Customer service

Why it's time to start considering great CX as more than just great service


Sampson Lee explains why some brands can deliver great CX without delivering great service, and why it's time to adopt an impartial approach to customer experience.

9th Dec 2020

Whenever customer experience folk say “enhance the customer experience", this rarely amounts to addressing ‘product’ or ‘pricing’ issues. Almost always it refers to improving the service experience. This is not right.

If the role and function of CX is always to improve customer service interactions, perhaps we should rename the profession 'customer service management' (CSM) or 'customer interaction management' (CIM). But we know customer experience represents so much more than that. And now is the time to prove it.  

Business success is CX success  

There is an opinion held firmly in the CX community that companies which render poor service - like Louis Vuitton and Sukiyabashi Jiro (the first sushi restaurant in the world to receive three Michelin stars) are not successful in terms of customer experience management, despite obtaining major commercial success.

The rationale behind it: Achieving business results without delivering a “great customer experience” is only business success, not CX success.

Over a dozen of CX experts, including Shaun Smith and Colin Shaw, agreed that customer experience also includes ‘products’ and ‘pricing’. In fact, the customer experience consists of all the attributes that affect the customers’ purchasing decisions, such as people, processes, policies, prices, products, place, promotion, and services.

Since no company has unlimited resources to excel in everything, different companies choose to focus on different attributes as their competitive strategy to promote business performance.

Therefore, LV and Jiro are both successful at CX despite their perceived service failings, because they create a “great customer experience” - by making high-quality merchandises and the world’s best sushi. Great products, respectively.

Likewise, although price-centric brands – like McDonald’s and Walmart – aren't renowned for good service; as long as they offer “great prices” and achieve business success, it can not be denied that they are implementing “great CX.”

Put it simply: Except monopolies, all successful businesses must deliver some form of “great customer experience”. For instance, Ritz Carlton has “Ladies and Gentlemen Serving Ladies and Gentlemen” (service), BMW delivers “The Ultimate Driving Machine” (product) and IKEA makes "Quality Furniture that Everyone can Afford" (price).

In the free market, business success is CX success.

Expert’s shoes vs. backpacker’s shoes

Ryanair is arguably one brand that divides opinion most, when it comes to the discussion about business success and CX. Ask most CX consultants to assess Ryanair’s customer experience, they usually come to the conclusion that the experience is terrible or even unacceptable.

The truth is: customers’ preferences are not always the same as yours. Some of the richest billionaires in the world still eat at McDonald’s, Japanese office ladies spend months of salary to buy Louis Vuitton handbags, and backpackers see that Ryanair offers a better option than land travel and the experience is completely acceptable.

Clearly, Ryanair’s target customers are budget travellers, not business executives. You should not confuse “putting yourself in the customer’s shoes” with “putting yourself in your own shoes”. Nor should you assume that customers have the same feelings and needs as you.

Customers know better than anyone which option can better meet their needs. Don’t judge customers’ choices without putting yourself in their shoes.

Professional evaluation or unequal treatment

When Starbucks, Apple, Southwest Airlines and Virgin Atlantic satisfy the objective criteria of CX evaluation, i.e. keep their promises, create customer value and drive business results, they are considered “good CX.”

But why are brands like Louis Vuitton, Sukiyabashi Jiro, Ryanair and Spirit Airlines (Ryanair’s equivalent low-cost carrier in the U.S.) that meet all these conditions not considered “good CX” or even labelled as “bad CX”?

The only factor that distinguishes LV, Jiro, Ryanair and Spirit from Starbucks, Apple, Southwest and Virgin is whether they “serve customers well” and generate ‘service’ pain points. But this is based on the subjective preference of conventional customer experience.

Don’t judge customers’ choices without putting yourself in their shoes.

When two groups of brands meet the same set of objective standards but have different ratings, it is not a professional evaluation of CX; this is an unequal treatment of brands.  

A world-renowned CX expert once remarked on an online post: “Only low self-esteem people fly Ryanair.” His comment was quickly deleted. But this is a good reminder for each of us in the customer experience field: we will respect every customer and never discriminate against any customer choice.

All customer choices should be treated equally.

“Less money” meets “more money”

In 2020, the World Bank remarked: “COVID-19 to Plunge Global Economy into Worst Recession since World War II,” and The New York Times reported: “Why the Global Recession Could Last a Long Time.”

Evidently, economic recession is inevitable and won’t disappear soon. The surviving companies will have to cut costs and countless people will have their wages reduced, become unemployed, part-time or freelancers, and earn “less money.”       

Since interest rates in most countries are close to zero or have become negative, the only major measure to deal with the current challenges is another round of large-scale quantitative easing (QE).

The side effect of QE is the sharp rise in asset prices like stocks and real estate. For those who have no assets (such as the lower middle-class and the working class), as their real wages have stagnated, their real purchasing power has declined, and they have become victims of printing "more money."

When “less money” meets “more money,” we don’t need a Harvard MBA to realise that customers will be more price-conscious and the demand for inexpensive products will increase.

For CX professionals, this presents a challenge - to prove that the profession is more than just service-driven.

Impartial CX

There are three very obvious ways to resolve the issues we've discussed, and ensure that customer experience is elevated beyond being simply a service directive. This is about adopting an 'impartial CX' approach:  

Objective assessment. “Serving customers well is a prerequisite for good CX” is a consensus of conventional CX. However, no CX expert would publicly support this consensus.

I suspect that most CX experts know deep down that this is a fallacy: this consensus is built upon “putting yourself in the shoes of conventional CX” and unequal treatment of customer choices.

For that reason, we need more sharing, such as CX opinion leader Jim Tincher's blog postWhy Spirit Airlines’ and RyanAir’s Customer Experience is Better than Yours.”

But please don’t get me wrong: I don’t recommend that we move the pendulum from ‘service’ to ‘pricing’. My suggestion is this: we should let more industry practitioners understand that professional CX assessments should always be objective, and change the perception of C-level executives that CX is soley ‘service’-biased.  

Unbiased recommendations. For many customer experience professionals, CX success is like a curse: For those who are more responsible, the harder they perform their duties, the more difficult it is to achieve CX success, and the more pain they will feel. This is a tragedy.

This tragedy can be avoided when they realise that “business success is CX success”. Then, the company’s goals and CX professionals’ responsibilities are exactly the same, and customer experience professionals’ recommendations will always be based on factors that can really drive business results, rather than good customer interactions. Your CX initiatives are likely to be approved by the CEO, and your CFO will not hinder you.

Neutral positioning. Strategy is about resource allocation. For the CEO, the most important task is to develop key business strategies and determine the company-wide resource allocation. During s recession, for instance, the CEO's decision will affect the company's survival.

When CX resumes its original role – focusing on customer experience, not service experience – it can rediscover its long-unused unique advantage: the total customer experience perspective.

With this vision, customer experience is able to develop unparalleled capabilities: in all customer-facing touch points and channels, objectively and effectively identify where to invest more and cut costs to achieve business targets. The premise is to remain neutral. CX can’t be owned by service or marketing.

Every CEO and every company will cherish CX executives with these capabilities. These executives are likely to be promoted to strategic positions in customer experience or be headhunted by other companies.

The reality is, if we did decide customer experience was no more, and instead focused on elevating the profession of 'customer interaction management', then subjective assessment, biased recommendations and non-neutral positioning would all become viable. However, seeing as customer experience appears to be here to stay, it would be a mistake to tolerate these partial practices - no matter in times of prosperity or difficulty.


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