Customer Experience Is The New Black…Again

0aaaMike Woods Acxiom

If you attend enough industry events and conferences, it’s not hard to figure out that customer experience is very much in vogue today. The trigger lines are statements like: “We put the customer at the center of everything we do…” or “We are moving the customer to the center of the enterprise…” or “Customer centricity is critical to the success of our operation…” Clearly, the idea of customer experience is not new — we’ve been talking about it for more than a decade — so what’s going on? Why do so many brands still get it wrong?

Augie Ray, research director at Gartner, put it simply in a recent interview with Forbes. “The fact that so many organizations understand the importance of CX to the brand, but are unable to deliver outcomes that meet or exceed customer expectations is indicative of the growing need for fresh approaches to delivering more positive outcomes for customers.” It starts with a foundation in customer satisfaction.

What she’s really saying is it’s complicated. The massive amount of data available to marketers today along with the ever-increasing list of martech solutions designed to manage it is dizzying. Add in channel proliferation and emerging technology like AI and it gets even messier. And if that weren’t enough, along came GDPR and now the California Consumer Privacy Act, and with them the real need for a better plan around data ethics. With all of that, it’s no wonder many marketers simply surrender to Sisyphus and choose Band-Aid fixes over transformative change. Stop the bleeding, kick the can, buy time and live to fight another day — any metaphor will do.


What if we flip the script? If we thought more about moving the brand to the center of the customer’s life, would it change our approach? Remember we too are consumers. When we think about our favorite brands, the ones at the top are invariably the ones that enrich our lives through better experiences. But here’s the thing; experience is not one-dimensional. It’s not a broad brush, but rather a mosaic of moments.

In their book The Power of Moments, Chip and Dan Heath provide an entertaining and thoughtful look at the reality of human experience. They teach us that, for the most part, our engagement with brands, corporate culture, kids and teachers is a fairly “flat” experience, except when it isn’t. Apparently, most of it is just noise until people are motivated by “peaks” or “pits” — and those are the things we remember. Did brand X take me higher? Did my boss help me fill a hole in my career? Both are positive outcomes that have a lasting impact on how we recollect our experience with them. Like the Magic Castle Hotel in California that, by most measures, is a pretty average hotel — except that they have a popsicle hotline phone by the pool and a guy in white gloves who delivers your favorite flavor whenever you call! Nobody remembers the less than majestic pool, but they just rave about the magic popsicle phone.

The smart brands really get this idea, and we all know who they are — Amazon, Nordstrom, Starbucks. They are great at giving customers what they want and pushing beyond those expectations to surprise and delight — creating a peak experience. It’s not because they have access to technology that less successful companies don’t. The tech is table stakes.

Amazon is, well, Amazon, and they make it really easy for people to buy stuff and return stuff. They optimize the customer experience with the simple “You might also like” Jedi mind trick, so we buy even more stuff that we didn’t even know we wanted.

Nordstrom’s no-questions-asked service is legendary. I have lost count of how many purses my wife has returned with some minor flaw after months of use that they gladly exchange. No surprise that we are “Level Four” shoppers with a never-ending balance on our Nordstrom card.

Starbucks invests heavily in training designed to empower decision-making at the point of caffeine. Why else would we stand in a line that’s out the door for a latte? I mean, the coffee is awesome but the place across the street makes pretty good coffee too, but I’m staying in line because I don’t want to miss my moment, and it’s Triple Star Tuesday!

I admit, it’s hard to measure the power of a popsicle. Can you imagine going to your board or CFO with that metric to support your budget ask? All kidding aside, the really smart brands I work with are generally very sophisticated on the topic of technology and continually invest in next gen solutions to support their enterprise growth initiatives. But they aren’t slaves to meaningless metrics that have nothing to do with customer experience. In fact, the old adage of “measure everything” runs counter to their cultural commitment to “the one thing.” Hassle-free returns…legendary customer service…popsicles.

Customer experience is clearly back on center stage, but is it rhetoric or reality? It’ll be interesting to see which brands win in the hearts and minds of consumers who have an expectation that brands will find a way to fit into their lives by creating peak experiences. Win that war and you win the wallet.


Mike Woods serves as Industry Managing Director for retail, consumer packaged goods and emerging industries for Acxiom. Woods is responsible for leading strategic sales initiatives, client relationship management and service delivery for Acxiom clients in the retail, travel, CPG, entertainment, media, technology and telecommunications industries. Woods has more than 25 years of experience in advertising and media. Before joining Acxiom, he served in several leadership positions at Forbes Media, where he was part of the executive team that helped transform company to achieve success in the digital age. His Forbes roles included serving as President of the Integrated Solutions Group and Senior Vice President of Client Services.

Feature Your Byline

Submit an Executive ViewPoints.

Featured Event

Join the retail community as we come together for three days of strategic sessions, meaningful off-site networking events and interactive learning experiences.


Access The Media Kit


Access Our Editorial Calendar

If you are downloading this on behalf of a client, please provide the company name and website information below: