Customer experience can be difficult to define, but easy to
recognize when it’s missing.
It's become the holy grail that companies seek as a way to stand out from their
competition. And for good reason.
In its March survey report, Experience is Everything: Here’s How To Get It Right,
PwC found 73% of global respondents say a positive experience is among the key
drivers that influence their brand loyalties.
And they’re willing to back that
up with dollars - consumers would pay as much as 16% more for better customer
But how is that defined? Nearly 80% of PwC's respondents indicate speed,
convenience, knowledgeable help and friendly service are the most important
elements of a positive customer experience.
This month we are exploring the topic of customer experience from a variety of
For this installment, we talked to Brian Solis, principal analyst
and futurist at Altimeter, a Prophet company.
Solis’ most recent book is X:
The Experience When Business Meets Design, and in March wrote a report in partnership
with Sabre Hospitality, “Digital Transformation of the Guest Experience.”
Following are excerpts from our conversation with Solis.
Let’s start with the
basics - how do you define customer experience?
What we really should be talking about is how are you
designing experiences that people are willing to find and pay more for and love
At the end of the day that’s what people mean. Because the way
the industry talks about customer experience is as if it’s mechanical. It’s: "Let’s
move to the cloud, let’s create mobile touch points and apps. Let’s reinvent
loyalty to game it."
But customer experience can only be described if you put an
apostrophe "s" in it – it’s the customer’s experience. What they feel and think
and do in the sum of all of those moments that they have with your company.
just one moment – the sum of all of them.
Experience means it is sensory, an emotion, a feeling, a
reaction to a moment. So understanding it at that level, you realize that we're
actually not designing for that, we're designing for conversions.
And when you
start to design at an emotional level, you realize quickly that when you hit at
that level you create greatness.
Years ago, customer experience
was not something we heard much about. Now it’s everywhere and it feels like the
bar is higher than ever. Would you agree?
The bar is higher than ever. All experts agree that
competing for customer experience is competing for competitive advantage. And it's
In fact, in all of my research, when I study digital transformation,
enterprise innovation, you name it, at the heart of it is customer experience. It’s
where the most progressive investments and bolder bets are being made.
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I always say that there's two types of innovation, there's
the "aha" moment and then there’s the "uh-oh" moment, and what we're seeing is
customer experience being thrust into the spotlight because of the “uh-oh" moment because so many companies didn't prioritize the customer experience for
And now you have to.
So there’s a bit of
peer pressure involved?
It’s certainly what’s happening or a reaction to what you
could the Amazon effect or the Uber effect.
I call it the Kodak moment because … Kodak invested in digital just like Blockbuster invested in a Netflix-like
But ultimately what foiled them was you had shareholders and
stakeholders that wanted to return profits and shareholder value based on the
model that was generating that revenue at the time - so for Blockbuster it was rentals, for Kodak it was film - without
allowing the company to develop a new potential product or model to deliver
future shareholder value.
So you've got this competing for the moment versus
competing for the future, and that's what's happening.
But at the heart of the Kodak moment, or the heart of Blockbuster’s
Kodak moment, was ultimately because people changed, and that's what we're
really talking about here. You have to look at this as the customer’s
And what that means is once the customer has a great experience, it
is the standard for all experiences.
It's not just, "Well, I understand that my
Uber-like experience is only relegated to taxis." It's, "No, why isn’t my dentist
like this, my doctor like this, my lunch like this, my coffee." Everything
starts to become beholden to a new center of reference.
You talk of competing
for the moment versus competing for the future. One of the things that we hear
a lot about is brands adopting the latest hot technology, whether that's AI, VR,
chatbots, etc. Is that an effective strategy to improve the customer’s
The reality is that it does work, which is what's so
You see all these companies focusing on quarter-to-quarter performance,
and they're looking for ways to drive incremental growth.
I'm not asking you to
not compete for the moment. But I am saying that if you have zero bets on the future,
you literally are out of the game. You are not going to get to the future
through incremental improvement.
I think there's a famous quote that light bulbs were not the result of the incremental improvements of candles.
And this comes back to another passion point that I study,
which is what I call iteration versus innovation.
So when you have companies
that are competing for the moment, they get confused in thinking that they are
innovating in the process. So moving to the cloud, mobile, you name it.
I always say that disruption is a gift you can give unto others or it is a gift given to you. It’s a choice.
Brian Solis - Altimeter Group
What they're doing, though, is they're essentially putting
these new things into existing models, paradigms, processes and policies.
not actually allowing for those technologies, or the opportunities that they
present, to deliver innovative outcomes.
So you get what I call iteration,
which is doing the same things but better and at scale. And innovation is doing
new things that create new value.
And what you want is a balance of both
because that recipe leads to disruption, which is doing new things that make
the old things obsolete.
Once you have that there's no turning back. I always say
that disruption is a gift you can give unto others or it is a gift given to
you. It’s a choice.
Mobile is particularly
important in travel as people are using their devices throughout their
experience. What is important to understand about customer experience on
This couldn't be more profound.
I’ve spent the last few years with Google, specifically
understanding what happens at the beginning of a journey and what that journey
looks like and how that leads to conversions and outcomes, specifically from
And I studied every industry from travel to automotive to retail, and I am
still doing this, because it's only accelerating.
It is mind blowing how
extreme it is that you can see right at the heart of why there's so much
disruption in the world at the hands of mobile for a lot of reasons.
to simplicity, convenience, but also I call customers today accidental narcissists
because that device tells them and reminds them and reinforces that they are
the most important person in the universe every single time they look at it.
And when you go through a traditional customer journey, it’s
the opposite - you are not the most important person in the universe.
But this accidental
narcissism leads to this ego system where they only want to engage with
services or businesses that cater to that accidental narcissism.
The Uber effect, if you will. And that is only accelerating.
Where I encourage all businesses to focus is what's your mobile customer doing
or if you want to just cut to the heart of the matter, look at what the best
mobile companies are doing and then take those insights and apply it to your
Because if you look at your mobile customer, your competitors, you can
you kind of get a limited view.
But if you do like what Domino’s or Starbucks
does, and you look at consumers’ favorite apps, take insights from that and
then apply it to your customer journey, you're innovating.
Thinking about your
own experiences as a traveler - flying, staying in hotels - where do you see
opportunities for brands to improve your experience?
Everything. The whole things needs to be modernized.
would your mobile customer want? I think is a question.
What would a Tinder user
do? It leads to wild possibilities.
I recently presented to folks in the travel
industry and even wrote this in my recent digital transformation guest
experience paper which was: "I love after a long flight and drive, arriving at
my hotel and waiting in a long line just to get keys to my room. Said no one
Everything could be reimagined. And I know that they're introducing
apps and keyless entry and all kinds of stuff. But the entire physical
experience … design every moment, every process every policy for this accidental
The challenge is that we limit ourselves into thinking about
how we can incrementally improve what we have versus radically reset what we
Is there a disconnect
between what a brand's perception might be of the quality of its customer
experience and consumers’ actual satisfaction?
Oh, absolutely. It's called the experience divide.
the things I said inspired my book was if you look at the experiences that
people value, and you look at how brands measure the value that they think
they're delivering, you find a gap.
Then I looked at what executive think their employee
engagement looks like versus what employees think that their engagement looks
like. And there was a massive gap there, too.
So I call that the employee
Innovation right now, unfortunately, and customer experience, are looked upon as cost centers when in fact they are investments in the future.
Brian Solis - Altimeter Group
And so yes, there is this massive cognitive bias that exists
that prevents all of this stuff.
But if you look at those gaps, and this has
been a lot of what I've tried to inspire in every industry, if you look at
those gaps, you realize what's happening is that those divides show exactly
opportunities for disruption.
If I was an investor or startup, that's exactly
where I would be looking to figure out how I'm going to disrupt your business.
My work now is on innovation and creating innovation
mindsets in slow-moving organizations. The hardest part is to get people to see
that they are the person that I'm talking about.
Any final advice you’d
like to share?
We don't know what we don't know. And we tend to make
decisions based on our gut and our experience, because life has encouraged us
to do that.
But these are those moments where you have to even challenge
your own conventions and say what am I not seeing. Because that's exactly where
everybody else is failing.
They’re thinking that these types of things are just
going to continue the quarter-to-quarter performance that delivers against the
shareholder value that they've all become beholden to.
Innovation right now, unfortunately, and customer
experience, are looked upon as cost centers when in fact they are investments
in the future.
And so we have to even just start with that mindset - see that
these are movements in new directions to create new opportunities. And this
relationship between iteration and innovation and disruption is exactly the
balance, the recipe that is the secret sauce for the success of any business.
can't just compete through iteration and you can't fool yourself into thinking
you're innovating when you're not.
The advice is simply to say this is a time
for leadership, not for scaling management and traditional models that we know into