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

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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?”

Chart: Most important attributes of the banking customer experience

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?

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?

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