Customer experience: Time to tackle the 900lb Gorilla in the room!

4th May 2011

Graham Hill says it's time that we understood that the most important touchpoints are not about marketing, sales or service, but about the weeks, months, even years of product usage. Only then can we build a customer experience that creates value for customers - and companies.

Too many customer experiences are created just for the benefit of companies. Customers are either a target or an afterthought. Many customer experience practitioners don’t see the 900lb Gorilla in the room; the most important touchpoints are not about marketing, sales or service, but about the weeks, months, even years of product usage.
Companies need to re-orient the customer experience around what customers’ value, the touchpoints they use to create it and how the company can benefit from co-creating more value together with customers. Doing this opens up new opportunities to earn revenues long after the point of sale.
Cognitive bias
We tend to see the world in terms of who we are and what we do. It’s a cognitive bias colloqially known as Maslow’s Hammer. So advertising people, who obsess about brands, talk about the customer experience (CEx) in terms of creating a branded experience. And internet people, who obsess about ecommerce, talk about the CEx in terms of creating a better online experience. And CRM people, who obsess about marketing, sales and service, talk about CEx in terms of, yes, you’ve guessed it, more efficient and effective, sales and service.
These are all inside-out versions of CEx. They are only about companies, their consultants and the vendors who service them both. They are NOT about customers. They all pay lip-service to customers, but the customer is not at the heart of their thinking, let alone their doing. They are at best a target, at worst, just an afterthought. It is a lot like waiting on-hold in a customer service queue and hearing a sugary voice intone on the telephone, "your business is important to us". Sure it is, but not enough to staff the call centre with sufficient people to answer my call in a reasonable time.
Make no mistake, the CEx IS about brands, and the online experience, and marketing, sales and service, but it is about so much more as well. As was recently suggested in an online discussion, "CEx... is the sum total of the interactions a customer has with your company". That’s close, but not quite close enough. In fact, most of the inside-out versions of CEx are so busy focusing on themselves that they don’t appreciate that for the vast majority of customers, the most frequent and most important touchpoints are with the product during the days, weeks, months, even years of usage. For customers, the CEx is mostly about value-in-use.
Value co-creation
If customers care the most about value-in-use, then the CEx should mostly be about enabling customers to get the most out of using the company’s products during usage touchpoints. That starts with helping the customer establish a need for the product, helping them to make the right choices and offering them the right sales terms.
These are the touchpoints the inside-out CEx-ers talk about. The ones of most value to the company. But critically, the CEx is also about supporting them when they first use the product, and then over a lifetime of product usage, up to the point where it is disposed of. These are the touchpoints the inside-out CEx-ers don’t like to talk about. The ones of most value to the customer.
This doesn’t mean bending over backwards just to give customers everything for free. Companies don’t need to become charities. It does mean understanding what customers are trying to do at each touchpoint in the CEx and at what creates value for them during each touchpoint, and then working out how to enable customers to create more value in such a way that the company can create more value too. And value isn’t just hard cash. It can also be knowledge that is used to drive innovation, relationships that reduce the cost of the next sale, even advocacy that drives word of mouth recommendation. The CEx isn’t just about creating value for customers, it’s about value co-creation together with customers.
Outcome-based contracting
If companies do this intelligently, it can turn upside-down how they go to market. Rather than just charging customers for outputs at the point of sale then abandoning them to their fate, which is so often what happens, companies can also charge customers for ongoing outcomes during the weeks, months and years of using the product.
For example, Rolls Royce Aviation doesn’t sell aero engines any more. Instead, it sells ‘power by the hour’. Customers only pay Rolls Royce when the aero engine is used to fly their airplanes. And the airline may even be paid by Rolls Royce for maintaining the same engines in their own facilities. Its all part of a move towards outcome-based contracting that is sweeping business.
If we want CEx to become more than just another advertising slogan, ‘one touch’ button or marketing cross-sell campaign, we need to start to think about it from the customer’s perspective. And to work out how to co-create more value together with customers. Not convinced? Ask yourself a simple question, "which company would you prefer to do business with? One that is only interested in creating value for itself, or one that wants to co-create value together with YOU!". It’s a no-brainer isn’t it? It should be for companies too.
Dr. Graham Hill is a partner at Optima Partners and associate at DesignThinkers.

Further reading

Replies (4)

Please login or register to join the discussion.

Jack Springman
By Jack Springman
05th May 2011 09:35

I think the psychological dimension is hugely ignored.  Innate egocentricity creates a tendency to inside-out thinking and that manifests itself most obviously in the obsession with branding that spread from the FMCG sector in the 1990s to entrance marketers across the spectrum.  In so doing it has returned marketing to the dark ages of its pre-Levitt, pre-Kotler enlightenment through making an internal construct rather than an external constituency the primary focus.    

Thanks (0)
By CobbleSoft
05th May 2011 14:47

So refreshing to read something about the "customer experience" that is actually about the customer and business in the real world - thank you!

-- Richard J Stevenson CobbleSoft International


Thanks (0)
By Dan Greenfield - Listen Interactive
08th May 2011 00:47

-- Dan Greenfield President Listen Interactive

Looks like that infamous 800 lb Gorilla has put on some weight. :-) Excellent post. There clearly is a disconnect as Professor Merlin Stone points out. Those in the industry break down the customer experience into constituent parts - marketing, branding, complaints, etc.  The customer doesn't see a difference - how he or she talks to the brand and its owners and how the owners want to identify and talk to customers - it's all the same experience.  For its part, social media is a game changer. There is now greater pressure on companies to give customer a more consistent experience regardless of whether the talk to in sales, marketing, and support.  


Thanks (0)
By Collectual
11th May 2011 18:52

Great post. Sometimes brand or company loyalty may only emerge after years of using a product and if it's a high-price item, it may be a single purchase that has laid the foundation for a 'relationship'. But the measurement of that value, at least, from a business perspective may be that initial purchase point when really there are numerous touchpoints, as you mentioned in your article. The key is identifying the type of information an individual may need at these various touchpoints to create an end-result, which may be another purchase but occur 5 years in the future. It goes back to understanding the context of the individual (or audience segment) and from there applying the technology to support both the consumer and business goals.


Thanks again for a great post.

Thanks (0)