Experience ain’t Everything


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Two days before Christmas, I’d my breakfast at McDonald’s. I ordered a breakfast-set includes a sausage McMuffin with egg, a hash browns, and a cup of coffee with unlimited refills. The food is hot, the taste of coffee is acceptable, and the restaurant is clean and well-decorated. The McDonald’s ambassador (a female staff dressed in a flight-attendant-like uniform) proactively approached me to refill my coffee (declare: I’m not greedy as I only refilled once). At the price of USD2, I felt very satisfied, far exceeding my expectations, for my breakfast experience with McDonald’s.

“Experience is Everything.”

Let me make my point with my McDonald’s breakfast experience. The Food, Price, and Service (and the related attributes e.g. cleanliness and interior decorations) are being perceived during my breakfast ‘Experience’ at McDonald’s restaurant. Product (Food), Price, and Service are the key attributes or factors driving customers’ behaviors. Experience is the combination – process and result – of WHERE (touch-points such as retail, web, call), WHEN (time and date), and WHAT (customers perceive on attributes of Product, Price, and Service, etc.). Experience is NOT Service. Experience is the carrier of those attributes, including Service. Product and Price cannot be stand alone from Experience, i.e. to be more precise, they cannot NOT carried by Experience. Experience is the right or only road to success. “Experience is Everything.”

I was wrong.

Bob Thompson responded: “Sometimes, a product is just a product. I don’t think it’s very helpful to define everything as an experience. Sometimes I go to restaurants mainly because I like the food. Redefining it as the “eating experience” doesn’t change the fact that the good food is what I’m after, not the dining experience or the low price. As Graham Hill said more than once, sometimes we just want it to “do what it says on the tin.” Experience matters, but it’s not the only thing that matters.” I’ve to admit that even I write 3,000 words or even 30,000 words more here to elaborate or even more ambitious to make it the book definition, no matter how hard I tried, I still can’t change the common belief that “A Product is just a product, not the using experience.” It is true and it is simple. I was so blinded by my profession in CEM and I was so motivated to argue as I’ve an experience methodology to ‘sell’. I was wrong.

Common belief always wins over book definition.

A similar and compelling illustration on ‘Common belief always wins over book definition’ is CRM (Customer Relationship Management). If you asked officially the definition of CRM, everyone – no matter a CustomerThink member or an ‘average’ business executive – will tell you “CRM is NOT software”, “CRM is not only about technology, it’s in fact a business strategy”. Tom Siebel coined the term ‘CRM’ since 1993, it’s been 17 years. Did the book definition (CRM is a customer-centric business strategy) win or the common belief (CRM is software) win? In 2010, when Bob Thompson was at a Christmas party, talking with a former Stanford university professor. Bob mentioned “CRM” and the professor immediately said: “Oh, do you mean Salesforce.com?” Common belief always wins over book definition.

What is in our head is far more important than what is in the book.

It also applies to ‘Customer-centricity’. Go out to the market to put on table a question, say, “Would you leave the needs or pains of your target customers unaddressed?”. Especially if they claimed to be a customer-centric org., or on the way to be; especially those needs are critical to customers and especilly those pains are severe. Not only the ‘average’ business executives in the commercial field, the front-line staff, and the end customers, all of them are most likely to agree to address ‘those needs and pains’. Similar as CRM, if you asked the definition of customer-centricity, you’ll find, easily, hundreds of different definitions (one example: “Perhaps the simplest definition of customer-centricity is ‘Co-creating value with customers'” by Graham). But one thing for sure, the answers that you’ll get won’t be “trying to satisfy all customer needs” or “trying to address all pains”, not because of the politically-correctness; but because it’s so against common sense, isn’t it? Which firm could have the resource to satisfy all needs, it’s insane! It’s also against common sense to believe software alone could build intimate relationships with customers, isn’t it? It’s insane too! But common belief always wins over book definition. What is in our head is far more important than what is in the book.

Amazon is the most misleading example in customer-centricity.

Around a decade ago, when Amazon was still in red. Jeff Benzos thought of a win-win approach, ‘Co-creating value with customers’, and could be summarized in one single metric – CPO, Costs Per Order, killed two birds with one stone: to satisfy the financial needs of the company and the critical needs of their customers. One of the most important reasons for the red was the high costs-to-serve, and one of the severe pains of custmers was to email or call, say, to ask a question, check the order, place a complaint, ask for refunds, etc. Bezos launched the internal campaign “The Best Service is No (Need for) Service”. Our colleague Bill Price in this community could tell you the first-hand story. The results? Red was turned into black. Satisfaction soared. The remain was history.

Bezos once said the vision of Amazon is to be “earth’s most customer-centric company”. Did he achieve? Their top-ranked ACSI for so many years said so. Amazon’s customers think so. The business executives think so too. Most consultants would agree so. But is Amazon really customer-centric? Their actual performances echo with the book defintion of customer-centricity, but not the common belief’s, the common belief of ‘Customer-centriciy’ means satisfy most of the customers’ needs and not leave pains unaddressed. I said that because Amazon satisfies our critical needs on ‘variety’, ‘convenience’, ‘peace of mind’, ‘sense-of-community’, ‘personalization’; but also leaving some severe pains unaddressed: such as the lack of or difficulties to obtain the online and offline customer service, the high price of delivery outside the States, the incompatibility of eBooks other than their exclusive Kindle device. Amazon listens to customers, understands their needs, and invents for them; concentrates resource to satisfy some of the critcal needs (those are beneficial to both customers and Amazon) but not all (those may be good for cusotmers but no good to Amazon). “So the common belief of why Amazon is so success because of customer-centricity, and the common belief of customer-centricity is it won’t leave critical needs and severe pains unaddressed. So in order to be as successful as Amazon, our company should not leave critical needs and severe pains unaddressed.” The fact is Amazon does leave needs and pains unaddressed. Though it is not the fault of Amazon, Amazon is the most misleading example in customer-centricity.

Does it worth the fight? Or shall we abandon the term “Customer-centricity”?

I don’t have any research to support my view, and I may not have read adequate relevant reports to understand the facts. How could I be so biased and arbitray to say that the common belief of customer-centricity is it won’t leave critical needs and severe pains unaddressed? Though most of the time I am living and working in Hong Kong and Shanghai, I am lucky that I’ve been involved in consulting projects and conducted training programs in Asia, Africa, and Europe. Look around and talk with anyone next to you (of course not consultants) in ‘plain’ language, no matter where are you located, you’d easily understand that “satisfy most needs and address most pains” is their common belief of ‘Customer-centiricity’, just as the common belief of CRM “Oh, do you mean Salesforce.com?”

Bob Thompson said: “There’s a time to change perception, and a time to stop “tilting at windmills. I promoted CRM=customer-centric business strategy for many years, but the market generally did not accept that definition. My research found that CRM=technology is much more common,… This is why we changed the name of this community in 2007. Why continue to fight a battle that is lost?” If you asked me today if it was worthy to fight for ‘CRM is NOT software’ even if I knew it will come to the same end result as of today? I’m not sure about yours, my answer is: “Yes, it does worth the fight.” Because if we didn’t clarify a wrong common belief like that is very harmful. Think of the millions or ten-of-millions worth CRM projects being implemented incorrectly, and the high failure rate, unmatched expectations, and the opportunity costs – the lost time, resource, satisfaction. It does worth the fight, though it’s long odds you can “win”. Some companies are so lucky that they implement ‘Customer-centricity’ rightly, and some may use the approaches or consulting services rendered by consultants like my respectful colleagues in this community, e.g. Shaun Smith, Dick Lee, Jim Barnes, Graham Hill, Colin Shaw, Joseph Michelli, Lior Arussy, Wim Rampen, Bill Price. But some companies, or even most I believe, are implementing the common belief customer-centricity: “satisfy most needs and address most pains”. Think of the high costs – reduces pleasures, creates wastes, and homogenizes brands – for a wrong common belief like that. Does it worth the fight? Or shall we abandon the term “Customer-centricity”?


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