Experience Engineering: How Do You Engineer Authentic Humanity Into The Customer Experience?

I have been working in Cheltenham for a few weeks now. I like, really like, the folks (at the client) that I find myself working with. It has something to do with their kind of accueil- a word that my French family often use.

Let’s just consider accueil. How is it translated?  It is translated as: welcome, reception, acceptance, hospitality. It is also used to refer to the home page of a website.

Many years ago I chose not to specialise – going against the dominant trend and advice. I chose to do what comes naturally to me: be a generalist. Today, that means I get involved primarily in some combination of digital transformation, customer experience, CRM, marketing automation, change leadership, programme management. And I get involved in one of many levels – from helping devise strategy through to drawing out the systems architecture.

Why did I share that with you? To set the context. Why?  Because the more I see of what organisations are doing under the CX umbrella and the way they are going about it, the more I find myself falling out with the whole CX thing. I also find myself disagreeing with many CX gurus – many of whom are self-appointed. It is not a domain where one can criticise and remain in the CX club – as I have learnt. That is ok by me.  I can criticise CX because I do not depend on it to make my living, build a reputation, or safeguard one.

Call it Customer Experience design, call it Service Design, call it Experience Engineering. Whatever you call it, here is my question: How do you engineer accueil – authentic, spontaneous, warm accueil?  How do the BPR/six-sigma folks (I always find plenty of them working under CX umbrella) engineer/standardise processes for generating authentic warm accueil?  Or let’s turn to the business change or HR folks, how do they train the frontline staff (who are often on minimum wage, or some of the lowest wages in the organisation, in the economy) to generate authentic warm accueil?  Let’s not leave out metrics – according to conventional dogma only what gets measured gets done. What metrics does one use to assess if authentic warm accueil is experienced by the experiencer: the customer, the guest, the employee, the partner, the supplier?

In my first week in Cheltenham, I found myself staying in the Holiday Inn Express.  I checked in late on a Sunday. Lady on check-in was polite, helpful (gave me ‘map’ of Cheltenham centre), and quick. The lifts were plentiful, clean, quick. Room was easy to find through the signposting. The room was clean and spacious. And as promised it was on the quiet side. The breakfast was in line with expectations for that kind of hotel.  The right folks ‘faked’ the right kind of smiles. And behaved in the appropriate scripted manner. In short, all was in line with a well run hotel in that class of hotel.

If I had to put it into words, I’d say that the experience engineers (through design or accident) had engineered a professional competent experience.  Did this experience evoke any kind of emotional bond to this hotel, or anyone in the hotel? No. Why?  The whole experience felt corporate – efficient yet inhuman.

One evening I returned to the hotel after a busy (full) day of consulting work.  I found myself keen to get changed and go walkabout around Cheltenham: walk, look around, check out potential dining choices, pick a restaurant. Problem: it was raining heavily and I had no umbrella. Further, the situation did not afford the purchase of an umbrella as it was about 7:30 in the evening.

Remembering that some hotels (of the expensive kind) stock umbrellas for use by guests, I approached the lady staffing the reception desk. “You don’t happen to have an umbrella I can borrow do you?”  Her polite answer? “Sorry, we don’t have any umbrellas.” Hope dashed. Mild disappointed – mild because I did not expect this kind of hotel to offer customers umbrellas.  Then the most amazing-delightful thing happened.

One of the employees working at the bar (which happened to be adjacent to the Reception desk) said “I have an umbrella, you are welcome to borrow it. Mind you, it’s girly. Are you ok with that?”  Then she went into a back room and handed me her own (private) girly umbrella. Surprise. Delight. Gratitude. I accepted her gift, thanked her, and promised to return her umbrella to her by the end of the evening.

Here’s the thing, I was so deeply touched (and continue to be touched) by this young lady’s humanity (kindness, generosity) and her placing her trust in me (without me having earned it first) that some deeply human dimension of me wanted to both to hug her. And to cry. Why cry? Cry of joy. Joy of what?  Joy that fellow feeling – genuine human compassion – is still alive in some people.  She did not know me. She did not owe me anything. She had no script to follow. In fact, if there was a script to follow I suspect it would advise employees not to lend their or the hotels private property to guests (customers).

It is the accueil – the acceptance, the welcome, the warmth, the hospitality of this young lady’s humanity in action that I remember and carry with me. I am moved by how she showed up. Her way of being makes me feel good about being a member of the human race. Gives me hope for the human race despite the savage/violent aspects of human existence.

Which brings me back to experience engineering and the question I posed: How do you build authentic humanity into the customer experience?  What I can tell you is this: you cannot do it by the means that most folks are using to design/engineer customer experiences: putting lots of channels in play, collecting lots of data (small and big) and using this to do ‘personalise content’ to do targeted marketing/selling, engaging a bunch of BPR/Six Sigma to redesign processes, handing out vision/value cards to employees, sending employees on training courses, using VoC measures (NPS) to reward/punish employees…..

If the quality of the accueil matters (and I say it matters a lot in service environments) then you have to deliberately attract and welcome folks who embody warm accueil in their way of being. And then you have to continually cultivate an environment/climate where 1) those in management roles generate that kind of acceuil for the folks working in the organisation; and 2) folks working in the organisation can agree or disagree with one another – passionately against a background of warm accueil for their fellow colleagues despite challenging their ideas, proposals, and behaviours.

Do this and you dispose your organisation to spontaneously and appropriately generate the kind of humanity/accueil that build genuine affinity with your organisation / brand.  And yes, the right tools, and behind the scenes processes can make it easier for your folks to deliver outstanding accueil.

Notice, the technology (tools) and process – are there in the background to serve your people.  Your people become real-time, flexible, experience engineers – treating different customers differently and even the same customer differently depending on the context.

Enough for today, I thank you for your listening.  Until the next time, I wish you the very best – may you receive and grant the kind of accueil that makes you proud to be a member of the human race.









Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant. Passionate about enabling customer-centricity by calling forth the best from those that work in the organisation and the intelligent application of digital technologies. Subject matter expert with regards to customer strategy, customer insight, customer experience (CX), customer relationship management (CRM), and relationship marketing. Working at the intersection of the Customer, the Enterprise (marketing, sales, service), and Technology.

7 thoughts on “Experience Engineering: How Do You Engineer Authentic Humanity Into The Customer Experience?”

  1. Hi Maz,
    I pray you are well and the back is improving.
    Really enjoy reading your blog – this one is especially on-point.
    At the heart of excellent service are excellent people. People that are naturally warm, selfless, generous, and caring.
    Hope to see you soon.


    1. Hello Anjam,

      Such a delight to hear from you! I hope you and your family – all of you are doing well.

      Many many thanks for your generosity and kindness: makes a huge difference to the quality of my existence!

      Delighted to hear that you enjoy the blog. Delighted that you truly get the core message. It is EXACTLY as you have described it. The fact that you get it, shows that these characteristics are innate in you. Indeed, I have experienced them myself in your company.

      As for back/health, it is improving. Saw neurosurgeon, got some reassurance. These things flare up. And for the most part subside given enough time. And if one stops doing that which causes the flaring up. So have found myself doing my consulting work with only my right hand: flip charting rather than typing…

      With my love to you and your family.


  2. Thank you for sharing this truth Maz. I have such a strong belief in that showing love and compassion towards our customers and fellow colleagues can make a huge difference in our organizations, and each other lives! I believe that starting with a simple smile you can affect your bottom line.


    1. Hello Karin,
      Greetings. Welcome. I am grateful that our paths have crossed. One of the delights of sharing one’s voice through social media – it can sometimes do what social is intended to do: bring folks together.

      What can I say? I find myself in total agreement with you. It occurs to me that you and I are fruits of the same tree.

      Live well. Live beautifully. Be a source of the humanity that we are discussing here. Create it. Share it. Bathe in it. Even if there is one of us doing this then we keep it in existence.

      At your service and with my love,


  3. Maz,

    I think you make a huge point.

    I guess the question is how do you get your staff to behave in that way?

    My suspicion is it is all to do with the way you treat them, the employee experience is I think the correct buzz word.

    What is interesting is that if you google “the employee experience” you get 115k hits. If you google “The customer experience” you get 28.4m hits or roughly speaking 250 times as many.

    I suspect that fact demonstrates the problem quite nicely. What do you think?


    1. Hello James,

      I have a special place for you in my being: I like you, I respect you, and I pay attention to what you speak. So I am making time to respond to your question even though the neurosurgeon advised taking it easy for a while.

      At the top level I find myself in total agreement with you. It is all about the employee experience. Yet it is not as simple as that. Most of what I have seen-experienced under the Employee Experience / Employee Engagement umbrella is different means operating under the same agenda. The agenda being: employee is resource, how do we manipulate employee so as to get the most out with ‘paying’ the least to the employee. Call it marketing (brainwashing, PR, misdirection) directed at the employee rather than the customer.

      It occurs to me that humanity takes seed and flourishes where the folks at the very top embody that humanity – in the way that they have been bought up. Or by some life-changing event/s. They are not faking it. They are not using some techniques to be human or to be considerate towards folks. They are simply being themselves and that is oozing humanity. Here Barry Wehmiller comes to mind.

      The problem with techniques is that they influence the doing but leaving the being of the folks unchanged. Worse still, they foster the illusion that being has no impact on the doing. That being can be ignored. Yet ALL flows from being. Being is fundamental to experience and experiencing. Nonetheless, I am confident that 99% of the folks talking CX (including so called experts, gurus) have no idea of what I speak when I speak being.

      I hope you are well my friend. I hope you and your loved ones are prospering. Further I ask for your forgiveness: you have no doubt found out that I have not been coming over to visit your site and leave my point of view. Nor to respond to your comments on mine. As you know by now, I have little time for trivia: including one or two sentence comments or responses. So I’d rather not do something then engage in the pretence of doing it. My commitment to you is that once, my health is back, and I do not have to be drugged up simply to use my left arm/hand, you will see the same kind of contribution that you used to see.

      Know that you matter. Know that I hold you in great regard. Know that I am grateful that we share a world together. And live! Live beautifully. Make the most of this life that is granted to us.

      At your service, with my love


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