CEM2021: IKEA tops international CEM Benchmark

CXPA Finland, the Finnish local networking community of the Customer Experience Professionals Association, has published the annual CEM Benchmark survey. Based on CEM 2021, furniture company IKEA is this year’s leader in managing customer experiences. The Finnish telecom and digital service provider Elisa comes second, and the third place goes to SCIEX, a global leader in life science analytical technologies. Finns split the fourth place, as energy company Fortum and hotel chain Sokos Hotels join the TOP5.

Altogether, seven of the TOP10 organisations of this international study are from Finland. The other top ten organizations are insurance company LocalTapiola and life insurance company Mandatum Life (shared 6th), Raiffeisen Bank and retailer Stockmann (shared 8th) and dairy producer Valio (10.).

The average Shirute CEM index is on a slightly lower level for international (54) than Finnish organisations (55). As many Finnish organisations intend to spend more on the development of  CEM as their international counterparts during the upcoming 12 months.

This report by CXPA Finland and Shirute was published also internationally this year. It has been conducted on the Finnish level for nine consecutive years. This year, respondents came from all over the globe: from Latin America and the U.S. to the UAE, and from the Nordics to South Africa.

“For us at IKEA Finland, customer experience is key, and we started our journey of putting the customer at the heart of everything we do already some years ago. As our vision is to build a better everyday life for many people, we are extremely proud to be this year’s leader in managing customer experience and to receive this recognition. Togetherness is one of our key values, and working towards it has been a crucial element for creating a better omnichannel experience, led with data. It is wonderful to see that this work has been recognized and we can celebrate this together with our co-workers who have, during these uncertain times, done fantastic work and secured better everyday life for our customers”, says IKEA Finland’s Country Customer Manager Tarja Sallanen.

Companies reach the Visionary level for the first time in many years

A quarter (25%) of the organisations that responded to the survey reached the second-highest (Executive) level in terms of overall scoring. The second-lowest level (Apprentice) was reached by more than half (54%) of the respondents. A good tenth (15%) of the responding companies stay at the lowest (Survivor) level. There is still room for improvement, although this year there were a couple organisations that reached the highest level (Visionary).

Overall, the Finnish respondents still stay on the same level of maturity as in our study last year. The average Shirute CEM Index is 54 internationally and 55 at the Finnish level (scale 0-100).

“Last year, we were pleasantly surprised by the results. The average of the index had stagnated for many years, but showed growth despite the Covid crisis. It is no wonder that, as the pandemic has continued for another year, there hasn’t been any significant change from last time. But you can still notice positive development, as a couple of organisations reached the Visionary level. Let’s hope this direction continues,” rejoices Sirte Pihlaja, Head of CXPA Finland local networking team and CEO of Shirute, the customer experience agency conducting the study.

Katja Bäckström, Elisa‘s Director of CX Business Solutions, whose company came in second in the international study, agrees that customer experience should be one of the most important investment targets for all companies.

“At Elisa, we invest in customer experience and its continuous improvement – the expectations of customers regarding transactions are growing all the time. We are working to make investments in CX more measurable, so as to render the business benefits clearly visible. Artificial intelligence and automation play a key role in improving the digital customer experience, and they bring new business models to the market.”

Altogether, 85% of the organisations who responded are seeking to differentiate from their competitors by developing people experiences (CX, Customer Experience), but now only seven out of ten (67%) believe their efforts in customer experience activities have had a positive impact on their financial results – an important decrease from 78% (international) and 79% (Finland) last year.

Out of all the responding organisations, four tenths (40%) view that their challenges in CX development are mostly due to other competing priorities taking up resources, and more than one out of three (36%) cite the lack of an actual CX strategy or the lack of budget (35%) as a barrier.

The effects of the pandemic are visible – but the concern may pass by soon

Customer experience management has been raised on the strategy level in most of the organisations (90%), and in 67% as one of the main strategic goals. The results show a slight difference compared to Finland, where 68% of the respondents have defined customer experience as one of the main strategic goals.

SCIEX, a global leader in life science analytical technologies and the third-best scorer in the CEM2021 survey, is a good example of the results you can get when CX has the place at the forefront of a company’s strategy – but it takes a lot of time and the development work requires patience.

Senior Director Global Customer Experience Susanna Baqué tells that it has been a long road since 2014, but today SCIEX has successfully implemented CX strategies across different functions. “We are honored to be among the TOP3 scorers in this year’s CEM Benchmark. Grounded on thorough customer research, we have built a digital ecosystem for customers to manage their labs and relationships with us, established global CX centers and launched an onboarding program. This year, we improved all of these systems, based on the feedback from our VoC program. The CX improvements are reflected across multiple KPIs. Most importantly, CX is now part of our culture. This attitude has empowered us to serve our customers better, provide them great CX through the COVID 19 pandemic globally, and enabled our internal teams to work more efficiently.”

According to the results, seven out of ten organisations (69%) are still actively driving CX development (Finland 73%), but this marks a significant drop from last year (82% vs 87%).

“The Corona fatigue has started to show only this year in CX development activities. At the same time, we know that demand for CX projects has started to increase at the turn of the year. I believe that later this year, after this slump, we will start working again on the level we were used to”, Pihlaja reckons.

However, the top companies in the survey do not have time to rest on their laurels, as Elisa Blomberg, Head of Customer Centricity at Fortum Consumer Solutions, explains: ”Warm thanks for the recognition. Customer centricity is at the heart of Fortum Consumer Solution’s strategy and it is reflected in our everyday actions in many ways. It’s high on the agenda of our management and on the indicators that we all follow. Above all, we strive to develop customer satisfaction with very concrete actions. With our Customer Voice program, we have established a way of operating throughout our organization that allows our personnel at different levels and positions to consistently participate in the development or our operations based on customer feedback.”

As regards to co-operating with customers, Blomberg gives the example of a new kind of customer program, Small steps, where the company tries to do good for the environment with everyday small things. Last autumn, CXPA Finland awarded Fortum an honorable mention for this program in the CX Award Finland competition.

Similarly to last year, about the same amount of organisations now have a dedicated budget or are considering a budget for customer experience management (58%) in Finland, whereas only 60% of international organisations claim to have or plan one, with a 7% decrease in the number compared to last year. Almost half (48%) already have a dedicated budget.

The size of CX teams has decreased during the year, averaging now at 1 to 2 persons instead of 3 to 5 people both internationally and in Finland. The proportion of respondents having customer experience managers/directors responsible for developing customer experiences is 71% internationally, whilst in Finland 67% of participating organisations have a CX leader.

The priority of CX management is putting people first

Although there have not been as many ongoing projects this year as in the previous year, people still have good faith in the future and investment in CX development work continues.

“Warm thanks for this great recognition! Although our industry is still living in a strong riptide, and we have repeatedly decided to adapt our services to changing situations, I am proud of the Sokos Hotels family and the persistent work to make our guests happy. I am glad that we have been able to continue to develop our customer experiences during this time as well. We have developed new services and our hotels are also being renovated all the time. Encouraged by this recognition, the work continues, listening intently to the wishes of our guests”, promises Jaana Matikainen, concept and development director at Sokos Hotels, whose organisation placed second in the total index score.

Seven out of ten (67%) of the responding organisations are going to put more emphasis, and a quarter (25%) are going to put significantly more emphasis than before on the development of customer experiences.  In Finland, as many as 67% believe investments in CEM will be growing. The main areas for development are digital channels, multichannel experiences and – as an exception to previous years – phone service.

To an increasing extent, and similarly to last year, organisations are looking to focus foremost on strengthening customer-centric culture. Internal communications & employee engagement have, however, climbed past cultural transformation in investment plans. Taking care of the required cultural change shares the second place with customer-centered process development.

“For the next 12 months, one of the common themes describing CX development activities is focusing on your people: Internal communications & employee engagement, strengthening the customer-centric culture and customer-driven process development are the top priorities for the upcoming year. Organisations have started to understand the role of employee experiences and the role of employees in creating great CX more clearly than before”, Pihlaja believes.

“It’s interesting to note that last year’s newcomer in the top activities, data/ analytics & automation still stays close to the top right after these more human-centered aspirations. It kind of makes sense, as by introducing better management tools and data-driven decision-making to business, it is possible to support more effective customer experience management practices and ease the development work needed to deliver better CX”, she points out.

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The CEM 2021 Benchmark is the most comprehensive study evaluating the CEM capabilities and competences of international and Finnish organisations. CXPA Finland and Shirute have been studying the current state of CEM in Finland since 2013. The study was originally based on research by Temkin Group. This year, it was conducted internationally, and for the 9th time on the Finnish level.

The participating organisations were evaluated against the Shirute Customer Experience Management Index™ to understand the level of CEM maturity in Finland. This index measures, e.g. how systematic and goal-oriented the activities are, how well the respondents are organising themselves, how much they co-ordinate their various CX development projects, how customer experiences are measured, and how much they invest or plan to invest in customer experience management.

It is important to notice that the index evaluates only how systematic the intentions of the participants are, as reported by themselves. It does not take a stand as to the content of the customer experiences, nor their quality from the point of view of customers, i.e. the results of the CEM activities. This aspect can be measured with other indexes that are based on exercises such as focus group interviews, customer journey mapping or audits in various CEM competency areas.

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The data was gathered through an online form and phone interviews in May-December.

The target group consisted of top 500 companies, the most famous brands and public organisations internationally and in Finland. Altogether, 91 CX professionals from 81 organisations across different industries participated. A good third (35%) of these organisations average a turnover of more than 100 million euros and 55% over 20 million. A little bit less than a half (44%) have over 1 000 employees.

The study has been conducted for the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA) Finnish local network by the customer experience agency Shirute (www.shirute.fi). CXPA Finland and Shirute are also partnering with Surveypal and MyCustomer.com for this study.

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CXPA Finland (CXPA.fi) is the local network of the international, non-profit Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org) network in Finland. We operate as a community of customer experience management professionals. Our goal is to get companies to offer even better customer experiences and increase their success. We regularly organize exciting events and business cooperation related to the theme. Our activities are based on volunteer work and corporate donations.

The Customer Experience Professionals Association is an international, non-profit umbrella organization for anyone interested in managing and developing customer experiences. There are currently more than 4,000 members in 80+ countries, most of them in the United States and the United Kingdom. The founders of CXPA are Bruce Temkin, former head of Forrester’s Customer Experience, and Jeanne Bliss, a veteran customer experience management consultant. Activities at the local level are the responsibility of active members of the CXPA.

Shirute (shirute.fi) is Finland’s first design agency focusing on customer experience management. Customer Experience Path® is a registered trademark of Shirute. We are a founding member of the international CXPA (Customer Experience Professionals Association).


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See the CEM Benchmark 2021 study results summary.


Additional information: 

Head of CXPA Finland local networking team, Sirte Pihlaja, CXPA Finland, GSM. +358 50 5700 190

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