The term Customer Experience was coined in 1994 by Lewis Carbone. Since then, it has grown from relative obscurity to a fully fledged discipline. It is now taught at postgraduate level in universities, with recognised professional certifications and global governing bodies. 

However the rising awareness of the term CX has also led to the term being misused and misunderstood. Some well-intentioned but uninformed businesses want in on the action. But quite frankly, they don’t know their CX from their elbow.

As a result, benchmarking for CX roles is nigh on impossible. CX is applied to job titles ranging from serving customers at a supermarket checkout, to customer service administration, through to executives leading CX efforts at C-Suite level.

As the term has become so diluted and misapplied, practitioners and even CX specialist recruiters themselves are leaning away from the term in droves. ‘Service design’ and ‘human-centred design’ are new titles often used, commanding high day rates and status. 

Whether we describe ourselves as CX specialists, service designers or human centred designers, what these terms share in common is describing a way to design organisations, products and services around the needs of the humans who will be using them. 

However, if we are going to be using new terminology, then even further evolution is needed. We need to go beyond human-centred design.

Taking a holistic and ecological view on human experiences  

A core part of our role as CX professionals is to de-silo and orchestrate disparate functions around a common cause. And now we need to de-silo the idea of human need to take a more holistic and ecological view. 

Some humans feel a need to compete with fast fashion. Some feel a need to vape disposable e-cigarettes that taste like cherry. Others want to have food and drink in disposable containers. 

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs says we all want nourishment, shelter, safety and love. However, these needs can be misused by advertisers and organisations seeking to perpetuate more of their products without questioning their impact on wellbeing and thewider world’s. For example, a study found that e-cigarette advertising in the USA commonly used themes such as friendship, sex and success to appeal to customers. Together with the marketing of candy flavoured and cheap e-cigarettes, usage has risen among vulnerable populations. 14% of American teenagers and 9% of British 11 – 15 year olds are now vaping habitually.

Due to the aim to increase customer lifetime value at any cost, we have organisations churning out disposable shoes, clothing, packaging and e-cigarettes that will deplete precious limited resources, destroy rainforests, and fill up landfills. To add insult to injury, the waste created by developed countries is often exported to developing countries where it becomes their problem to deal with. 

We cannot afford to have such an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach when it comes to leading our CX initiatives. For example, fashion is one of the most environmentally destructive industries, yet customers largely do not care. Only 22% of adults surveyed think fast fashion is a bad thing. A survey of UK consumers found that 72% make fashion decisions based on comfort, and only 17% consider sustainability. 

As CX practitioners, we work to understand and meet customer needs. However the customer is quite frankly not always right.  We need to consider our effect on the planet and on all humans. Customers cannot be put on a pedestal. Frankly, some of what they want is not for their good – whether it be fashion that pollutes the planet, or the drive to have the newest gadget, disposing of functional ones in the need to keep up with the Joneses. It is our job not to fulfil customers’ every whim but to find a healthier and more sustainable channel to fulfil or redirect their needs.

This is what it means to de-silo human centred design. We need to think about which humans we are serving and the wider effects of fulfilling that need. 

Taking care of customers means taking care of the planet  

As a result, we need to go beyond metrics like customer lifetime value or customer retention, acquisition and loss. Because again – what is the value of gaining a customer, if it is killing our planet? 

This is something that organisations cannot afford to avoid – well, not if they want to be able to sleep at night. Because ultimately, what purpose is it to increase short-term profits, if it contributes to an environmental apocalypse? We CX practitioners, with our skill of bringing diverse groups of people together around a common cause are well placed to make a difference – and we must, for the sake of our planet, our global community, and our conscience.

CX action steps towards a healthier and more equal planet  

What is a CX practitioner to do? Here are some actionable takeaways:

1. Analyse the sustainability claims made by brands

Do they stand up to reality, or is our brand complicit in greenwashing? Being ruthlessly honest with yourself is the first step. Ambiguous words associated with greenwashing include sustainable, eco-friendly, recycled, natural and organic. Research shows that customers are savvy to greenwashing and 78% of consumers want to buy from more sustainable companies. 

2. Seek relevant third party certification to enhance trust and bring credibility to environmental claims

3. Review the customer journey in terms of the impact on the wider global ecosystem at each stage

A brand promise is meaningless without the customer experience which fulfils that promise in reality. What is the gap between the stated intention, and the actual effect on the environment, resources and global communities?

4. Illustrate the ‘green customer journey’ with storytelling, anecdotes and data

Qualitative data like case studies following the route of our product (or the manufacturing methods) will help bring the emotion to life, while data around the wider global impact will illustrate why these are not isolated incidents.

5. Make senior leaders aware of the risk of not being socially and ecologically responsible

A brand could go down in flames if customers discover that it contributes to deforestation, ocean pollution and climate change.

6. Lead on an organisational level

This will also make you stand out from the pack in your industry. Research shows that waiting for consumers to take action is not sufficient to resolve issues around plastics, pollution, and climate change. So we cannot let the mantra of ‘customer demand’ allow us to be lax on this issue. In some cases, we need to lead the customers to what they want. People may not know it, but what we want and need is something that takes us beyond human centred design, to a planetary solution.

What do you think the next iteration of our job titles should be – planetary experience leaders? Tell us your suggestions. But whatever you do, don’t send it via airmail – I don’t want the carbon footprint.   

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