Wednesday, April 29, 2015

How I Define Customer Experience

By Olivier Arnoux
Senior Vice President, Customer Experience
and Satisfaction


Just type on Google “what is Customer Experience?” and you will have 352,000,000 answers in less than 0.30 seconds…

Check “Customer Experience” on the Collins English Dictionary On Line and, interestingly, you will have no proposal. On the contrary, you will have a suggestion for “did you mean “near-death experience?””: I must recognized that sometimes, we are not that far…

There are many articles, blogs and books on “Customer Experience” (CX), more and more job offers, larger and larger conferences and self-declared gurus on the topic... But finally, “what is Customer Experience?”

There is a consensus, between me and myself, on defining “technically” “what is Customer Experience” as the sum of interactions between a Customer and a Brand and how it is perceived, consciously or unconsciously by the Customer.

For me, “CX” is about creating value and being able to answer one simple question: what is possible to do, that our clients need, that we can do profitably, better than our competitors, with whom we can cooperate?”

For me, “CX” is about defining a system composed of different elements (functional departments such as marketing, sales, finance, legal, supply chain, communication…, attitude, design, atmosphere, products, services, systems… ) efficiently coordinated to deliver intentionally a CX.

For me at last, “CX” is about making people happy, our Customer, our Staff and of course our bosses, our colleagues, our owners and our shareholders by engaging them over time and over location into a true and authentic relationship (see my post on this topic:

Quite often, there are some confusion on how companies describe the area of CX.

When defining a CX, there are 3 dimensions to consider:

A “why are we doing this?" dimension: the business objective(s)
Many times, people jumps directly on “we want to deliver a memorable experience”. Ok but what for? And to who? How often? With which return on investment?... “Customer Experience” is about “business”. You must be extremely clear on what you want to achieve from a business perspective…and this must be translated into financial goals.

I advise you to read this interesting white paper from Oracle on Customer Experience metrics and KPIs:

In summary, the author of this article describes the “Customer Experience Value Equation” as composed of 3 business challenges yielding a total of 9 business objectives:
  • Acquisition (increase sales)
    • Generate more opportunities
    • Increase brand equity
    • Increase market share
  • Retention (monetize relationships)
    • Increase share of wallet
    • Drive loyalty
    • Drive advocacy
  • Efficiency (leverage investments)
    • Increase ROIC (Return on Invested Capital) or EVA (Economic Value Add)
    • Increase productivity
    • Decrease cost of operations.
Once you are clear on your financial goals, you can link and measure your actions to/against it. Believe me, it is useful when your CEO or/and your Chief Financial Officer ask you “why do you need this budget?” or “What’s in for us…and our shareholders?”…

A “what do we want to achieve?” dimension: the intent.
CX is at the cross-road of “who you serve” and “who you are”.
On each point of interaction, between the Customer and the Brand, the “Customer Experience” has to be consistent, intentional, differentiated and valuable.

There are for me, 3 key intents to cover when defining “Customer Experience.
  • The “Functional intent (delivering the basics): this is the part of the CX related to an outcome, a result, a benefit to the Customer. Although this relates to “basics”, you must set the norms and be the best at delivering the fundamentals of your industry. You tell your Customer “you (really) get what you pay for” and in return your Customer would say “they know what they are doing and you rarely see an error”.
  • The “Personal intent” (meeting individual needs): this is the part of the CX related to meeting individual needs, personalizing the interactions and being relevant. You tell your Customer “you are unique” and in return your Customer would say “they know me and adapt their services / content accordingly”.
  • The “Emotional intent” (shifting expectations): this is the part of the CX related to emotions, to the “magic” to infuse inside Customer Experience. There are many companies that excel at delivering the fundamentals (extra)ordinary well but they lack this emotional dimension (I would put for instance Toyota in this category). With the emotional intent, you tell your Customer “you are special” and in return you Customer would say “they always make you feel special and they always go for extra mile to serve you”.

A “how do we deliver?” dimension: the means.
The intentional side of CX represents 20% of the Customer Experience while the “means” one represents 80%: once your intent is properly defined, you have to deliver!

Accommodation, design, atmosphere, products, furniture, equipment, conditions, cleanliness, staff, digital, staff, processes…: there are many “means” that contribute to deliver CX.

These means can be described as follow:
  • Organization: which includes factors like the organization chart, alignment amongst departments, how you design the critical touch points to deliver upon your promise, formal goals, tools, resources…
  • Processes: how the work is set up, the support processes for the work, how the information is passed through the business…
  • Individual performers: the skills and knowledge of the staff, what motivates them, the structure of their specific jobs, where they are likely to come from, how you develop and implement your change management strategy…
As a conclusion, when we define “Customer Experience”, we should enlarge our vision to the 3 dimensions of CX (subdivided in 3 parts):

3 Customer Experience business challenges:
  • Acquisition (increase sales)
  • Retention (monetize relationships)
  • Efficiency (leverage investments)
3 Customer Experience intent:
  • Functional (delivering upon promise)
  • Personal (meeting individual needs)
  • Emotional (shifting expectations)
3 Customer Experience means:
  • Organisation (functions and tools)
  • Processes (how the work is set up).
  • People (skills and knowledge).
A last word: I really like a sentence from the Starbucks’ CEO, Howard Schutz who said “we are not here to serve coffee, we are here to serve people”. “Customer experience” is not about a digital journey, a churn rate, call centers, MOOC, disruptive innovation, big data, smart data, e-reputation, the best bread in town and so on: regardless of your objectives, intent and means, CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE IS ABOUT PEOPLE!

Full disclosure: I work for Accor. Any views expressed are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer.

Olivier Arnoux is a Customer Experience and Operations senior manager with over 16 years of experience in multiple industries including automotive, hospitality and luxury experience. His specialties include developing and implementing Customer Experiences: Customer insights, strategy, experience design and redesign (supply chain, sales, marketing, after sales, finance, purchasing, call centres, HR…), digital experience, cultural adaptation, international deployment, measure of performances, governance, Customer centric culture and continuous improvement. He is proud to drive change management including cross-functional alignment, and team engagement from entrepreneurship to "service from the heart."


  1. John Maxwell is award-winning businessman and writer; performance development and sales and marketing specialist; and Founder of Synergy Strategies, Inc. As a Marine, I was featured in Leatherneck and Marines Magazine and I was recently published in Entrepreneur Success Stories

  2. Despite the technical aspect of providing a customer experience, it seems to boil down to how a customer feels from the beginning to the end of the interaction. Customers buy products they need, of course, but they choose the product based on the feeling they have, whether that is trust for a certain brand and relief that they have a product that solves a problem they have.