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.