Firstly, what is customer experience?
Customer experience is critical to winning, and keeping customers. It covers the entire journey your customers take from the moment they first hear of you, all the way through to their last interaction with your brand. It’s everything they see, feel, hear about you and how great a customer experience is, depends on how easy it was for the customer, how well you’ve understood and managed their expectations and how smooth the full experience is. It's not enough to cross your fingers and hope for happy customers - you need a strategy to make sure nothing is left to chance.
Why is it important to have good CX?
Well aside from it being good business practice, great customer experiences drive increased loyalty. On average 84% of businesses actively working on their customer experience report an increase in revenue, and we also know that loyal customers spend on average 67% more than new ones.
That all sounds great, but what if there’s something getting in the way of us delivering and experiencing a great customer experience?
Is our perceived entitlement to happiness actually ruining our customer experiences? I think so, and I’ll explain why.
As humans we are psychologically programmed to avoid pain. It’s not pleasant, we don’t feel good when we’re suffering and let’s face it, we all deserve to be happy. Or at least, that’s a belief that many millennials and younger generations hold true. We deserve good things no matter how we behave, treat others, or how hard we work - we are entitled to reap benefits and attain riches. Not only are we entitled to it, but if we don’t get those things, we have failed.
That belief hasn’t happened by accident. The happiness and positive thinking industry is worth an estimated $11 billion a year and it’s helped to perpetuate the misconception that not only is eternal happiness achievable, but that it’s something we all deserve. The idea of failure; of learning from mistakes and growth through failure has been deliberately consigned to the shadows.
Somewhere along the way we collectively forgot that it’s okay to have a bad day. It’s alright not to win every battle or have successive victories at work and we stopped valuing failure as a learning opportunity.
The meteoric rise of social media over the last 15 years also has a lot to answer for; with social channels came the rise of ‘toxic positivity’ - the perpetual image of relentless success, seeming perfection, and never-ending happiness.
We’re faced with it daily on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok. We see others winning at life and that subconsciously tells us that we deserve to win too. We deserve great things and again, reinforces the message - if we aren’t consistently smiling every day, we have failed. We end up believing that if we want to be successful, we need to show the world that we are winning at all costs.
The prevalence of ‘overnight success stories’ and TV shows like Dragon’s Den start to trick us into believing that life for us should be easy. It should be pain-free. Not only is that wholly unrealistic, but that kind of thinking can lead to selfish behaviours, inward focus, and a ‘why me?’ mindset which doesn’t allow much room for self-reflection, development, or improvement.
So what impact does this have on our customer experiences? What does it take to build a great customer experience? What does good CX look like?
Well, let’s consider two possible negative outcomes of subconsciously feeling the world owes us happiness – and critically what we can do to avoid them!
Our role as consumers
As consumers we are hyper vigilant when it comes to businesses dropping the ball. We are less forgiving when something goes wrong.
The rise in complaints across 2020 is not surprising given the many disruptions to business as usual. It’s also understandable when you consider the global increase in anxiety and the impact that increased anxiety has on general emotional wellbeing and patience levels. We are all just that little bit more stressed and therefore less well-equipped to handle the bumps in the road.
Here's the thing though… complaints were on the rise even before 2020.
As consumers paying for a service, you deserve to have your expectations met and your journey made as easy as possible. That should go without saying, but it’s also worth considering the humans on the other side of the journey.
If you’ve heard of Murphy’s law, you’ll know that it states “What can go wrong, will go wrong.” This applies to businesses too.
Customer experience strategy often involves removing the element of chance from the customer journey to proactively combat the risk of something going wrong, and there are a lot of businesses that haven’t had the benefit of service design yet – but critically, that doesn’t mean they don’t care. It doesn’t mean they want their customers to suffer.
Try to remember the human on the other side of the equation when something goes wrong and fight the temptation to stamp your feet and demand the best – show empathy in raising your concern. Work with the business to find a solution and do so with this little reminder ringing in your ears - things will go wrong from time to time. Your subconscious brain might tell you that’s outrageous, that you deserve better, but real life comes with ups and downs and lessons to be learned. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect every single time.
What should count is how the business responds to your concerns. Do they offer help and an empathic ear? Do they find a way to rectify your issue as a priority or are they busy arguing over whose fault it was?
How can we create a great customer experience? What’s our role as business leaders?
The second possible outcome from feeling that the world owes you happiness is related to business leaders and customer-facing staff.
As mentioned already, the propensity to feel this way can cause us to focus inwardly on reducing our own pain or discomfort. It leads us to a ‘why me?’ attitude and to the shifting of blame when something goes wrong.
If an angry customer calls in, instead of acknowledging the impact the issue has had or taking the time to understand why they feel so upset and ultimately resolving their issue, we could be tempted to see them as unreasonable – as overreacting, emotional, and a ‘problem customer’.
How many times have you heard someone described as ‘A Karen’ in the last 12 months?
Maybe you’re lucky and you’ve escaped the Karen phenomenon sweeping the world. If so, here’s what Wikipedia has to say.
“Karen is a pejorative term for a woman seeming to be entitled or demanding beyond the scope of what is normal. The term also refers to memes depicting White women who use their privilege to demand their own way. Depictions also may include demanding to "speak to the manager", being racist or sporting a particular bob cut hairstyle.”
It's possible that the customer is entitled, that they are being demanding, but it’s also possible that you’ve subconsciously made up your mind that they are the problem and as such don’t then have to take responsibility or the pain it might involve to fix the situation.
Increasingly I’m encountering ‘outsourced inconvenience’ – the art of a business making a mistake, then making it the customer’s problem to fix.
Examples I’ve heard of just from this week include a cashier forgetting to add points to a loyalty card in a coffee shop, and instead of taking the card back and fixing the problem then and there, she printed out a piece of paper and told the customer to bring it back next time and she’d fix it later. Now that’s not a huge issue, but it could have been avoided.
Another is a customer trying to upgrade an account with a particular social media platform to enhance the available functionality but being told they couldn’t because their original subscription was made via the app store. Being told, cancel with them then come back to us so we can upgrade. Cancelling the subscription; but being told it’s still active at their end so they now have to phone Apple to ask for them to write to the social media company, when all they want to do is give them more money… you get the idea.
Is it possible that our predisposition to feeling like we deserve happiness at all costs is actually driving us not to look for improvements, not to learn from genuine customer pain because it’s just a little too difficult for us to fix and we don’t deserve that? Or might it be something different altogether? Might it be that our own self-image is so wrapped up in achieving perfection that we subconsciously reject anything that could threaten to puncture it.
Acknowledging our part in a complaint, our responsibility to resolve it, and our obligation to the customer would mean having to admit that we might sometimes make mistakes; that we aren’t perfect - and that’s a tough ask for someone wholly bought into their own image of flawlessness. If we are not willing to acknowledge our own fallibility then we are far less likely to take exhaustive responsibility of the complaint. We are far less likely to look for improvements because let’s face it; you can’t improve on perfection, can you?
But how can you create a great customer experience if you don’t improve? You can’t. The best way to deliver a great CX is to innovate when things go wrong.
The good news is that there is a growing movement against toxic positivity. The 2015 Disney movie Inside Out displayed so beautifully the pitfalls of ignoring or denying emotions such as sadness. Business leaders like Elon Musk target their teams to fail as often as possible to encourage innovation and creativity, and mental health charities the world over are coming out to support those who have suffered the negative impact of too much perfection being shoved down their throats for too long.
There is hope on the horizon and we can encourage that change both as consumers and as business people. All we have to do is reject the idea of perfection, and lead a little more with understanding and empathy.