The Customer Experience

The customer experience extends beyond customer service, and makes for happy customers and happy employees.

In a fit of sleeplessness the other night I pulled down an old issue of Harvard Business Review from my shelves, probably thinking some good ol’ MBA jargon would put me to rest. Instead I stumbled on an article that got me thinking: “Understanding Customer Experience” by Christopher Meyer and Andre Schwager, from the February 2007 issue. Sorry, the only link available is for reorders.

Customer experience, you say?

Customer experience is the internal and subjective response customers have to any direct or indirect contact with a company.

Like many subjective experiences, the customer experience is more easily understood by observing the foil of its touchstone.

An excess of features, baited rebates, and a paucity of the personal touch are all evidence of indifference to what should be a company’s first concern: the quality of the customers’ experiences.

Bad customer experiences are notable because they make us aware of friction and pain. We’re more likely to observe a good customer experience when we dwell on past interaction and the lack of friction or the comparative joy in dealing with a company.

The customer experience extends beyond just customer service. Apple is a company famous for focusing explicitly on customer experience and recognizing that every interaction, from the sales cycle to customer service and extending to product use affects customer experience. (Now we’ve flogged the Apple horse, thanks!).

Customer experience encompasses every aspect of a company’s offering - the quality of customer care, of course, but also advertising, packaging, product and service features, ease of use, and reliability. Yet few of the people responsible for those things have given sustained thought to how their separate decisions shape customer experience. To the extent they do think about it, they all have different ideas of what customer expereince means, and no one more senior oversees everyone’s efforts.

This got me thinking about two things: the customer experience in our business, and how we help our clients shape their own customer experience. Our clients’ customer experience is dictated by their interactions with us, how we communicate and how we respond over email and the phone; how well we explain things in their terms and understand their business or cause. It extends from the sales cycle and proposal process through to how well the end product delivers.

I think we do a pretty good job at Wellfire Interactive with the customer experience based on feedback we’ve gotten from clients (last year’s annual client feedback survey gave us an A- rating). However I still see lots of room for improvement.

We’ve improved the experience over the years with two goals in mind, making this clearer for customers and life less stressful for us. We’ve taken care of, or at least approach, the latter by adopting better testing processes, development workflow, and deployment. When you know you can run a single command to test the app, build, and deploy without a hiccup, it’s easier to focus on what the customer really needs. And to sleep. Using Basecamp for project communication has been great, but we found that funneling all our support and small feature requests through Zendesk reduced the steps for customers drastically. What little we lose in calendaring we gain in customer happiness.

As for our clients’ own customers’ experience, that’s really the focus of good strategy, UX design, and solid development. If we can identify what their customers or audience is really after, and help our client address through beautifully organized content or an innovative web application, then we get to hit two levels of customer expience at once. Sweet.

How have you approached customer experience in your own business? Is it something you consider? If you’re a customer of ours and you have feedback about your customer experience with us, we’d love to hear it. Just send us an email at [email protected].

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The Customer Experience