Thursday, June 4, 2015

CX Journey™ Musings: Are We Dumbing Down the Customer Experience?

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Does "imitate the competition" describe your approach to customer experience design? 

Are you more focused on what your competitors or other companies are doing than on your own business, customers, and customer experience strategy?

I feel like some companies are dumbing down their customers and the customer experience.

Why do I call it "dumbing down?" Let's define it first, in case you're not familiar with the phrase. According to Merriam-Webster, dumbing down is: to lower the level of difficulty and the intellectual content of. 

Every time I pick up a book about customer experience, I'm shocked (sarcasm) to see yet another one cite Apple, Zappos, Ritz-Carlton, or Nordstrom as the poster children for a great customer experience. Don't get me wrong, they are (the poster children).

But do companies rely too much on those examples to simply lower the level of difficulty in execution for themselves - so that they don't have to think about how to develop something unique and specific to their own brand?

Think about the word "brand" for a second. It's not just a unique mark on an animal (sorry, the farm girl in me surfaced for a minute), it's a company's unique mark, too. Heidi Cohen provides some great definitions of "brand" on her site.

But I digress.

When companies "dumb down" their customer experience to be (or try to be) like someone else's, it's unoriginal. As if customers want and expect the same thing from every company with which they interact.

So if companies all think that they have to be like Apple or Ritz-Carlton or Zappos or Nordstrom, does that mean they can't think for themselves? Does that mean that companies can't be themselves? Does that mean your company has to be like them? And what if your customers don't want you to be like them? What if your customers have different needs or want a different experience with you? Because you're you?

I feel like companies are just being lazy if they think they can just do what others are doing and call it their customer experience.

Note that I use those companies as examples, too. But to inspire, not to copy. Let those examples help you raise your own bar, but you can't imitate.

From Forrester, we know that customer experience quality is based on:
  • Effectiveness: customers get value from the experience
  • Ease: customers get value without difficulty
  • Emotion: customers feel good about the experience
Bain tells us that the five disciplines in which customer experience leaders excel:
  1. Compelling vision linked to brand promise: What do we want to stand for in the eyes of our customers?
  2. Must-win battles defined from the outside: Which handful of actions will generate the most impact with our target customers?
  3. NPS/customer feedback for continuous improvement: How can we use customer feedback to promote learning and behavior change among employees?
  4. Customer experience redesign: When we put ourselves in the customer’s shoes, what aspects of the experience need to change?
  5. How can we anticipate and mitigate the risks, in order to sustain the changes?
And there are other firms out there who recommend their own set of attributes to describe customer experience leaders. I've written that I believe a customer experience ought to be built on trust and be personal, memorable, remarkable, emotional, and consistent.

You cannot be remarkable by following someone else who's remarkable. -Seth Godin

These are just attributes to follow, to use as design guidelines, not exact experiences to mimic.

Not everyone can be a Zappos or an Apple or a Nordstrom or a Ritz Carlton. And perhaps that's not what customers expect. These companies are inspirational and aspirational, but you need to figure out what your customers want and need and expect.

Listen to your customers. Understand who they are and what they are trying to achieve. Then go forth and design an experience that is relevant to them. Not to someone else's business or to someone else's customers.

If we all worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true is really true, there would be little hope of advance. -Orville Wright


  1. This is a great musing Annette.

    Companies should take inspiration, but avoid the Xerox machine. To quote the author of "Flip the Funnel" Joseph Jaffe, "Once is witty, twice is sh*tty."

  2. Another well written article Annette. Perfect timing because I got asked to do some benchmarking....!

  3. There is a service centre guru in the UK called John Seddon who is known for the quote "Benchmarking is the fastest way to mediocrity".

    I think you have a lovely point

  4. Great quote by James which has a huge amount of truth in it.

    Like you, I struggle with always seeing companies like Apple or Ritz-Carlton or Zappos or Nordstrom being held up as examples all the time. Despite their example aiming to be inspirational it can have the opposite effect.

    Personally, I'd like to see more examples from all sorts of firms highlighting even the smallest things that they do. This could widen and deepen the pool of inspiration and ideas and break down the idea of being a CX leader into something that feels more attainable.


  5. Hi Annette, I completely agree. Most companies forget that it is their service model and approach that they are seeking to change and should not ry to copy or emulate another companies that will be, in most cases, a completely different model.

    I think that there is a gap in the CX world, where leading examples are limited. Perhaps, something that CXPA should reach out for...