A Deeper Definition of Customer Experience

In 1992 I started work at BT Laboratories, British Telecom’s research and development technology park as a psychologist in the Human Factors Department, within it’s Research Department which also contained the Speech Recognition and Futurology departments, headed up by Peter Cochrane, one of the UK’s leading futurologists. Along with Xerox PARC, the BT Human Factors team was one of the largest in the world, and unlike more academic teams based in universities, we worked extremely closely with our marketing colleagues, who were our internal clients. In 1995 I co-authored a paper Delivering Competitive Edge in which Mike Atyeo and I wrote:

Usability is a key business driver and user-centred techniques are emerging to deliver this competitive edge. It is essential to move away from simple product design, beyond the integrated service design of product, packaging, documentation, and after-sales service, to the comprehensive design of the customer experience.

In response to rapid technological change and increased global competition, service industries have undergone radical change. These were initially focused on reducing cost and time to market, but more recently have concentrated on ways of understanding an anticipating customer needs. We have adopted an approach we call ‘designing the customer experience’. At its heart is a programme of research into human needs. By bringing together Marketing and Human Factors with more radical perspectives such as semiotics and anthropology, creative and visualisation skills, and rapid technological advances, we have generated an environment for user-centred innovation.

One of the key success factors for our team was in the quality of the relationships we were developing with our colleagues at BT Marketing who understood the value of our work and gave us considerable support. By developing a common understanding, we were able to position Human Factors in the very earliest stages of the product lifecycle, allowing us to refine ideas while still at the concept stage, thus saving the disproportionate amount of effort, time and cost which could have been necessary to re-work the products later in the development process.

Our work on the design of customer experiences was carried out twenty years ago. The most recent research on the quality of customer experiences across industries shows that there is still much that businesses need to learn. Each year Temkin Group publish their Temkin Experience Ratings, a cross‐industry, open standard benchmark of customer experience which is based on three dimensions of experience:

Success: the ability of the customer able to carry out their desired task
Effort: how easy it is to interact with a company
Emotion: how people feel about their interactions

Their research consists in asking 10,000 US consumers to rate their recent interactions with companies across twenty industries and evaluate their experiences across the three dimensions. When looking at the research at the level of industry sectors, supermarket chains took six of the top eleven spots (achieving “good” ratings), while internet service providers, TV service providers and health plan providers all received “very poor” ratings overall. Interestingly no industry managed to score “excellent” on average. The 2016 research is notable in showing that for the first time there were falls in rating across all three dimensions (success, effort and emotion).

In 2015 I introduced the term Customer Experiences with Soul in my TEDx talk given in Florianopolis. The concept Customer Experiences of Soul is based on our philosophy of Holonomics, and is a term I coined in order to express the essential way in which it is no longer enough for business to have a purpose, it also needs to be in touch with its soul, a soul which collectively expresses itself through each part.

There is the essence of your customer experience and the essence of your brand. The essence of the brand only exists in the experience of your customers, whoever they may be, and this is as true of a bottle of beer as it is for a meal at a restaurant, a journey by plane, a wait at a dentist, the installation of optical fibre, a trip to the theatre, the signing of a book by a favourite author, indeed any experience we wish to imagine. A customer experience with soul is one in which every single part contributes in an authentic and optimal manner to the customer experience as a whole.

Soul is an elusive concept in the customer experience to capture, quantify and describe, but when it exists, we can sense, feel and intuit its presence. It has to be authentic, and it is not a quality which is added on to an existing experience as an additional component. The more values we have in our approach to our work and our businesses, and the greater human connection we have with our customers, whether it is direct contact with people in a beauty salon, or more distant contact by telephone in a service centre, or indirectly via on intermediary website, the more soul there will be in the customer experience.

We encounter brands not just through our rational minds, but by connecting through feeling, interacting through sensing, and comprehending the authenticity of a brand in our intuition. This authenticity can only come through a deep belief in human values. The meaning of a brand cannot be imposed on others and is not static. Brands have to be allowed to live. To paraphrase Dee Hock, brands are eternal, a perpetual becoming, or they nothing. Brands are not a thing to be known or controlled. They are a magnificent, mysterious odyssey to be experienced.

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