Time to Cut the Customer Experience Jargon and Get Real

Jargon about “personalizing content” or “unifying digital experience” speaks to technique, not the substance of an experience. Time to get real in CX.

There is a terminology arms race in customer experience (CX) that betrays an insecurity. B2B and B2C companies are claiming to be customer-first, customer-centric, customer-focused, customer-obsessed, etc., as if caring for customers were a rare thing.

Maybe it is. According to annual surveys by Broadridge Financial Solution, the percentage of consumers that feel companies need to improve their overall customer experience grew from 35% in 2019 to 65% in 2021. Meanwhile, spending on customer experience technology is expected to grow from $471 billion in 2018 to $641 billion this year. Tech alone isn’t moving those numbers in the right direction.

Definitions of “customer experience” mostly agree that it is the cumulative impression a brand makes on people who buy its goods and services. But we seem to lack an underlying theory of what makes a customer experience good or bad. So, I want to discuss why it’s difficult to provide great customer experiences in the digital era and discuss three, jargon-free levers for creating more of them.

The Constraints of Customer Experience

Why is providing a great experience online difficult? Well, with unlimited resources and face-to-face contact, brands could make every experience ridiculously amazing. That’s what happens at five-star hotels and Michelin Star restaurants. Hence, the prices. The issue is how to provide extraordinary experiences with limited resources and the weirdness of communicating online.

Resource constraints have many effects. The content we find online is often rushed, mediocre, wrong, outdated, confusing or misleading. Getting support from a real human being might not be possible. You scroll the contact page, only to find an email form. You Google for a phone number, only to hear it’s a 45-minute wait. You go to Twitter or Facebook, only to see that others have vented and received a stock “sorry” message in reply. More touchpoints can mean that customers are just disappointed more times in a row.    

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that interacting online is not the same as being there in person. Face to face, we rely on context, tone and body language to understand each other. We show empathy or concern without saying a word, and we see how our words affect someone. Online interactions raise the probability of miscommunication. Think about how much we read into texts from friends and family members who are good communicators in person but enigmas over SMS.

So, given our limited resources and the challenge of digital interaction, what should we strive for in customer experience?

Related Article: 2 Years Later: How Customer Service Has Changed

1. Trust

At first, a brand online is a stranger made of bytes. We decide whether to be associated with that stranger or not.

We take in the text, images and videos the brand puts online. We judge the content for character, values and personality. We see how other people react to that brand, everywhere from user ratings and Reddit forums to YouTube and TikTok. We trust our online tribes and communities to protect us.

Further along, we wonder if the brand is really what meets the eye online. For complex products, we sift through dimensions, materials, ratings and features, or maybe we do a trial or demo.

When that product arrives or service begins in earnest, our judgments get tested. We see whether the brand lives up to the expectations it set (or whether the brand honors its return and exchange policies). A brand earns our trust like a person — bit by bit, or online, byte by byte.   

2. Education

The more complex a product is, the more education that customers need to get value out of it. They often look to the brand to be their coach, guide and expert.

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