Customer Experience Innovation? I do not think it means what you think it means…


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Customer Experience Innovation? (You Keep Using That Word…)

While the word “Innovation” is thrown around an awful lot in the business world, I do wonder how often it’s used in the context of transformative or disruptive innovation, as innovation is more typically understood by the likes of entrepreneurs and consumers.

Disruptive innovation is based on actually introducing something new. Not just new for your company, or new for you… but truly “new.” In the business of customer experience, innovation is happening faster and more often. But it’s happening most often as articulated by author Clayton Christensen, at the edges of industry and out of sight of many business leaders.

Customer experience innovation should radically improve how you serve your customers

I was recently reviewing the published applications for and winners of an industry association’s Customer Experience innovation awards, and couldn’t help thinking of Mandy Patinkin’s portrayal of swordsman Inigo Montoya in the movie The Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

innovationOne customer experience innovation award winner’s “innovation” was to use simple words that people understand, rather than hard-to-read industry jargon. Another was to quickly share voice-of-customer feedback with employees, rather than semi-annually as before. A runner-up started using CES (Customer Effort Score) as a metric, and teaching contact center reps how to better handle customer conversations.

I don’t intend to minimize the importance and utility of programs and systems like these, each of which (as with all applicants) will certainly lead to marginal, incrementally better customer experiences in those parts of those businesses. Incremental improvements are good. These folks are finding broken experiences, fixing them, and – hopefully – measuring the results.

If you want to disrupt your industry, you better look at it from the outside

But if you want truly differentiate on customer experience in your industry, as 76 percent of executives say, then doing a better job with your copywriting simply won’t cut it. It requires a fundamental shift in the way you look at the world: from the outside in, rather than inside-out. It also means fixing problems your customers may not even know they have.

It certainly means doing things your competition hasn’t thought of. Things like reinventing the ways customer service is delivered in your industry – like Amazon Kindle giving on-demand support with the push of a button. Or eliminating customer pain points, perhaps by changing the ways they pay – like PayPal experimenting with wearable tech to recognize customers so they can simply “tap” their phones to pay. Or radically changing the ways shoppers discover new products — like Timberland tracking in-store shoppers in exchange for opt-in for deals.

As cool as some of these examples are, the truth is, innovation comes in many flavors. But disruptive innovation comes from many places, none of which will be found by looking at your company through the inside-out lens of incremental process improvements. When it comes to disruptive customer experience innovation – the game-changers that leave your competition in the dust – the opportunities are there for those who look. But look from the outside, through the eyes of your customers. And when you talk about innovation? Please – be clear what you mean when you say that word.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. Michael, I agree with you… to a point. You’re talking about “radical” or “disruptive” innovation, but that’s not the only kind.

    For something to be an “innovative” customer experience it should be a improvement that creates value for the customer and the company. That’s a pretty low bar — and the examples you mentioned might qualify IF customers noticed the change and it stimulated them to be more loyal, recommend, etc.

    I also find it interesting that your examples of radical innovation are all digital. Surely that’s not the only kind. Zappos, for example, sets itself apart with its customer service people. Rackspace’s “fanatical” customer support is enabled by, but not defined by, its use of technology.

    I do agree that much of what the CX industry passes off as innovation is just the basics performed better — listening, analyzing, responding, etc. So long as the majority of companies don’t get the basics right, this may be enough to drive business outcomes. But the next phase will be more interesting, as companies re-imagine their customer experiences.

    Personally, I think the future will be a meld of digital and human experiences. Digital, because people want to get things done fast and easy. Human, because it’s much more likely to be memorable and create an emotional bond.

  2. There are some customer experience basics here. Your blog covers a lot of territory, so I’ll go back to the core elements of what can constitute experience differentiation and benefit for customers.

    Realistically, optimizing the customer experience is less about attention-grabbing disruption than it is about creating distinctive, emotional, innovative (in its many forms), memorable, perceived customer value. The marketplace is shifting, and proactive organizations will stay in the game if they shift with, or before, it does: and

    Brand value and communication elements are important, so they must be considered in building and sustaining meaningful experiences. Also, because customer experience design is often an enterprise DNA issue and reflects degree of customer-centricity within the organization, agree with more active inclusion of employees, in their collaborative and ambassadorial roles, in designing and executing customer experience (; but strongly disagree with using flawed metrics like CES, NPS, customer satisfaction, or loyalty indices for helping get there:

    As Inigo Montoya said: “You told me to go back to the beginning… so I have. “

  3. I agree, Michael, that innovation means something novel, outside of the mainstream. Some award programs are lax in their standards, muddying our industry’s nomenclature. Some industries pride themselves on coming up with a new revenue stream and call it innovation, even if it means simply figuring out how to monetize something that was previously part of a package deal, such as charging fees for checking-in airline bags. That’s not a real innovation. It’s a real pain in the customer experience, in more ways than one.

    Innovation, as all things in customer experience, should be labeled as such only when deemed worthy by customers. If it’s not significantly novel in providing a new dimension to the customer experience, I’m not sure it qualifies. Customer experience innovation must create mutual value for both parties. (

    Your emphasis on digital examples is in alignment, I think, with the emphasis of most companies today. In reality, there’s a chasm between VoC and loyalty — what are companies doing to ACT on what customers say in VoC, to EARN loyalty? Most are responding in necessary, yet insufficient, ways to make a dent in customers’ realities and everyone’s desired business results. This is evidenced in the 4 years that we studied B2B CX practices, as well as Forrester’s State of CX report saying “Despite 90% of respondents saying that CX is a top strategic priority for their firm, a shocking 86% said their companies don’t actually expect to get much value from it.”

    I’m glad you brought up Clayton Christensen’s work on innovation — we don’t do enough in the customer experience field to adopt either “jobs-to-be-done” or “blue ocean strategy” concepts as guiding lights for CX strategy. I talk about these extensively in my ehandbook “Innovating Superior Customer Experience”.

    Thanks for pointing out some essential things to think about as we’re all gearing up for 2015.


  4. From the outside in…when was the last time you used your own product or service, you will be amazed at the opportunities for improvement and Innovation.


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