Customer Experience – What exactly is it?


In the software world, all vendors love to talk about how their product is easy to use, how user friendly it is and other combinations of words to describe product usability. But, does product usability equate to customer experience? No. Product usability is necessary but not sufficient for a good customer experience. In fact, good products can still deliver awful customer experience. Read about Apple below.

Customer experience encompasses every interaction your customer has with your product AND your company. Everything from the initial sales call, product evaluation, buying process, product packaging, product usage, calling your customer support, product upgrade and everything else the user experiences as long as he is a customer of your company. It starts from the very first phone conversation and never ends as long as the user remains your customer.

What this means is that there is a lot more to customer experience than just your product. It is a lot more emotional than physical. If your customer support person does not solve the customer’s problem, it equates to bad customer experience. If your product does not work as intended, it is bad customer experience. If you try to charge unjustifiable fees to allow the customer to upgrade, it is bad customer experience. If your install is complicated, it is bad customer experience. Surprising the customer with hidden charges (example, high shipping costs on eCommerce site) equates to bad customer experience. If your customer has to deal with long hold times when they try to reach your customer support, it is bad customer experience. And bad customer experience is what makes customers bolt to your competitor’s products.

Thus, it is very obvious that customer experience is a cross functional effort and to do this right, you need executive mandate. Such a mandate should come right from the top – from  the CEO of the company. It should permeate across the organization. To get this right, it needs to be part of the employee training, it should be drilled into new employees. I would go as far as saying that you should not hire a candidate if you feel that he does not have the personality or will not be able to commit to delivering good experience to your customers. This is easier said than done. It takes a lot of effort and just talk is not going to work.

Now, what companies deliver such great customer experience? Southwest Airlines comes to mind because of all the positive things I have read about them. Their ads about bags fly free resonates so much with me. Does Apple deliver a good customer experience? NO! They deliver an awesome product experience for sure with their awesome products. But have you worked with their customer support? You will feel that you are dealing with a different company that is arrogant and does not care about you.

I try my best to keep my employer out of my blog posts. But in this particular post, I am going to break this rule. I work at Gazelle.com and to deliver what we call “crazy awesome experience” is our core value #1. We track and watch NPS scores like hawks. We measure everything related to customer touch points. We are paranoid about it. We have an executive level position whose title is Vice President of Customer Experience.  Are we perfect? Absolutely not. We still have a long way to go. Do we work hard at it – absolutely. Believe it or not, our NPS scores are comparable to some of the well established eCommerce giants that are considered standards for their customer experience. But we want our customers to keep us honest. We do occasionally screw up, but we expect our customers to call us on it so that we can continue to improve what we do.

What do you think about customer experience? Do you agree with my definition? Please share your perspective via comments.

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Image: Courtesy of SmartFinds Internet Marketing

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6 Responses to Customer Experience – What exactly is it?

  1. Adrienne says:

    I don’t disagree with your definition of customer experience.

    However, I tend to have a very broad defininition of “product” and hence “product experience”. It may overlap in areas that you consider “customer experience”.

    The product experience to me consists of the core of the product, the packaging and the support services.

    If any one of these elements fail to deliver, the customer may decide to disconnect, unsubscribe or buy a substitute product. The customer will attribute the failure back to a poor product experience.

    To give you an example, a mobile carrier in Australia (who shall remain nameless) provides poor service when it delivers mobile phones. When customers finally receive the phones, they’re already upset with the level of service and the mobile product (phone + network) is subsequently tainted. And hence a poor product experience is delivered.

    • gopalshenoy says:

      Adrienne – Thanks for sharing your perspective and an example from Australia.

  2. Zac says:

    This sounds like classic logic versus emotion; left brain versus right brain. It’s very interesting to hear an internet company like Gazelle is so much more interested in appealing to the creative, emotional right brain than the logical, rational left. It’s probably what separates them from competitors in and out of their industry.

    Also I do not agree that you’ve gone too far in saying good customer experience starts with hiring. You haven’t gone far enough. It starts with firing the wrong people too. And that’s not too far either, but it’s definitely not easy.

    Excellent post, sir!

  3. I agree that customer experience encompasses everywhere that a customer touches your company’s products or services. I have written about it many times on my blog. One of the biggest challenges comes in thinking about customer experience even from an advertising and marketing perspective. If a TV commercial irritates a customer, that is part of the customer experience! As is the too-small spaces in a parking lot. Or as in the Southwest example, the SWA website, every flight attendant, the airplane seats, the freshness of the snacks, etc.

    I firmly believe the customer experience must be planned in order to succeed in this area. Congrats to Gazelle.com for having an exec in charge of this important area. Would love to learn more!

    Thanks, Gopal. You rock!

  4. Greg Thomas says:

    This is a great article 1) because it separates product from customer experience which people usually see as one and the same and 2) you addressed the culture component which is critical to a successful customer experience and much permeate every level of the organization.

    BTW – You should add in some Twitter/Facebook badges if you want them shared, it really takes minutes (email me if you have questions).

  5. Pingback: B2C vs. B2B Product Management – 16 Differences | Z-S Knowledge Center

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