Customer experience is the sum of the interactions a customer has with your organisation. It starts with awareness and only ends when your relationship has run its course (some people call this offboarding).
Some people write that experience is how the customer feels. I disagree. For me, the experience is what happens, and customer perception is how the customer feels.
For example, two customers with the same experience could have contradicting perceptions. Sure, they bring some differences with them. They may be looking for different features, prefer alternative ways of communicating or simply be having a bad day. At the same time, much of the variation in opinion is down to you. We will revisit the idea of variability in your customer experience in a mo.
Customer satisfaction vs customer experience
Let’s return to the customers who had the same experience. One is satisfied; one is not. Customer satisfaction reflects how well customer experience meets the needs of the customer. Satisfaction is one measure of the customer experience. While other metrics are ‘hard’, e.g. time from first contact to purchase, satisfaction reflects perception.
The only way to change perception is to change the experience. ‘Persuading’ people they are satisfied doesn’t work. Indeed it is patronising and will make matters worse. Massaging public statements, e.g. offering incentives to change reviews, can work in the short term, but if that customer goes on to have the same poor experience again. They may start to think “Fooled me once, shame on you. Fooled me twice, shame on me”. See the section on reputation management below.
Customer service vs customer experience
To be controversial, I am going to say customer service is a reaction to something less than perfect in the customer experience. It could be answering a question your website doesn’t cover. Or addressing an issue with your product or service. Organisations intent on delivering a compelling customer experience invite you to ask for support. This seemingly backward step comes from the understanding that some customers will shrug their shoulders and move on when something goes wrong.
Great customer experience:
- Shows you care
- Keeps potential customers in your funnel
- Tells you how to improve, so you don’t cause the dissatisfaction again
- Helps you know your customers a little better. Then you can use your understanding to build new features and functions in your marketing, sales, distribution, delivery and customer service.
- Is an opportunity to move the customer to the next step in the buyer’s cycle. But – be careful – masquerading as a helpful hand when all you want to do is sell has the opposite effect.
Flexibility vs variability
Consumers and a growing number of B2B (business to business) buyers want to choose how to interact with you. So, if you don’t have a phone line, email address and chat facility you could be losing potential customers. Flexibility recognises these preferences and is good; it follows the adage “the customer is always right”. Flexibility is about choice.
On the other hand, variability is about chance and always causes problems. Two customers with the same interactions could have different experiences, for one of them the website could run slow, or the delivery driver may be rude. Variation within the customer experience is very likely to lead to dissatisfaction.
Of course, you could argue a variable experience is better than one that is consistently bad. I might even agree. But, if you can’t guarantee the quality of your customer experience, you will lose customers. The only solution is to do less of the bad and more of the good. That is (and apologies if you don’t like this word) standardise on what you know works well.
Customer experience vs reputation management
If you have suffered from fake reviews or something went wrong and you have fixed it, then reputation management can be invaluable. However, if you are intent on using reputation management to give an overly positive impression of your customer experience, then you are on a hiding to nothing. Reputation management is reactive and smooths the implications of a miserable experience. But it does nothing to improve the way you interact with your customers. When overused it can be seen as a cynical method of manipulating the truth. Building a compelling customer experience relies on more than reputation management.