Category Archives: Customer Experience
A little while back Bob Thompson asked this question on the CustomerThink.com site. Thereafter, this question called forth 60 or so comments from a range of folks including Customer Experience gurus, thought leaders, experts, practitioners etc. I found this conversational thread interesting. Why? The lack of shared understanding and agreement as to what constitutes Customer Experience / Customer Experience Management. In this conversation I wish to consider how one can think productively (usefully) about Customer Experience.
What Is Customer Experience?
It occurs to me that many think of Customer Experience as a bucket/container. And so get busy thinking about (arguing about) what does and does not go in to this container. So some folks put a lot of stuff into this bucket including product and pricing. Other folks, like Bob Thomspon, would like this bucket to be more restrictive: to contain only customer interaction with the organisation through the established channels. Let’s take a step back and ask this question: Is Customer Experience a bucket (container)?
Many years ago one of my children came up home upset. Why? Someone had called him stupid! After giving him a hug, I played an instructive game with my son. I asked him to think of what he could buy with £100. I listened to his excitement. Then I told him that I would give him £1 if he could show me a chair. Without hesitation he walked over to a chair and pointed at it. I gave him a £1. Then I told him that I’d happily give him £1,000 if he could show me stupid. It took about ten minutes (of ‘to and fro’) but he got it. What did he get? He got that stupid is an idea, a concept, a label that folks apply.
I say to you that Customer Experience is not a thing. Customer Experience is not a function like Marketing, Sales, Service…. Customer Experiences is not a process like say ‘Enquiry to Proposal’ or ‘Order to Cash’. Customer Experience is not a technology nor a set of technologies.
I invite you to consider that Customer Experience is a concept (idea). Please remember that idea comes from idein (to see) and such is simply a way of seeing. What does it allow you to see? That everything that your organisation does or does not do has an impact on the customer’s experience of you.
What Is The Value of The Concept: Customer Experience ?
I say that the value of the Customer Experience concept lies in the following:
First, it helps us remember that a customer experiences your organisation/brand: your stores, your products, your pricing, your branding, your website, your sales people, your delivery people, your service people, your communications. I invite you to consider that a customer (or potential customer) can and does experience your brand without interacting directly with your brand. How so? By reading about your organisation. By listening to others talk about your organisation….
Second, it opens up the possibility of competing at the level of the Customer Experience (how the Customer experiences your organisation/brand as a whole) rather than at the level of product, or solution, or service; one can create-deliver a ‘product-service-solution’ in a manner that leaves the Customer cold, indifferent, or deeply moved-touched-inspired-uplifted. One can provide exactly the same product-service-solution yet show up and travel as a good citizen – one who genuinely cares about the wellbeing of other citizens.
What Is The Challenge That Goes With Customer Experience?
The challenge of Customer Experience is not that of carving out Customer Experience as container and then determining what does and does not go into this bucket. The challenge of Customer Experience is not setting up a Voice of the Customer Experience program. The challenge of Customer Experience is not creating a Chief Customer Officer position / CX team and charging this person/team with putting in new touchpoints / channels or redesigning business processes ….
If you choose to compete on the basis of the Customer Experience then it is not enough to get a team of folks together and decide how wide-long-deep the Customer Experience container is, what goes in it, and who owns it. Then set aside a budget and get busy with creating new interactions channels, improving existing channels….. Why? This is not a productive way of looking at Customer Experience. Disagree? How many organisations have taken or are taking their route – first with CRM and now with CXM? Of these how many have become the beloved of their customers?
I say that the challenge of Customer Experience, to use a computer analogy, is like the challenge of erasing the existing operating system and replacing it with a new operating system. What do I mean by ‘operating system’? I mean a new way of ‘showing up and travelling’ for everyone in the organisation. So that when someone in procurement is faced with the task of choosing one product supplier or another s/he considers the impact on the Customer Experience. Or when someone in IT is choosing between system A or system B, he considers not only the cost and fit with IT standards but also the usability and usefulness to the users who are either dealing with customers or supporting those who are dealing with customers. Finally, it means moving power from those who sit in HQ to those who are on the front lines in direct touch with customers. It means that the folks in HQ are there to support those interacting with and serving customers.
Summing Up: Customer Experience As A Way Of Showing Up And Travelling
I invite you to consider that there is not much power in choosing to see Customer Experience as a bucket with certain functions, people, processes, channels, technologies inside it and others outside it. I invite you to consider that a productive (transformative) way of thinking about and orienting oneself towards Customer Experience is to see it as a way of life: It is way of ‘showing up and travelling’ that is mindful of how one’s decisions, actions, inactions, impact the Customer Experience: how the customer experiences you. This way of life has to be embraced by everyone. And the biggest barriers to this change are not the folks on the front line interacting with-serving customers. No, it is the folks sitting in HQ.
Back in 2011 I asked this question: Customer Experience: What About The ‘Product’? And I ended that conversation with the following assertion:
The product is not in one domain and Customer Experience in another domain. Any serious examination of the Customer Experience has to grapple with the product and how well it does the job that the customer is hiring it to do. That means designing that product so that it is both useful (does the job) and usable (easy/intuitive) to use.
Today, I stand by that conversation. In particular, the necessity and critical importance of the ‘product’ (the core product or service which calls forth the customer to reach out and interact with the organisation which is selling that product or service) to any serious work on improving-transforming the customer’s experience of the organisation.
I also find that I was wrong. How so? Today, I’d sum up that conversation differently. How would I sum it up? As follows:
The ‘product’ is not in one domain and Customer Experience in another domain. Any serious examination of the Customer Experience (as in the customer’s experience) has to grapple with the ‘product’ and how well it does the job that the customer is hiring it to do. That means designing the ‘product’ so that it is useful (does the job), usable (easy/intuitive to use), and sensuous (evokes the senses and calls forth awe). When you get the ‘product’ right you will learn that in a substantial-meaningful way that the customer’s experience and loyalty start and end with the design of the ‘product’. If you have the right product then you can concentrate on marketing (advertising, distributing) it. Little need to waste your time on the latest corporate nonsense: customer experience management as in customer interaction management across a multitude of interaction channels.
What has led me to this way of summing up the matter? Apple. In particular, Apple’s latest financial results - the largest quarterly corporate profit of any company. Let’s look into the quarterly figures a little bit more: revenue of $75bn, profit of $18bn, and Apple sold 34,000 iPhones per hour. Allow me to share this paragraph with you (bolding mine):
Apple chief executive Tim Cook called the company’s sales “phenomenal” and said the company had sold 34,000 iPhones an hour every day of the quarter. “This volume is hard to comprehend,” Cook said.
I am now going to make my most controversial assertion. Ready? I say that the field of Customer Experience Management (as in customer interaction management) is attractive to and for the mediocre. Yes, the mediocre! You know the folks that do not design-sell great ‘products’. ‘Products’ that do not simplify-enrich the lives of our fellow human beings. Look if you make a great product then the world beats a path to your door -including overcoming any hurdles along the path. Only CXM fools ignore the critical importance of the ‘product’. Isn’t the product the reason that the customer takes action – to actual reach out to the business in the first place?
I am in the process of reading Edward Slingerland’s book: Trying Not To Try. The following passage got my attention:
Now, imagine a person turning around and, all of a sudden, spotting a small child stumbling toward the opening of a deep well. There is no one who, in such a moment, would not experience a feeling of alarm and empathy. Their response would be motivated by this feeling alone – not because they want to save the child and thereby gain some merit with the parents, not because they want to gain a reputation for goodness among their neighbours and friends, and not because they want to avoid having to hear the child’s anguished cries. From this we can see that someone lacking this feeling of empathy cannot be called a proper human being.
Notice, really notice, what it is that Mencius (‘follower’ of Confucius) is getting at here. Imagine the same scenario and two adults present. One spots the little child, without any calculating, is called into action. The other, spots the child and starts doing a ROI calculation: the cost of taking action v the payoff (return) in terms of what can be gotten from the child’s parents, neighbours, friends, the community at large. Which of these two adults will spring into action and save the child? Which of these two adults when s/he acts will do so in the appropriate manner – one that leaves the child cared for / grateful?
If you are with me so far then it occurs to me that you have gotten insight into why it is that so few organisations cultivate genuine-meaningful-enduring loyalty between themselves and their customers and vice versa. Look at it differently, when you are busy calculating ROI of Customer Experience / Customer Engagement / Customer Relationship / Customer Loyalty initiatives so that you can sell the Tops on your Customer initiative what is really going on? And what does this disclose?
To me it discloses that the Tops are either ‘takers’ or ‘matchers’ or a mixture of both. Just examine that for a moment and ask yourself this, why would any sane human being (customer, employee, supplier, partner) feel any loyalty to a ‘taker’? Then consider that when you are dealing with a ‘matcher’ then what is occurring is transaction: matching requires a calculating way of being-in-the-world. The same question: why would any sane person feel any loyalty towards a ‘matcher’?
To sum up, it occurs to me that:
Only a handful or companies cultivate meaningful customer loyalty because only a handful of companies have Tops who are ‘proper human beings': have-express the kind of empathy (that Mencius is pointing at) that resonates with the people who work in the organisation (employees) and the people who are served-impacted by these employees (prospects, customers, suppliers, partners).
Any organisation whose Tops are not ‘proper human beings’ will not cultivate meaningful-loyal relationships (with employees, with suppliers/partner, with customers) no matter how much time-money-effort is spent on strategy, on process changes, on people changes, on the latest technology.
If you are lower down the food chain, struggling with calculating the ROI of your customer experience / engagement / loyalty initiative and getting ‘buy-in’ from the Tops/Middles then I advise you to stop wasting your time – go find another line of work, or work for the Tops/Middles who are empathic towards the whole Customer thing. Why suffer? Why seek to convert those whose very being is not in line with the Customer philosophy?
It is my experience that for the most part and on the whole Amazon UK delivers. It makes it easy for me to find stuff, order it and pay for it. It keeps me informed about when the item/s are going to be delivered. And when they are delivered. Finally, Amazon makes it easy for me to deal with matters that have not worked out as I expected them to.
Against the background that I have painted, I have found myself somewhat disappointed with Amazon as a result of three customer experience failures. I want to share these failures (breakdowns) with you. Why? It is the breakdowns, in the habitual, that provide me with access to getting present to that which I take for granted, to see matters with a fresh eye, and usually these breakdowns provide an opening for breakthroughs.
Customer Experience Failure 1: The Product Does Not Meet My Expectations
I ordered a copy of Crime and Punishment from one of the Sellers on Amazon UK. I deliberately picked a Seller who displayed a copy of the book with a red cover and described it as “Used – Very Good”. What turned up? A tatty copy: the book was worn/shabby and the cover was white not red. What emotion was aroused in me? Disgust. I found myself not wanting to touch the book. I found myself wanting to throw the book in the bin.
What did I do? I logged into my Amazon account, found the appropriate order, and raised an issue (in writing) with the Seller – sharing my disappointment. Within an day or so the Seller reached out to me in a friendly-understanding manner. The Seller apologised. The Seller shared her disappointment with me. And the Seller refunded my money.
What are the lessons here? I can think of several:
1. The product is most definitely a core constituent of the Customer Experience! Put differently, it is foolish to exclude the product and product considerations from the Customer Experience bucket – which some ‘Customer Experience guru’s’ do.
2. You must deliver on the expectations that you set. If you display a red cover then make sure that the book delivered has a red cover. If you describe the product as being used yet in a very good condition then make sure it is. The description of the product is not just some marketing fluff; it is a promise that you are making to the customer and in making that promise you are setting the customer’s expectations!
3. If you mess up then be charming-gracious about dealing with the consequence of it. How? By owning up to the mess up AND most importantly the emotional impact of your mess up on that particular customer. How do you work out what the emotional impact is? By listening to the customer and/or asking the customer. Then making things right. In this case the Seller refunded the total cost of the book.
4. Use every interaction to build trust and goodwill. It matters that the Seller did not ask me to waste my time sending the tatty book back. If the Seller has asked or insisted that I send the book back then that would have left me feeling angry. Why? Not being trusted and having my valuable time wasted. By trusting me, I am left feeling nothing but goodwill towards the Seller. How do I explain this event to myself? Something along the line that even good folks f**k up from time to time.
Customer Experience Failure 2: I Have To Go To The Post Office Depot To Pick Up My Parcel
One day I got home to find a ‘ticket’ for me from the Post Office. It was notice telling me that I needed to go to the Post Office Depot to pick up my item. And that I needed to pay something like £2.00. Why? Because the Sender had not paid postage. So I made my way to the Post Office depot to collect my item. What did this cost me in addition to the £2.00? It cost me something like 45 minutes of my valuable time: drive there, queue-wait, collect-pay, and drive back home. So I logged into my Amazon account and made a complaint to the Seller of this item – a book.
What did this Seller do, how did he respond? I got an explanation, an excuse, for the failure to pay postage. Something like, all are items are franked, this should not have happened, don’t know how this has happened. And I was told that half the cost of the book would be refunded along with the £2.00 postage I had paid. How did this leave me feeling? P****d off! Why? My central gripe – waste of 45 minutes of my life – was not acknowledged and addressed
What are the lessons here?
1. The customer cares about his/her experience not about your policies, processes or practices! So if you mess up then acknowledge the impact your mess up has had on the customer - as experienced by the customer. I was looking for something like “You are busy. By not paying for postage we made you waste 45 minutes of your life including 20 minutes waiting in a queue which you hate to do. Really sorry about that.”
2. When you mess up then ask the customer what you need to do to make things right. By not asking me the Seller did not involve me in resolving my complaint. By making a decision on my behalf I experienced the Seller treating me as an object not as a human being. If the Seller had asked me what he needed to do to make things right, I might have told him that by asking me that question he had already made things right. Instead, I was left thinking-feeling “This is NOT good enough! It is not adequate compensation for wasting my time.”
Customer Experience Failure 3: Amazon UK Lies To Me!
I ordered a book directly from Amazon UK – not from one of the Sellers on Amazon UK. I ordered that book either late on Friday or early on Saturday. I was expecting to get the book in the following week – earliest Monday. To my surprise I got an email from Amazon UK informing that the book would be delivered the next day: Sunday. I found myself DELIGHTED – delighted that Amazon delivers on Sundays, delighted that I could start reading it on the Sunday as I had some spare time that Sunday.
Guess what happened on Sunday? Around about lunchtime I got an email from Amazon UK. The email told me that Amazon UK had delivered the book to my home. That email left me puzzled. If the book had been delivered then why had it not made its way through my letter box? So I opened the door to see if the book had been left outside on my doorstep. No. I went around to one side of the house, to see if the deliver folks had left it in the garden as they sometimes do. No.
How was I left thinking? I was left asking myself questions. How is it that Amazon says the book has been delivered and yet it has not been delivered? Has Amazon made a mistake? Or is it that the delivery folks are playing games with Amazon? Or is it that Amazon’s definition of delivered differs from my understanding of delivered. And if Amazon gets something as basic as this wrong then what else does it get wrong: invoicing, not delivering some of my stuff, charging me a different price to that which was displayed?
How was I left feeling? Delight turned into significant disappointment. There was even some frustration thrown in. When? When I was looking around the house for the book that had been delivered (according to Amazon UK) and which I could not find. I believe that I also experienced mild anger. I suspect that if an Amazon manager had been around I would have ‘given him/her a piece of my mind’.
When did I get the book? On Monday. Was I delighted/happy to get the book on Monday? No. Yet, if I had been told that the book would be delivered on Monday and had been delivered on Monday, I would have been happy. And importantly, my trust-confidence in Amazon would not have been dented.
What are the lessons here in addition to that which I have already shared? The following occur to me:
1. If you are pushing the envelope on the Customer Experience (like Amazon UK is doing) then make sure that you do not push it so far that delight turns into disappointment. It occurs to me that Amazon is pushing the envelope in letting its customers know when a delivery is scheduled. And then letting the same customers know when the delivery has been made.
2. Every piece of information you provide to your customers acts kind of like a promise and sets the customer expectations. So make sure that the information is accurate. Any ‘bullshitting’ in the provision of information is likely to come back and bite you in the form of customer disappointment. It occurs to me that this is a lesson that many in marketing and sales have yet to learn.
3. Your informational processes+practices must be in tune with you operational processes+practices. Any disconnect between the two is likely to impact your customers – usually negatively. I imagine that the delivery partner informed Amazon that delivery had been made. And this triggered Amazon’s email alert to me.
4. If you subcontract part of your value chain (like Amazon does when it comes to delivery) then you will be held responsible, by the customer, by the failures of your value chain partners. Therefore, it behoves you to select the right partners and ensure that if they are telling you something then you can rely on their word. For my part, I am clear that I am disappointed only in Amazon because I hold only Amazon UK accountable for my experience as a customer.