What It Means When “Customer Experience” Appears In Marketing And Advertising

I waited until the last minute to get my car inspected this year. It was a Sunday, so my usual service station was closed. Luckily, the Firestone near my house was open and had availability. I was happy just to find a place, but the folks at Firestone made me happier by delivering a positive experience from end to end — clean store, polite service guy, clear expectations about timing, and a call to make sure I wanted to replace a rear brake light bulb. Then, when I went to pay, a message on the self-pay screen reinforced the idea that I had gotten a good experience. It read, “Committed to providing a positive customer experience, every time.” Naturally, I was glad to see the company making this commitment — and actually living up to it. I also got a chuckle out of the message, imagining the boardroom discussions that led to it appearing in front of me. And that got me thinking . . .

What does it mean when companies use the term “customer experience” when they’re talking to actual customers?

I’ve noticed this happening more and more over the past year or so, not in my research but in my life as a customer. Firestone’s not alone. AT&T uses “customer experience” on its website. Amica uses it in a TV ad. What does this trend mean? To me, two things:

  1. More companies are interested in customer experience. We already know that customer experience is a growing area of focus for companies, but seeing the term seep into marketing and advertising is just more evidence of this phenomenon. At the very least, it shows that companies think that their customers desire good experiences — versus just low prices or good products — and that companies feel the need to address the desire somehow.
  2. Many companies are missing the point. If customer experience is just a marketing slogan, that’s obviously a problem. But, for now, let’s blissfully assume that the companies citing “customer experience” externally are sincerely committed to it. Those companies are still missing the point. Everyday customers don’t use the term “customer experience” — not in my experience, anyway. When I tell people I work in this area, they say: “So is that like marketing?” Me: “Not really. I help companies understand and improve the way they treat customers.” Them: “So like customer service?” Me: “Yup.” Then we move on . . . Unless I’m dead wrong and customers actually do think about their “customer experiences,” the companies using this term externally are still thinking inside-out. They’re taking their own internal ideas and pushing them out to customers. And that’s a problem.

To deliver great customer experiences, companies need to change how they think and act, approaching issues from their customers’ perspectives. The appearance of “customer experience” in marketing and adverting is a sign that companies haven’t made that change. It might be well intentioned, but it’s not customer-centric.


Actions are Louder than Words

"If you have to say it, chances are it isn’t true.” – Bill Maher

I'll skip the first part of this quote, but somehow it's very relevant to the topic.

What's the Tell?

Interesting post. For consumers/customers, I think being able to figure out whether the commitment to customer experience is just a marketing slogan or a deeper commitment from the company could be very useful.

Perhaps an easy way to figure this out when you are a customer/consumer of a company making claims about it's commitment to Customer Experience is is to ask an employee about the slogan or the sign. If their face immediately glazes over, and they aren't sure what you're talking about, you can be pretty sure that the company you're working with has not in fact made substantive changes.

If they employee instead offers further context to the slogan, and how it impacts the way they do their job, or the way their measured, then the slogan or sign is likely just part of a broader initiative.

Hilarious quote -- and good suggestion

Raelin: That quote is hilarious. I did a quick search to find the context...and I thank you for omitting that here... Seriously, though, I agree that the idea applies to this situation. If it's true, you probably don't need to say it. But you might make more friends if you do say it, just by getting the word out.

Sam: I think that's a great suggestion. I'm going to start doing it. Being an analyst has already made me a thorn in the customer-facing employee's side -- I never criticize individuals, but I always ask why, rarely take no for an answer, and end up speaking to a solid number of supervisors. Time to add one more thing to the list...

Since this blog post got a lot of responses on Twitter, I started a discussion in the Forrester online community for customer experience pros to probe the question: What's the right way to communicate with customers about your company's customer experience efforts? Please join the discussion here: http://forr.com/TellCXEfforts.

If you have to say it ...

I used Sam's technique a few years back when opening an account at BoA. I recited almost verbatim the lines for a ubiquitous TV ad touting no fees for anything, and the bank manager looked at me like I had three heads. I should have used that as my cue to bail, cause I've been paying obnoxious fees ever since. I agree with Andrew's point that using the internal terminology for customer-facing activities smacks more of slick marketing than actual customer experience. It's like Home Depot promoting itself as the "customer-centric" home improvement warehouse. That won't exactly resonate with customers. As Raelin points out, if you have to talk about it, you're not offering the best customer experience. As Compuware's Richard Stone points out in his blog post, Gone in 6 Seconds (http://bit.ly/cloudsleuth), the 1 in 3 online shoppers who abandon a website that doesn't load in less than 6 seconds, would hardly consider what they had a "customer experience" and they are going to be someone else's customer. As you say, companies need to change how they deliver their products and services, putting themselves in their customers’ shoes, and keep the internal business buzz phrases to themselves.