What’s the Customer Experience?

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Clayton Christensen is well known for his pioneering work on disruptive innovation (The Innovator’s Dilemma); he recently published a new book, Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice, in which he focuses on another aspect – the importance of customer experience.

Many companies have built reputations around stellar customer service.

  • High-end firms, such as Ritz Carlton (hotels), Nordstrom (retail) have done such a wonderful job that they are often referred to in books on the subject and urban tales.
  • Zappos is focused on delivering “happiness” for its customers by building an end-to-end customer experience: you can easily order shoes, ask questions answered by dedicated customer service people and then easily return the shoes you don’t want using enclosed shipping labels.
  • OnStar, is a General Motors company focused on providing customers “peace of mind” when driving. Need directions or help with operating the car, it’s as simple as pressing a button and speaking to their customer service people. Indeed, it will probably play a large role in the future of GM’s driverless cars.

Yet, ask most people about their customer service experiences from physical or online companies, especially “utility” providers of phone, cable and other services, and you hear complaints about the poor quality of services provided. They leave you on hold for long-periods of time, they force you to provide lots of background information –which may not even be relevant to the question you’re asking – and then when they pass it on to the next “department” you have to start all over and when they can’t make decisions it can take forever to get a supervisor to help out. One company was notorious for showing up late at homes for service. They finally decided to change and provide timely service – and then built a whole marketing campaign about the fact that they finally are doing “the right thing”!

It’s fascinating to see how these companies who provide service invest in training people to “apologize” over and over again for the inconvenience (instead of eliminating it). And even when they don’t resolve the problem to your satisfaction, they still follow their training program – of trying to sell you more of a service you just told them was unsatisfactory. You can imagine how some of them must cringe for doubling the insult –as evidenced by the amount of times they have to apologize for something.

The interesting point is that leaders of companies who provide a poor customer experience generally know it. Rather than pay more people to provide poor quality resolutions to customers, more focus should be on understanding the “job to be done” (as Dr. Christensen calls it) by the company as a whole so there isn’t as much dissatisfaction with the core service. And when someone does have a customer complain, focus on that interaction from the customer’s perspective: just making the complaint is a negative experience. Therefore, resolve it quickly and to the total satisfaction of the customer.

At issue is fully understanding what does the total customer experience actually includes, and making sure each component or process is restructured so the customer experience delivers, at least, peace of mind.

What’s your experience? What solutions to you have?  Share with us.