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Customer Experience, Ideas

Defining Customer Experience: More Than the Sum of Its Parts

4 minute read | By: Patrick K. Donnelly

While defining customer experience can be tricky, there’s no denying that it is important.  Improved customer experience can lead to increased revenue and repurchasing behavior (Experience Matters, 2018).


  • Just a small improvement in customer experience can lead to an average of $775M increased revenue over three years
  • Customers with positive experiences are much more likely to repurchase products or services from the company


However, many companies struggle to define customer experience (CX).  How companies choose to define CX often depends on whether they wish to think of CX as a design process or as customer perception, whether it is company-focused or user-focused. Some experts in the field, describe customer experience as:


  • how customers perceive their interactions with your company (Forrester);
  • the sum of every interaction a customer has with a business, both pre- and post-sale (Hubspot);
  • the sum-totality of how customers engage with your company and brand, not just in a snapshot in time, but throughout the entire arc of being a customer. (Harvard Business Review);
  • how a company behaves, how leaders lead, and how they deliberately take actions to improve customers’ lives (UserTesting Blog).


As evidenced in the descriptions above, expert definitions of customer experience vary greatly.

Forrester’s CX definition (above) is the broadest and most widely used.  It doesn’t assume valence (positive or negative interaction), it’s customer-focused rather than design-focused, and it can be applied to any type of company and any type of interaction.  Most importantly, this definition describes customer experience from the customer’s point of view by defining the experience based on the how the customer perceives the interaction and not by the intention of its design.  However, this definition does nothing to define great CX.


So what makes a great customer experience? How can your company create customer experiences that cultivate loyal customers who promote your products? First, it’s helpful to understand, generally, the components that contribute to a customer’s perception of experience. Extrapolating from Hancock’s (1999) hierarchy of hedonomic, a great customer experience can bedefined using the following basic framework.


Similarly, Forrester’s CX Index, on which the Forrest CX definition was based, proposes to measure many of the same qualities.  The Forrester CX Index emphasizes the importance of effectiveness (functionality/usefulness), ease (usability) and emotion (pleasure), and their effectiveness on retention and enrichment (loyalty) and advocacy (recommendations to others).  The index does not consider safety, likely because safety is to be assumed. The index also fails to address the individuation component of Hancock’s framework, which as other framework components are commoditized, may be the most important and differencing component of great CX in the future. Individuation, as defined by Hancock is the way in “which each and every single individual can customize his or her own tools to optimize the pleasure and efficiency of his or her own personal interaction.”  Hancock ascertains that these goals of individuation can be achieved through “customizable and dynamically adaptable” systems (1999).


But how do you know how your customers perceive their experiences?  And how do you know if the experience you are offering your customers is a great one?  The answer is straightforward, but not simple. Great customer experiences begin with great customer research.

Customer experience journey maps are just one of the many research tools that can help you identify where and understandwhether your customers’ experiences are positive or negative during each interaction with your company.  Some types of metrics that may be collected at different steps along the customer journey (experience) are:


  1. Number of Successfully/satisfactorily resolved customer support tickets
  2. Likelihood to repurchase a product
  3. Likelihood to recommend a product
  4. System Usability Scale
  5. Customer satisfaction


As the CX definition states, CX is how customers perceive their interactions with your company.  That means every, single interaction.  When determining whether those interactions are positive or negative, it’s imperative to evaluate customers’perceptions of all their interactions with your brand. Below are some of the customer experience touchpoints (NN/g, 2018) you may want to examine:


  1. Engagement/Advertisement
  2. Research/Education
  3. Purchase or Adoption
  4. Retention and Expansion
  5. Troubleshooting/Support


CX is customer-focused, not design-focused.  Once your customer interacts with your website or product, the intent of the design is irrelevant. The only sentiment that matters is your customer’s perception of their experiences.  CX is how your customers perceive their experience through each interaction with your company and these perceptions determine whether your customers continue using the products and services they have, return to your company to purchase more products and services, and tell their friends and family to use your products and services.  Understanding your customer’s perceptions of their interactions will help your company identify touchpoints with negative interactions and address problems to improve your company’s overall CX and increase revenue and customer loyalty.