Is There Any Real Value In Customer Experience?

The genesis of this post lies in the following article: Is Customer Experience Manageable? An Industry Pundit Says No. In reading this article and listening to the embedded interview I was struck by the importance Esteban Kolsky attached to defining Customer Experience clearly. In fact Vala Afshar, the author of the post starts with the following statement:

“What is customer experience (CX)? To get customer experience right, companies need to first get the definition of customer experience right, according to an enlightening talk I had with Esteban Kolsky,…

How important is it to clearly define Customer Experience?

Think of a tree. Ask yourself if any definition of tree fully grasps and discloses tree? Can you come up with a definition that will clearly point out the entity tree to someone who has never seen-experienced tree – say a Martian?

Think of service. Ask yourself if any definition of service accurately captures, discloses and exhausts service?  Furthermore, ask yourself what use a definition of service is, to a being that has not experienced service?

Consider that the definition, any definition, discloses little about the phenomena and/or entity as it is in itself. Consider that the definition discloses he who is doing the defining. In particular, it discloses his/her worldview, understanding and interests.

Getting back to Customer Experience, consider that it is not possible to get the definition of Customer Experience right. Further, consider that even if it was theoretically possible to arrive at one  accurate-precise definition of Customer Experience, this definition would not yield any practical value.

What did the distinction CRM bring into being which was not already present?

I invite you to take a look at CRM as a distinction. What arrived on the scene with the arrival of CRM as a distinction. I say that the following arrived:

Customer lifetime value – looking beyond signing up a customer, or effecting a single transaction, and seeing, perhaps for the very first time, the economic value of the customer over his/her lifetime.

Treat different customers differently – using one’s understanding of each customer’s needs-wants-preferences and her lifetime value (£/$) to tailor one’s products, propositions, communications, conversations, and interactions so as to create superior value for the customer and the company.

The learning relationship – using each customer conversation and interaction to enrich the company’s understanding of the customer AND enriching the customer’s understanding of the company. Thus enabling the company to become better at ‘treating different customers differently’ and increasing the ‘customer lifetime value’.

Now here is the joke and it is not funny. Most organisations in the rush to embrace CRM technologies did not fully get present to and hold on to these powerful distinctions. Instead they rushed to automate to reduce costs or do what they were doing faster. Or they used CRM technologies to effect more control over their staff so enabling micro-management. Or they used CRM technology to bombard with personalised marketing messages that did not show up as personal to the customers. Or they started on the path of single customer view – many still have not arrived there.

Then there is Chris Zane of Zane’s Cycles. He attended a conference (according to him in his book Reinventing The Wheel) and heard a speaker share the concept of customer lifetime value. Chris, seized by the world opened up by this distinction, of taking the longer term orientation (maximising customer lifetime value), altered his way of doing business so as to maximise customer lifetime value. And as a result has built a great business.

What does the distinction Customer Experience open up which was not present before?

What arrived on the scene with the arrival of the distinction Customer Experience? It occurs to me that the following arrived on the scene either present for the first time or moved from the background (where it was hidden) to the foreground:

Customer Experience as ‘product’ and differentiator in itself – this was the central assertion of Gilmore and Pine in their book The Experience Economy. When I think of this I automatically think of Build A Bear and Apple with the launch of the iPod, iTunes, iPhone, iPad, iPad – the entire ecosystem.

Enter into the customer’s world and experience it as she experiences it – think of this as ‘walking in the customer’s shoes’ in the broadest sense not in the narrow sense of what it is like and how it feels interacting with your organisation. This broader sense of ‘walking in the customer’s shoes is the access to surfacing the customer’s unmet needs and thus the source of lucrative new revenue streams. This moving-enlightening-human video point towards that which I am pointing at here.  And at the same time it only gets us somewhat towards the destination that I am pointing at here. I read the other day that a huge industry – prepared and packaged salads – was created when someone figured out that folks in the USA wanted to eat salad and did not do so because they were not willing to do what needed to be done to put the salad together.

Experience your organisation as your customer experiences your organisation – this is what I call the narrow sense of ‘walking in your customer’s shoes’. How does the customer experience your organisation: your company, your brand, your products, your people, your processes? How does the customer experience your marketing, your selling, your service, your billing, your return policy, your charges…? United Breaks Guitars is the classic illustration of this. Undercover Boss at it’s best shows the Tops getting to the front lines and getting some access to how the customer experiences the organisation.

Emotions – pay attention to human emotions. Every conversation, every contact, every interaction will call forth human emotions. Emotions lie at the root of ALL decision making! To shape human decisions focus on and influence-shape human emotions.  The best way that I can explain this is by sharing what my wife said with such gusto “I love my iPad!”.  This is coming from a woman that hates computers and did not want the iPad to start with. Now she is using it throughout the day, every day. Through her enthusiasm she has influenced her father to buy an iPad and her mother to buy a Mac for the first time in her life.

My advice

Forget definitions of Customer Experience. Leave that to the people who make a living out of defining and arguing about definitions. Instead follow in the steps of Amazon (Jeff Bezos), Apple (Steve Jobs), Zane’s Cycles (Chris Zane), UCLA (Dr Feinberg), Zappos (Tony Hsieh): explore and live the distinctions that are unconcealed and opened up by Customer Experience. Or don’t. As always the choice to take the road less travelled will only be taken by a brave few. That is OK. The death of the old gives space for the new to flourish. And when the new flourishes the old dies. Think of Nokia, think of Apple.

I thank you for listening to my speaking. I continue to be drawn to share that which I share by those of you who continue to subscribe to this blog. I wish each and everyone of you the very best.

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant working at the intersection of strategy, customer, and technology. Combine a tendency to think strategically with a penchant for getting my hands dirty at the coalface of implementation.