Checkmate: The Queen’s Gambit of customer experience strategy – Part 1

Chess aficionados will be familiar with Netflix’s ‘The Queen's Gambit’.1 Excluding spoilers, the show takes us through the life of chess prodigy and protagonist Beth Harmon, who showcases her ability to analyse previous chess games, learn from her mistakes and make the right choices to execute game-winning strategies.


Chess aficionados will be familiar with Netflix’s ‘The Queen's Gambit’.1 Excluding spoilers, the show takes us through the life of chess prodigy and protagonist Beth Harmon, who showcases her ability to analyse previous chess games, learn from her mistakes and make the right choices to execute game-winning strategies. Beth teaches us how important it is to make the right choices in order to develop a winning strategy; not dissimilar to business-related strategies, such as Customer Experience (CX). You are still making choices to win, but to win over your customers in the marketplace.

In ‘Playing to Win’: How Strategy Really Works’2, a former Procter & Gamble CEO and business school dean, argue that any strategy is a “set of five choices”. We will focus on the first three, with a revelation of the last two choices to follow in part 2 of this series. The first three choices below are the essence of what is needed to develop a successful and winning CX strategy.3


Three choices to consider to develop a successful customer experience strategy


  1. Setting a winning CX aspiration

    Queen’s Gambit star Beth Harmon clearly had an obsession to win, but her aspiration was deeper than that for those who watched closely. Despite the fame, success and occasional distractions, Beth’s core focus was in taking enjoyment from the game, with aspirations of eventually becoming a grandmaster. Similarly, a CX strategy requires vision and a winning aspiration, but with a customer focus. Take Nordstrom’s vision statement as an example: “to serve our customers better, to always be relevant in their lives and to form lifelong relationships”.4 This is a clear aspiration with an obvious customer focus, which implicates how they will aim to enhance the customer experience.

    There is much guidance on creating a compelling CX vision, but in essence, it should be simple, clear and associated with specific goals that link back to your customers. A vision that is purposeful for your customers will also be easier to promote. Internally, this will enable you to communicate the vision to employees and empower them to drive the CX change. Externally, this communicates an attractive message to your customers. Note, however, that this is not the strategy in itself. It is easy to fall into the trap of mistaking a vision or mission statement for a strategy. The other choices will actualise and set the direction for the vision, but the vision itself is not the strategy.

  2. Choosing where you will play

    In the Netflix series, protagonist Beth opts for the namesake Queen’s Gambit move in her final faceoff. An aggressive opening which, like all gambits in chess, commits to sacrificing a pawn in exchange for better control of the centre. Similarly, a CX strategy requires some sacrifices and choices of where to play. Most importantly, this will consider in which customer groups you will play, but also:

    • using which channels?
    • in which geographies?
    • in which types of products?
    • at which industry stage?
    • in which demographics?
    • in which price range?

    Some organisations have a broad CX strategy that applies to all of their customers and others take a more targeted approach, but the most critical factor is that you have a justified set of choices that focus on where you will compete and just as importantly, where you will not compete.

    A good example of this is Brooks running shoes. In 2001 Brooks was on the brink of bankruptcy. Nike was taking over the market. Brooks lacked distinction and was similar to every other athletic footwear company at the time, in the words of their CEO they were “everything to everybody and were sixth, seventh or eighth at everything”.5 However, when CEO Jim Weber joined, he undertook a strategic overhaul, deciding to make some sacrifices and choices. He “narrowed Brooks focus to running” in order to target a specific segment of the market. By shifting their focus to target customer profiles that were runners, Brooks were able to meet the specific needs of this target group. The strategy proved successful, with Brooks seeing significant growth and revenue generation in the past few years. The key point is that you cannot do everything. Choose where you want to play.

  3. Choosing how you will win

    As with many successful chess players, Beth Harmon won most of her chess matches using a classic checkmate. But there are other ways she won, such as outmatching one opponent and forcing them to resign. In the same way that chess allows different paths to victory, so too does a CX strategy - but it is up to us to define it. Of course, a CX strategy should focus on enhancing the customer experience with the ambition that this will lead to a profitable position. However, there are many ways to enhance the customer experience, so we need to define what good looks like and what a successful outcome will be.

    Organisations use over 101 different ways to measure CX, not limited to:

    • Net Promoter Scores - which measure the likelihood that someone would recommend your company to a friend
    • Churn Rates - which measure the rate at which your customers stop doing business with you
    • Customer Satisfaction - which defines how happy a customer is with your company’s products and services

    Those who have had a recent day trip to Ikea may have noticed the digital in-store surveys which allow customers to easily rate how satisfied they were with the shopping experience by pushing a button on a scale from ‘very smiley’ to ‘not so smiley’. As an example, this is an effective way to measure customer satisfaction. If we don’t measure anything, then a year after initialising our new CX strategy, we will not know where we are and we will not know if we have won. Too many measurements will also muddy the water, so a select few top-level measurements should be committed to in order to create focus. At the heart of this choice lies the importance in determining how a win will be defined and measured.

These first three choices form the foundations of what is needed to develop a CX strategy. In the same way that we need to make the right moves in order to win a chess game; developing an effective CX strategy requires addressing these three choices. However, simply developing a strategy is not enough. Even the most skilled chess player who sits there and watches the clock run will eventually timeout and lose. By the same token, the most compelling CX strategy does not mean anything if it is not executed. In the next part of this series, we reveal the last two strategic choices which are essential to finally delivering on and executing your CX Strategy.

  1. The Queen’s Gambit (2020) Directed by F. Scott. [Series]. Netflix.
  2. Lafley, A. G. and Martin, R.(2013) Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works. Harvard Business Review Press.
  3. Thompson, E., Chiu, M., Scheibenreif, D., and Ray, A. (2020) The Essence of a Customer Experience Strategy. Gartner
  4. Nordstrom Mission and Vision Statement Analysis
  5. Abigail Tracy, 'How Brooks Reinvented Its Brand',,

To find out the last two moves in creating a winning CX strategy, read part 2 of this blog.

Contact us to find out how we can help you with your customer experience strategy.



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