Blog post

What is Customer Experience?

By Augie Ray | November 01, 2017 | 4 Comments

MarketingCustomer Experience

In the two years I’ve been at Gartner, I’ve had hundreds of calls and meetings with clients about customer experience (CX), and I am regularly struck with how misunderstood it remains.  CX is a hot topic in business today, which is evident not just from the many articles and blog posts you see but because 61% of marketing leaders now report their companies have a CXO (Chief Experience Officer) or an equivalent role (although most do not report into the CMO).

I have shared Gartner’s definition of CX in the past, but I think the issue is that so many people get lost in the tools, processes, and execution. I think a metaphor might help here: You can run for all sorts of different reasons, and how you plan and evaluate your running will depend on your purpose. If you are a sprinter you will plan, evaluate and execute your running effort differently than if you are a marathon runner than if you are merely running to improve your health or lose weight. In other words, everything–your gear, goals, metrics, and plan–is determined not by the running but your reason for doing so.

In the same manner, companies already do many (perhaps all) of the things often associated with CX. Your organization already has people dedicated to improving acquisition and awareness, to increasing sales, to responding to customer needs and to developing products, so why does it also need people dedicated to the discipline of CX? You cannot answer that question unless you first understand what customer experience really is and what it does. In other words, everything–your gear, goals, metrics, and plan–are determined not by the activities but your reason for doing so.

So, let’s review that definition again, but this time, focus not on the process but on the why. Customer experience management is “the practice of designing and reacting to customer interactions to meet or exceed customer expectations and, thus, increase customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy.” Every part of that definition is important, but the most critical part is the reason why–to lift customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy.

Like the running, what defines CX is not the processes–since you can use personas, journey maps, voice of the customer data, and customer insight to achieve all sort of different business outcomes–but in what you wish to accomplish and how you intend to measure. If you are not investing in, focusing on, goaling, and measuring your effort against customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy, then you are not really doing CX.

In short, you have to start with the customer and not the experience. Your brand can and does use experiences to achieve many different things. The right experience can raise awareness, improve purchase consideration, increase cross-sell and grow revenue, but those outcomes are things your brand wants–they are not, first and foremost, focused on the expectations, needs and wants of the customer.

But experiences can also achieve other things–they can lift customer satisfaction, make your company easier to work with, proactively solve customer problems, and increase the value of your brand to your customers. Those are the things customers want and expect, and if you focus your experiences on realizing these outcomes, it changes your entire approach. By setting your objectives based on how your CX initiative changes customer perception and intention–in other words, how it improves satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy rather than how it delivers short-term sales, acquisition, and revenue–you guide the right CX objectives, plans, tools, and processes.

What makes CX different than what much of your organization already does is its focus on customer outcomes first.  Being customer-first does not mean being company-second–it means being company-also. By lifting satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy you deliver better business returns to the organization, such as higher customer lifetime value, improved up- and cross-sell, lower churn, greater positive share of voice, increased referral volume, and improved inbound traffic.

A marathon runner does not stop running and measure his or her performance at the 100-yard mark.  A sprinter does not try to achieve or measure his or her ability to run 26.2 miles.  They both run, but everything about how and why they run is different. In the same manner, what makes CX different from other things your company does isn’t in the technology, the tools, or even the experiences but in your capacity to focus on, understand, and measure the impact on the customer. Focusing first on the customer before the experience and being customer-first/company-also is what truly defines those organizations that excel at customer experience.

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

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  • Annie Tsai says:

    CX in my experience is much more about taking a holistic approach to how a company applies its vision of a transformative solution to the customer problem. Holistic is critically important here because too often organizations get mired in the silos If channel delivery and the “how” when they should be starting with what the customer believes to be true about their relationship with this brand when you, the seller, have reached a defined point of success. Companies must work backwards and identify both the executable strategies across the entire spectrum of delivery “how’s” to support this belief/success metric with a discreet effort in identifying and pressure testing nuance that exists by user type and experience forking.

    Few companies start with the end desired belief and Work back to the beginning – and it’s in this that I believe few organizations truly come together to deliver holistic CX and sustained revenue growth with their customers.

  • Joseph Isaac says:

    The world has technologically advanced to a great extent and every second you see a new technology discovered and applied by someone somewhere in the world. There are practically no monopoly in any field and every business is exposed to stiff competition. Products and services of the so called market leaders are outsmarting others on a hairline margin. Providers can win or loose a customer depending on a simple customer experience factor.

    It is not so important to measure the performance of your service delivery on a predetermined yard stick (score card) with a perceived customer satisfaction in mind. You have to do research and forecast the expected outcome in terms of customer experience that ensures that your customer is not merely satisfied with, but becomes advocate of your products and services

  • Couldn’t agree more with you Augie. The truth is, if you err, your customers won’t feel for you. Price, review, everything is secondary, it is the experience that will bring your customers back to you. After all, loyalty cannot be bought, it needs to be earned gradually.