There’s nothing new about the idea of customer experience. In fact, at heart, it’s an idea that’s as ancient as trade itself. Wherever business is done, a customer experience accrues. And wherever there’s competition for that business, the customer experience will be judged.
But what is new to some is the modern notion that the customer experience isn’t just the natural byproduct of a commercial relationship, but something that can be designed, orchestrated, measured and optimized. That customer experience can be treated as a formal discipline.
Today, on some level, most business leaders recognize that customer experience is something that requires their deliberate consideration. But, too often, despite our modern customer-centric proclamations we revert to ancient behaviors. We allow customer experiences to happen reflexively, unintentionally, and often, poorly, to the chagrin of our customers and shareholders.
Why? Because many companies lack a systematic approach for designing and managing the customer experience. In the absence of a systematic approach, they allow customer experiences to accrue by chance or by happenstance, based on the hope that an organizations’ collective good intentions will add up to an experience that satisfies, even delights customers.
Of course, hope is not a strategy.
It’s this sort of magical thinking that fools us into the false comfort that we’re being good stewards of the customer experience when, in fact, despite our best intentions, we’re actually inviting mediocrity.
A common archetype of this mediocrity is an experience that’s designed to serve your needs before your customers’. This sort of inside-out thinking will always make you vulnerable to competitors who are more willing to put your customers’ needs first.
Another archetype has perhaps more genuine intentions, but we all know where good intentions can lead us. Here, our collective good intentions run amok as stakeholders run toward their own view of what matters and end up working at cross purposes. Like the symphony without a conductor, virtuoso performances devolve into an utter cacophony.
As Mercedes-Benz USA CEO Steve Cannon says, great customer experience doesn’t happen by accident. They require a locus of authority and a governance mechanism that works to define goals and priorities and to align cross-functional stakeholders to execute accordingly.
The truth is that, in the face of hypercompetition and abundant consumer choice, competition is often just clicks away. Alternatives abound. Innovation cycles are accelerating. Today’s novelty is tomorrow’s table stakes. Purely product-based advantages are no longer durable.
This is particularly true for companies that aren’t afforded the preternatural advantages of Apple, Samsung, Google and other top global brands. Of course, these companies, too, need to vigilantly protect and defend their hard-earned franchises, but they’re playing from a privileged position of power.
What about the rest of us? Companies that slog it out in hypercompetitive markets? Companies that need to earn their customers’ loyalty and advocacy in each and every moment of truth?
They require a modern approach to managing customer experience, not as the natural byproduct of a commercial relationship, but something that’s designed, cultivated, nurtured.
These companies, in particular, need to treat customer experience as more than the result of good intentions and the occasional happy accident. They need to treat it as a winning strategy.