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Why Is Customer Experience So Hard to Explain?

When I tell someone what I do—customer experience consulting or customer experience management—the most common reaction is a nod. Sometimes the nod is accompanied by a murmured, “Mmmm…” But I’ve learned that, more often than not, a miscommunication has begun to take place.

Customer experience is one of those topics that people hear mentioned and often think is something else. A lot of people think customer service, or customer support or simply being nice to customers. If I’m speaking with someone who knows something about design or product management or engineering, they might connect with user experience. And if they’re an executive who is concerned with better use of data to retain customers, then customer success may be what comes to mind.

In actuality, customer experience is none of these things, but it encompasses all of them. While company leaders and employees often misunderstand what customer experience is all about, when we ask customers what it is, they often get it right.

Customer experience is all interactions, expectations and emotions a customer has during their entire journey with a company.

With this definition in hand, it’s easy to see how the misunderstandings of customer experience mentioned above fall short:

  • A customer can experience your brand, products and services without ever contacting customer service—or communicating with any employee of your company, for that matter.
  • Your app may have a beautifully designed user experience, but if its back-end services aren’t reliable, or if getting support is difficult, a negative customer experience can result.
  • Customer success efforts can help make existing customers’ experiences better, but such efforts are often reactive instead of proactive, may not address root cause issues and tend to be overly focused on revenue goals.
For an organization to become disciplined around improving customer experience, everyone needs to start on the same page. In our earlier blog post, Are You on the Right Path to Customer Experience Maturity, we laid out a path for success that most companies can follow to improve customer experience. But when there’s confusion around what customer experience really is—or when we assume that everyone else in the company understands what constitutes customer experience—that path for success becomes obscured. We make costly missteps and may have to backtrack or even start over.

One of the ways to build alignment around your efforts is to define what customer experience means for your organization, just like you would with a brand promise or company mission. (Your company mission incorporates customer focus, right?) It’s best when you define customer experience in a way that resonates with your brand, your business and your culture, and then you share it with everyone in the company. Here are some examples…

  • “Customer Experience is how a customer feels about [our company]: our products, our policies, our people. Customer Experience Improvement is everything we do deliberately to make those experiences better.”
  • “Customer Experience is what happens when a customer hears about our company, sees our logo, uses our products, speaks with our employees and tells their friends about us. Customer Experience Improvement means prioritizing customer needs along with company needs.”
  • “Customer Experience is every direct and indirect interaction a customer has with us. Customer Experience Improvement is taking action by considering things from the customer’s point of view.”
However you choose to describe customer experience in your organization, make it easy to understand so it isn’t confused with customer support or user experience. If you’re able to make it as memorable as, “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die,” bravo! Improvement goals will be easier to achieve when everyone in the organization is aligned on purpose.

How is customer experience defined in your company?

Defining and communicating the importance of customer experience to the entire organization is one of the best practices tied to the Culture & Understanding discipline in the FICO Customer Experience Maturity Assessment.

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