Is The Customer Experience All It’s Cracked Up to Be?

Considering the number of times the term “customer experience” is used in business circles every day — and often preceded by the word “the” — you would think it was a well-understood concept.

Maybe it is, and I’m the only clueless idiot out here. That’s a possibility, I guess.

I’ve never understood the term. What is “the customer experience”? Don’t customers have many different types of experiences? Don’t different types of customers have — and need — different types of customer experiences?

The Irrational Inconsistencies of CMOs

A recent study from the CMO Council makes me feel better (about myself). Probably because idiocy loves company. Wait, that’s not fair. The people who answered the survey aren’t idiots. Irrational and inconsistent might be fair labels, though.

The CMO Council asked senior marketers “What do you believe are the most important attributes and elements of the customer experience to your customer?”

As Ronnie R. might have said “There you go again…using that ‘the customer experience’ term.”

The responses to the survey question are fraught with inconsistency:

  • If 75% of respondents believe that “fast response times to issues, needs, or complaints” is important to the (so-called) customer experience…
    …then how can only 23% believe that “fast, easy-to-use tools and service options” are important?
  • If 52% of respondents believe that “knowledgeable staff ready to assist whenever and wherever the customer needs” is important…
    …then how can only 37% believe that “a person to speak with, regardless of time and location” is important? What’s the difference between the two options?
  • If 55% believe that “consistency of experience across channels” is important…
    …then how can only 26% think that “readily available, multi-channel information” is important?

Here’s a question for the marketers who said “fast response times…” is important:

How do you think that happens, if not with “knowledgeable staff,” “multiple channels of engagement,” “readily available multi-channel information,” and “multiple touchpoints that add value to the customer”?

If You Ask a Stupid Question…

Part of the problem here lies in the survey instrument itself.

If you were to ask me — unprompted — what the most attribute/element of the customer experience is, I might say (after asking you to tell me what the difference between an “attribute” and an “element” is):

Effectively and efficiently achieving the customer’s goal or objective. 

You’ll notice, however, that my unaided answer is nowhere to be found in the list of survey prompts. And it’s a pretty good bet that your unaided answer isn’t on the list, either, is it?

And did you notice the word “customer” is singular at the end of the question? What, there’s only one customer worth caring about?

What Is The Customer Experience?

I’m still left wondering what exactly “the customer experience” is. My search for a good definition has not been fruitful.

One graphic I found (see above) implies that CX (that’s what the cool kids call customer experience) encompasses the product/service, marketing, customer service, point of sale, and call center. So what doesn’t it include?

Here’s a not particularly helpful definition:

Internal and subjective response? Huh?

One website I found had this to say:

“What does customer experience mean? Defining a great customer experience refers to the complete experience the customer has with your business.”

Seriously? I don’t think that statement is even grammatically correct.

CX Brilliance

There’s no denying that “the customer experience” is important to business execs, however.

Three-quarters of respondents to a Customer Management IQ survey rated customer experience a “high priority” within their organizations. A blog post on SAP’s website said that “a Bloomberg BusinessWeek survey revealed that delivering a great customer experience has become the new imperative.”

What we’re left with here is:

  1. The customer experience encompasses everything.
  2. Managing the customer experience is really important.

Brilliant. Simply brilliant.

CX Nonsense

If that’s not enough to convince you that this CX stuff is a bunch of nonsense, read this from a tech vendor’s blog:

“George Colony, Forrester Research CEO, visited the CMO of a very large bank to provide her with her company’s new Forrester CX Index score. Upon review, she remarked that her next biggest competitor, who spent one-fifth the amount as she did on customer experience, had a better score. George explained that it was likely because the way the two companies approached their customers was vastly different. The CMO asked for evidence and George obliged. After reviewing letters from the CEO to shareholders, he found their competitor used the word ‘customers’ much more often.”

There are three problems with this story:

  1. There’s no way the CMO of the first bank knows how much her competitor spends on “customer experience.” Remember the definition of CX? Oh right, there is no definition. Or it’s defined as everything under the sun. I really hope George asked her, “How do you know how much your competitor spends on CX?”
  2. A single CX “score” is nonsense. How can you boil the “total” customer experience down to a single score? Don’t different customers have different quality of experiences due to their different preferences and needs? Please don’t try to convince me that a single score covers a “very large bank,” with all its lines of business, and all its customer channels.
  3. CEO letters to stakeholders have nothing to do with CX. Oh, come on. CEO letters to stakeholders that mention the word “customer” are the proof points for why one bank has a better CX score than another?

The Bottom Line on The Customer Experience

Here’s the problem, and some of you are not going to like hearing this: This whole “customer experience management” nonsense is a reflection of a desire to simplify the complex, and find a silver bullet — the one thing — that can be done to fix a problem and/or achieve success.

Just fix “the customer experience” and your business will have loyal customers who never complain and buy more and more without you even having to ask them to do so! Cumbaya!

Sadly, it’s not that easy, and that’s not how it works.


The harsh reality is that you have to take a much more granular approach, and:

  1. Look at individual processes (and/or interactions);
  2. Figure out which processes are most important to your strategy and competitive differentiation (this is actually the hardest part);
  3. Measure your current process performance on specific metrics regarding speed, cost, and quality;
  4. Benchmark your process performance against competitors, peers, and leaders; and
  5. Do something (this doesn’t always happen)

BTW, I think the customer experience score for this blog post is 100, don’t you?

Ron ShevlinRon Shevlin is Director of Research at Cornerstone Advisors. Check out more of his ideas and research on Cornerstone's Insight Vault. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter at @rshevlin.

This article was originally published on July 6, 2016. All content © 2018 by The Financial Brand and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.


  1. Good stuff Ron. I always imagine that it has to be very difficult for whoever the “Chief Experience Officer” is at a large bank (or any company) to really have a grasp on the customer experience. Since I am tasked with being the fake CEO (aka Chief Experience Officer), and since I live in the lovely world of community banking, I have always felt that the only way I can get close to attaining that grasp is to step out of my virtual door and actually listen. That’s why I take phone calls, answer most customer email inquiries, and take online chats. That’s why every single survey response comes to me and why I personally input them into a system to eventually share bank wide. Honestly, even if I had an assistant I would still do this. You can look at a summary of survey responses and comments on a report, but when you are transcribing them individually, you not only get a sense of what’s happening, but you also can respond immediately to the customer whether the comments are good, bad or ugly. It’s the only way to get close to that grasp. Beyond that (and there is undoubtedly a ton of stuff beyond that), you’re right … none of it means diddly if you don’t adhere to # 5 above. We have a task force of reps/managers from all departments and we meet regularly. It is during this meeting (and I hate meetings, but this one I can deal with) where we review processes that touch our customers and determine how we can mold those processes with the customer’s interest in mind. It’s not perfect, and some of the walls are tough to break down, but we keep trying!

  2. I define experience for my clients as nothing more than a process, or processes, that have been defined and refined over time. That response is typically met with a look of disgust or a reply that it sounds really boring.

    Then I tell them to think about Disney, who’s entire business is built on experience and then to consider the number of documented processes and procedures they have and continue to optimize for this day.

    And because we are talking about processes, one of the CXO’s main roles could be defined as nothing more than change/process management. Not exactly sexy but it is these “boring” actions that’s makes the public perception sexy.

  3. We all know that customers always had a great time at our bank branches. They stood in line talking about check cashin’, cash withdrawin’, cash cashin’, check withdrawin’, while playing with the chained pens, and brochures. All this technology, and push for “expriences” takes away from the important work of getting people into the branches!

  4. Randy Schultz says:

    A great customer experience…in one word…”improv.” You were spot on Ron, when you asked if each customer experience shouldn’t be as different as the person standing in front of you? It will be to them for sure. So why do we always have to put everything in a box, package it up and tell staff they should learn this and all do the same thing? You want to be different than the FI down the street? Your differentiator should be consistently being inconsistent when it comes to the customer experience. Make it their own with you…not someone elses!

    Nice job my friend.

  5. Angry Retail Banker says:


    I’m glad you covered this. I have my own article about the customer experience that I’ve been planning to write a sister post/follow up to an article I wrote sometime ago about mystery shops (“Bank Mystery Shopping Is Gonna Make Me Scream!”). Simply put, what the banks think customers want and what banks actually want aren’t the same.

    ARB–Angry Retail Banker

  6. Without detracting form the conclusions, the premise that there is something wrong with the responses to the surveys is misplaced. The first survey asks people to, in a sense rank order, what is “most” important. It does not suggest that something that did not get top rating scores is unimportant. If I asked someone to comment on what was beautiful about a particular woman you might get three or four factors. If I specifically asked about something not mentioned (like the eyes) I might get very high scores as well. The one does not preclude the other. If that survey had asked “tick all that are important” the results would have been useless, since almost everything would have been seen as important.

  7. To quote Sensei Jobs: “Everything is important. Everything is critical.” and “When a user has a problem, it’s our problem.”

    CX boils down to the collective experience, not individual interactions. Consumers are unreasonably resilient when it comes to their banking relationship, which is good news for bankers. That reality also helps to focus our organizational development. Don’t waste too much time on individual breakdowns. Focus on breakdown recurrences and trends. Don’t brow-beat the staffer who made a crystallized mistake, even if it’s a significant one; fire the one who makes the same small mistake multiple times. Finally, maybe take those hundreds of thousands of dollars spent with Forrester Research and point them toward your FinTech dynamo of choice and create a killer digital CX.

  8. Ron, What a GREAT poin tis your number 5, “Do Something!” One key to resolving customer issues and creating a satisfying experience, is LISTENING, In the mentoring work we do in this field we talk about listening not just to the words, (or the text), but to what is not being said, and that often leads to questions. Questions ARE part of listening. In so many fields of human endeavor, the satisfied customer is the one who believes he or she has been heard, and that something was actually done about the issue. Thank you for number 5 in the “granular approach” to customer experience and satisfaction

  9. Although the customer experience term may come and go the driving force behind CX will remain. Listen to your customers, understand their needs, act to fulfill those needs. It creates a well-aligned strategy.

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