Why Customer Experience Matters

After 15 years working as a design consultant with technology focused clients and partners, I’ve largely stopped answering the question, “Why do we care about users?” Rather than having a finely tuned answer to this question, I find myself replying more and more often, “We just do,” biting back the “duh” that naturally follows.

Each of us, at a point best described as mid-career, can lose the ability to articulate why our jobs matter to those around us. It is so deeply ingrained in our every day that we forget to explain ourselves to colleagues and clients. I’m here. You’re paying me a lot of money. I’ve done this for a long time. I’m really good at it. Don’t you know who I am? Of course it matters! (Customer experience designers are not the only professionals who exhibit this trait. Doctors, in my opinion, are quite possibly the worst offenders. They hide uncertain diagnosis behind Latin names and forget to explain the obvious diagnosis to their patients because, well, they seem so obvious. Can I get that antibiotic now? No. Why not? Because it’s a virus not an infection. Okay, then what am I supposed to do about this fever, cough, and post-nasal drip? I’m sure you’ve been there.)

So yes, the customer experience matters. That’s why we (i.e., experience designers) want to talk to our clients’ customers. And we want to do it firsthand. I dunno how many times I’ve heard about that product, “We know what our customers want,” or about that intranet, “We’re users too [from the IT team]; we can tell you what we need and what we’ve heard around the water cooler.” I always ask the logical follow-up question (in my chirpy voice): “Great! Can we see the results of your survey, interviews, focus groups?” That’s when the backpedaling starts, as well as the excuses for why they don’t need to do that research because they really do understand their customers and no they won’t take the time to do it “again” (The word again is in air quotes.)

So here goes…my answer to the question Why Does Customer Experience Matter: An Open Letter to Anyone With an IT Budget

Yes, we do care about your customers’ thoughts, feelings, motivations, desires, and needs. Because without your customers, you’re nothing. In a world overflowing with options, when any Tom, Dick, or Mary offers a product or service not exactly like, but similar enough to yours, for faster, better, cheaper prices,  customer retention is the name of the game. It’s no longer about making your customers an offer they can’t refuse. It’s about loyalty won by repeatable positive experiences.

We (i.e., the designer crowd) used to talk about this kind of loyalty in squishy terms. We would tell you about brand loyalty and name recognition and building trust with your customers. All that was true, but now, thanks to Forrester, Gartner, and countless other research organizations, we can talk about ROI. We can talk about the ROI of the complete customer experience, not just the usability of your checkout process (although you can and should measure that too). It’s about your customers’ experience with your organization. In a world where everyone thinks he or she is a designer (and he or she may be or could be) businesses can no longer afford to let one negative review slip through the cracks. If someone’s brother saw somewhere that someone said your product is not really as easy to use as your competitor’s, and he reposted that post to Facebook, Twitter, and [insert your favorite social media channel here], you’ve failed to win countless new customers, and you’ve potentially lost repeat sales from existing customers.

Loyalty is measurable. And Forrester Research figured out how to measure it. Selwa Luke from GoInstant, sums up the ROI of CX nicely.

Loyalty gets you

  1. Additional purchases from existing customers and new customers with whom you make a positive first impression. Humans are motivated to avoid pain. If your customer experience feels easy, affirming, and confident, customers will come back again and again.
  2. Reduced churn from customers easily distracted by email, social media, or targeted ad placements who may jump to your competitor’s better designed experience. FYI, this is any of your customers, not a subset of them. We are all living in a state of distraction. Your customers are no exception.
  3. Word of mouth marketing spread around the web for free by customers who enjoyed their interaction with you. How many times have you avoided a store, website, or service provider because someone you know had something negative to say? Not swayed by anecdotal experiences? Great. Let’s hope each and every one of your customers is exactly like you and somehow misses that Yelp review about that one time the service was bad at your shop.

Don’t want to take my word for it? That’s ok. Forrester put together some numbers. They call it the Customer Experience Index. The CXI data were analyzed by Watermark Consulting. They found “for the 6-year period from 2007 to 2012, the Customer Experience Leaders in our study outperformed the broader market, generating a total return that was three times higher on average than the S&P 500 Index.” (1)

CXI leaders

This is real money, people, not the change you found under your car seats when you needed that quarter for parking. We’re talking about billions of dollars.

Think you’re still in the majority when you shrug off that customer survey or won’t ask your coworkers to chat with your digital strategy consultants about designing a better experience? Think again. According to Forresters’ Blog for Customer Experience Professionals, their Customer Experience Forum East, 2014 was “Forrester’s largest event in our 30+ year history.” (2)

If you need one more reason, not so recent research conducted by Booz Allen Hamilton and INSEAD in 2006 has shown that the most innovative global companies were the organizations that cared most about gathering customer insights (from a survey of 186 companies across 19 countries and 17 industries). (3) So if your boss is yelling at you to innovate, maybe you should reconsider that customer experience strategy session with your user centered design consultants.

Why do we want to do those usability tests, heuristic analysis, and customer segmentation personas? Because we said so. And if you won’t take our word for it, listen to what the experts (cited above) have to say.


For further reading, I suggest Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business by Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine of Forrester Research.

(1) The Watermark Consulting 2013 Customer Experience ROI Study. By jpicoult, April 2, 2013. Last accessed August 20, 2014.

(2) Video Recap: Day Two Of Forrester’s Customer Experience Forum East 2014. Posted by Harley Manning on August 19, 2014. Last viewed August 20, 2014.

(3) Innovation: Is Global the Way Forward? A joint study by Booz Allen Hamilton and INSEAD; prepared by Yves Dos and Keeley Wilson of INSEAD and Steven Veldhoen, Thomas Goldbrunner, and Georg Altman of Booz Allen Hamilton. Copyright 2006.

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