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Customer Experience: Just Another Catch-Phrase?

I am dating myself, but back in the late 80’s I authored a strategic plan for a major financial institution brazenly titled “Relationship Banking for the 90’s” and I went on to present my observations and predictions at conferences throughout North America.  In fact, what I was talking about was having more of a 1-to-1 relationship with customers.  Not a novel concept to the tailor on the street corner or the grocer next door.

Customer Experience

In the late 90’s, my brother, who works in the technology sector, talked with great enthusiasm about this revolutionary new concept “CRM – Customer Relationship Management” or the ability for us to know our customers at each point of contact.   At the time I was President of Wunderman’s “Customer Relationship Center”.  Everywhere you turned you heard about the importance of CRM and money was flowing to fund massive technology-based undertakings.  In fact, CRM-like technology was already well-entrenched in banking by the early 90’s (recall “CIF -- Customer Information File”).  The elusive goal was (still) to truly know and understand our customers so we could serve them better … and ultimately win their loyalty.

So, forgive my skepticism when I see suppliers and customers alike hitching their carts to the “Customer Experience” bandwagon.  Those of us who have worked in customer service have been focused on removing ‘pain points’ from our processes and products for years.  Those of us who have worked in sales understand the critical importance of removing barriers to purchase.  The flowcharts may not be as pretty, but we have been building ‘customer journey maps’ and measuring key success factors for decades.  ‘Customer centricity’ and the ‘effortless experience’ have the same underpinnings as did ‘Service Quality’ and ‘Service Excellence’ of the 80’s and 90’s.  Granted, we are so much better at these things than we were 20 years ago … as we should be.  And I can appreciate that by labeling something as a ‘CX’ initiative we provide it with renewed attention and perhaps much-needed funding.

I am often asked about the creation of a dedicated CXO – Customer Experience Officer role within an organization.  This is my question in return:  “Is this not the responsibility of leadership within every business unit?”  I find the real value of a centralized effort around CX to be an organizing framework for coordinating cross-functional, cross-channel initiatives.  Coupling this enabling support function with the requirement that every business leader has a large part of their bonus tied to customer loyalty metrics tends to get the job done!

For me the real value of this latest Customer Experience trend is that it requires us to look at our business and what we do from the perspective of the customer.  Seeing things from the customer’s perspective without the filter of history or internal barriers is challenging.  Diminishing customer loyalty demands that we reflect on the ‘stupid’ things we ask customers to endure to do business with us and fix them.  That’s when bringing in a third party with a fresh set of eyes can help.  

See things from the customer’s perspective.  Bring a empathy to your customer interactions.  Make things easier.  Measure the things that matter most to customers.  For these long-pursued and noble goals I say: “Long live the era of Customer Experience!”