Customer Experience: are we deceiving ourselves?

by • September 8, 2015 • Top TipsComments (0)1539

Call me slow off the mark but I’ve never jumped into the customer experience pond. For some reason I’ve not been tempted to dive bomb it and announce I’ve arrived. Instead my instinct has been to sit on the sidelines and watch its progress. Recently I’m beginning to understand why…

It’s all to do with that old chestnut of whose priorities are really being served.

Often when professionals and executives talk about customer experience, I find that the actual customer gets lost and customer experience becomes another functional specialism, where the customer is somehow disembodied.

I shared the stage this year with a well-seasoned presenter who enthused about ‘experience design’. Not a concept I’m against in principle. Disney shows what’s possible in this respect. But used in a half understood manner, it just came over as crude manipulation.

I also recently reviewed the output of a well-known service design consultancy whose team had produced a set of customer journeys for a client I’m working with. Again, I’m not against customer journeys. In fact I’m an enthusiast and promote their benefits. But what they had produced was deeply underwhelming. Neither the format nor supposed insight into the customer priority at each ‘moment of truth’ justified the time and expense. The client was left wondering what they could actually use it for.

I’m not dismissing the toolkits or concepts, just the lack of skill in their application. It strikes me that a common theme in all this lies in our orientation or mindset. The habit of thinking ‘inside-out’ is so deeply ingrained we are not even aware of its impact. We might think we are on the customers’ side whenever we use ‘customer experience’ language. But more often it’s the corporate priorities that shine through, although the wrapper may look and smell like the real deal.

This might be to do with the fact that some organisations making their mark in the customer experience market have strong marketing and design backgrounds. There is nothing wrong with this of course. However, both disciplines are traditionally employed to make things look their best. If that instinct dominates, then ‘experience by design’ can simply begin and end with the creative imagination of the team with little input from actual customers.

In my world, customer experience is the result of service quality, or the lack of it. Customer reaction is what’s real. If it falls short then it needs fixing. Same logic applies across the customer lifecycle.

This baseline needs to be fully appreciated before any talk about a ‘target customer experience’ (which seems to trip off the tongue all too easily once customer personas are conjured up through high resolution stock images and aggregated back stories). We are in danger of falling for our own storytelling.

Surely customer experience is what customers are actually thinking and feeling? Not what we like to imagine.

Of course, it is possible to reframe the way a person experiences an event and even evoke what is triggered. That’s why advertising works. But have we thought enough about how this applies to customer engagement? I’d argue there is increasing evidence that starting with the ideal before the reality is a path that easily leads to self-deception.

Of course those with a service design will immediately counter by saying that customer research is always the first port of call. Go see the customer in their native habitat: the so-called ethnographic approach. Again I have no issue. Bar its practicality.

The question I’d ask is: would diving into the complaints logs unearth a richer and more immediately useful source of insight?

In my view, senior attention remains inadequate beyond agreeing that Customer Experience is a ‘good thing’. The locked-in world they inhabit does not encourage many of them to join the dots and recognise that better customer experience and the eternal challenge of ‘increased revenue at reduced costs’ are intimately connected.

This is why we must not squander opportunities and make sure we deliver practical strategy and toolkits that help customers first so that organisations actually benefit.

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