“It’s my experience, not yours. No matter what I’m buying from you, my experience as your customer is still mine.” -A customer, probably.
It doesn’t matter how much money or effort you and your organization have put into your customer experience, it’s still not yours.
Thinking of customer experience as something you own and control is a dangerous inversion. Let’s give ourselves permission to be a part of our customers’ customer experience without trying to own it.
How do we mean own it?
How Did We Come To Think We Own Our Customer’s Experience?
In a one on one interaction, no one thinks they own the other person’s experience.
But as businesses — which are groups of people — interacting with individual customers, somewhere along the line our thinking shifted, we decided our customers’ experience is something we own.
Where businesses have grown large and scaled globally, customers, even when buying by committee, are still individuals having individual customer experiences.
Think of it as projecting an experience on someone else.
Parents, for instance, when you bring your children to something you think they’ll enjoy and you think they’re having a good time. If you imagine yourself enjoying it as though you’re a kid, it’s easy to feel this way. Kid-you is having a good time, so how could they possibly not be?
But, they aren’t and you’re just projecting your own good experience onto them. See how many times we used the word “you” in that paragraph? Customer experience isn’t about you, but we’ll come back to that later. Projecting an experience onto someone doesn’t make it real.
Businesses do this to their customers more often than they think, and with CX becoming a trend, it turns into something artificially engineered.
It manifests itself by businesses turning customer experience inward upon themselves, toward developing business-oriented CX systems that make it formulaic and results-based rather than personalized to the individual human beings who are actual customers.
Ambitious business hacking methods and programmed experience strategies have deprived customers of being treated like people and, in turn, treat them as problems that need to be solved.
Which isn’t a good look.
We’ve Gone About CX Backwards
We’ve been doing business forever, person to person, mostly face to face. Customer experience is as old as commerce, which is to say it’s as old as civilization. It wasn’t called that, per se, but was embodied in the trust and comfort people had in dealing with one another within those familiar transactional systems.
There were no ancient product teams who hired CX experts or bought CX software. There wasn’t a group of strategists testing methods to hack into people’s minds and convince them to buy their stone-age knick-knacks.
Businesses have long thought about and prioritized customer experience, but until the last few decades, that was done simply by teaching newer employees how to speak with customers.
People have questions about things and they always will. In days of yore, ye olde shopkeeper would be there in person to answer those questions. Now, things are different. Ye olde shopkeeper isn’t really a thing, or is at least a rarity, and the shiny new tech company is more prevalent. It’s more difficult for every interaction to be a one-on-one with the shopkeeper, so to speak. Our interactions with customers have changed dramatically, but customer needs really haven’t.
The shopkeeper example works because, in smaller organizations, it’s easier for customer experience to develop naturally. In larger organizations, we lose that person-to-person interaction from sheer size, which drives a wedge between customer and company. Countless organizations have sought to fill this gap with contrived experiences that they put on their customers and label it CX. But, when done improperly, it’s unnatural.
Have we been manufacturing an artificial experience for customers? Have we been engineering CX to dupe customers into feeling cared for? Do we gloat over our deception once it’s converted into a sale or a five-star review? Sounds harsh, but is it?
The Modern CX Quandary
Jumping off the idea of artificial manufactured CX and the shopkeeper-one-on-one-interaction example, we’ve developed a dichotomy. There’s customer experience, then there’s the customer’s experience.
Customer experience is something that companies have spent countless hours and dollars thinking about. But, with the size and scale of modern businesses, customer experience has tilted toward artificially defining the experience of customers as a system and away from the experience of customers as individuals.
Companies keep asking: “How do we improve our customer experience?”
What they’re really asking: “How do we sell more stuff to our current customers and convince them to tell other people so we can sell stuff to them, too?”
The problem with this is that the CX conversation becomes skewed toward self-interest, too company-centric. Which isn’t the point of customer experience at all. We’re not here to improve our company’s customer experience. It’s not about our experience, it’s about their experience. What do they want it to be? How can you provide that?
We must reflect inward and let a driving question be the basis of a truly customer-focused CX strategy.
How do your internal CX initiatives support the experiences your customers want to have?
You Don’t Own Somebody’s Experience
We start to answer this question by letting go.
We, as businesses, need to give up our obsession with control and understand our place in a customer’s journey. That place isn’t to control their experience. It’s to be anticipatory, receptive, and reactive to their needs in a way that will earn trust, provide value, and develop a lasting relationship.
When your business productizes or manufactures customer experience, you start considering customers from the point of view of a company rather than customers. It shouldn’t be treated as a product, nor a commodity, because you don’t own somebody’s experience.
CX strategy that’s wholly caught up in the perspective of your own business fails to account for the fundamental perspective of the human beings that it’s your goal to serve.
For many situations, this is probably a fine line, but that makes it no less important. How will you refocus your customer experience narrative back to where it belongs, back to the individual people having these experiences? How can you change your CX strategy to be supportive rather than controlling?