What the Hell is Customer Experience?


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How ingrained is the customer and his perspective in your company’s DNA?

I recently came across an article/speech by the late David Foster Wallace; it starts with the following story.

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

David Foster Wallace’s interpretation of this story is: the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about.

While I don’t disagree with that, my interpretation is: we have forgotten about the water because it’s what we “live” or “live in” every day. It’s just natural for us and not something we think about.

That translates nicely to customer focus and to delivering a consistently great customer experience.

I believe that every company should strive to achieve this level of customer experience maturity, where we look at each other every day and say, “What the hell is customer experience?” Why are we even talking about customer-focus or customer-centricity or customer listening or improving the customer experience? It’s ridiculous. It should be what every company lives and breathes every day. There should be no concerns over executive buy-in or battles to build a business case and prove return on investment. This is a no-brainer.

Instead, we have companies/executives that…

  • still need to be sold on employees first, customers second, shareholders third
  • focus more on acquisition than on retention
  • share nothing but sales metrics in company meetings
  • sell things they shouldn’t sell, just to make your numbers
  • focus solely on making their numbers
  • talk about nothing but sales metrics in executive meetings
  • don’t listen to their customers
  • or listen to customers but don’t act on the feedback (only listen to check a box)
  • don’t make decisions based on what’s best for customers
  • don’t include some reference to customers in job descriptions for customer-facing positions
  • don’t train employees on what it means to deliver a great customer experience
  • don’t teach employees how to deliver a great customer experience
  • don’t create a clear line of sight for employees to the customer so that they understand their roles in, or contributions to, delivering a great customer experience
  • don’t communicate their brand promise to employees
  • don’t communicate openly and transparently with employees
  • who then can’t live the brand promise and deliver on it
  • don’t explain their vision or purpose to employees
  • don’t understand customers or their needs
  • listen to customers but only focus on the metrics, not on improving the experience
  • develop products without understanding customer needs
  • are focused on shareholder value
  • don’t make the employee experience a priority
  • don’t hire the right people 
  • don’t celebrate achievements or customer experience greatness
  • have siloed organizations
  • … and the list could go on…

What’s the purpose of a business? To create (and to nurture) a customer. Enough said. Everyone should be marching to those orders. Every decision we make should focus on and lead to that outcome. First.

When customer-thinking is part of your culture, when delivering a great customer experience is ingrained in the DNA, when everyone speaks “customer,” then you’ve achieved the “What the hell is water?” level of customer experience maturity. Here’s to hoping that that’s not too far off for your company.

When you’re trying to make an important decision, and you’re sort of divided on the issue, ask yourself: If the customer were here, what would she say? -Dharmesh Shah

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Annette Franz
Annette Franz is founder and Chief Experience Officer of CX Journey Inc. She is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, consultant, and speaker. She has 25+ years of experience in helping companies understand their employees and customers in order to identify what makes for a great experience and what drives retention, satisfaction, and engagement. She's sharing this knowledge and experience in her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the "Customer" in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business).


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