Why customer experience matters

October 15, 2009

I’ve been thinking for some time about starting a conversation on how and why product developers should be creating winning customer experiences and I finally got motivated to take action! So here we go.

To begin with, why is a “winning customer experience” something worth writing (and reading) about for the product development community? Well A.G. Lafley – former CEO of CPG powerhouse P&G – pointed out in a Business Week interview a few years back: “People remember experiences. They don’t remember attributes or benefits.”  No matter how much we think our customers pay attention to the product features we provide and the value and benefits they deliver, what customers really care about – and regularly talk about with others – is what they experience with the product and the company that sold the product to them.

Customers can’t wait to tell stories and share powerful images about the experiences in their lives – both good and bad – and particularly ones that communicate the  emotional component of those experiences.  As an example here are snippets of comments from interviews with the staff of some pediatric medical practices that medical device (and syringe manufacturing) company Becton-Dickinson shared with us:

  • “These vaccines are all the same looking once they are in the syringe…you could put 4 vaccines together in a syringe and you wouldn’t know which one’s which unless you wrote it down.”
  • “The nurses are so distraught that something happened …they just beat themselves up.. somebody called them, they got distracted, something happened.”
  • “You can’t give 4 shots in 20 minutes, you just can’t …the whole process of giving them information and seeing if they have questions and recording it all …and you are going my god!”

Now ask yourself, the last time you really deeply engaged your customers, weren’t these the kinds of emotion-laden and insightful comments you heard? Don’t customers sometimes just “pour their hearts out” about the experiences they are having with the hope you can fix them? And don’t you feel that your challenge is figuring out what you can do to meet that need?

Well so what you might say. The insight that paying attention to, managing, and enhancing the customer’s experience can add real value to a firm is not all that new – it has become widely acknowledged and is being actively explored and written about today. (I just did a quick search on Amazon.com Books and found that there are 121 entries with the term “customer experience” in their title with 25 of these being from 2009 alone.) 

But most of the thinking and writing on customer experience has focused on service-based companies  with offerings that directly meet consumer needs – i.e. the Starbucks, Southwest Airlines, Hiltons and Bank of Americas of the world. (I did a quick review of one of my favorite customer experience books – The DNA of Customer Experience: How Emotions Drive Value by Colin Shaw  – and found his examples fit the pattern of B-to-C service companies more than 95% of the time.)  

The challenge I want to explore is how to shift this imbalance and share/discuss broad-based and useful customer experience constructs and practices that fit both product and service-based companies and both B-to-B and B-to-C offerings.  What I plan to do in upcoming posts is to start to go after that challenge.

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