If the title of this blog alarms you out of concern for your own involvement in the Customer Experience (Cx) industry, your corporate role, or your livelihood as a Cx technology vendor, please be sure to read all the way to the end. I personally find this subject tough to address. It feels a little bit like showing up at a family reunion and bringing up grandpa’s gambling problem. Sure, everyone knows it is happening, and they know where it is going to end up. But hey, when grandpa is on a winning streak we all enjoy the benefits, and right now the giving is good.

Here are the top five issues we face today:

1. We still do not have a universal understanding of what we mean by “experience”

I have a couple of conversations a week with Cx practitioners who share my concern with where the concept of Cx is going. They understand the importance of maintaining the emphasis on the customer journey, and programs that teach us to identify customer needs. These are the same people that leverage technology adequately to make functionality easy and accessible. They are also the same group of practitioners that promote emotional connection as indispensable. Clearly, these are the people that get that, when we say “experience,” we are talking about something very specific. We are talking about a measurement, not a program. A measurement of practical contact with, and observation of facts or events, about your company. Practical because it MUST relate to what is real (not possible or imagined) because experience is measured based on what actually happened and is happening to the people with whom you do business. Experience is experience in any context, and could result in a relationship between you and a customer… or not. When you measure how people get what they need from you, how you make that easy, and how you create emotional connections, then (and only then) are you really managing the experience. Doing the first (studying behavior) AND the second (aligning it with functionality, accessibility, and emotion to determine where to improve the experience) have to connect.

2. We still disconnect “experience” from “relationship”

Even when measuring experiences with the people with whom we do not have a formal business relationship, (i.e. people researching your products and services), the ultimate goal is for experiences to transcend into “relationships.” The most applicable and sustainable research you can get about experiences is how they become and remain customers. Although you may call it experience management, it requires relationship management to sustain it. In one hand, companies must manage how outsiders (with whom they do not have a relationship) perceive you because understanding the experience of people in your peripheral allow you to make better decisions about how customers become customers. However, once a customer becomes a customer you are not managing experience alone. You are managing their experience(s) WITHIN THE SPECIFIC AREAS that keep the relationship from deteriorating: how they understand your value, how expectations are set and maintained, how you create a positive communication climate, how you deliver on your promises, how you show empathy and accountability, how you show transparency and build trust. You assess these areas (specifically) and ask: “am I giving people what they need, am I making it easy, and am I building an emotional connection?

3. We think it is only about the “customer” experience

This dynamic (that experience is how we measure the health of the relationship) is not just about how you manage relationships with customers. It is how you should manage ALL your business relationships and why you are watching the increased interest and attention on “employee experience” as well. I know it is easy to put the “Cx” label on all things customer and find a hundred technology and consulting companies say THAT is what they sell. But you have to stop thinking about experience disconnected from relationship management and as something exclusive to customer behavior. If you are not seeing experience holistically, as something influencing and influenced by your customers, employees, and partners (channels, VARs, etc.) then you are neglecting some aspect of relationship, engagement, service, transparency, and/or experience management. This train that takes customers to their destination does not run itself. We are maintaining it, improving it, and operating it together on the same tracks. We all share the journey. It may be the customer train, but we all share the experience and contribute to the relationship.

4. We are too wrapped up in labels

You heard it from Shakespeare… “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet…”  The reason we continue to struggle with naming what we call our interactions with customers, is that we naturally gravitate to the things business relationships need to flourish (all human relationships, really). Relationships need definition, they need engagement and personalized attention, and commitment, and trust. They need intentional assessment of all the experiences where relationship behavior happens. It is no surprise that in the past 20 years we have changed the name of this objective to customer relationship, customer engagement, customer centricity, customer service, customer empathy, customer transparency, and now customer experience. Because these “magnificent seven” components are all supporting components of what relationships need to subsist. We keep spinning the wheel and landing on one of these seven things because they are all part of what relationships need to be relationships; what they need to thrive.

5. We still have too many cooks in the kitchen

As I attend customer experience events throughout the country, it amazes me that companies already known for providing great communication, or media, or content technology are now calling themselves “customer experience” companies. Rather than continuing to be the best at relationship, engagement, service, or transparency management or experience measurement, they claim to be customer experience experts. The truth is that, under the idea that customer experience is the overarching concept of managing “all things customer,” few people are true experts in all seven areas. In fact, few companies are true experts in experience management when you realize how little research there is on the success of such programs. Rather than jumping on the Cx bandwagon to be all things to all people, we need technology partners to specialize and focus. While there are companies with a broad expertise, resources, and reach to provide products and services in all seven areas, we need specialists to help pave the way in areas like customer transparency and centricity. Since we already brought Mr. Shakespeare into this… “This above all: to thine own self be true…” Not bad advice when it comes to managing experience and relationships in general.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

More on the Customer Experience Program at Rutgers University