Customer Experience or Nothing! When Customer Satisfaction is Not Enough

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Tags: SSON

Lior Arussy

So you measure customer satisfaction. The results seem to be good and you show some improvement. But somehow when you talk to customers they seem to never appreciate your services. Every problem is magnified by customers and you often feel as they blow it out of proportion. Why is it that your statistics demonstrate success while in your experience every day dealing with customers feels more like a failure?

This is a critical question many executives are facing on a regular basis. The reason for this disparity between the satisfaction results and reality as they live it every day is simple: they measure the wrong thing. To be more exact: they declare success too quickly. When the target is customer satisfaction, executives are setting the bar too low. Such a low bar allows them to meet it, but miss the potential of customer relationship.

Let's decipher this puzzle. A client once called, all excited to share with me a major improvement in his customer relationships. His organization managed to lower the number of inaccurate invoices they issued to customers by 90%. He was excited and thrilled by the achievement. I asked him if he can identify one customer who will be willing to pay a cent more for the privilege of receiving accurate invoices. Needless to say he could not identify such a customer. What happened here? By fixing his customer invoicing problem, this executive met customer expectations. He did not do anything special. He simply satisfied customers. Customer satisfaction is a low bar to target in an era of demanding customers. Customer satisfaction is merely meeting expectations. When you meet expectations you miss the whole point of the relationship: exceeding expectations. Customers do not notice when we merely satisfy them. Meeting expectations is boring and when customers are bored they start searching for other more exciting alternatives a.k.a your competitors. Welcome to the new bar: customer experience or nothing.

We live in a world when the customer has raised the bar. Just as you do not write a congratulatory letter to the hotel manager for having shampoo and soap in your hotel room, customers will not congratulate you when you satisfy them. They want to be surprised. They want to be amazed and delighted. They want you to go the extra mile. If you are merely satisfying their expectations, you are at par with your competitors. And parity with competition is not a recipe for a long-term relationship.

The new competitive paradigm is: who will exceed customer expectations? Which service provider can surprise customers and deliver above and beyond? Delivering customer experience means delivering customized and personalized value to our customers. Customer experience is about emotional engagement with customers and not simply rational delivery of a one-size-fits-all product or service. In a study conducted by Gallup Group, the company discovered the purchasing patterns of rationally satisfied customers and unsatisfied customers were pretty much the same. It was only the emotionally satisfied customers (those who had an emotional experience) who almost doubled their purchases in comparison to their rationally satisfied or unsatisfied customers. The study's conclusion was quite clear: simply doing your job will no longer deliver positive customer actions. Customer satisfaction alone does no longer deliver sufficient value. Counting on customer satisfaction to measure your success will probably deliver an incorrect perception of success. At best, customer satisfaction will indicate that your process is not broken and that you have delivered without much of a reason for complaining. But do not confuse absence of complaints with customer delight.


To achieve customer experience, you need to go beyond the traditional Six Sigma perception of process redesign. An experience needs to be redesigned to deliver the following elements:

  • Personalized service to meet the individual needs of the customers
  • Customized products to reduce the need for customers to make them fit their needs
  • Relevance that applies to the customers' lifestyles and unique issues
  • Complete solutions that address the holistic problems customers face
  • Emotionally engaging experiences that treat the customer as a human being with feelings and emotions and recognize his fears, hopes and dreams.

Our global customer experience management study in 2008 indicated that companies are still failing to deliver a complete solution to customer needs. In order of importance, complete solution and value-added services came way before web based services. The challenge of delivering customer experience is to identify the complete customer problem, and delivering a solution to it that will have sufficient personalized value-add. In short, ask yourself, did our total experience allow the customer to forget about the issue? Does he or she enjoy a complete peace of mind, or do we leave them with much work to do before and after they encounter our services?

The approach to customer experience is based on the following guidelines:

  • Define the experience you are creating for your customers
    Key question: Do your company and your customers agree that the experience you offer meets your customers’ complete needs
  • Deliver the experience to your customers effectively, quickly and easily
    Key question: Is your company easy to do business with or do you create obstacles for the customer?
  • Delight your customers by delivering excellence every day and creating an emotional connection to your brand
    Key question: Has your company fulfilled your customers’ basic needs to lay the foundation for creating an emotion bond?

Customer satisfaction is a nice start. But in the eyes of the customer it is no longer the endgame. Any organization that determines to differentiate itself based on customer delight needs to assume the same conviction. Operating based on predetermined processes and minimizing complaints is not the definition of greatness. It is at best the definition of "not bad". To build customer loyalty and commitment, organizations need to raise the bar and operate based on customer experience principles of exceeding customer expectations and delivering emotionally engaging experience. Customers dictate the new rule: customer experience or nothing! Your choice is to resist and ignore or embrace and exceed.

Shared Services and Customer Experience

The challenge of customer satisfaction vs. customer experience is magnified in the world of shared services. Several unique customer relationship issues create a heightened demand for operating based on customer experience principles:

  • Perception of "back office" and commodity – share services organizations are perceived as "non core" and as such do not enjoy the best customer relationship (to say the least). They need to work harder to demonstrate their value to the organization.
  • Difficult customer relationships – customers are viewing the relationship with shared services as "forced". They have never selected the shared services. They believe that, outside, there are better options. Through customer experience, shared services organizations need to dispel this myth and demonstrate closer, more relevant value.
  • Outsourcing as a constant threat – we often observed the fear of shared services employees from the imminent threat of outsourcing. Leaders of shared services need to combat this fear by developing and delivering superior value and experiences. The answer to outsourcing is not customer satisfaction but exceeding customer expectations.
  • Process orientation – Often shared services value is perceived as operating a set of processes. It is this mentality that reduces customers to employee IDs and ignores the human behind the number. Customer experiences are elevating the perception and help shared services relate to their customers through a personalized value uniquely designed to the individual.

Shared services must elevate their bar and operate as if they have been in a competitive environment. Do not take your customers for granted. That is when you will settle for satisfaction. It is the competitive spirit to be the absolute best that will energize you to set and reach higher standards and serve your customers better.