Customers Rock!

A blog about customers, their experiences, and how businesses can make sure their customer experiences rock!

Can the customer experience be managed?

Posted by Becky Carroll on June 28, 2007

puppet.jpg Let’s think about the word manage

From Merriam Webster’s online dictionary:

1 : to handle or direct with a degree of skill: as a : to make and keep compliant <can’t manage their child> b : to treat with care <managed his resources carefully> c : to exercise executive, administrative, and supervisory direction of <manage a business> <manage a bond issue> <manage a baseball team>
2 : to work upon or try to alter for a purpose <manage the press>
3 : to succeed in accomplishing <managed to escape from prison>
4 : to direct the professional career of <an agency that manages entertainers>

As I was reading a blog post from David Armano on Total Design, it caused me to start thinking about what we really mean when we say we want to manage our customer’s (or user’s) experience.  Can we truly “direct with a degree of skill” all the pieces?  David references Adam Greenfield’s excellent write-up about the shift towards “Total Experience”.  Here is the text that made me stop and think:

“Ensuring that all phases and aspects of someone’s interaction with a product/service ecology align with the desired vision requires that something little short of total control be asserted over their choices. This, in turn, leaves little room for the self-evident (and lovely) messiness of our lives, not much in the way of flexibility should the scenario of use deviate to any significant degree from that contemplated at design time.”

David has paired some of his insightful images alongside excerpts from Adam’s post, so I highly encourage you to go and check them out on his site.  

When organizations tell me they want help to “manage” the customer’s experience, they often mean they want help in creating a perfectly branded experience where every step is moving the customer closer to that organization’s goals.  They want to exert total control over the customer and their experience.

I agree with Adam and David.  We can no more “manage” our customer’s experience than we can control the rising of the sun, as our customers all have free will.  They may choose to take the path we have laid out for them to take, or they may blaze their own trail.  So where can we have an influence?

Roger von Oech moves us in the right direction with his post on getting good things from the unexpected.  Customers blazing their own trails show us a lot about their way of thinking, their desires, and how they want to be served.  What can we do as an organization?  We can engage and interact with them.  As Roger states:

“…it’s important to get engaged with the process and do something. Not too many surprising things come to those who sit around waiting for something to happen.”

Blogs provide one good method of interaction, but any customer touchpoint can give us this opportunity.  Each time a customer engages with us, regardless of where it is in the customer lifecycle, we can interact and learn from them how best to meet their needs.

The “management”, then, should be on the internal side.  Managing our customer’s experience becomes a strategy for the organization to ensure we are engaging with our customers at each opportunity, we have a structure to capture what we learn from those interactions, and we use it to help meet the needs of our customers at each place where they touch our organization.  If we do it right, customers will be delighted with our offerings, they will continue to purchase from us, and they will tell others to do the same.

(Graphic: caraman)


6 Responses to “Can the customer experience be managed?”

  1. rshevlin said

    Great question, and excellent thoughts. Personally, I’ve been frustrated with a lot of the talk around customer experience management because so many writers co-opt the term to fit their own view of the world. I’m also surprised that practically no one sees CEM as the flip side of the process reengineering fad of the early 90s. Back then, firms were running around “reengineering business processes” to reduce cycle time, eliminate errors, improve efficiencies, and reduce costs.

    What many of them didn’t do was ask “what do our customers want?” Thankfully, firms are asking that today. But few are putting two and two together. That is, recognizing that customer “experiences” often (but granted, not always) occur within the context of what the 90s manager called a “business process”. Instead, we talk too broadly, and talk about the “online experience” or the “branch experience”, etc.

    So can we “manage” customer experiences? I think so. We just need to integrate the external (customer perception, needs, wants) with the internal (process design) components.

  2. Nice challenge of the “management” concept. I like the idea of facilitation. It implies guidance yet the flexibility to allow for when things go differently as planned. But good facilitators know how to guide a discussion so that it ends up being productive.

    You may also enjoy this post:

  3. Thanks for the mention. I also like the old folk saying,

    “The dog that trots about finds the bone.”

  4. Ron, thank you for your thoughts – always good ones! I agree that the internal processes and strategy need to come together with the external conversations/feedback/research with customers. Too often, I don’t see the external feed back into the internal; they seem to operate on their own. If each time we touch the customer we take what we learn and apply it back to improving the internal processes in order to meet customer needs, we do indeed get a little bit closer to “managing” the customer experience. The journey is long, but the path is clear.

    Thanks again, Ron!

  5. David, thanks for adding in your comments. The idea of facilitation is a good one in this situation. I like the post you referenced, and if a faciliator of the conversation can learn like the one architect did, then apply it back to improving the customer experience for others, we would come much closer to meeting our customers’ needs.

    Great to have you here, David!

  6. Roger, words of wisdom, indeed. Thanks for your contribution to broadening our thinking!

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