January 27, 2022
Someone last week asked me: Isn’t customer experience just a trendy phrase that actually and simply refers to customer service? What more can it possibly mean? They were vaguely aware of Customer Experience as a rising concept in commerce, but still viewed it as customer service simply and mainly, a process which is really but one component of what we now understand Customer Experience (CX) to be.
For a long time, customer service was what we called the main body of our interactions as firms and companies with our customers and clients. It has been commonly understood that the main scene of interaction, or touchpoint, between any business and its customer or client is partially the moment of purchase, and mainly, if need be, the systems and protocols of customer service that consumers engage with post-purchase, be it for repair, maintenance, returns, or refunds. Customer Experience as a concept and practice understands that the critical moments of any relationship between a firm and their customers don’t begin at or around the moment of purchase, and certainly don’t take a holiday until they need help again.
Rather, Customer Experience operates closer to how relationships work in life ideally, defined by a holistic and fully embodied model of engagement that begins when a customer hears of a product or service; it develops with honest understandings of where customers are and what what they need and want; and it continues past the point of sale or mutual engagement as an uninterrupted open and engaged dialogue between customers and firm, with the customer always knowing and having access to the firm’s commitment to its ideals and the services or products rendered. It is, in effect, a commitment, one to better and more engaged business practices, and as we will see, practices currently related to and experiencing precipitous growth.
Beyond the simple differences of scale between the concepts of Customer Experience and customer service, wherein the former is more of a systemic whole with customer service but one integral part, the fields surrounding Customer Experience are currently engaged in a pronounced if not meteoric rise and period of tremendous growth. New firms and concerns seem to sprout weekly, all either laser focused on different components of Customer Experience, or aimed at offering solutions and resources towards any company’s CX program broadly, from customer engagement to fulfillment, and indeed including what many of us already know as customer service.
That the field of customer service is now understood mainly as having a role, and a key if not integral one, but still only a role, one that represents a single part of the complex web of customer and firm relationships and interactions that comprise customer experience, is another marker of this age of digital transformation. Our variegated understandings of our relationships to our customers and clients are evolving, and with it our best practices for how to actually, in all stages of our interactions, be in real relationship with our customers, one that ensures good experiences and repeat engagements, evolve as well.
Companies and firms that rely fully or in part on consumer engagement are now pouring resources and placing a great deal of emphasis on ensuring that their customer experience — how the customer really feels while in their orbit or using their products and services — beats the experience of their competitors. A stronger, more fully developed holism in how firms approach and engage with their consumers is quickly becoming the conceptual standard in which companies and firms understand their relationship with their clients and customers, and the burgeoning field of Customer Experience bears this out.
These developments, and their stakes for the world ahead, are worth revisiting and discussing both broadly and in detail. Major moves are being made at the company level, be it the incredible IPOs and market debuts of firms like Medallia and their surging debut in 2019, or the recent billion dollar IPO of walkme, a digital transformation company. Customers now understand even more fully what they have to varying extents always known, the weight of not just their buying power but their engagement broadly and individually in any relevant field, be it commerce, healthcare, or even or perhaps especially social media.
These developments have leaders in business taking note and making moves, at every junction where their firms and concerns engage with consumers, every touchpoint, in order to raise the overall levels of their Customer Experience protocols. According to a North Highland survey, 87% of business leaders in the US and UK tag CX as their top growth engine. Not a majority, or even a hyper-majority, but near unanimity amongst those involved in running full scale enterprises as to the import of customer experience. If we understand any firm or enterprise’s future as regards the concept of growth to be at least somewhat existential, then the meaning of the ongoing near universal embrace of Customer Experience as an essential growth driver in an age of digital transformation takes on all the more weight. Thinking syllogistically if not synergistically, the potential of any current or future venture or enterprise relies or will rely on Customer Experience as a central and core component of their overall and day to day operations. The future will not be guided from the top down by fiat, but really by how the customers and the markets they comprise think and feel, how they react and are made to react by the quality and depth or lack thereof of their Customer Experience in any purchase, deal, or engagement.
Going further, another study conducted by Grand View Research estimates that the Customer Experience field and the industries they constitute in the United States will grow 15% annually from 2021 to 2028. These are estimates born out by the hard numbers already generated by the ascendancy of Customer Experience as a practice and corporate understanding within the related industries in recent years. And the numbers, as noted by Grand View’s white paper, indicate crystalline upward trends of adoption of Customer Experience, trends that will register as growth of at least fifteen percent year in year out for at least the next six years. Customer Experience as a field is becoming a safer bet as it grows ever larger year in and year out, and as it necessarily expands in the scope of its services, positively affected industries, and overall growth as a market.
One very recent example of this is offered by the recent acquisition of Clarabridge, a firm specializing in omnichannel conversational analytics, or an ability to generate data from everywhere a customer has engaged directly, such as emails, reviews, comments, and posts, by the Experience Management firm Qualtrics in a stock transaction worth some 1.125 billion dollars in August of 2021. Clarabridge had already massed a client base that included General
Motors, Expedia, Bank of America, and other major commercial and financial players, and Qualtrics, who pride themselves on their Customer Experience offerings and bill themselves as the number one experience management platform in the market, clearly saw where foundational aspects of the commercial and enterprising future lie. Customer Experience, by all accounts, has a lock on that future, or at the very least a critical and integral role in it.
Medallia, a San Francisco founded firm that specializes in manufacturing software tools to help companies monitor customer satisfaction, offers another useful case study of the recent rise of Customer Experience as a field and integral market concern. Shares for their Summer 2019 initial public offering were priced initially at around twenty one dollars, but quickly soared to peaks of 39.50 by close of its debut, with a corresponding market valuation of over 4.5 billion dollars. Just like that, a well regarded startup in the field of Customer Experience and engagement nearly doubled its initial valuation, well above which it still comfortably rests.
The market has followed the trends that have taken to favoring Customer Experience as a fully embodied field rather than a singular aspect entity like customer service, and IPO valuations and stock and share prices have risen accordingly. Medallia and Qualtrics’ Clarabridge acquisition are but two of the positive examples of the sheer rise of Customer Experience as an industry that we have seen as of late, with others abounding. As examples of digital transformation, these two companies are but two of many that manifest the current rise of Customer Experience in general.
As a negative counterexample, one of particular note to marketing professionals, is the recent case of the Apple Airpods Max. The headphone’s failed launch, as profiled in the following Cult of Mac article — which recounts in detail the failure of their flagship over ear headphone the Airpods Max to connect with their customers, who were mainly aggrieved at what they felt was unfair pricing, and physical discomfort with the product itself, especially for its price point well above similar ranges of competitor products.
This is auspicious for several reasons, but here mainly in the failure of one of the companies that helped rewrite the book on consumer relations, the entire experiences of everything from going to a computer store, to listening to music, to our very understanding of what a phone can do. Their failure to fully understand and appreciate what their customers wanted and how they wanted it was indicated in the initial responses to the product launch, and substantiated by customers and reviewers who pointed out that it was simply not a value proposition at the end of the day, a distinction everyone noted as a departure from Apple’s usual role as an archetype of Customer Experience and service. Complacency in this or any area of the Customer Experience will increasingly lead to failure, even for companies as beloved and expansive as Apple.
While the fields and industries of Customer Experience continue to expand, with helpful coverage from sites like CXBuzz.com that help monitor and analyze the latest developments and trends in Customer Experience, the outlook and import of the field for commerce and business in general cannot easily be overstated as regards future outlooks and the bottom line now and then. The trends, be they in the corporate tools and research and development spheres as reflected by the Qualtrics/Clarabridge and Medallia deals and offerings, or in Apple’s recent failure to launch a flagship audio product, are very clear. The future of success in business seems to increasingly be dependent on any individual firm or field’s success and engagement with Customer Experience.
Customer service appears to increasingly be a relic of the past, at least as an isolated field, as we evolve our understandings of how to best engage with customers and clients, and how to best steward their experiences with any firm’s offering or service. Understanding that dynamic as one small part of a customer’s engagement with a firm or product, as one aspect of their experience, will go a long way towards ensuring the profitable future of that firm or specific product, and, as Grand View states, clearly drive growth, the bedrock of the future.
It’s worth noting, as the Cult of Mac article makes clear, that Apple’s customers did not, out of spite or anger, begin finding fault with other aspects of Apple’s operation, or their products. Items such as the Airpods classic remained beloved, and commercially successful, representing as they did cross-platform successes as products with attendant services at the right price point for the right markets. Every step was critical, and every step was met, a thoroughness that proper focus on Customer Experience always rewards, and that one runs the risk of commercial failure for neglecting. To that end, firms like Clarabridge and Medallia represent the rise of systems and firms to begin helping address such failures and errors in the market when they occur, and do so utilizing protocols and principles integral to Customer Experience in order to do so, a move customers and clients like, and thus one the market has rewarded and is on track to do so for years to come.
Alon Ghelber is the Chief Marketing Officer at Revuze. He also works as a marketing consultant for VC sand is a member of the Forbes Business Council. He is also the founder and manager of the LinkedIn groups “Start Up Jobs in Israel” and “High Tech Café.”
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