6 mistakes businesses make when they do customer experience


Customer experience is hot. Everywhere there are people buying it, selling it, telling their bosses about it, reading books on it. Maybe even dreaming about it.

But businesses make the same customer experience mistakes. Over and over again.

We know because we see them all the time. People start with a flawed understanding of customer experience. Businesses end up buying the wrong things from agencies. And too many agencies get away with selling the emperor’s new clothes.

Address these six mistakes and you’ll be on the right track.

The customer is not always right

People equate customer experience with doing what your customers say. That listening to customers will unlock expansive growth. That doing what they ask will give you competitive advantage.

It won’t. Acting blind on customer feedback can compromise the experience. Listening to customers is critical, yes, but the real work is in deciding what to listen to and what to ignore. You need to decide where to spend your limited time, money and resources for the best return.

Focus is critical to great customer experiences. It means ignoring lots of customers. Everyone finds this hard, but the rewards are huge.

The interface is not the experience

Imagine you’re a marketing manager. You have a website budget and you want a great customer experience. How do you know whether you’re buying the right thing?

Daniel Kahneman says that when faced with a difficult question, people unconsciously choose to answer an easier question instead. In a presidential election, rather than answering the difficult question of whose policies will work, most people answer the easy question of which candidate they like best.

Something similar happens with customer experience.

Businesses end up buying visually appealing, flashy, pretty and shiny interfaces or marketing materials; all of which tend to be very expensive. Why? Because answering ‘does it look pretty?’ is much easier than answering ‘is it a good customer experience?’

I can’t tell you how many shiny things we’ve seen that deliver no value to the customer. And value is what it’s all about…

Value trumps everything else

Yes, talking about value propositions is boring, but all great customer experiences start with a customer getting something they want. If it helps, you can call it meeting needs, satisfying a hidden desire or even damping an unrequited passion. I don’t care (and neither will your customers) but they’ll love you if you get it right.

With that in mind, these are the questions to ask:

  • Who is your customer? (hint: it’s not ALL of your actual customers)
  • What do they want?
  • Why will they get it from you over someone else?
  • Can you actually give it to them?
  • How will giving it to them benefit you?

We love doing this stuff at Blue Latitude – talking to your business to tease out priority customers, discovering what those customers want, seeing what competitors are doing (they’re never as good as you fear!), assessing your capability to deliver, and checking that giving your customers what they want will actually benefit you (it’s amazing how many people miss this last step).

Find something genuinely valuable and you’ve got the start of a customer experience strategy. Now you need experience design to see whether you can really make it work.

Design starts before requirements

Experience design isn’t about taking business requirements and making them work for customers.

It starts much earlier, validating your customer experience strategy with real customers to inform the requirements. Why? Because many strategies look great on a whiteboard but fall apart at first contact with customers. This can be easily avoided by using a design process to develop your strategy.

And there are three things businesses should know about the design process.

First, we never know the answer in advance. We know what the problem is, and what the goals are, but the answer is a mystery. This is difficult if you’re used to writing requirements up front, but it’s the truth.

Secondly, we find the answer by making new options and creating prototypes to make these options tangible. These prototypes are not just for customers, they’re for IT people, lawyers, content writers and marketing people too. They prompt comments, invite criticism and spark new ideas like nothing else.

Finally, we revise the prototypes until they work for customers. If you’ve never seen how reactions can be transformed by a single design revision you’ll have no idea how powerful this part is! It’s like magic.

If you don’t know the answer in advance, you can’t start with requirements.

The launch is only the first step

At the other end of the launch cycle, too many people launch websites or touchpoints and immediately forget about them. Yes, your project manager’s Gantt chart might be completed, but that’s a mirage.

You won’t get everything right first time. Even if you did, your customers’ expectations are a moving target. You need to continuously improve the experience, and you can’t do that without measurement and optimisation.

Don’t just measure what’s easy to measure. Things like time on site, bounce rate and number of pages might be available in your default analytics setup but they’re rarely good experience metrics.

Instead, decide what matters and measure that. It might be scroll depth for content, conversion funnels for forms, completion rates for tasks or net promoter scores for touchpoints. Sometimes, shock horror, you might need to speak to a customer or two. They don’t bite.

If you don’t measure, you won’t improve and your experience will fade and die.

It’s not me, it’s you

If you only take one thing away from this post, make it this: businesses don’t buy a customer experience, they buy into customer experience. It is ultimately your business’s responsibility to make it work, not mine. Any agency or consultant who tells you otherwise is lying.

It might sound like I’m washing my hands of your problem. I’m not. I’ll do everything I can to help you, but if you don’t listen in on stakeholder interviews, contribute to design workshops, come along to user testing sessions and fight for the customer during implementation, it won’t work.

You need to end up talking like you did all the work yourself. People like me can only help you get there.

This is based on my work at Blue Latitude. You can reach me on or @myddelton. And for more reading on the subject, try Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Businessby Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine.

A version of this article appeared on on 08.11.12

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