Customer Service photo by Konrad Lembcke on flickr
Photo by Konrad Lembcke

We’ve all seen the headlines and have heard the predictions: If companies are to succeed in the digital economy, they must focus on the Customer Experience. But, what does that actually mean? What are these so-called ‘experiences’ that brands covet, and (more importantly) how can they be translated into actual, achievable real-life interactions?

Let’s first start with the question, ‘What is customer experience?’ If we are to trust Wikipedia, Customer Experience is defined as, “The product of an interaction between an organization and a customer over the duration of their relationship” That’s still a bit too vague for my personal taste. Let’s just define it as the experience someone has with a brand every time they use their product / service or interact with the company in-store, online, or over the phone.

The reason why Customer Experience has become such a focal point today is because advances in digital technologies have made comparing products and services virtually seamless. Many businesses must now compete for less on what they offer, and more on how they offer it (ever see any of those ‘unboxing’ videos?). Couple this with the fact that a single bad experience can, and likely will, be shared amongst the Social Media masses, and you can see what all the fuss is about.

What makes a good experience?

So what makes an experience ‘great’, exactly? Once in a while you’ll hear about how some company delivers a stellar experience and goes ‘above-and-beyond’ for the customer. Stacy Condradt does a good job compiling a short list here. One of the examples she provides is from Morton’s Steakhouse. Basically, someone on a plane sends a tweet jokingly asking the company to meet him as he lands at Newark Airport with a porterhouse steak. And guess what? Morton’s does it. A great story, no doubt; but are we to believe Morton’s delivers a steak to anyone who posts a tweet saying they’re hungry? I don’t think so. Customer experience is more than a PR stunt that happens to go viral.

Customer experience doesn’t have to involve grandiose gestures that only happen once in a while for a lucky few. Providing a good experience is about consistently making the life of your customer just a little bit easier during their interaction with your company. And that means providing such conveniences 24/7. In today’s digital economy, defined business hours are unforgivable. Customers want simplicity and value at the convenience of now. Furthermore, customers want the company to know what they want before they do.

What do the experts think?

But let’s not take my word for it. What do professionals have to say about the matter? I reached out to customer experience expert and author Shep Hyken and asked the question, “What will define customer experience in 2016 and beyond?” In 140 characters or less, this was his response:

Extrapolating further on this point, author and speaker Brian Solis says in a recent article,

Brian Solis quote

I think both Shep and Brian are right on the money. Their responses strike right at the heart of customer experience—which is, after all, the customer. Companies can do all they want to try to tweak and dial in on consumer preferences and put on a good show, but the fact of the matter is that the customer will be the one to decide what they like. It will be the company’s job to react and pivot as gracefully as they can; to constantly rewrite protocols and procedures to align with how customers feel they deserve to be treated through an ever growing number of physical and digital channels. Some will succeed, some will fail; but most will end up somewhere in the middle.

At the end of the day, perhaps the answer to my original question can’t be fully answered. Sure, there is research to suggest what consumers want (personalization, more options, constant contact, etc.). But that sort of research can only provide a general scope for a general audience. Every business is different and has their own particular niche customer base. All a business can do is try their best to always put the customer first, and to try their best to predict what that means, exactly.