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?
Let’s say that you want to grasp an organisation’s strategy – say customer strategy or customer experience strategy. By strategy I mean the organisation’s manner of ‘showing up and travelling’. How would you go about determining that?
Who would you go and ask? How many people would you ask? Would you seek out the Board? The CEO? The Marketing Director? The Sales Director? The Customer Services Director? The Operations Director? The Chief Customer Officer? The Chief Digital Officer?
What would you look at/for? Would you seek out and review the latest published accounts? The strategic plan? Mission and values statements? The brand values and guidelines? The marketing strategy? The statements that the CEO / Finance Director has made to the financial press?
You’d be wasting your time. Just like I did in my early days in consulting. Nowadays, I pay little attention to any of these aspects. What do I direct my attention towards? That which really matters. That which truly speaks without speaking. That which does not lie. What am I pointing at? I invite you to listen to a man that knows – really knows:
A strategy – whether in companies or in life – is created through hundreds of everyday decisions about how you spend your time, energy, and money. With every moment of your time, every decision about how you spend your time, and your money, you are making a statement about what really matters to you. You can talk all you want about having a clear strategy and purpose for your life, but ultimately this means nothing if you are not investing the resources you have in a way that is consistent with your strategy. In the end, a strategy is nothing but good intentions unless it’s effectively implemented.
How do you make sure that you are implementing the strategy you truly want to implement? Watch where your resources flow – the resource allocation process…… You might think you are a charitable person, but how often do you really give your time or money to a cause … that you care about? If you family matters most to you, when you think about all the choices you have made with your time in a week, does your family seem to come out on top? Because if the decisions you make about where to invest your blood, sweat, and tears are not consistent with the person you aspire to be, you’ll never become that person.
– Clayton M. Christensen, How Will You Measure Your Life?
Bringing about this consistency is not easy. It is not easy at the individual level. It is not easy at the family level. It is not easy at the team level. It is not easy at the department level. It is not easy at the company level. Which is why so few of us are in a state of integrity: between what we say, what we believe/value, and how we actually show up and operate in life. This means that the world is for the taking by the bold: those who are investing their blood, sweat, and tears consistent with the persons/organisation they aspire to be. And a future they aspire to create.
It occurs to me that the core challenge of leadership is not that of vision creation. Nor that of communicating vision. I say it is the political challenge that goes with changing the allocation of resources – and dealing with the blowback from the folks impacted by the changes.
And finally, I dedicate this conversation to a friend. He knows who he is. I wish him the very best with the game that he his playing this year!