Why Customer Experience is the next big buzzword in Digital and is overtaking User Experience

A lot of people I meet in the digital sector work in some form of optimising User Experience, a lot of people even have UX in their job title, whether it be a Designer, Front End Developer, Business Analyst, Researcher, Product Owner, the list goes on. However not many people have ‘Customer Experience’ in their job titles yet, but I honestly believe that is going to change as businesses realise that we are creating great experiences online, but are ignoring the shortfalls in the others which our damaging our products.

Let me tell you a story…

John wakes up one day and decides he wants to buy a new bicycle. He has been thinking about it for a while but just couldn’t justify it to himself, its a lot of money and he’s got one already, but screw that, today he is committed to buying that bike.

Because its a slightly larger product, John decides to go to his local bike store to buy a bike, but he finds that the sales reps either don’t know enough about what he wants, or they’re trying to just sell anything to him, so he goes online. Because of this experience in the physical store, he doesn’t even think about visiting the physical stores website. A little while later, John find a few specialist bike websites, goes back and forth a bit over a few days and ultimately decides to spend a good deal of money on a bicycle on one of the websites.

Because John is ordering online, he goes through the rigmarole of going from product pages then into checkouts and enters delivery details, billing details and choose a delivery speed. The website experience is great, it was really easy to place his order and happy with his purchase, John hits the big ‘Place Order’ button. He’s full of excitement about the purchase, but he is ignoring the voice in his head that thinks “I have just dropped a few hundred pounds and I probably don’t need that bike”.

10 minutes later, John still hasn’t received an email confirmation and gets a little anxious, has his order gone through? He logs onto his email on his computer to see if his phone isn’t picking up his email but there’s still no email. He worries, goes back to the website, logs in and sees his order has been received and just thinks its a little odd he hasn’t received an email and worries a bit about the company he’s just spent a lot of money with.

About 3 hours later, he gets an email confirmation. It tells John that the order has been received and confirms the amount he paid for and what he’s bought and that he will receive another email when it is on its way. This comes in a few days later saying that the bike will arrive tomorrow and will be with him between 8am and 8pm. Disgruntled that it cannot be more specific, he gets in contact with customer service to see if they can provide a more specific time. He waits 10 minutes on hold to do this and just gets a “It will arrive between 8am and 8pm” off the agent on the phone who doesn’t seem that pleased to be answering that question for the 50th time that day. The call ends and John worries that because he lives alone and won’t get home from work until 6pm he will miss the delivery, it will go back to the depot and he has no car to collect the parcel himself and his friends cars probably aren’t big enough to fit it in.

At some point in the next day whilst John is a work, a courier turns up, knocks on his door and gets no answer. The courier goes across the road, knocks on another few doors and is ultimately greeted a neighbour who accepts the parcel, the box is unloaded and dumped at a doorway, the courier trots back to his van and drives off and the slightly confused neighbour drags a huge box into her hallway wondering how she’ll get around it until its collected.

An hour later, John gets an email saying his package has been delivered, but it doesn’t say where, he’s worried it will just be left outside his door and will be stolen, or worse, it has been left with a neighbour he doesn’t get on with and will have to knock on with his tail between his legs. He decides to call the company again and is told the tracking information says “It’s been left with a neighbour” but nothing else, however he will have a delivery card when he gets home saying which one.

John gets home later that day and finds no such delivery card, so he goes door to door until he finds the neighbour who took it in. She isn’t happy that she had this huge box in her hallway all day or that the courier dumped it on her doorstop, but John apologises and drags it back to his place.

On opening the rather boring brown box, which by now is rather dented and damaged, he finds more brown boxes of bits, bits of bike and lots of plain plastic bags full of tiny bits and he starts to follow the instructions to build his bike. He’s hardly in ‘wow’ mode after his experiences here and this boring box isn’t helping, especially considering he’s spent so much money. He even considers closing the box and just returning it.

But no, John perseveres and some hours later, several muttered swear words and wishing he had just bought in a store and someone else had the task of building it, he leans his newly completed bike against the wall and feels proud of himself but is rather happy he probably won’t be purchasing another bike for a long while yet.

This isn’t a totally unfamiliar story,however it is how a lot of our shopping experiences go, not just with big ticket items, but with smaller, more regular ones.

Stick with me here, you’ve read the story so lets talk about why Customer Experience is the next buzzword….

Lets break down Johns overall experience:

  • He visited the a physical store and the experience put him off even visiting their online store.
  • He visited several websites, decided to buy off one of them and placed his order
  • He didn’t receive a confirmation email straight away, so had to go online to check he’d actually placed his order
  • He received an email saying the package was on its way, but not saying when
  • He spoke to an agent on the phone who gave him a blanket scripted answer
  • The courier attempts delivery at a house that is empty and ends up dumping a big box at another address.
  • An email comes in to say the package has been delivered but not where
  • There is no delivery slip
  • The packaging of the box is underwhelming given his high ticket purchase

Is it starting to click now?

When we generally think about user experience, we’re thinking about where they are a user with us. If we were lucky enough to be the website John visited and bought from, we’ve spent lots of money, resource and time optimising that experience to the best it can be. Sure we’re seeing great results, conversion is up, sales are up and we’re getting an return on our investment on the teams we’re paying to work on it.

But its not enough and we are essentially doing this:

John had experiences with lots of parts of multiple businesses in his purchase journey:

  • He visited physical stores of a company, where because of its emphasis on pushing a sale, missed a future connection and lost an online sale. Potentially even damaging the chance he comes back in later to service a bike or buy equipment
  • He didn’t get an email to confirm his order straight away, which damaged his trust in the company
  • His delivery email was unspecific and didn’t help him, forcing him to speak to an agent who, because they have heard that question hundreds of times already, sounds a entirely robotic on the phone.
  • His delivered state email didn’t say where it had been delivered, forcing John to worry and call again and again, hears a response that is being repeated for the hundredth time and sounds robotic.
  • The courier didn’t leave a note about which neighbour it was left with, prompting John to likely think he won’t use that company or its courier company again
  • When he finally got his package, he had an underwhelming experience unboxing it and a frustrating experience building his new bike.

So his Customer Experience actually ended up being like this:

All these experiences interact with some aspect of a business, and they’ll all given their own targets: Physical stores have sales targets. Emails teams have to deliver transactional emails in a timely and cost efficient manner. Call Centres have to answer calls in the most efficient way possible to reduce cost of service. Logistics companies have to deliver X amount of parcels to retain further profit. Packaging companies have to create cost efficient packaging that protects the products Logistics are shipping and UX are trying to make conversion better.

But if we look at all those experiences and functions in isolation, we start to miss the bigger picture. There’s a lot of things we could do with this experience to improve it and pick up for the shortfalls of others.

A lot of these separate experiences are damaging revenue being made from the sale too. Every time a customer calls, we have to pay to service them, which is usually much higher than you’d expect. The more a customer has to speak to us, the less money we make. The poor boxing takes the excitement away from the purchase. The bored agent on the phone makes me dread having to ever call etc..

We also begin to damage the reputation of our own business, along with damaging the reputation of the business we work with and for, which will affect return sales, brand perception and only come to bite us in the future in many other ways we don’t necessarily consider.

When we start to look at Customer Experience, we start to look at the wider picture, we can start to understand that by investing a little across the whole experience the customer takes, we can make those experiences better.

We can use this to make business better. We can reduce cost in the customer lifetime too, less servicing means less people to deal with customer contacts. Better information for logistics means less chance of parcels getting lost or speed up delivery, meaning lower costs...

I think by now you’re getting the picture.

And that my friends, is why Customer Experience is the next buzzword in Digital.