Brand Building

Redefining Customer Experience with 5 Key Questions

Successful marketers have come to recognize that crafting an exceptional customer experience in today’s fast-moving and competitive environment requires more than simply meeting customers’ expectations about price and performance. So, if competitive pricing and performance have become “table stakes,” how can brands and products differentiate themselves?

Words such as “surprise,” “delight,” “intuitive,” and “effortless” are used to describe this new level of differentiated customer experience–but what exactly does an exceptional customer experience look like, and how can brands consistently deliver this higher level of satisfaction and engagement to their customers?

At an operational level, leading brands around the world have empowered customer experience officers to look holistically at the customer journey at every touchpoint and then given them the power to reach across organizational silos to not only deliver great experiences, but also to prevent customer service breakdowns in the first place.

Author and CX consultant Kerry Bodine describes in her book Outside In how T-Mobile began its customer experience improvement process more than a decade ago by empowering its call-center reps to spend more time with customers and training them to make customers feel special. Customers did in fact report higher satisfaction with their calls, but the length (and cost) of calls skyrocketed. More disturbing for T-Mobile executives, they discovered that there was no correlation between a friendly service call experience and long-term customer retention. Despite making the commitment to CX, things were not improving.

That’s when Radu Ciocan, then head of T-Mobile’s customer service operations, began to look at the sources of customer complaints. By methodically detailing the nature of each complaint, he went back to each part of the organization, such as billing, enrollment, and network services, and holding them accountable for the customer problem in the first place. Not surprisingly, as the sources of customer problems were eliminated upstream, call center costs dropped by 15%, and customer retention began to improve. This wider-lens approach to customer experience succeeded by looking at the entire customer experience ecosystem–not just the customer call center touchpoint.

Essentially, Ciocan reframed the questions T-Mobile was asking about customer experience. It did not help to optimize one particular customer touchpoint when the broader customer experience was far from optimal. In his recent book To Sell Is Human, management consultant Daniel Pink highlights the power that asking the right questions can have on discovering the next level of customer experience.

“In the past, the best salespeople were skilled at answering questions (in part because they had information their prospects lacked). Today, they must be good at asking questionsuncovering possibilities, surfacing latent issues, and finding unexpected problems.”

So, given the current dynamics in 2015 consumer trends  and 2015 technology adoption trends, what interesting questions emerge that are especially powerful for unlocking new levels of customer experience?

What if You Replaced CRM with TRM?
According to, “People of all ages and in many markets are constructing their own identities more freely than ever. As a result, consumption patterns are no longer defined by ‘traditional’ demographic segments such as age, gender, location, income, family status, and more.”

In other words, technology is enabling us to become more and more focused on our tribes of affinity, aspiration, and experience, whether it is Cooper Mini owners, Harley Davidson bikers, or farm-to-table foodies, it is easier than ever to organize around our tribal allegiances. Instead of customer relationship management (CRM) predicated on traditional marketing metrics and demographics, how would your customer experience be transformed if you focused on tribal relationship management (TRM)?

What if Retail Was Optimized for Information, not Products?
Some of the best scenes in The Matrix are when Trinity needs to master a new skill, like hot-wiring a racing bike, and instantly the skills are downloaded into her brain just in time to save Neo. In The Matrix, any location can become a hotspot for instant skills and learning.

Here in the real world, though, very few locations are truly optimized for learning. Of course, many schools and museums have worked to create immersive learning environments, and a handful of hospitals and clinics try, but for the most part, our shared public spaces and retail settings are not geared toward accelerating information transfer. In fact, many spaces thwart information transfer through clutter, distortion, and indecipherable signage. What if you were to redesign your physical spaces to promote instant skills and learning?

What if You Sold the Outcome Instead of the Product?
More than ever before, people are able to track changes in their lifestyles, whether it’s steps taken, money saved, connections made, or calories burned. In fact, because of gamification and micropoints, more people than ever before are focused on making small changes in their lives.

What if your customer experience focused entirely on outcomes? In other words, CX organized to do whatever it takes to help customers achieve their goals. For gyms and fitness trainers, the implications here are obvious: How many people would pay a premium to achieve actual fitness results? What about education? Imagine a school where if students don’t master the material, tuition is refunded. What if lawn services charged for how consistently green and weed-free your yard is–not how often they sprayed?

Can You Help Me, Obi-Wan Kenobi?
Princess Leia famously used R2D2 to record her desperate plea for help to Obi-Wan Kenobi. Now, decades later, it turns out that smart robots and augmented reality are not just an Internet meme but are about to transform customer experience. Smart robots are already starting to roam the aisles at Lowe’s, and while this initial generation is admittedly clunky looking, it won’t be long until robots are able to offer 3D AR training demos, remote video chat with domain specific “Jedi masters,” and detailed 3D product views. When and how will this powerful Force start transforming your customers’ experiences?

What if Sharing Was at the Heart of your CX?
Audi recently launched a service in Stockholm called Audi Unite that allows groups of people to buy and share an Audi. According to promotional materials, “Audi Unite is a collaborative car initiative that refashions mobility as a personal micro-sharing experience. Choose your Audi and up to four friends, colleagues, or neighbors. Share the access with your selected circle of co-drivers, and get all the Audi you want.”

What would your CX look like if you designed your product or service to be shared from the beginning? What groups of people might find your sharing especially interesting? How can you help facilitate the micro-sharing of your offerings?

Wrapping up
The journey to customer experience success begins by making it an organizational priority and then working across silos to ensure that the entire customer experience ecosystem is aligned toward delivering consistently high levels of service. As technology and consumer trends continue to rapidly evolve, it becomes imperative to challenge the customer experience status quo by asking unusual and probing questions in order to unlock new layers of customer differentiation and delight.

Try answering these questions to get started on your journey to the next level of customer experience:

  • What if you replaced CRM with TRM?
  • What if retail was optimized for information, not products?
  • What if you sold the outcome instead of the product?
  • Can you help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi?
  • What if sharing was at the heart of your CX?


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Jim Walker

Jim Walker

Jim Walker is Director, Marketing Strategy at Cadient, a Cognizant Company. Jim provides innovative marketing insights for a wide range of clients, as well as leading Cadient’s content marketing strategy. He is particularly interested in helping brand teams effectively leverage their digital content. He can be reached at
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