Defining the customer experience online and offline

Posted by: on Jun 23, 2012 | 6 Comments

Until recently, much attention had been given to “Defining the customer experience”, with articles dedicated to identifying the “starting point” of the customer experience. I particularly liked this short piece by Jeannie Walters from February 2010, When does your customer experience start?

Her reference to “brand discovery” started me thinking about how the transaction occurs today, and how it has evolved and diverged, making it an even bigger question than it was even two short years ago. In fact, the lack of definition was actually the lead-in by Adam Richardson on the HBR Blog Network when he talked about the definition of customer experience varying from digital experiences and interactions to retail or customer service or the speed at which problems are solved in a call center.

Although I would agree with Richardson’s statement, “To be really successful on a long-term basis, customer experience needs to be seen as all these things, and more. It is the sum-totality of how customers engage with your company and brand, not just in a snapshot in time, but throughout the entire arc of being a customer”.   I believe that this is an area in which companies are struggling.

Defining the need and how those needs will be met

All too often, customer experience management is focused on how the solution will be delivered in terms of process and mechanics, with little consideration for what the real customer need actually is, and what the brand promise consists of. To improve the customer experience implies that you would know exactly where you stand with your customer today and what you have to do to improve that standing in the future. Positive customer experiences that create loyalty are increasingly seen as a key differentiator. To achieve this, we need to listen carefully to the Voice of the Customer (VOC).

Some great ideas for creating a remarkable customer experience positioned by Douglas G. Davidoff, Creating a Remarkable Client Experience: are 1)Never, never, treat a potential client better than you treat a current client.”  I love that one, as it happens every day. How many times have you purchased something only to feel kind of disheartened when it appears on the sales rack for a fraction of the price? 2) “It is the customer, not the business, which determines what  is remarkable and what is not.”  The business does not exist without the customers, and too many times we decide what we’re giving instead of asking how we can better serve. 3) “What is remarkable for one person is not remarkable for another.”  Once again, we have to go back and imagine what would be important to the customer, not what’s important to ourselves.

We need to capture customer feedback, and operationalize it so that we can share information, take action and evolve our business to better meet the needs of our customers and the marketplace.

Where technology stumbled, determination prevailed

After the deployment and re-deployment of CRM, companies are embracing the its ability to better understand the holistic customer to enhance the customer experience and to impact the bottom line. With improved key interactions, we can increase retention, and drive customer loyalty and referrals.

The mad rush to increase profitability and performance through systems may have left consumers feeling that the process was more important than the actual level of customer satisfaction at the end of their personal experience. How many times have you been caught in a help line where the service professional concludes by asking if you would participate in a survey on their service and reminds that how you score them impacts their pay (while your problem or experience may have only been average – I have experienced this personally each of the last three times I purchased a car)?

Ron Burley captures the true essence of why each and every customer experience counts in a recent blog post about a problem customer that turned into their largest account, just because the person believed in providing the customer the best service possible despite a low ROI.

I found an interesting March 2011 Oracle Retail commissioned study “Consumer Views of Live Help Online 2012: A Global Perspective,” where 3,111 consumers in 15 countries were surveyed for consumers’ preferences for connecting with companies using traditional and online customer service options.

Key findings of the survey include:

  • Online consumers want and value live online help. Both Click-to-Call and Live Chat were ranked highly by consumers and ranked ahead of many other common Web site features.
  • Although Click-to-Call and Click-to-Chat is among consumers’ top choices for support, consumers’ first choice is in-person support followed by calling into an 800 number.
  • Social media is a channel consumers expect to provide live support access, which continues to support my notion that Social Media is a branding tool.

Customer Experience Management (CEM) continues to receive serious executive-level attention for its ability to impact the bottom line. In many industries, churn rates are rising, and delicate economic conditions demand attention to value. Online and mobile comparison shopping has made it incredibly easy for customers to change suppliers without effort. Make certain you evaluate all channels of your customer service solution and identify and document the “Moments of Truth” throughout each to rank them for effectiveness and possible portability across channels.

Moments of Truth exist throughout the customer lifecycle, experienced by different customers at different moments though different channels. Getting a view of the customer experience is as varied as online, telephone, retail and mobile. A bad experience in one or more channels due to lack of authority or usability creates lasting and irreparable brand damage. The goal is to identify key interactions and build a “Voice of the Customer” program that focuses on those moments and customer needs in order to maximize the customer experience. Simply adjusting software and processes in an attempt to improve an experience will not engage customers; employees have to be involved and empowered across the entire enterprise.

In summary, your employees have to know what the customer is looking for and understand what their goals are to ensure a positive experience.


  1. Sam Klaidman
    June 24, 2012

    This is a well research post – thanks. However, there is a key point that I did not see; the company is responsible for determining the experience it plans to deliver. This determination is really the brand strategy and it initially sets customer’s expectations. It there is a difference in planned and delivered expectations then the company must take action to close the gap.

    I am reading “Six Pixels of Separation” and author Mitch Joel quote someone else as saying “Your brand is not what you say it is’ its what Google says it is”. In other words the market defines the brand. This means that employees must have almost continuous soft skills training since customers expectations now change quickly, mostly because of Social Media.

    • Marla Bace
      July 22, 2012

      Thanks for your comment Sam. I’m in agreement with you that the company sets the experience. Much of the work I’m doing now has much to do with defining the promise, finding the right people, establishing the process, and implementing the technology to deliver consistently time and again.

  2. Rayna
    June 26, 2012

    Fascinating post — I enjoyed reading it. Thoughts of Jan Carlzon and Scandinavian Airlines came to mind. The customer journey has become a rather complex one (and ever changing) and I have found that many organizations can get tripped up trying to map that journey (Airlines come to mind as an industry that is regularly challenged by this). The company that can overcome internal communication barriers, bureaucracy, and even lack of consensus on how to leverage technologies, risk taking their eye off the priority — the customer needs– and will miss great opportunity. It’s exciting (even beautiful) when you come upon brands that have figured out how to integrate and innovate all the various touch points in the customer journey, not only delighting their audience, but contributing to their bottom line growth.

    • Marla Bace
      July 22, 2012

      Thanks Rayna

  3. Melissa
    July 22, 2012

    The customer is ineedd always right. The way you present yourself to your customers can make or break your business. If your customers are not satisfied with YOUR service then you can kiss THEIR service goodbye! If you provide good customer service they will more than likely keep coming back and there’s nothing like having loyal customers.

  4. Sam Klaidman
    July 23, 2012


    In the B2B world the customer is NOT always right (but she is always the customer!). Customers expect their partners to add value to the relationship by bringing their deep knowledge about their field of expertise to the discussion. In other words, they want their partners to be consultative, offer solutions instead of products or services, and help avoid errors caused by lack of knowledge. If we are always agreeing with our customers we are then providing a commodity and likely competing on price which is not a good place to be.