Why Can’t We Get Customer Experience Right?


Share on LinkedIn

Customer experience won't work if we make technology the priority. Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash
Customer experience won’t work if we make technology the priority. Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

For all the time, money, and effort invested in customer experience (CX), businesses are still doing a lot to annoy their customers.

Think about. Frustrating phone menus, excruciating hold times, and requests to repeat information when you call customer service. Dynamic products ads for items you want but cannot buy because they are out of stock. Personalized emails inviting you to buy the exact article of clothing you just bought.

And the list goes on.

"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," said Chris Spears, co-founder and Chief Marketing Technology Officer at Arke.

Technology Isn't Everything

Somewhere along the road to excellent customer experience, we've made an unfortunate detour — one that arguably elevates technology at the expense of the needs of people. The evidence is all around us.

As Anita Brearton, founder, CEO and co-CMO of CabinetM, wrote recently, "Technology is required to support customer experience goals and is a tremendous enabler. But taken alone, it is not valuable. It’s what we do with the technology that is important."

Today we have unparalleled ways to connect with your customers. On the surface, that's good because customers have never been more demanding, connected, or empowered. But success doesn't come from the quick adoption of every new technology.

It comes from creating deep, meaningful relationships with your customers, Spears said. "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?'" he said.

Put People First

Technology doesn’t operate in a vacuum, and no matter how great the solution, there is always someone needed behind the curtain to help create the magic.

"So put people first," Spears said. "Ask, 'How can we connect with our customers? How can we do more for them — and everyone else associated with our brand?'"

It's a powerful and increasingly relevant question for companies committed to exceptional brand experience.

Just last month, Bruce Temkin, managing partner of the Waban, Mass.-based Temkin Group, labeled 2018 as "The Year of Humanity."

The Temkin Group is a customer experience research, consulting, and training firm. Every year, it selects a theme that it sees as particularly important for the customer experience community. In earlier years, the focus has been on Empathy, Employees, Emotion, and Purpose.

This year the Temkin Group wants people to better connect with customers by

  • Embracing diversity
  • Extending compassion
  • Expressing appreciation

"With all the discord and tension throughout the world, it seems like a good time for all of us to refocus on what's most important, our collective humanity," Temkin said.

Relationships Drive Customer Experience

Chevron Chairman and CEO John S. Watson drove home the point about valuing people in business in a recent article on LinkedIn. After 37 years at Chevron, he's retiring Feb. 1. If he could start his career over, what’s the one thing he’d do differently? Build relationships early and recognize how important people are to business.

"During my early years in the company, I was fairly analytical in how I approached most situations. And although that served a purpose, I later realized that you can be much more effective if you recognize the importance of people in business. The sooner you learn about reading people, listening to others and building relationships, the sooner you will be more effective," he wrote.

When it’s all said and done, what really matters?

Do people care about the latest and greatest digital tools or the newest technologies? Or do they really care about outcomes — that is, how an organization improves their lives?

Obviously, people want empathy, compassion, understanding and the hope, if even unstated, of support when it’s needed. They want human connections and great experiences that make them feel valued and respected.

Apple founder Steve Jobs knew that. As he said in 1997, "You‘ve got to start with the customer experience and work backward to the technology."

It's a good lesson to remember.

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.


  1. You’re definitely onto something here, Noreen, when you talk about putting people before technology. I think half the problem is that too many companies wrongly think that they ARE doing something when they equate DX with CX.

    Over the holidays, I had three online purchasing experiences that went horribly wrong and in all three cases, after exhausting my efforts to reach out digitally, it ended up being a customer service rep who listened to me, really heard my frustration and went above and beyond to implement a human fix.

    In all of the transactions above, CX wasn’t so much improving my life as bringing it back to equilibrium but hey … talking to humans felt like progress to me!

  2. Thanks for sharing, Sherry. I agree. Technology should enhance the human touch by automating manual tasks and opening the door to more communication. Instead, it’s too often used as a replacement.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here