If we believe that the customer experience is the future of business, then understanding how your customers perceive their interactions with your company is a vital key to success. Getting essential customer experience right in every touchpoints can lead to more meaningful and transformative moments during the customer journey.
What exactly is Customer Experience?
Customer Experience is a multifaced concept which can be understood as the cumulative cognitive, affective, sensorial and behavioral impact of multiple touchpoints interactions between an organization and a specific customer. In other words, customer experience unfolds every time a customer interacts with a company at any touchpoint, via any channel, at any time, for any purpose. From a company point of view, it is clear that each interaction is an opportunity to strengthen or weaken the relationship with ‘that’ very customer. However, this could be a narrow way to understand customer experience: ultimately customer experience executives should ask themselves the question: What should I do to facilitate the creation of a long-lasting relationship among my team and this specific customer that will build long-lasting mutual value?
This implies a genuine interest for something ‘other’ than the actual company/business; for a person who in most cases would like to be recognized as a human being, independently of the channel and/or touchpoint. This person, this very person, will eventually, but not necessarily, convert (i.e. enter in an ‘exchange relationship’) with the business. Therefore, customer experience is then about a human encounter with someone other than you to establish and build a deep and possibly meaningful relationship. The possibility of this encounter is not limited to ‘brick and mortar’ businesses: digital technologies can facilitate exclusive and meaningful customer experience supporting what is called ‘high tech for high touch’, that is to say, a technological layer (high tech) built always with the final customer in mind to support differential value creation in a (technology-mediated) experience (high touch).
A framework to design and understand experiences
At ICEM, the Institute for Customer Experience Management, we are developing a framework that allows us to assess and design experiences; both the essential ones and the peak ones. Essential experiences are at the basis of any experience – here we deal with quality standards and customer engagement techniques; peak experiences are meaningful and transformative for the single person – they impact on people’s inner self and values, and foster inner self-transformation.
In general terms, both types of experiences are driven by 4 core dimensions:
- The cognitive dimension: this is related to the customer’s intellect and curiosity, or even the actual knowledge about the brand or the product/service.
- The emotional dimension: this is related to the customer’s emotions and feelings both towards the product/service/brand and towards the actual touchpoint.
- The behavioural dimension: this is related with the actual behaviour of the customers with the product/service within the touchpoint.
- The sensorial dimension: this is related to the customer’s senses and how they are triggered both by the product/service and by the touchpoint (i.e. animations/scent/etc.).
At the core of these dimensions, there is the human experience, an encounter between two or more actors who co-create value for all parties – as shown by the Service Dominant Logic Theory.
Fig. 1 Framework to understand Customer Experience by ICEM
The essential experience is built thanks to a deep and thorough understanding of the service scape, of the quality level and standards needed in every touchpoints. Peak experiences are transformative by nature and act upon personal values and quest for meaning.
The layers of the experience
Essential experiences are assessed and designed by looking at the service scape and quality standard grids (such as Leading Quality Assurance). Thanks to the input of our students, ICEM recently created the Customer Experience Assessment Tool which is a customizable tool for assessing any essential experience the customer goes through. The tool is based on a generic customer journey and features more than 240 indicators grouped in 15 categories. This tool is able to give clear and quantitative indications both to touchpoint managers and employees to foster their approach to the customers in any stage of the relationship with them.
Meaningful and transformative experiences should be designed to have a real and deep impact on customers. Customers are more and more keen to engage in experiences that offer emotional and often social value and involve them into a learning process. This learning process can be triggered in customers if what is offered is in line with her/his inner needs; if there is a correspondence between inner needs and the actual experience, a learning experience is triggered (Kirillova et al., 2017) generating knowledge which will ultimately impact on the transformation of self. Therefore, businesses need to design for transformation without expecting it, while waiting for their customers to go through this process without pushing them one way or one other. Customers are in control. Business are simply facilitators.
Get the CX basics right, then design for transformation
At ICEM, The Institute of Customer Experience Management at EHL, we believe that businesses should get the essential customer experience right in every touchpoints. Our Customer Experience Assessment Tool guides our partners towards ‘doing the right thing in the right moment with the right customer’ across touchpoints, markets and cultures. Not only this, but it develops quantitative measures to inform the decisions of touchpoints managers and/or executives. By engaging with customers at cognitive, emotional, behavioural and sensorial levels in the essential experiences, businesses should then design for peak and meaningful moments triggering a process of transformation in their customers.
Be aware though: transformation is a an individual and inner process, and cannot be standardized. Transformation can unfold thanks to a triggering moment/episode typically within a peak moment and lead to self-transcendence and long-lasting personal growth (Kirillova et al., 2017). Therefore, businesses should offer opportunities for deep human engagement leading to inner self transformation but not expect direct correlation between effort-result.
From an academic point of view, transformative experiences are the building blocks of the so-called ‘transformative economy’, the natural evolution and continuation of the experience economy. One of the tenets of transformation economy is that it encourages fulfilment of personal aspirations (Pine and Gilmore, 2016).