Stop getting CX wrong: Why conventional CX is just service-in-disguise


Customer experience initiatives have a high failure rate. Is it because they are too focused on serving customers better, at the expense of a more holistic approach to the customer experience?

12th Mar 2018

Why is there a high failure rate of customer experience (CX) initiatives? And why do most CEOs not buy into CX? Because CX professionals and companies are not practicing real CX.

Many CX professionals currently assess customer experience through the lens of biased ‘service’, and are becoming the "man with a hammer”: always adopting the “Serve Customers Better” approach to try to solve every CX problem their respective clients or companies face.

This 'conventional' approach to CX is just service-in-disguise. It is not Real CX.

What is Real CX, then? Well, in my opinion, Real CX should possess the following five attributes:

  1. It includes ‘product’ and ‘pricing’.
  2. It objectively assesses customer experiences.
  3. It renders non-biased solutions to CX problems.
  4. It can generate quick wins.
  5. Its role is strategic; not functional.

In this article, let's explore the first component. 

Real CX includes ‘product’ and ‘pricing’

Despite the various definitions of CX, they don’t differ much from what Forrester Research had suggested in 2010:“How customers perceive their interactions with your company.”

In 2015, Bob Thompson, CEO of CustomerThink Corp., raised the following question: “Does CX include product and price?” A dozen industry experts unanimously agreed that it does. Here are some quotes from them:

  • “CX management is what a company does to affect interactions for the purpose of altering (or maintaining) the perceptions of customers. CX management does encompass products and pricing.” Bruce Temkin, co-founder of CXPA
  • “CX is about the entire experience that a customer has. Therefore this includes pricing, product and anything else.” Colin Shaw, founder of Beyond Philosophy

Figure 1 - Starbucks


Figure 1: Emotion Curve of the Starbucks In-Store Experience

As early as 2006, when I mapped the Emotion Curve for the Starbucks in-store experience, the price of coffee is part of the journey (as shown in figure 1).

Figure 2 - Starbucks

Figure 2: What do you like the least about the Starbucks in-store experience?

In a global research [note 2], 3,865 repeat customers answered an open question stated in figure 2. ‘Price’ is the factor they like least about Starbucks.

In the customers’ mind, price is clearly an indispensable element in an experience, on top of the product itself (coffee). We have similar findings in other research [note 3].

Hence, a Real CX would never leave out ‘product’ and ‘pricing’.

Conventional CX is “service-in-disguise”

“By 2020 customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator.”

What’s wrong with this statement?

As CX includes pricing and product, it’s logically impossible for customer experience to compete with price and product. Makes no sense. Literally, that ‘experience’ isn’t experience but some ‘other’ thing. Bob Thompson responded:“In the earlier days of the CX movement, “experience” meant “interaction.” Something other than product or price.

"And the rationale for CX investment was (and still is, largely): “We can’t compete on product or price, so we’re going to differentiate based on customer experience!” What is that “other” thing — interactions of course.”

In the Harvard Business Review article Know the Difference between Customer Service and Customer Experience, Disney Institute’s senior programming director Bruce Jones stated: “Customer experience is about much more than just customer service. It is about fostering employee engagement. It is about truly understanding your customer, architecting a plan for delivering exceptional customer service, and then empowering employees to deliver it.”

Throughout the article, ‘product’ is barely mentioned and ‘pricing’ is completely forgotten. ‘Customer experience’ is by and large the expansion of ‘service’ – from a pure service environment branched out to cover every customer interaction, ranging from customer service staff to all personnel interactions with customers. Its core is “Serve Customers Better.” Approaches similar to Disney Institute’s are commonly found everywhere in the CX industry.

No matter what we call this – an expanded version of ‘service’, or customer interaction management (CIM) – it is anything but a Real CX without ‘product’ and ‘pricing’.

* This is the first article of the “Stop Practicing the Conventional Customer Experience Management” series.

  1. Stop Practicing Conventional Customer Experience Management – Part 1
  2. Stop Practicing Conventional Customer Experience Management – Part 2
  3. Stop Practicing Conventional Customer Experience Management – Part 3
  4. Stop Practicing Conventional Customer Experience Management – Part 4
  5. Stop Practicing Conventional Customer Experience Management – Part 5

A reminder to the audience: I run a CX certification program which may have conflict of interest with other CX training providers. Readers are advised to take this fact into consideration when judging the objectivity of my arguments presented in this article.


  1. An Emotion Curve is mapped by linking all the satisfaction levels of the sub-processes (touch-point experiences) and attributes that are encountered or perceived by customers and affect their emotions in a natural time sequence during a touch-point experience (total customer experience). I created the Emotion Curve in 2006. See Sampson Lee, One Cup of Coffee, 20 Experiences: Take a Tip From Starbucks (Customerthink.com, 4 June 2006).
  2. Global Starbucks In-store Customer Experience Research, Global CEM and CustomerThink (U.S.), September-October 2007.
  3. Global IKEA In-store Customer Experience Research, Global CEM, CustomerThink (U.S.) and TOTE-M (Netherlands), December 2008-February 2009; Global Louis Vuitton In-store Customer Experience Research, Global CEM and CustomerThink (U.S.), October 2008.              

Replies (2)

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Fredric Joos 4C
By Fredric
16th Mar 2018 08:27

Dear Sampson,

I believe you make a valid point with valid arguments. However I'm not fully convinced with your examole of the Disney Institute, as Product is one of the key things they focus on looking at customer experience. They invest a lot of resources in creating an amusement park that is consistent across the environment & rides (their product) and suits the customer. Therefore I wouldn't say it's limited to an expanded customer service or customer interaction management.


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Sampson Lee, founder of Global CEM and creator of PIG Strategy
By Sampson Lee
17th Mar 2018 03:07

Hi Fredric,

I agree with you that ‘product’, on top of ‘service’, is also a key focus of Disneyland CX.

However, Disneyland and Disney Institute are two separate entities. Though they do share commonalities and have the same parent – The Walt Disney Company – they have divergences too.

For example, the ‘standing in line’ at Disneyland has long been a severe pain point for customers, and Disney Institute is teaching business executives around the globe to deliver excellent service experiences. Why do they allow this pain point for decades?

Apparently, the actual practice of Disneyland is not always aligned with the perspective of Disney Institute on CX :

In this article, I am referring to the perspective of Disney Institute on CX.

Thank you for your feedback.


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