Defining customer experience


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Recently, over on the Deliver Bliss blog penned by wise man Tim Sanchez, a discussion erupted over the question: What is the definition of customer experience?

I was thrilled to see it. It wasn’t long ago that instead of clarity about what an “experience” is, I would more often hear leaders in pairs and groups talk about tactics or touchpoints or pain points or metrics or best practices or emotions or perceptions…but never the heart of the matter: What IS customer experience?  Is it synonomus with customer service or it it bigger than that? Can we define it from the customer’s point of view? Often I’ve raised my hand, when I’ve heard one leader say To-MAY-to and another say To-MA-to and I just knew they were not thinking of the same thing.

So when a single post triggered several other leaders to weigh in with enthusiasm, I took it as a terrific sign of how far we’ve come. Of course I have my take, too.

From the dictionary, the noun experience is defined this way:  ex•pe•ri•ence (ĭk-spîr’ē-əns) n. An event or a series of events participated in or lived through.

From this (and years of work as a line exec and with clients at Aveus) I’ve learned that every experience starts with a person who has a need, desire or problem they would trade something of value (typically money) to have solved. Their experience is what happens and how they feel as they: realize the need, try out options to solve it, buy, use the product or service to solve the need, and evolve to a new need over time.

The implications

Inside the definition, an experience is:

  • Made up of tangible things, such as products and service features, prices, process steps AND cues that trigger emotions, such as color, tone of voice, degree of intimacy.
  • Follows a chronology – and while your organization can be many places at once, for each customer, their experience is a one-step-at-a-time affair.
  • A single thing – in other words, while inside organizations we separate sales channels and products and business lines and operations areas, customers have only ONE relationship with a brand or company.

Why care about a definition if we’re all focused on customers anyway? Because when everyone in your organization has the same snapshot of the ideal customer experience you’re working on, then every effort can add value. Fuzzy aim will mean some ideas or actions will pay, and some will not. Imagine if world explorers like Dan Buettner, who inspired me by biking from the top to the bottom of Africa, settled for “going south” as a goal?  Ever since reading Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in grad school I knew what I was: I’m an “end in mind” girl.

You may also find of interest:

There is a flip side, or an organization point of view for this definition, and I discussed it in this post: Customer experience – the view from inside your company

If this conversation triggered some curiosity about how you can act on customer experience to improve financial performance – check out Domino.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Linda Ireland
Linda Ireland is co-owner and partner of Aveus LLC, a global strategy and operational change firm that helps leaders find money in the business performance chain while improving customer experiences. As author of Domino: How to Use Customer Experience to Tip Everything in Your Business toward Better Financial Performance, Linda built on work done at Aveus and aims to deliver real-life, actionable, how-to help for leaders of any organization.


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