Customer Experience: what about the ‘product’?


Share on LinkedIn

Is the ‘product’ being neglected by the Customer movement?

It seems to me that many approach Customer Experience as if it is all about getting access to the voice of the customer and improving the interactions (marketing communications, buying, paying, service..) between the customer and the organisation. Is something important being missed?

I say that a critical piece is being missed: the core product or service that calls forth the customer to interact with your organisation. The danger I see is that of focussing effort on the interactions around the product and not giving the ‘product’ the kind of attention/love/priority that the likes of Jobs/Ive gave to Apple products. And thus leaving open an opportunity for someone to come along and render all of your work on interaction design worthless. How/why? A new entrant comes along with a radically better product – better at doing the job that the customer hires that product to do. Think when it comes to CRM.

Looking at the ‘product’ through the ‘job that the product is hired to do’ lens

What is a powerful access to revisiting your ‘product’ through the world of your customers? A great access is to think of the situation this way: the customer hires your ‘product’ to do a specific job. Allowing me to make this real and useful for you.

Clayton Christenson shares the story about milkshakes. He was working for an organisation that was selling milkshakes and there was a drive to sell more milkshakes. So the team dived into milkshake purchases and found out that milkshakes were bought in the early morning (breakfast time) and in the evenings. Who was buying these milkshakes and what had they hired these milkshakes to do?

The early morning crowd were people who were commuting to work. And they hired the milkshake to relieve the tedium of the commute (usually in a car). For these people the thickness and size of the milkshake worked great – it took time to drink the milkshake. How to improve it? Add stuff to it that made it last longer, that increased the prominence of the drinking experience and distracted the drinker from the tedious commute.

Parents were buying milkshakes for their children in the evening as a treat – after saying “no” many times they felt that they could and should say “yes” to the milkshake. How was the milkshake doing in terms of the job that the parent had hired it to do? Poorly. Why? Because the kids were taking forever to finish the milkshake. What was the issue? The thickness and size of the milkshake. How to improve it? Sell it in a smaller size and/or making it less thick.

By looking at the ‘product’ through the customer-centred lens of ‘the job that the customer hires the product to do’ one opens up the possibility of coming up with products that do a better job of meeting the core customer need and delivering a superior customer experience. And this creates the opening to sell more product.

How many parents chose not to buy milkshakes because they did not want to hang around 20 minutes or so for their children to finish drinking the milkshake. What is the price premium that could be charged by selling a larger, thicker, crunchier milkshake to the early morning commuters?

Finally, notice this level of understanding enables the organisation to improve its marketing and sales message: to talk about what matters to customers (job that customer is hiring product to do).

Looking at the usability of the ‘product’

In order to get value out of a ‘product’ – for this ‘product’ to do the job that it was hired to do – the customer has to be able to use this product effectively, easily. How many products meet that requirement?

I have bought electronic products where I cannot even get them out of the plastic packaging! I have had to look for the biggest scissors and then watch out lest I cut myself opening up the package. And once or twice I have just done that cut myself. It is another job to actually set these up and operate them.

How many products come with a lousy set-up instructions? Many. I have lost count of the amount of time I have wasted on trying to make sense of the instructions. Do I have to share with you the frustration that is involved in having a job to do, having bought the ‘product’ and not being able to do that job? I bet that you have had this experience many times. If you have not then you can count yourself lucky!

Getting value out of the ‘product’ can be a big issue especially for the more complex ‘products’. How much advice (whatever form it takes) is worthless because the customer does not know how to make sense of and use that advice effectively? Why has been so successful? I say because they took the hassle of setting up/operating / getting value of CRM systems away from the customers.

Even complex products can be made easy to use and thus more valuable to the customer. The best example I can think of is Apple. This is a company that is doing extremely well because Steve Jobs insisted on starting with the customer experience and working back to the technology. Put differently, making products that the average customer can use straight out of the box is a fundamental requirement of product design at Apple – at least as I understand it.

Summing up

The product is not in one domain and Customer Experience in another domain. Any serious examination of the Customer Experience has to grapple with the product and how well it does the job that the customer is hiring it to do. That means designing that product so that it is both useful (does the job) and usable (easy/intuitive) to use.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Maz Iqbal
Experienced management consultant and customer strategist who has been grappling with 'customer-centric business' since early 1999.


  1. Good point, in the fullest extent the product could be (not always) part of the customer experience.

    Of course, there’s already a discipline for this – User Experience Management. Qaalfa Dibeehi write about the difference here: User Experience versus Customer Experience: same or different?.

    This begs the question: what *isn’t* part of the customer experience? Nothing! So, we can have the pricing experience, too!

    That’s why, for largely practical purposes, CEM is mostly concerned with customer/company interactions, and exclude product usage. Otherwise, CEM goes the route of CRM, which attempts to explain everything.

    I do have a concern with CEM proponents saying that the experience (interactions) is the only thing that matters anymore, because products are a commodity and pricing is no way to build loyalty either. That lead me to write this article: What Really Drives Customer Loyalty? It’s Not Just About the Experience!.

  2. Hello Bob

    I thank you for sharing your perspective and including the two links – I have read them both.

    Whilst you and I are often in agreement and are so again in some ways, you and I are fundamentally in disagreement when it comes to what matters. Going further, I say that I am in fundamental disagreement with many/most commentators and practitoners of CX. How/why?

    Lets take Christianity. One can engage with Christianity in several ways. For example, one goes to church on Sunday mornings because one has grown up doing that. Yet one does not practice Christianity. One can become a Christian from another faith because external pressures call for it and yet inwardly and out of sight one continues to be a Jew or a Muslim. In this case Christianity is a strategy – a deliberately chosen strategy to avoid persecution/death. Finally, one can chose/practice Christianity as a way of life. A way of life that is so intertwined with one’s self that there really is no way to seperate one’s Self and Christianity.

    Back to Customer Experience. Many are playing around with customer interactions tactically and calling it Customer Experience. I see this in the field of customer service. In that field they have adopted the fashionable language of customer experience when they are talking about handling customer calls. Then there are a few that may have adopted Customer Experience as a strategy. And they are the ones that are likely to have appointed a Chief Customer Officer who has teeth. Finally, there are some, few, companies for whom Customer Experience is a way of life: Zappos, Amazon, Zane’s Cycles, SouthWest Airlines….

    As I see it you view CX, at best, as a strategy. I say CX is a business philosophy that underpins the way that the entire organisation works. Fundamentally, is it business philosophy that prioritises EVERYTHING around the Customer Experience. Specifically, this kind of organisation competes at the level of the Customer Experience, not the product, nor the service, nor the price.

    I might just write a blog post on this.

    All the best and thank you for opening up a conversation between us.


  3. Maz,

    I should have made it more clear that I was commenting on the common definition of CEM promoted by many practitioners. In my 2006 CEM study, I included product usage experiences as part of my research.

    While most CEM practitioners may agree generally that the product is part of the experience, I rarely see any real focus there. Most define (or practice) CEM as how the company attempts to define, deliver and improve interactions with the company, including people and systems. Product design is left to experts in innovation and user experience (UX).

    In fact, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve read that CEM is important because products are commodities. The implication is crystal clear — CEM is about making company interactions better, because you can’t win the product game. I don’t personally agree with that, because I see the best companies continuing to innovate the core products/services they are selling, while also improving all the other interactions.

    You might enjoy reading a discussion I had with Sampson Lee on this point. He says “Product is the Using Experience.” My concern about taking this direction for CEM is that it becomes another CRM — the answer for everything. CEM will collapse under its own weight, just like CRM has.

    That said, inside individual companies, CxM can be defined in any way the company leaders want. In some cases, CRM is the banner to implement a customer-centric philosophy. In others CEM. At a, Jeff Bezos set out at the very beginning to build the world’s most customer-centric company. Apple’s Steve Jobs wanted to build “insanely great” products. These leaders don’t use buzzwords, they focus on delivering value that delights their customers.

    Maybe what’s needed is some work by the CEM community to come up with a common definition of CEM that everyone would promote. That’s something the CRMers never did. Then we settle the question about whether CEM is a “way of life,” the role of products, price, etc.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here