segmentation, see The Five Types of Customer Experience Management Service Providers or contact us at info@digitalclaritygroup and


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