Let’s Just Give Up on Customer Experience


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'Customer experience' seems to create a lot of frustrations. Photo by Redd Angelo/Unsplash
‘Customer experience’ seems to create a lot of frustrations. Photo by Redd Angelo/Unsplash

Tech veteran Chris Spears is the co-founder and chief marketing technology officer at Atlanta-based ARKE, a brand experience consultancy.

So when he suggests it's time to give up on customer experience (CX), it makes sense to listen.

In a recent article on CMO.com, Spears concludes customer experience just isn't working — at least not as we know it. "We’ve been talking about CX for nearly two decades now, and it doesn’t seem like we’re consistently or positively evolving customer relationships," he noted.

So Many Customer Complaints

You don't have to wait for an aha! moment to recognize his point. Think about it.

Odds are, almost daily, someone in your immediate circle of friends or family will express personal frustration with an interaction with a company. Others will concede they no longer use a product or a service because they feel misunderstood, disconnected, or unappreciated.

As Spears says,

"It’s not what you would expect in the so-called “Age of the Customer,” is it? To move forward, let’s walk away from our fragmented view of CX. Instead, let’s commit to a bolder, more comprehensive initiative around brand experience."

Brand experience, he explains, encompasses every touch point a company has with its customers, as well as its employees, partners, distributors, vendors, and all other stakeholders. Supported by the customer journey, physical and digital channels, and strategically important technology, it sets the priority as the quality of a user’s experience.

More Than A Good User Experience

What makes the post notable is Spears discussion of the relationship between CX and user experience (UX). In the early days of the web, it was easy to confuse the two. He notes:

"Everyone was struggling to come up with a blueprint for designing, selling, and delivering better experiences. Not surprisingly, the focus was on website design and usability, the hallmarks of UX. But CX isn’t a visual design problem. And it’s certainly not limited to a person’s digital interactions with a company."

Brand experience, he continues, is bigger and bolder. It's abstracted from the web, email, social, and every other channel a company uses to engage people — and it draws from an understanding of all the interactions and the ways they impact each other.

He elaborates:

"By replacing the word 'customer' with 'brand,' we can expand the considerations as you design buyer, client, and employee journeys. Brand experience tracks and maps both online and offline interactions. It considers a person’s interactions with your brand as well your competitors. And it focuses on a bigger vision of the overall impact your brand has on the people associated with it."

Brand experience "encourages a big-picture lens to evaluate experience in all of its contexts" while also assessing the impact it has on every person affiliated with your brand, whether that person is a customer, employee, supplier, vendor or another stakeholder.

Brand Differentiation

I've talked before about the need for companies to set themselves apart. Long before we christened it “customer experience,” differentiation through unique products or services was a key part of business operations.

From innovations like air conditioning a century ago to the dawn of easy credit in the 1960s, retailers have notably made efforts to stand out. And while today they seem lost in a sea of sameness (why does every department store seem to offer the same brands, the same styles, and nearly identical pricing?), there are clearly opportunities to do more.

As Spears suggests, retail CX should support a bigger, broader brand strategy — one that revolves around well-curated products and services that significantly distinguish the store from its competitors.

Technology: An Enabler Rather Than a Magic Bullet

CX, unfortunately, has been diluted by a focus on what seem like easy fixes. There is an expectation technology alone will bring every customer goal, revenue projection, and competitive challenge into alignment.

And yet, as anyone who thinks about the issue intently will conclude, technology is only a way to advance a strategic plan, a cultural mindset, a desire to treat customers in a certain way.

It's not a replacement for asking, "What will it take for us to build a better brand — and how can we make sure everyone embraces that strategy as the company's priority?"

Without a plan — a strategic mission — companies will continue to implode from decisions removed from every measure of common sense.

Customers will be held hostage by metrics and inflexible policies that fail to take the human factor into consideration. Customer frustration will continue to grow as levels of satisfaction and loyalty fall.

Spears is right. It's time to do something more than give lip service to a weak idea of customer experience.

Noreen Seebacher
Stasa Media
Noreen Seebacher is an experienced business writer, editor, reporter and manager. She has a keen interest in customer experience across verticals and the ways companies are adapting to remain relevant in the digital era.


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