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Customer Experience: What It Is and Is Not

Customer experience isn’t something that happens in isolation. It is part of a continuum that includes the applications, the equipment, and all the services we provide to our customers and end users. – SupportWorld 2013

The customer experiencethe sum total of customer and user reactions to all the touchpoints with an organization over timecan be scrutinized, analyzed, and strategized about, but ultimately, it belongs to the customer. (And here we use the word customer in the broadest sense; it includes people often known as end users in technical support circles.)

Don’t Confuse Customer Experience with Customer Experience Design

Design is an integral part of how your organization can make the customer experience better, but it is not customer experience. Usability, navigation, eye appeal, button or link placementall of these things play into the way your customers will perceive your applications and your web pages, whether they be external or internal. But there is more at play.

Making a better designand then incrementally improving that designinvolves change. If you work in an organization whose culture happens to be change-averse, you may produce as many negative reactions as positive ones, for example.

In day-to-day interactions, the elements an organization designs can backfire. Say, for example, that your design includes always having an outgoing announcement on your telephone system alerting people that you are aware of and are working to resolve an outage. Having an outgoing announcement on your telephone channel regarding that particular outage may simply annoy those not affected. The message reminding people about your self-help site may create friction with those who have just visited the site, only to come up empty handed.

In order to design better experiences, you need to understand how, where, when, and why customers are using your systems.

Don’t Confuse Customer Experience with Customer Experience Management

In order to understand the interactions between a customer and the organization, you must have processesand usually technologyto track those interactions over time and to make continual improvements to those interactions. This is the place for customer experience management.

In this post, Julie Mohr shows how customer experience management can be seen from the perspective of ITIL®.

Technology can enable better results. Being able to track customers across your site, make heat maps for individual pages, understand where and when they left the siteor abandoned the call or chat sessionand then using analytics to discover usage patterns can help you make decisions about what changes you can make to reduce the friction customers are feeling when they interact with you.

Even the simplest of tools, like customer journey maps, can be of great assistance in finding pain or friction points and illuminating opportunities for improvement.

Customer Experience Doesn’t Take Care of Itself

Consider one change in customer experience that could have a business impact: the dreaded password reset, which is repetitive and costly if not automated. (Read “Let’s Be Careful How We Spend Our Money: And Other Tech Support Myths” to get an idea of the financial toll in a large organization.) Some customer experience options might be:

  • Allow passphrases that customers would be better able to remember
  • Require that all applications be compatible with one password or identity tool to eliminate multiple passwords
  • Put a password reset button front and center on your intranet page
  • Eliminate passwords entirely and move to biometric ID systems

Would one of these changes delight your customers, or would they be leery of using fingerprints or retinal scans? Would the complete elimination of resetting passwords reduce overhead and improve the general functioning of your organization and make your customers happier?

Improving the Customer Experience Is Not a Project

Projects have end dates, and, like service management in general, customer experience is an ongoing way of doing things. If your organization truly wants to make the customer experience better, you will need to consider:

  • What is the contribution of the effort to the business overall?
  • What is the contribution to IT? (Are more satisfied customers a justification for the expense and effort?)
  • Which senior leaders in the organization will act as the champions?
  • Who among your customers will advise you and contribute to the ongoing effort?
  • What organizational change will be required, and how will it be managed?
  • What enabling technology already exists in the organization and which needs to be purchased?
  • Where will the funds come from?

Yes, there’s a lot to it, and any gains will vary from organization to organization and culture to culture. When you hear someone in your organization talking about customer experience, ask them to describe what they mean and how committed they are to change.