The term customer experience has in the past few years gained wide adoption. Its promise to drive business growth and the numerous stories of how successful organizations deliver an exceptional customer experience has made it one of the most used new terms in business today.

Under pressure from the shareholders to increase the value of their organization, many CEOs are looking at ways to leverage customer experience. But with the increasing popularity of the term also comes confusion on its definition. And unfortunately, for those who don’t already understand the breadth and complexity of managing the customer experience, grasping what it means, let alone implementing it as an organization-wide practice, is becoming increasingly difficult.

While early adopters and practitioners have been striving to define and implement customer experience as a cross-departmental, multichannel and organization-wide concern, many others have started throwing the term around liberally at any practice.

Customer experience is in fact being used to describe so many different things that it is effectively becoming meaningless; customer service, marketing, sales, branding, social media, Voice of the Customer (VOC), CRM, ERP, Web, mobile, and the list goes on. Although any of these, when applied well, can contribute to a better understanding of the customer or to help enhance the customer experience at individual channels, none individually constitute holistic customer experience management.

Adding to the confusion are numerous conferences claiming to be about total customer experience while focusing on only one channel such as social media or customer service. Some software vendors are even given themselves the authority to offer certification in customer experience management. And organizations that look up to these hoping to solve all their customer experience will be in for a disappointment.

Customer experience management is not about any single activity, but it is about fitting them all in a coherent framework that places ongoing actual enhancements to the customer experience at the center. It is ultimately about delivering a relevant and differentiated value consistently at every channel and touch-point.

This misunderstanding of customer experience is leading to a widening gulf in the customer experience delivered between organizations, providing the advantage to those that understand and have a genuine commitment to managing the customer experience holistically to further differentiate themselves from those who don’t.

Rarely can organizations implement every aspect of customer experience at once, and many will focus first on fixing experience breakpoints. But whether all-in at once or taking it one step at a time, for any customer experience management effort to be sustainable requires customer-centricity to be embedded deep inside the corporate philosophy and to permeate the organization at every level.

And for this to happen, belief and commitment to customer centricity must come from the CEO and be supported by senior management.

Without this commitment from the top, engaging employees in delivering a better customer experience consistently is difficult, if not impossible. All employees across the organization, and not only front-line staff, play a role in shaping the customer experience. And after all, if employees feel senior management does not care about the customer experience, why would they?

Admittedly, some CEOs either do not believe in the long-term benefits of delivering a better customer experience, or, having a short-term profit focus, are simply not interested. But often pressed by board member and shareholders who are interested in the promised returns of enhancing the customer experience, some will feign a new direction in customer centricity. And knowing that few understand what it is (which they would be forgiven for, given the confusion) and fewer still will look into the details, these CEOs will pay lip service to customer experience in internal and external communications without any commitment. Some may even use customer experience as an empty promise to help enhance shareholder confidence and raise funds.

And this is where the gulf in customer experience is at its widest.

Without commitment, promising a focus on the customer widens the gap between expectations and delivery. This leads to disappointment for shareholders, who will not see the long-term financial returns expected, and for customers whose experience below expectations will be perceived as worse than if not promise was made in the first place.

This may explain why some of the most successful, and most loved companies do not try to differentiate themselves with a promise of better customer experience, but instead focus on the actual delivery of it.

David Jacques

David Jacques is Founder and Principal Consultant of Customer input Ltd and a pioneer in the field of Customer Experience Management. He created the first holistic Customer Experience Management Framework and consults for companies in multiple industries in implementing their own practice across their organization. He is passionate about understanding the drivers of customer behaviour and creating innovative solutions to enhance the customer experience between all channels and touch-points.

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