The Owner of Experience: Nobody Knows Anything

This is the third instalment of a five-part thought piece that sets out to explore this pervasive but oft-misrepresented concept — Customer Experience (CX) — explaining what it actually is and what the benefits of doing it right will bring to your business and your customers.

Conceived, defined, discussed, written and edited collaboratively by the Strategy Department at Mentally Friendly; Anna Goddard, Alexandra McIntosh, Brian Dargan, Tadas Lukosevicius and Vicki Wilson.

There is a difference between knowledge and expertise and for a discipline as new as Customer Experience (CX) it’s difficult to separate the fakers from the makers. Many businesses are talking about CX. Advertising agencies will say they can do this. Consultancies will say they can do this. Design practices say they can do this. Behavioural economists say they can do this. Can they all? Equally well?

We all know that the customer is always right, but who’s asking the right questions of the customer?

Are you willing to jump down the rabbit hole?

Good CX puts the customer at the centre of the problem. Not design, not a clever strategy, not a beautiful interface and certainly not the priorities of the head honchos in the big boardroom. The best CX comes from someone willing to roll up their sleeves and step into the world of their customer. Someone with empathy, who can take an agile approach to research, testing and someone who is brave enough and empowered enough to ask tough questions and disrupt the status quo.

How far are you willing to go? The closer the better. It’s not about titles, but about how intimately and respectfully you can solve problems for both your client and their customer. If you’re within an organisation that’s willing and able to do this then power to you. But for most, hierarchy, expectations and diplomacy within organisations make it difficult for individuals to drive revolutionary CX from the inside without help.

A beautiful mind, with it’s hands tied

You need to invest for success. And you certainly need to understand your customer, but moreover, something needs to be produced for them. And it is in this production that some self-proclaimed CX ‘experts’ could be said to fall short.

Consultancies consult. Was that not groundbreaking? Okay let’s try that again — Traditional and behavioral consultancies are great problem solvers, incredible researchers and generally wonderful people (the ones I’ve met anyway), but their output is more often a strategy, an analysis of the situation and a suggested plan to execute rather than practical solutions and tangible customer facing output.

The same could be said for behavioural economists. Yes, they present incredible findings and suggest solutions, but often these are removed from the business world — too ethereal to have a strong and quick impact on the bottom line.

Both of these consultancy types, as a rule, don’t build. Which means that once the plan is set, the knowledge then needs to be passed along to another party for execution, which often results in loss of knowledge fidelity, and potentially leaving clients orphaned to execute on their own.

You’re just the pretty one

Creative agencies are wondrous, mystical beasts that produce, impactful and creative messages. But can a message alone truly change perception and forge bonds with customers? Or is it merely the wrapping that beautifies a business from the outside in?

Arguably, the difficulty with trying to solve CX problems as a creative agency (other than not having CX specialists) is that clients simply don’t expect or want you to get your hands dirty. They’ve done their research, defined their audience, produced the product, and closed that door.

For this reason, unfortunately even the most qualified creative agency could struggle to deliver strong CX, simply because of where they are in the food chain. Perhaps, if creative agencies really do want to play in the CX space (and why shouldn’t they?), then it’s a battle they need to fight on two fronts — to get up front in the process so that they are in a position to guide true change, and to ensure that when they do get a seat at the table, they truly have CX entrenched within their organisation (and that doesn’t mean 2 UX specialists and an interest in CRM).

Nowhere to hide

Solid CX needs a supporting business culture that ‘gets it’. A model that understands that the process isn’t one neat, linear master solution, but about iterative learning and agile problem solving.

When you are truly working with the customer at the centre of your project, you will feel a bit uneasy. This is because you will be working on the coal face of the project, face to face and hopefully in the same room as other project members both agency and client side. Many disparate parts will be coming together at rapid speed, you will be trialing your concept with *gasp* real people. This forces the project to leave the safe shores of assumption and theory, and sailing into the less predictable waters of fact and objectivity.

For someone who works in an agency doing CX and agile well — it’s a massive change. One that cannot be committed to half heartedly. Both client and third party need to be prepared to work differently, and that starts on day one when your agency could ask “what are your customers demanding from you?”

A star is born

Ultimately CX is multi faceted, still evolving and we are all still learning. Like professions that have had the time to mature and strengthen, we need to be looking over our shoulders to best in class examples and analysing what made those great, rather than claiming to be experts. We need to be more critical of what we’re doing, because ultimately CX is rising into position and prominence, and worth protecting and respecting in its formation.

Continue reading…
Part 1: The History of Experience: Accident or Design?
Part 2: The Principles of Experience: Rules & Engagement
Part 4: The Skills to Construct Experience: Survival of the Fittest
Part 5: The Creation of Experience: Good Teams Play Nice