What is customer experience (CX)?

What makes a company gain and keep customers? The most obvious answer is the offering itself. The product or service that a company sells must solve a real customer problem — otherwise, no one will want to buy it. But there is a broader concept that also contributes to whether people make a purchase and support a company long-term.

This is called customer experience (CX). It encompasses every interaction that buyers have with a company, from how they discover a product to the support they receive after making their initial purchase. 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 the CPE as the overall experience that a product company creates for customers — all the interactions that contribute to how people think and feel about your offering.

Everyone in the organization is responsible for delivering a complete offering that delights customers. But some view CX as something separate from or external to the product — such as just the experience a customer has with a support team.

In reality, customer experience is a critical part of what makes any product successful. This is why CX goes hand in hand with CPE — you cannot achieve a CPE without giving customers the integrated experience they are looking for. Of course this requires an enterprise-wide effort. But as a product manager, you are in a unique position to influence your cross-functional colleagues in the organization to improve the overall customer experience.

Why care about customer experience?

How people feel about your offering matters. It is not enough to provide a good product at a competitive price. You also need to think about the entire experience you are delivering to customers. Creating an optimal CPE can be a key differentiator — it is how you distinguish your product from competitors and build a strong relationship with customers over time.

A strong CX can result in increased revenue, greater brand loyalty, lower churn, and long-term business growth. Here are a few statistics to consider:

  • Customers are willing to spend up to 16 percent more on products and services that come with a great customer experience

  • Companies that prioritize the customer experience earn revenue four to eight percent higher than competitors and have 1.6x to 1.9x higher year-over-year growth in customer retention and customer lifetime value

  • 32 percent of global customers would stop buying from a brand they love after one bad experience

In a digital-first world, customers expect solutions that are personalized and immediate. To optimize the customer experience, you have to think holistically about what you offer beyond the product itself. When you do this successfully, customers are more likely to feel appreciated, understood, and respected. In turn, these positive interactions are more likely to turn customers into loyal advocates.

What contributes to a positive customer experience?

Delivering outstanding customer experiences begins with improving each aspect of the CPE. There are seven major touchpoints that customers experience as they interact with a company — marketing, sales, technology, supporting systems, third-party integrations, support, and policies. Research shows that even if your company performs well in each area, the overall experience can still disappoint. For example, the sales and marketing teams might be sending their own email messages to prospects. This can be a good practice — unless messages are overly repetitive or even contradictory. That can confuse or annoy customers, potentially stopping them from making a purchase.

Providing a holistic customer experience requires that each group within your organization look beyond the specific touchpoint (or touchpoints) they are responsible for. When everyone works together to create a CPE, customers enjoy a more seamless experience. Here are the key areas to rally the organization behind so everyone can commit to improving the customer experience:

  1. Marketing is how potential customers learn about a product and determine if it might be a fit to help them solve a problem. It is the product promise. Common marketing methods include digital ads, online reviews, social platforms, and company-published content.

  2. Sales include the consideration and evaluation phases of the buying process. Prospects educate themselves about the product with the help of the company and determine if the solution is right for them. This is done through a combination of self-service channels and by interacting with company representatives.

  3. Technology refers to the core set of features or services that customers pay for and use. For software companies, the technology is the actual software. For other types of companies, think of the technology as the physical good or service sold, like a phone, credit card, or insurance policy.

  4. Supporting systems make it possible for your company to deliver the product or service. These are internal systems that the customer rarely sees but impact the CX such as billing, provisioning, analytics, and more.

  5. Third-party integrations enable customers to seamlessly incorporate new products into their existing ecosystem of solutions.

  6. Support describes all the help-related activity that guides the customer to achieve something meaningful with a product. This could be anything from answering customer questions, training, providing self-help resources, or assisting in integrating the product with existing systems.

  7. Policies are the rules that your company sets to govern how you do business and how people in the company should act. For example, a business can have a flexible, no-questions-asked return policy or uphold greater restrictions with no exceptions. These types of procedures can impact the customer experience positively or negatively.

Each touchpoint works in tandem to contribute to the overall customer experience. When everyone in the organization is aware of where and how each area intersects, it is easier to see how each group's work impacts the entire customer journey. Transparent communication and frequent collaboration are key to accomplishing this.

Who is responsible for managing the customer experience?

Increasingly, product managers (especially at software and technology companies) are guiding the overarching customer experience because you are so deeply invested in the success of the product. You already have a deep understanding of customer needs and wants. And you sit at the intersection of the organization — across business, design, and technology — working cross-functionally with sales, support, and other teams that have an impact on the value the customer receives.

Because of this, you have an ideal cross-functional vantage point to think through complete solutions, make data-driven decisions, and ultimately deliver a CPE. While you are in a strong position to lead and influence change everywhere, you cannot do it alone. This is especially true in large organizations where the CX can become disjointed because the company provides multiple products across siloed teams.

This is why many companies are starting to invest in dedicated C-level CX roles. Teams are also emerging to exclusively focus on the support infrastructure needed to create customer-centric experiences.

Here are some of the roles responsible for delivering better customer experiences:

Chief customer officer

A 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

A chief experience officer (CXO) leads user experience (UX) efforts. CXOs are responsible for designing a holistic experience for customers across all offerings.

Chief innovation officer

A 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

A customer experience manager is responsible for increasing customer loyalty. They examine the needs and desires of customers, then create and implement strategies to turn customers into brand advocates.

Customer experience product manager

A customer experience product manager is a product manager who specializes in identifying gaps in CX. They may analyze the current customer journey, define transformation and improvement opportunities, and work cross-functionally to create roadmaps that support the organization's CX strategy.

Customer strategy team

A customer strategy team consists of individuals from crucial CX areas such as sales, account management, quality assurance, support, and product management. Members of a customer strategy team launch initiatives to increase retention, improve customer perceptions, and anticipate customer demands.

It is important to note that the exact titles and responsibilities will differ depending on the organization. But no matter what the role is called, your company needs to have folks dedicated to creating exceptional experiences. And because of the unique perspective product managers hold across strategy, execution, and customers, you may be interested in pursuing one of these emerging roles as an opportunity to grow in your career.

Building better customer experiences

Improving CX and delivering a CPE requires thinking more broadly about the products and services you offer. Incremental improvements to the customer journey do not go far enough. You need to place the customer at the center of everything you do. In many cases, this requires fundamentally transforming the business to revolve around customers.

As a product manager, you 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 in thinking. Then you can work with other CX-focused roles to begin delivering better customer experiences.

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