All customers want to have a good experience and all businesses want to provide one. However, while recent years have seen a growing focus on the discipline known as customer experience (CX), what does the term really mean?
In short, customer experience is the overall impression that a customer has of a brand, from the initial contact to the post-purchase support. It includes all the touchpoints and channels that a customer uses to communicate with the brand, such as websites, social media, phone calls, email and so on, and aims to create a positive and consistent experience that builds customer loyalty and satisfaction.
Factors that affect customer experience include product or service quality, ease of use and accessibility, design and aesthetics, the responsiveness and friendliness of the customer service, and personalisation and customisation of the product or service.
Chris Donnelly, user experience design principal at consultancy Each&Other, said that CX is important for businesses because it can influence customer retention, loyalty, advocacy, satisfaction, and ultimately revenue.
In other words, a good customer experience can differentiate a brand from its competitors and create a positive word-of-mouth. On the other hand, a bad customer experience can lead to customer dissatisfaction, frustration, churn, and negative word-of-mouth.
“Luxury brands have been doing it [CX] for a long time, like Harrods, like Tiffany’s. A focus on customers is not new and, in a way, it’s an obvious thing,” Donnelly said.
What has changed, however, is that focusing on, and measuring, CX is no longer the sole preserve either of global giants or of high-end luxury houses. This is driven by the increasing digitisation of business.
“In a sense, every company becomes a software company in the fullness of time – and they then need UX and CX,” Donnelly said.
Irish businesses are not immune to this growing trend, partly because standards are being set by the online giants, but also because CX, once it is taken seriously, can lead to clear improvements in both the top and bottom line.
“The marginal cost of improvement is much lower than, say, refitting a restaurant. There’s less in terms of CapEx and you can iterate over time. Irish businesses are part of that trend,” he said.
“I did a Google Trends search for the terms ‘user experience’ and ‘customer experience’. They have been tracking each other since 2004, but then when you get to 2014 or so, search volume for CX starts to grow faster. Something in the culture changed, though they’re both growing.”
The old adage that what gets measured gets managed and what gets measured matters may be controversial, but when it comes to CX it does contain a grain of truth: clearly, the quantifiable nature of CX work helps.
“The thing businesses are really good at is maximising efficiency, but before the digital age you didn’t know exactly what was working – you had no way to track it,” said Donnelly.
Today, robust analytics processes and frameworks enable businesses to understand the impact of changes in their CX processes, but, as anyone in business knows, it can be difficult to think strategically. This is where consultancies like Each&Other come in.
“Businesses are very busy. I used to work in a corporation and you were running from fire to fire, and so it can be hard to find the time to step back and take a fresh look at things. We offer a pause for breath,” he said.
The goal, which may have once seemed unattainable, is to meet the highest standards, and those standards are set by global giants.
It sounds obvious, but the big players in the digital world are ahead of the curve. I had a great customer experience with Amazon, for example.
Specifically, Donnelly found he had two accounts, one for the British site and one for the US one. As a result, he was paying twice and his e-books were split across the two accounts.
“I expected they would just say ‘that’s your problem’, but when I contacted them on a support chat, they immediately refunded it and the books were moved over,” he said.
This is the idea of service recovery, Donnelly said, meaning that if a business makes a mistake it should work to correct it.
“Businesses can’t avoid mistakes – they are inevitable – but they can create goodwill by fixing them. There’s a concept called the ‘peak-end’: if you have a bad experience and a very bad end to it, you will have a very bad memory of it. If you have a bad experience and it ends well, it will become a good memory,” he said.
“You don’t want negative emotions associated with your bad.”
New technologies, notably artificial intelligence (AI), are having an impact, too, helping businesses to deliver superior experiences.
“The large language models [LLMs] are interesting. Intercom released a GPT4-powered chatbot, for example. Looking ahead, developments like AI could mean you don’t need a customer service team, you just need the LMM,” he said.
Ultimately, though, while CX involves technological solutions, for Each&Other the technology itself follows a wider mission: using design skills to help businesses to improve.
“We will help you think and reflect more strategically,” said Donnelly.