I had a great “customer experience” last week. My interaction with a particular online music service left me happy, open to possibilities, excited about a seemingly endless set of access options, and enjoying music I never knew existed. I think of the service as a horizon-expander as well as simply a fun, easy way to listen to music. For now, unless someone comes up with a better interface (who might that be?), I am happy to pay the $9.99/month for go-anywhere musical entertainment and discovery. And if they tweak up that interface, I’d be happy to pay an extra dollar or two – or perhaps even more important to them, be less likely to consider the next service that shows up.
I also had a poor “customer experience” last week. My interaction with a particular software company left me confused, somewhat depressed, a little angry and, in the end, perceiving them as a distant, disconnected entity mostly concerned with the upholding of internal processes that, as far as I could tell, had little to nothing to do with the needs of the moment as I tried, and failed, to acquire one of their services. The good news, for me, was that I was left with a bit of happiness; in our increasingly open and frictionless world, I had many options I knew I could pursue beyond this company and its offerings. As a matter of fact, I am testing one of those right now as I type this post. It’s actually quite fun, the possibilities beyond them, really. All of this is to say, that the two real-world stories I’ve shared, randomly picked from interactions I’ve had over the last week, contain all the elements of what’s referred to in the business (and at Gartner) as the “Customer Experience”:
Customer Experience /ˈkəstəmər ikˈspi(ə)rēəns/ n.
The customer’s perceptions and related feelings caused by the one-off and cumulative effect of interactions with a supplier’s employees, channels, systems or products.1
In other words, how happy, sad, mad, or scared we feel and what we think of a company after interacting with it in any way, place or time.
Why focus on Customer Experience?
We already make “amazing” products! OK. “Amazing” to whom? And how do you know? The only way we know if our product or service is “amazing”, or “great” or even just “good enough” to our customers is because the customers say so. And how do say so? They buy it, of course. And buy more of it the next time. And, more importantly, why do they buy? Increasingly, the research shows2 that the most profitable customers (by multiple measures) buy based on a combination of perceptions and emotions they feel towards the “selling” organization and its offerings. In other words, the buy based on Customer Experience. To use a former example from the poster child company for “amazing” products, it wasn’t the product itself that really mattered, but the creation of an experience around “Think Different”.
So if Customer Experience matters, why do we need to “Hack” it?
We are product-driven. We are service-driven. We are operationally-driven. We like to say we are customer-driven. However, “customer-driven” typically means asking the customer what product, service or operationally efficient delivery they think they want in a way that will then allow us to build and sell that product or service to them in as efficient and effective manner as possible. The customer’s emotions and perceptions of all of this is literally an afterthought. Many of us simply don’t have a good way of involving the customer close enough in our internal product development and marketing process to understand let alone have them help create positive customer experiences.
Needless to say, this is a very difficult mindset to get out of. It will take a strong effort – one that “shoves” us out of our internal, process-driven worlds and forces a rethink. One that starts with getting to the real problem of understanding how customers actually experience our organization, how those experiences can be re-thought and what it will take to begin creating new ones. By the way – that’s the definition of a “hack” and what we’ll be looking at next:
Next week: Hacking the Customer Experience – Part 2: Before the Enlightenment Comes the Pain (The Hack Revealed)
1 The Customer Experience Is the Next Competitive Frontier – A Gartner Executive Programs Report
Partha Iyengar | Gene Phifer | Ray Valdes | Jeffrey R. Cole
2 “2010 Customer Experience Consumer Study,” Strativity Group, 13 September 2010; “2011 Customer Experience Impact Report,” Harris Interactive study conducted for RightNow Technologies, September 2011 (also summarized in reference 1)
“Welcome to the Experience Economy“, B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore, Harvard Business Review, 1 July 1998
“The One Number You Need to Grow“, Frederick F. Reichheld, Harvard Business Review, 1 December 2003