Customer Experience - The Great Generational Transformation
You’re likely aware that customer experience, or “CX”, it a much talked-about business concept. According to Forrester, it can be defined as “how customers perceive their interactions with your company.”
This is a concept with a very long history - it’s just never had a catchy name before. Customer experience has had different forms, as it’s been influenced by technology and the prevalent customer preferences of each generation and era over time.
It’s hard to pinpoint where it all started. We know that on January 1, 1876, the red triangle of Bass Ale became the U.K.'s first official trademark. While businesses had been marking their products to show origin since time immemorial, the modern understanding of branding was arguably born alongside that first trademark. Even back in the 1800s, the idea of branding was an implicit recognition that the customer was on some sort of journey of research and discovery before making a purchase.
Let’s travel back in time and explore the transformations that shaped CX:
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Everyone Knows Your Name
Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, once said: “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts.” It’s an analogy that works as well today as it did in the past. It’s up to the host to be gracious and make guests comfortable.
Back in the 50s, there was no “customer experience”. No fancy business lingo - just service. This was the age of genuine, low-tech personalization. Business owners chatted with customers and remembered preferences.
Have you ever watched the hit TV show ‘Mad Men’? If so, you know that when housewife Betty Draper wanted to go out shopping, she got the royal treatment. Salespeople remembered her, greeting her by name, inquiring about her family and making tailored product suggestions.
Indeed, the shopping experience of the 50s was familiar and comforting. That’s because it was a social experience. As a customer, you likely got to know the owners and employees of companies you interacted with on a personal level.
Don’t get too nostalgic, though. It gets even better.
You Can Shop on “The Internet”
Today we don’t even think twice about “going online”. But back in the 90s, it was a big deal. In 1991, the Internet became commercialized: Amazon started selling books online and Pierre Omidyar founded eBay.
This decade was characterized by excitement - perhaps with the exception of the Dot Com bust, which wasn’t as amusing. Online shopping made it possible to buy goods at any time, regardless of “store hours”, without even leaving the house. E-commerce also brought with it the opportunity to order far more than what one could find on a store’s shelves. On the other hand, the focus on service didn’t seem as important.
Because these technological developments were so new and intriguing, the loss of that special personal touch went unnoticed. Web “pages”, as they were called back then, were barely functional, much less optimized for the user’s enjoyment. It would take a while for the notion of “user-friendliness” to gain traction. Yet even though there was no personalization, there were cool new things to click.
After all, you don’t expect the royal treatment when you’re an adventurer heading off into the unknown - which is how people felt venturing to buy via personal computers.
Tech That “Gets You”
Today we take all the convenience of technology for granted. In fact, we’re likely to get upset when things don’t work instantaneously and seamlessly (“This web page is taking more than five seconds to load … I’m outta here!”)
Yet we’ve also missed being remembered by companies; being treated with special care. That’s where modern customer experience enters the scene. Research from Salesforce estimates that 75% of people now expect a consistent experience wherever they engage with brands – be it through social media, mobile, or even in person. CX has become all about providing both intuitive technology and automated personalization capable of remembering preferences, making recommendations and offering help.
Customer experience has essentially come full-circle: it started out as an emotional experience, transformed into a display of “cool” technology, and now it’s back to being people-focused. The question modern companies are asking is, “how do we apply all the tech at our disposal to delight the customer?”. Businesses want to forge personal relationships with customers again - albeit in the digital space.
Business consultancy Walker suggests that by 2020, CX will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. No wonder everyone’s talking about it.
Must Everything Change?
While technology has raced ahead, people have remained relatively unchanged. No matter how much time passes, the customer still desires to feel special and valued. Making them feel like they got away with a great deal is never going to get old.
We may have moved past the quaint days when shop owners greeted us by name, but when we get the sense a company sees us as just a number, we’re quick to take our business elsewhere. Today we enjoy the best of all worlds: the customer comes first, and businesses have the technology to craft remarkable experiences. With the rise of “omni-channel” - another one of those hot buzzwords - service expectations have increased. Modern customers fully expect the royal treatment, anytime, anywhere.
What’s next? New experiences that fully merge physical spaces with digital tech. Future CX-obsessed companies will ensure the customer journey is always on and responsive to a customer’s location and overall context. Told you it gets better!