Where Satisfaction Ends and the Customer Experience Begins

This post is my attempt to explain the birth in 2006 of what I call “the cult of the customer experience,” and shed some light on how experience-based initiatives differ from satisfaction-based initiatives. While satisfaction and experience are linked, the two are quite different, with differences in three primary areas:scope, ownership, and of course, buzz.

The simplest explanation for the difference between customer satisfaction and the customer experience is this: The customer experience is made up of multiple interactions, and customers are either satisfied or dissatisfied with each interaction. The experience, then, is how customers perceive the end to end process, with satisfaction benchmarking how well each step along the way is executed. But scope is the key here. Almost every interaction can be viewed as a series of process steps, meaning even a single interaction can be viewed as an experience, with the satisfaction of each step measured.

To illustrate this, let’s look at something we can all relate to, the Hotel Customer Experience, based on my last trip to Hawaii. As you can see in Figure 1, my hotel customer experience was defined by a series of individual interactions, some positive and some negative. But in my memory, I have a single perception of the hotel experience: good, but not great, with too many unpleasant bumps along the way. So, it would appear that you could measure my satisfaction with each interaction (check in, room service, checkout), and the blending of these is my experience.

Figure 1: John’s Vacation Hotel Experience
Hotel Customer Experience

To explain how scope factors in let’s move to Figure 2.  I’ve taken a single step in the overall hotel experience and created an experience diagram for room service.  Viewed from this perspective I had an overall room service experience (terrible) with a series of individual steps that were either satisfying (the friendly server) or unsatisfying (I will never order saimen again due to the memory of that smell).

Figure 2: Room Service Experience
Room Service Experience

OK, enough about my vacation.  Let’s now look apply the same concept to something closer to home.  In terms of our industry, I consider the customer experience to be the overall lifecycle of a customer:  shopping for a product, buying a product, using the product, receiving service for the product.  If a customer has a fantastic experience all along the way, but receives a surly or untrained agent for a service interaction, the customer may be highly unsatisfied with the service interaction but still positive on their overall experience with the company and its products.

If you want to drill down into this customer lifecycle experience, you could plot the steps involved in the “service experience.”  Was the customer confused by an IVR maze?  Did they hold in the queue for a very long time?  Was the agent highly trained and helpful?  Was the problem resolved on the first interaction or require escalation?  You can survey the customer to find out their satisfaction with each step along the way, and the summation of those individual steps is their overall service experience.  However, I don’t think the service experience is the same thing as the customer experience, and companies should be cautious about overuse of the experience term. 

I’m hearing companies say they are doing after phone surveys to gauge the customer experience.  An individual interaction is not the customer experience; it is merely a step along the way

Ownership of the Customer Experience
Who owns the customer experience?  Not to alienate my customer service readers, but I think marketing owns the end to end customer experience.  While this view is common today, particularly in consumer companies, that was not always the case.  I was booed (yes, booed!) at a Help Desk Institute conference a few years ago for suggesting in a presentation that marketing should own the overall customer experience, and service needed to partner with marketing to ensure the service portion of the experience fit the corporate view of what the customer experience should be.

I am seeing more companies with experience executives, such as Chief Experience Officer (CExO) or VP of Customer Experience, and these roles typically own or are linked organizationally to marketing.  Why should marketing own the customer experience?  Because marketing is responsible for defining the brand, and making sure that the brand is reinforced with every customer interaction.  Marketing should work closely with support to be sure the service experience meets the definition of the brand, and contributes to a positive overall customer experience.

For those of you who think marketing is the enemy, it is time to revise that old view.  Marketing often has more political clout than service, like it or not, and if marketing sees service as strategic to improving the customer experience, you may find budgets for new CRM and eService technology investments easier to justify than just arguing for them on your own.  Marketing may own the overall customer experience, but the service organization is a critical stakeholder, and you must demand your place at the customer experience table.

Bottom line, if your company considers service as a differentiator, you are squarely in the sights of marketing, and service management and marketing management should be meeting frequently to discuss the goals for the customer experience, and how service can help make those goals a reality.

Customer Experience: Buzzword Bingo

I’m sure you become as tired as I do of phrases that sweep through the service and support industry; the latest buzzwords vendors use to try and differentiate themselves, and analysts like me tend to pontificate about.  360 degree view, proactive service. Web 2.0. multi-channel, on and on.  Customer experience is quickly finding its way onto this list.  In fact, after hearing dozens of briefings from CRM and eService vendors last year all discussing the role their technology plays in the customer experience, I started referring to the trend as “the cult of the customer experience”–OK, now I’m adding another buzzword.

With more companies realizing the importance of the experience to increased customer wallet share, it is no surprise that vendors are jumping on the experience bandwagon, promising if you will just buy their products your customers will have an enhanced experience.  But service organizations are guilty too.  I attended a technology conference recently and every presentation by a customer service or tech support manager centered on improving some aspect of their service operation and how that improved the customer experience.  Yet no one included a definition of the customer experience that extended beyond customer service and support.

So, to recap.  My definition of the customer experience is the end-to-end lifecycle of the customer, and it is made up of individual interactions along the way, each of which customers are satisfied or unsatisfied with.  In my book, service and support owns the service experience, and contributes to (but does not own) the customer experience.

If you disagree, attach a comment with your own definition.  But please, no booing.  Let’s leave that to HDI.

Explore posts in the same categories: Best Practices, Consumer Support, Enterprise Support

7 Comments on “Where Satisfaction Ends and the Customer Experience Begins”

  1. Dan Says:

    Welcome to the blog party, John!

    You know we find it hard to disagree with you John, but we feel that vendors are doing more than just jumping on the “customer experience” bandwagon. In many ways, customer experience ties into the mission that many service and support vendors were founded on.

    We agree with you…there’s no one-size fits all solution, but certain service experiences, and tools like proactive and multichannel service, are a big part of the equation and contribute a good deal to that “life cycle of the customer.” They may not represent the entire life cycle, but they ensure that the life cycle continues beyond just a single transaction. Good service = good brand in the eyes of many consumers and that goes a long way towards building loyalty, increasing repeat sales…and extending the lifetime value of a customer.

  2. jragsdale Says:

    Hi Dan;
    Thanks for your comment. Clearly many vendors are enabling excellent customer experiences, and eStara, as the original ‘click to call’ provider, is a perfect example.

    I become suspicious, however, when I see multiple vendors selling vastly different products all calling themselves CEM–customer experience management. I think we need more ‘enablement’ and less ‘management.’ But I sure didn’t mean to disparage any software provider with best of breed tools to provide excellent customer experiences!

  3. Steve Paski Says:

    Amen!!!! Finally, an excellent pontification of the total customer experience. In my managment of Support at our mutual company, when the downturn was in full force, we were without an effective sales force due to cutbacks. I truly believed Support was solely responsible for holding the customer base together, but once the company turned around and sales folks were back in force, Support became a piece of the customer experience. There are many, many touch points a customer has to deal with, Support is only one portion of it.
    While a bit “non-traditional” having Marketing own the total experience makes sense to me.

  4. jragsdale Says:

    Thanks Steve! I agree–it is surprising how many companies thinks sales owns the customer relationship, when the customers usually dread to talk to the sales guy but are on first name terms with the support reps!


  5. […] are focusing on loyalty at the executive level, with titles like Chief Loyalty Offer (CLO) and Chief Experience Office (CExO) becoming more common.  Sprint, for example, recently named a Chief Service Officer, reporting to […]

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