Whose Experience is it Anyway?

I’d like to emphasize a point I’ve made in earlier posts.  Your company does not have a customer experience… only your customers do.  Although it might seem like this is splitting hairs, we’ve come to realize that the distinction is critical.  The moment you start talking about “our company’s customer experience” attention gets focused on what we do rather than how customers experience things. 

Our working definition of experience is:  How people think and feel as they follow an end-to-end process intended to accomplish goals and satisfy needs that are important to them.

There are a couple of very important implications of this definition:

  • Understanding the customer experience requires an understanding of how customers conceive of what they’re trying to accomplish and what’s important to them.  There is almost always a significant disconnect between the customers’ perspective on their goals and a provider’s beliefs about the customers’ goals.  For example:
    • An automobile insurer might assume that customers buy insurance to “transfer risk in exchange for a premium.” However, the customer may really feel that the goal is to have the insurance company “erase an unexpected mishap.” As a result, the insurance company might do a brilliant job of transferring risk… but fall far short of meeting the customers’ emotional needs regarding erasing a mishap.
    • A jewelry retailer might assume that their customers are interested in an effective jewelry buying experience, while the customer might see their goals as “giving a gift that represents a positive and mutually satisfying investment in a relationship that I care about.” As a result, the retailer might do a great job of selling jewelry but miss the opportunity to really innovate a great experience around what the customer is trying to accomplish.
    • A moving company might believe the customers’ goals are to move their belongings from one place to another. The customer sees their goal as reducing the stress and uncertainty of relocating his family.
  • The customers experience does not just happen at a providers touchpoints.  This point was covered in detail in a previous post.  However, the short story is that the customer may have to navigate and integrate a wide range of activities in order to satisfy his or her needs.  Only some of these activities involve any contact with a given provider.  A provider that just focuses on their touchpoints with the customer is generally only able to make incremental improvements in the quality of the customers’ experience.  The more significant opportunity to innovate a significantly better experience comes from a deeper understanding of the customers’ experience at the non-touchpoints.
  • The actually customer experience is “how the customer thinks and feels” as they navigate their process in an attempt to address their goals.  An overwhelmingly important part of this is how the customer feels.  As Buck Rogers, VP Marketing for IBM between 1974 and 1984 observed, “People buy emotionally and justify with logic.”  If you want to understand the customers’ experience, think about how your business makes them feel.  How they feel has an overwhelming impact on what the customer ends up thinking and, ultimately, how they end up behaving

Outstanding experiences have much more to do with the transference of emotion than the exchange of rational value!!!

  • Finally, you can’t design the customers’ experience.  You can only design what you do in a way that positive and highly effective customer experiences emerge.  One of the best ways to think about designing for emergence is captured in the work of the visionary architect, Chris Alexander, who in his book “A Pattern Language” describes how an effective architect organizes physical space in a way that generates specific compelling experiences. For example, how an architect can create a town square specifically designed for the emergence of a “Dancing in the Street” experience or a compelling “Sidewalk Café” experience.  Similarly, the open design of platforms like Second Life, Facebook, and MySpace were effective because they created the conditions that allow for the emergence of positive and engaging customer experiences.

This can be summed up in one major point:

Creating the conditions for outstanding experiences results from… designing from the mental model of the experiencer… not the mental model of the provider!

One Response

  1. Frank, I couldn’t agree with you more.

    As a sales trainer, it pains me to see salespeople who are selling, say, the “quality of their product” when what the particular consumer wants to buy is, let’s say, membership in a particular social or economic group. A BMW, for example, is a well-engineered quality automobile. But a particular customer’s motivation to buy that automobile might be that it’s purchase allows them to become a member of the group of people who own BMW automobiles. Those are two completely different needs: a need for belonging versus a need for quality. In selling, salespeople would be well-served to understand the emotional basis for each prospect’s interest in their product or service.

    I think your post was talking more about a brand, but I believe most of what you talk about is also relative to the sales interaction as well.

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