March 19

In love with Customer Experience

Is there more to life than sales?


The following is an extended response to an article I published as part of the TFM&A Board of Experts. The article has some excellent contributions from leaders in the digital marketing field. This update, provides a more complete response to questions posed than is possible in the article.

1: How do you define customer experience?

In my line of work (brand, direct and digital) it’s most useful to start by defining customer experience in terms of company culture. Are you the kind of company that wants to make money by being useful to your customers? Or are you the kind of company that wants to use your customers to make money?

I appreciate the difference may seem only a matter of syntax, but ask a geneticist about the difference even a micro adjustment to DNA sequencing can make and you will begin to appreciate that they are poles apart.

Of course, you will see lots of articles that explain customer experience in much more sophisticated terms. They often talk about mutually beneficial exchanges of value. This seems a little cold to me and also provides very little by way of motivational substance to everyone involved in delivering customer experience.

That’s why I would describe it as a burning desire for everyone in an organisation to be useful to customers at every opportunity. This sounds simple and perhaps even overly emotional, but, as Leonardo da Vinci said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” and I believe our decisions are driven by emotions. Even a complete reimagining of the business model, technology, people, value chain partners and customers relationships will need to be reduced to simple actions driven by the desire to create emotional connections between customers and employees.

If you want to see a great example of this, look no further than the West Jet campaign for Christmas 2014.

 2: What does customer experience mean to you?

I guess there are a number of ways you can begin explore my experience of customer experience. I often see it employed as a kind of excuse to purchase lots of technology. I also see it used to change the way a business runs for the sake of change rather than any particular business or customer-orientated objective. More often than not, it remains a small idea that turns into a big problem. The problem is that customer experience is more of a ‘Why we do something” question than a “What we do,” answer. My guess is you will find it easier to define what you do for living than why you do it. The former is a practical matter; the later is something that speaks to personal motivation at a much deeper level.

As Simon Sinek espouses in his brilliant book, “Start with Why,” leaders inspire cooperation, trust, change and action by figuring out the answer to this complex conundrum embodied in just three letters and an all important question mark: Why. From a Customer Experience perspective, we need to ask ourselves:

  • Why are most companies are still working at the transactional level?
  • Why are many of the most dynamic companies still struggling with long-standing issues at the heart of relationship-building models of business?
  • Why should I complicate matters even more by investing substantial intellectual, emotional, practical and financial resources on something as intangible, transient and subjective as customer experience?

The answer is simple… if we don’t continuously find new ways to show that we love being useful to prospects, influencers, customers and collaborators, our best macro efforts will be continuously diminished and undermined be the micro-details we considered less important than they are in the increasingly individuated and demanding monoverse of each customer.

Great customer experience begins by looking for evidence that is important, makes a difference and can be modelled.  Look no further than Doug Lipp’s awe-inspiring reference work, Disney U. It’s full of great advice, but the phrase that lives with me as a customer-service/experience mantra is, “Snow White never has a bad day.” Again the simplicity of this phrase obscures the infinite number of things that have to go right to make each child’s brief encounter with the cartoon character made manifest in the theme park become a dream come true. The list of preparation, encounter and follow-up details for each photo opportunity contains thousands of business, marketing and human resources events. Customer Experience is nothing but a hollow catchphrase unless everyone in the business is encouraged, enabled and empowered to play their part. Customer experience is not about technology… it’s about people.

3: In an organisation looking to transform the customer experience, who should own the process?

Ironically, the longest question has the shortest answer. Everyone must own the process of transforming the customer experience.

An all-powerful individual or department within a business often champions customer experience, but it is always a bottom-up solution in the long run.  As a precursor to developing customer experience agendas, I find it most useful to talk to people we might describe as end users in an organisation. If you can’t build something that gains the respect of the people that will ultimately deliver it, any development is doomed.

That having been said, someone with sufficient gravitas to bang heads together and to eliminate turf wars is essential to the process. These polymaths also need to understand an extraordinary range of business, marketing and customer service disciplines. They would also need sufficient moxie to present their findings to the powers that be with confidence and sufficient pixie-dust to be able to carry everyone else in the business with them on what will be a challenging journey. Most of all they will constantly need to remind everyone that customer experience is not anyone’s responsibility it is everyone’s.