What is customer experience (CX)?

Customer experience (CX) refers to every touchpoint that buyers have with your company or product and their overall perception of these interactions. CX spans the entire customer journey from discovery to post-purchase.

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Here is a simple example. Pick a local restaurant and read through the reviews. What stands out? You will certainly see customers commenting on the food (i.e., the product). But much more affects their experience beyond the menu. Wait time, staff helpfulness, atmosphere, and pricing — all contribute to the customer experience.

CX is a critical part of what makes any product successful. In his 2017 book Lovability, Aha! co-founder and CEO Brian de Haaff used the term Complete Product Experience (CPE) to codify the customer experience from a product builder's perspective. Think of it this way: CPE is what you should strive to build so you can deliver great CX.

CPE matters especially for tech companies. This is what separates good from truly lovable software. As you might expect, fully achieving a CPE is not easy — it requires an enterprise-wide effort. But as a product builder, you are in a unique position to influence your colleagues to help create an exceptional customer experience.

Jump ahead to the sections in this guide:

Why does customer experience matter?

If you want customers to care about your product, you need to care about how they feel. It is not enough to provide a good product at a competitive price when so many other factors impact how you gain and retain customers. You also need to think about how your product is discovered, delivered, and supported.

A quality customer experience can become a key differentiator — helping to distinguish your product from competitors and build a strong relationship with customers over time. For example, you might choose one product over another similar one because the company is better known for its exceptional customer service.

Over time, a sustained investment in customer experience can result in increased revenue, greater brand loyalty, lower churn, and long-term business growth.

Here are a few statistics that help to show just how much CX matters:

  • 81 percent of businesses currently or plan to differentiate by customer experience

  • 13 percent is the average price premium customers are willing to pay when provided with a positive customer experience

  • 32 percent of customers would stop buying a product they love after one bad experience with the business

It boils down to this — when you think holistically about what you offer and focus on improving the entire experience, customers are more likely to feel appreciated, understood, and respected. In turn, these positive interactions are more likely to turn customers into loyal advocates.

Related: Major trends shaping the future of product development

What contributes to a positive customer experience?

Outstanding customer experiences are created when you can successfully deliver all seven CPE elements — marketing, sales, technology, supporting systems, third-party integrations, support, and policies.

When everyone works together to create a CPE, customers enjoy a more seamless experience. Doing this requires each team to look beyond the specific touchpoint(s) they are responsible for and adopt a more holistic view of your offering.

Here is a closer look at the different aspects of CPE that help to improve the customer experience:

  1. Marketing is how potential customers learn about your product and determine if it could help solve their problem. Common marketing methods include digital ads, online reviews, social platforms, and company-published content.

  2. Sales interactions help customers decide whether or not to make a purchase. As they evaluate your offering, customers might read reviews, speak to a member of your sales team, or sign up for a trial.

  3. Technology refers to the core set of features or services that customers will pay for and use. (For non-tech companies, "technology" could refer to another type of product.)

  4. Supporting systems make it possible for your company to deliver your product or service (e.g., billing, logistics, analytics, and more) Customers will rarely see these internal systems but they still impact your CX.

  5. Third-party integrations enable customers to seamlessly incorporate new products into their existing workflows and toolset.

  6. Support is everything that helps customers achieve something meaningful with your product. This could mean answering customer questions, providing training and self-help resources, and understanding what customers want most out of your product.

  7. Policies govern how you do business and how team members should act. For example, you could have a flexible, no-questions-asked return policy or more strict guidelines with fewer exceptions. Policies like these can impact CX positively or negatively.

It is important to note that performing well in each area is not enough to achieve a CPE — you must also ensure consistency between touchpoints. For example, the values and messages you share in the marketing stage should be upheld by the support you provide. Otherwise, your CPE will fall apart. Transparent communication and frequent collaboration are key to keeping everyone aligned.

Who is responsible for managing the customer experience?

Everyone in the organization is responsible for delivering a complete offering that delights customers. But of course, some functions are more closely involved in CX than others. (The elements of CPE will give you a hint.)

In many organizations, managing CX is a cross-functional effort involving marketing, sales, support, engineering, and especially product management. These core groups have the best understanding of customer needs and wants and the deepest investment in the success of the product.

Related: What is the role of product management in enterprise transformation?

However, some larger organizations hire dedicated CX leadership roles. Some also create CX teams that focus exclusively on building customer-centric experiences at scale. This is most helpful for companies with vast product portfolios where the CX may become disjointed across many teams.

Here is a quick overview of some CX-specific roles:

Chief customer officer (CCO)

Drives a customer-centric focus across all groups in the organization. CCOs typically ensure that all customer communications are unified and consistent.

Chief experience officer (CXO)

Leads user experience (UX) efforts. CXOs are responsible for designing a seamless experience for customers across products and touchpoints.

Chief innovation officer (CINO)

Identifies opportunities for new products and business transformations. CINOs compare customer data and market trends to the company's vision in order to determine which opportunities to pursue.

Customer experience manager

Responsible for increasing customer loyalty. CX managers examine the needs and desires of customers, then create and implement strategies to turn customers into brand advocates.

Customer advisory board program manager

Acts as the company's liaison for a customer advisory board — an organized group of customers that offers insights, reviews, and recommendations for the product.

Experience design manager

Thinks through how to enhance CX from a design standpoint. Experience design managers may work with UX and UI teams on ways to support the CX strategy.

Voice of Customer (VoC) manager

Analyzes data and customer feedback to uncover insights. VoC managers help to boost CX efforts by helping the team make more informed decisions.

Building better customer experiences

In a digital-first world, customers expect solutions that are personalized and immediate. A functional product is the baseline — what customers really crave is a delightful and lovable experience.

Incremental improvements to the customer journey do not go far enough to achieve this. To build exceptional customer experiences, you need to place the customer at the center of everything you do. In many cases, this requires fundamentally transforming the way you do business.

For example, at Aha! we took a non-traditional approach to sales and customer support because we wanted to serve our customers in a totally different way. In fact, we do not have a sales team at all. Instead, customers work with our Customer Success team to demo, purchase, and get support for our software. The team is uniquely equipped to help our customers — we intentionally hire former product and project managers for these roles. That way our customers know that we deeply understand their problems and what is valuable to them.

This type of shift can be challenging. Product managers are well-positioned to influence CX but any transformation requires support from the top and an enterprise-wide willingness to change. Often an executive mandate is needed to gain momentum and encourage a shift toward customer-centric thinking. Then you can work with other CX-focused roles to begin delivering better customer experiences.

Read more: What is enterprise transformation?

Frequently asked questions about customer experience

What is the difference between customer experience and customer service?
Customer experience refers to all of the interactions that customers have with your product or business. Customer service is an important piece of this — encompassing all of the guidance, troubleshooting, and administrative assistance customers may need when using your product.

How do you measure and analyze customer experience?
With so many different touchpoints, it can be tricky to get an accurate measurement of customer experience. Many organizations use multiple metrics and methods to gauge CX, like:

  • Net promoter score (NPS)

  • Customer satisfaction score (CSAT)

  • Customer churn and retention

  • Survey responses

  • Submissions and votes for product ideas

What is a good vs. bad customer experience?
No simple answer exists to this question. Customer types vary widely between industries, product categories, demographics, and more — as do their perceptions of what makes good or bad CX. Conducting customer research and crafting personas will help you understand what your target buyers want out of their interactions with a brand or product.

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