Friendly debates on the definition of customer experience never seem to end. They’re due in part to the conceptual nature of the topic, but most of the confusion can be attributed to the sheer size of the customer experience umbrella.
For example, take Colin Shaw‘s definition,
A Customer Experience is an interaction between an organization and a customer as perceived through a customer’s conscious and subconscious mind. It is a blend of an organization’s rational performance, the senses stimulated and emotions evoked and intuitively measured against customer expectations across all moments of contact.
It’s a good definition; it encompasses a lot (all moments of contact) and takes into account what I’ve deemed to be the three fundamentals of customer experience:
With that said, it’s still a lot to cover, especially if you’re in charge of managing it.
Luckily, this post isn’t about the definition of customer experience. It’s not about why you need it or where it happens. It’s not about what it is or when it occurs. This post is about:
How do you manage customer experience?
The three fundamental components of customer experience are the foundation for my answer. If you can understand and manage perception, expectations, and performance, then you’ll be well on your way to managing customer experience.
I wrote a post earlier this month about The Perception Baseline, where I underscored the impact that momentum and perception have on customer experience. At the end of the post, I asked an open-ended question,
If customer experience is all about perception, then what should we really be managing?
That question struck a chord with a few customer experience experts and eventually started the internal dialogue for this post.
There are two questions I considered, and the answer to both was the same:
Perception is crucial, but perception of what?
What is the number one thing customers want?
Every customer wants to believe their money is well spent. Whether it’s an $8 lunch or an $80,000 car, we all want value from our purchases. Companies that provide great value are also known for great customer experience. Why? Because their customers believe they’re spending wisely and receiving a benefit from their investment. Money is only one aspect of perceived value though. Customers also invest their precious time, emotion, and reputation in their interactions with you.
The primary metric for customer experience is the perceived value of a customer’s monetary and intangible investments.
Before we dive in further, it’s important to understand that the customer is interpreting the experience in order to give it meaning. Future interactions (with the company or with peers discussing the company) will be steered by their understanding of the experience. Their perceived value will be influenced by many things, some of which are in our control and some of which are not.
The root issue then becomes how we optimize the customer’s perception by managing the things we are in control of. I believe that the other two fundamentals, expectations and performance, are the key to managing this perceived value.
Meeting or exceeding expectations is crucial to any customer experience. That doesn’t mean we should under-promise and over-deliver. It means our messages should be authentic. We should be delivering messages that clearly reflect our capabilities and intentions. Hyping a product or service for more than its worth may get you more initial business, but it will degrade your reputation, lead to fewer repeat sales, and kill your referral engine. In his book, Rework, Jason Fried calls this being in media good versus at home good. In other words, the expectations we set up front will largely determine the long-term value of the purchase.
In Newton’s Law of Authenticity, I argued that the authenticity of our messages largely affects customers’ reactions. In fact, the messages we convey to our customers are the largest part of setting expectations. This is as true in mass-media advertising as it is in one-to-one customer support. We’re always sending messages, and the authenticity of those messages is what sets our customers’ expectations for future interactions.
While the authenticity of our messages and the resulting expectations are extremely important, they will always be measured against our performance and ability to deliver on them.
The ability to deliver on promises is paramount to customer experience. The performance of a company is one thing that can quickly set it apart from its competitors. However, the problem for most companies isn’t the ability to perform; it’s focusing on what aspects of the business they should be performing well in.
One thing I notice in most customer experience definitions (including Colin’s) is a phrase similar to:
…all points of contact…
I agree that each point of contact will have an effect on the experience, but that doesn’t mean you should try to perform heroically in all of them. It’d be nice if you could, but in the real world of business that’s rarely the case. In fact, I’d go so far to say that it’s never the case.
You should focus your energy on the core aspects of your business.
Customers will measure you based on how you perform in your core business. A software company should create great software. A trendy clothing company should sell the latest fashions. A TV network should produce entertaining shows. Each company has a core business. To meet and exceed the expectations you’ve set with your customers, perform especially well in your core business and provide exceptional service along the way.
Manage Customer Experience as Value
Customers are influenced by the perceived value of their investments in time, money, emotion, and reputation. The return on those investments shapes their customer experience throughout the various interactions they have with your company.
To manage the value you provide and the customer experience you desire, you can refer back to the three fundamentals:
Be aware and conscientious of the different facets of value: time, money, emotion, and reputation. Your customers will be measuring (both consciously and subconsciously as Colin tells us) the return you provide on them in every interaction.
Be authentic in your messages. Communicate clearly and truthfully about your intentions and capabilities. This paves the way for setting clear and attainable expectations.
Concentrate on the core aspects of your business. Your performance, measured against the expectations you have set, is the foundation for the value you provide. Focus on the things you can control, and perform exceptionally well at the things your business thrives on.
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