Stop Practicing the Conventional Customer Experience Management – Part 2


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Why is there a high failure rate of customer experience (CX) initiatives? And why do most CEOs not buy into CX? Because CX professionals and companies are not practicing a Real CX.

Conventional and Real CX in a Nutshell

Many CX professionals currently assess customer experience through the lens of biased ‘service’, and are becoming “A man with a hammer”: Always adopting the “Serve Customers Better” approach to try to solve every CX problem their respective clients or companies face. The Conventional CX is just service-in-disguise. It’s merely an expanded version of ‘service’ or customer interaction management (CIM). It is not a Real CX.

What is a Real CX, then? Well, in my opinion, a Real CX should possess the following five attributes:

    1. It includes ‘product’ and ‘pricing’.
    2. It objectively assesses customer experiences.
    3. It renders non-biased solutions to CX problems.
    4. It can generate quick wins.
    5. Its role is strategic, not functional.

This article is about the second attribute.

The Mission of Real CX is to Deliver Brand Promise

Customer Experience is a company’s delivery of its brand promise.” – Jeanne Bliss, co-founder of CXPA

Figure 1: Emotion Curve of an Ordinary Brand

When a brand delivers their brand promise [note 1] repeatedly and consistently, it drives brand differentiation, commands customer loyalty, and achieves business result.

However, when a brand makes many promises or attempts to satisfy many customer needs [note 2] – resources are diluted – their Emotion Curve becomes flattened. Pleasure peaks are insignificant, the experience is disremembered, and the brand homogenized.

Extraordinary brands chose a different path.

Figure 2: Emotion Curve of an Extraordinary Brand

They select some of the critical needs of customers to be their brand promise. They focus resources on their promise and relax on the remaining needs. The experience is memorable and the brand is differentiated. Extraordinary brands like IBM, Starbucks, IKEA, Louis Vuitton and Dell all have a dynamic Emotion Curve [note 3].

Yet, the price of having peaks is allowing valleys. Some people misunderstand that it is about generating pain. It isn’t. It is creating values for customers. Let me explain this with an important concept: Value Exchange.

Real CX Creates Values, Not Pain, for Customers

As a regular IKEA customer, performing DIY jobs is a valley. Though I can understand why IKEA makes me sweat – to channel the savings to offer the best prices for their furniture and household items (IKEA’s brand promise) – effort is still undesirable; but it doesn’t stop me purchasing from IKEA, as long as the perceived ‘value’ (i.e. inexpensive prices) is larger than the endeavor (i.e. DIY services).

Likewise, being a loyal Starbucks customer, paying five US dollars for a cup of coffee is a valley. Even knowing why Starbucks has to charge premium prices – to create and maintain the Third Place (brand promise of Starbucks) – high-priced coffee is nevertheless unwanted; but it doesn’t prohibit me from buying Starbucks, to the extent that the perceived ‘value’ (i.e. the Third Place) exceeds the endeavor (i.e. premium prices).

On that ground, the DIY services of IKEA and premium prices of Starbucks are Good Valleys and shouldn’t be eliminated, because they help generate substantial ‘values’ to customers – Branded Peaks – which reflect the brand promises of IKEA and Starbucks. The existence of Good Valleys is to support Branded Peaks.

Literally, the widely held belief in the CX world “Customer pain points are bad and have to be eliminated” is fallacious and no longer valid. (Caution: Not every valley is good. Only the Good Valleys should be allowed [note 4])

Real CX Objectively Assesses Customer Experiences

A Real CX employs an objective approach for the evaluation of customer experience. It has three assessment criteria:

1. Deliver brand promise. Ritz Carlton has “Ladies and Gentlemen Serving Ladies and Gentlemen” (service), ULCCs (ultra-low cost carriers) offers the cheapest airfares (price), while BMW delivers “The Ultimate Driving Machine” (product).

Different brands chose – to satisfy different customers’ needs – different brand promises. We respect our customers and their choices of brand. We shouldn’t discriminate any brand promises, just as we don’t discriminate any customer needs or brand choices. All brand promises should be treated equally.

2. Create values for customers. For instance, the best prices for furniture of IKEA and the Third Place of Starbucks. These values are created through Value Exchange.

Some CX experts say they just want peaks and no valleys. Are they so lacking in common and business senses to comprehend the fact that “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”? There ain’t no peaks without valleys.

3. Achieve business results. For instance, first-time purchase (acquisition), repeat purchase (retention) and referral (positive word-of-mouth).

Different brands have non-identical business drivers. For example, the No. 1 repeat purchase driver of IKEA is ‘Product pricing’ [note 5] while for Louis Vuitton it is the ‘Exclusive feel of wearing/owning LV products’ [note 6]. ‘Service’ isn’t always a business driver.

Therefore, excluding ‘pricing’ and ‘product’ from CX can be a big mistake. A brand could miss out on two important business drivers by doing so. ‘Price’ and ‘product’ shouldn’t be left out.

The Double Standard of Conventional CX on Brand Promises

Many CX professionals are now wearing biased ‘service’ lenses to assess customer experiences. This gives rise to the double standards on:

  • Brand promises.
  • Valleys.
  • Peaks.

Brand promise doesn’t reckon without ‘service’. Brands with promises that account for ‘service’ are generally being honored, e.g. Ritz Carlton, Southwest Airlines and Lexus. In contrast, brands are mostly disregarded if their promises are irrelevant to ‘service’.

For instance, certain CX experts openly, and disrespectfully, express that brands compete purely on ‘price’ are “commodities”, “just utilities” and “won’t survive for long.” Here, brand promises are treated unequally.

The Double Standard of Conventional CX on Valleys

Figure 3: Emotion Curve of the Starbucks In-Store Experience

Based on 715 responses from the North America consumers through the global Starbucks research [note 7], we generate their Emotion Curve in figure 3. ‘Price’ is the most severe pain point out of the total 26 sub-processes and attributes.

Figure 4: Emotion Curve of the Louis Vuitton In-Store Experience

With reference to 2,318 respondents – the customers of Louis Vuitton who had purchased at least once – from a global research [note 8], ‘price’ is the valley out of 27 attributes and sub-processes of the shopping experience displayed in figure 4.

Why are most CX professionals crying out to address any pain points related to ‘service’, but turning a deaf ear to deal with the ‘price’ valleys like Starbucks’ and Louis Vuitton’s?

Valley doesn’t matter without ‘service’. This is the reason why the ‘service’ related pain points of IKEA and ULCCs (ultra-low cost carriers) have long been criticized, and the ‘price’ valleys of premium brand like Starbucks and luxurious brand such as Louis Vuitton are rarely a concern.

Since the ‘non-service’ valleys are always out of sight: There are no other valleys; they are all ‘service’ valleys.

The Double Standard of Conventional CX on Peaks

Sukiyabashi Jiro generates numerous valleys: accept no walk-ins, reservations have to be made months in advance, located in the basement of an office building, with a modest wooden counter and only 10 tables in the entire establishment, no choice for menu, very limited time for meal, steep prices and bad service. Jiro focuses all their resources to make the world’s best sushi (product) for their diners.

Ryanair adds a price tag on almost everything, e.g. excess baggage, credit card usage and a small bottle of water. They eliminate seatback pockets, blankets and airsickness bags, provide very tight leg-room and serve no free in-flight meals. They adopt mean policies like no-refund and limited airport transportation. Ryanair channels all these savings to offer the cheapest airfares (price) for their passengers.

Jiro and Ryanair have delivered their brand promises, created significant values for customers via Value Exchange, and achieved the business results that might make all of their competitors envious [note 9]. Their Branded Peaks – the world’s best sushi and cheapest airfares – are strikingly apparent. Why aren’t they good CX?

Peak doesn’t count without ‘service’. It explains why brands like Zappos and Virgin Atlantic are being praised as the best CX practices – as their peaks are about ‘service’ – yet Jiro and Ryanair would be labeled as bad CX because their respective peaks, ‘product’ and ‘pricing’, have nothing to do with ‘service’.

As the ‘non-service’ peaks are not being recognized: There are no other peaks; they are all ‘service’ peaks.

In respect of customer experience evaluation, these double standards are exactly the opposite of the objective approach of a Real CX.

* This is the second article of the “Stop Practicing the Conventional Customer Experience Management” series. There is a total of five articles in this series.

    1. Stop Practicing the Conventional Customer Experience Management – Part 1
    2. Stop Practicing the Conventional Customer Experience Management – Part 2
    3. Stop Practicing the Conventional Customer Experience Management – Part 3
    4. Stop Practicing the Conventional Customer Experience Management – Part 4
    5. Stop Practicing the Conventional Customer Experience Management – Part 5

A reminder to the audience: I run a CX certification program which may have conflict of interest with other CX training providers. Readers are advised to take this fact into consideration when judging the objectivity of my arguments presented in this article.


1. For purposes of consistency and simplicity, in this article and the other articles in this series, the term ‘brand promise’ also covers brand value, brand purpose, value proposition and jobs-to-be-done. They all fulfill a similar cause: Create values for customers.

2. For ease of understanding, in this article and the other articles in this series, the term ‘customer needs’ is consolidated into three major categories: 1) ‘Service’ – such as service manner, professionalism, personalized service, self-service, relationship, convenience, speed, fun and caring; 2) ‘Product’ – like product quality, varieties, features, user-friendliness and product image; and 3) ‘Pricing’.

3. Global Starbucks In-store Customer Experience Research, Global CEM and CustomerThink (U.S.), September-October 2007; Global IKEA In-store Customer Experience Research, Global CEM, CustomerThink (U.S.) and TOTE-M (Netherlands), December 2008-February 2009; Global Louis Vuitton In-store Customer Experience Research, Global CEM and CustomerThink (U.S.), October 2008: Mainland China B2B Purchase Experience (IT Solution) Research, Global CEM and CustomerCentric Selling (U.S.), July-August 2007.

4. There are five types of valleys: 1) Inspirational Valley: By solving it, you can create innovative solution, product or business model. 2) Unnecessary Valley: There is little or no value generated for customers; customers suffer for nothing. 3) Good Valley: By allowing it, your Branded Peak can be further enhanced. 4) Bad Valley: When the Good Valley falls to a level deemed unacceptable by your target customers, it becomes a Bad Valley. 5) De-Branded Valley: The attribute (valley) is supposed to be the pleasure peak because it reflects your brand promise. To conclude, only the Good Valley should be allowed. For the remains, you should either solve, minimize, or eliminate, and spend different level of resource addressing them.

5. Global IKEA In-store Customer Experience Research, Global CEM, CustomerThink (U.S.) and TOTE-M (Netherlands), December 2008-February 2009.

6. Global Louis Vuitton In-store Customer Experience Research, Global CEM and CustomerThink (U.S.), October 2008.

7. Global Starbucks In-store Customer Experience Research, Global CEM and CustomerThink (U.S.), September-October 2007.

8. Global Louis Vuitton In-store Customer Experience Research, Global CEM and CustomerThink (U.S.), October 2008.

9. Ryanair has been one of the world’s most profitable airlines for years. In 2016, Ryanair was both the largest European airline by scheduled passengers carried, and the busiest international airline by passenger numbers. (Wikipedia, 4 March 2018). Sukiyabashi Jiro has earned and kept three Michelin stars for years. See Oldest Michelin Three Star Chef – Guinness World Records, retrieved 8 March 2018, from The place is so famous that former U.S. President Barack Obama asked to dine there during his visit to Japan in 2014. See David Jackson, Obama: ‘That’s some good sushi right there.’ (USA Today, 23 April 2014).


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