Customer Experience is Dead, Long-Live Co-Design


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Adapted from the book: CEM Rebooted: are you an experience brand or an efficiency brand (Palgrave-McMillan, 2017)

If there is one thing that summarizes what has happened to CX in the last 5 years, its the phone call I received a couple of weeks ago from a UK based IT firm (my apologies to the individual in question):

‘Hi, we’re interested in customer experience, we need some six sigma and lean teams to help optimise our processes’..

Now I have nothing against this, but in its intent it doesn’t represent a front and centre concern for ‘the customer’ as a source of value; nor empathy for their world, rather an over-branding of zero defects circa 1990. Service quality perhaps, a critical enabler of the ‘experience the customer has’ absolutely, but not CX.

And this isn’t even the worst of it.

One VoC vendor that will remain nameless was adamant. ‘CX, that’s about everything init’. So clearly we can sell you anything. Kerching$$.

However, don’t let me be too negative. Of course CX is not dead, there is after all always a customer and always an experience. But… too many organisations put the customer last and the experience first. This is why I believe we should stop talking about CX as if it were a delivered product or a ‘sum of all touchpoints’ defined ‘thing’:

After all customer experience by definition is owned by the customer. It can only ever be co-created and co-designed. It has to be! Your personal subjective experience is not something amenable to management principles of service quality or TQM. It is closer to innovation.

Co-Design, a better term for ‘doing CX

Since no-one owns the term ‘experience’ it has, like CRM before it, fallen into the trap of meaning this or that dependent on who you are talking to: which usually means its become an over-brand for the same old same old.

The term co-design by contrast is less ambiguous and more attached to value creation through (mostly) the growth metric. It focuses attention on actionability not the movement of metrics on a gamed scale.

Co-design supercedes customer experience. Its demonstration of return shown in the actions of ‘exemplar’ CX brands: Amazon, Google, Apple, Zappos, Geek Squad and many others who focus on the customer as a source of value and strategic differentiation.

All the great examples of customer experience best practice from the Apple Genius Bar, to the Disney Magic Band, from Brian Solis’s Experience Architecture to Pine and Gilmore’s Experience Economy are all premised on co-creation and co-design with the customer not a generic experience as anything.

Co-design asks the question who is the customer, and where is the value created with them. There is no confusion here with product innovation or opex reduction. No means by which an IT engineer from a well-known Telecoms company can get on the phone with me and argue that ‘customer experience is about summing all physical touchpoints’.

The implications are, that if CX (or co-design) programmes fail to enable design thinking, innovation space, cross-functional governance and a system of insights that mines the creative equity of the brand there can be no return from the ‘experience the customer has’ since the customer is not included.

Of course its sibling- co-creation – is hardly a new idea. But when we talk of co-design what is new is how, with the right approaches (AI, better insights, the encounter model of touchpoints), we can extend this to go beyond the mere formulation of new ‘experiences’ (co-creation) into the design of strategy and corporate decision-making itself. In essence, if CX has crashed and burned because of market fragmentation and a consequent failure to operationalise, co-design can take up the weight by building customer-centric processes with clear intent into the heart of the corporation.

Digital CX, AI, real-time CX measurements and the interconnectedness of customer value streams that this entails will enforce this process whether you are ready for it or not.

Steven Walden
Steven Walden is Director of Customer Experience at leading CX firm TeleTech Consulting (which includes Peppers and Rogers, iKnowtion and RogenSi). Steven is instrumental in efforts to develop the CX practice promoting thought leadership and CX community engagement and IP development. Prior to TeleTech he was Director of CX at Ericsson, developing their Experience Management Centre and also Head of Research specialising in emotion and journey mapping agency side.


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