What Customer Experience Does–And Doesn’t–Mean


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Given the prevalence of “customer experience” as a desired competitive differentiator, business discipline, and value driver, you’d think it would be easy to define–and that a common understanding of what it means would be immediately at hand. Think again.

Today, customer experience is used with the same reverence as other business watch words like “innovation,” “brand,” and “strategy.” Everyone knows they need to do it–and that they need to do it well.

Which is really hard to do when it appears to mean different things to different people and the organizations they work for.

For example, I recently received an email with a subject line asking, “Is customer experience management a priority for your organization in 2016 … ?” And the payoff was that if so, I’d better buy some affiliate marketing management software. I know I was confused.

And as you can see by the customer experience jobs on offer below, customer experience-related titles cover a wide range of responsibilities. From retail tire sales to user experience design, it’s clear that customer experience means different things to different organizations.

Some of these jobs (e.g., senior architect and director of customer experience) are about designing and delivering CX at an organizational level–jobs related to customer experience management. Yet many conflate customer experience with marketing, product management, customer service, and more. All are about managing or delivering the impressions that a company wants to make, based on “inside-out” views of the customer.

For the most part, they describe roles that are centric to the company or product (versus the customer). Customer experience, on the other hand, is by its nature an “outside-in” view of an organization–looking at the process of interacting with your firm and the relationship it has with you from the perspective of the customer.

Simply stated:

  • Customer experience is how customers feel as a result of doing business with your company. It lives between the ears of your customer and is defined by them.
  • Customer experience management is the process of designing, delivering, and reacting to customer interactions in ways that meet or exceed customer expectations.

In other words, customer experience is driven by the customer’s perception. Customer experience management is what companies do to ensure they have the right people, processes, information, and technology in place to better deliver on customer expectations. As for the rest? Marketing is, well, marketing. Sales is sales and service, service. By confusing the meaning of and role for customer experience, the end goal of becoming customer-centric isn’t helped. At all.

The point of this article isn’t to try and shift the tide of conversation around customer experience and the ways it is being used, misused, and confused in the marketplace (though that would be nice!), but to help communicate and reinforce the understanding that your company doesn’t define customer experience. Customers do. As a company, your job is to understand and manage it.

So what can you do? Make it a priority to understand what it is your customers feel–and why. And assess and develop the series of capabilities that will allow your company–in a consistent, systematic, and scalable manner–to design and predictably deliver the kinds of experiences that actually do differentiate you from the competition, driving customer loyalty and value as a result.

For companies to truly succeed at the discipline of customer experience management, they need to first define what that means and what they wish to achieve as a result. As nice as it would be, simply saying the words or changing a job tile (or two) won’t make the customer experience any better.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. Touché . . . now if we could just get everyone to agree and cut down on the clutter and confusion. . .

  2. Michael, I couldn’t agree with you more. I work with a lot of call centers whose agents hear from dozens of callers each day exactly how they feel about their experience. However, in many of these call centers the management team has no vehicle for the agents to communicate this feedback. Companies have a built in barometer of the customer’s experience for all types of interactions but the customer’s outside in perspective is being lost. It confirms to me that many of these companies do not have a solid definition of their preferred, competitive customer experience. If they did, they would be listening to these contact center agents.

  3. Very well put Michael! Its true that too often CX is referred to in terms of ‘inside-out’ activity. Understanding the world from the customer’s perspectives and letting that be your guide for finding ways to stand out is the only approach that really pays off.

  4. While understanding the key points being made here, I’d respectfully suggest that customer experience is both outside-in and inside-out. From my perspective, conceptualizing experience and leading/managing for experience are considerably more than just design, delivery, and reaction and then expecting customers to feel, and act, in certain ways.. Holistically, experience also means strategically and longitudinally embedding the customer’s needs and values into the cultural DNA of the enterprise: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/where-how-does-humanity-impact-customer-experience-michael

  5. I think that one key concept is missing from the post and comments – the investment required to understand and manage your customer’s experience must yield an increase in revenue and profit such that there is a positive return on the investment. After all, CX is just not a nice thing to do, but it has to have a positive outcome for your business.

  6. While I agree, CX is just not the process of designing, delivering, and reacting to customer interactions but in changing mind sets and bringing in customericness at the top level and the front line.
    How can experience become a process?

  7. Hi Michael

    You are half right and by implication, half wrong.

    You are right when you say that the customer’s experience is his perception of his interactions with an organisation, its products, its people and its partners. But as Michael L says, that is only half of the picture. Just as it takes two to tango, it also takes two to have an experience.

    In most cases, it is the organisation that provides the means for the customer to interact with it. And in most cases the organisation wants something out of the interactions too, just like the customer does. You could say that both have their own jobs-to-be-done. The interactions and the resulting experience are just the means each uses to get their jobs done.

    If you only look at the customer experience from the customer’s perspective you are missing out on half of the picture, in all probability, much more than half of the picture.

    It is high time that we moved on from the simplistic notion that the customer experience is just about customers. It isn’t. It is about how mutual value is co-created during interactions between customers and the organisation. It is about customers AND the organisation.

    Graham Hill

  8. Thanks, all for your feedback – I agree with each of you.

    I think all these comments fall under the umbrella of a statement I made in the original article: “Your company doesn’t define customer experience. Customers do. As a company, your job is to understand and manage [the customer experience]”

    So, as CX professionals and practitioners, it’s our collective job to help organizations embrace the outside-in view of experience, and leverage the full set of inside-out capabilities to manage (and improve) it…


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