Why We Need To Stop Talking About “Customer Experience”

Treating people as your guests, not as mere customers, is a fundamental philosophy for consumer-facing businesses in the digital age.

Article by Ben Thompson / originally published on LinkedIn / October 3, 2019

Think with me for a minute about the last time you had a nice, grown-up dinner party.

You probably thought carefully about who you were going to invite. Maybe you considered the combination of personalities at the table, and who would enjoy sitting next to who. You definitely did some planning on the menu, how you set the table – you made it really nice. You cleaned and tided the house and made the place look welcoming. Put on a nice set of clothes, some of your favourite music, and a smile….

Now, how jarring does the word “customer” or even worse “buyer” sound in this context? Pretty out of place, right? You are hosting a special event for your guests… not selling a product to customers.

This gets to the heart of why in my professional life I never, ever talk about customer experience, and instead I talk about Guest Experience. It’s something I learned working with the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts teams and especially with the Disney Institute, the professional development and training division of the company. I have come to see and understand this principle as a fundamental philosophy for consumer-facing businesses. I really believe in this approach, having experienced it working many times, and am passionate about the effect it has on the top and bottom line..

One of the concepts I have since developed with my clients is the link between guest-centric thinking and employee empowerment.

The point as I see it is that if colleagues in your business…

1 – Feel like they are hosting guests in their home (as opposed to serving customers in a place of work – exchanging their time for money), and

2 – Feel empowered to go above and beyond for the people they are serving, especially when something goes wrong, THEN you have the secret to amazing guest experience, which leads to great reviews, word of mouth recommendation and business success.

Hold on minute though… more and more these days clients are asking us for technology-solutions, and in fact one of our specialisms is digital transformation as it relates to the guest experience. So can a company take a fundamentally human instinct and relationship and re-create it in a digital environment?

I believe applying this human-philosophy to the digital age comes down to three simple principles…

1. A Personalised experience

2. A Seamless experience

3. A Connected experience

Personalised experience

In the same way that you might make hand-written cards with people’s names on, or buy little gifts for each guest that you know they will like, a great digital infrastructure will:

A, learn genuinely relevant information about guests, and

B, use that information to generate useful, timely and engaging content which adds value and yes, charms your guests.

Data, combined with a strong and secure technology infrastructure is the mission critical part of enabling a digitally led guest experience. Our task is to ensure that our clients’ technology architecture is built to be guest-centric, with the ability to understand and derive useful data from all points of the journey – we call this having a Single Customer View – not that the data is all derived from a single source, but that data on a single customer is safely and securely brought together from many sources. The point I try to emphasise is that everything we invest in should benefit our guests, or what’s the point?

Personalising the guest experience using the guest’s permissioned data, (especially if it is a repeating guest) will make a big difference, will raise the ticket value and the the chances of recommendation.

Seamless experience

Let’s say not everyone knows each other at the beginning of the dinner party, so you do some introductions. It’s a nice way to break the ice, get everyone talking and find common ground for conversation. But how high up the “awkward-scale” is it if half-way through the conversation you find you have forgotten the name of one of your guests, or have to ask them a second time for some simple detail about their lives?

“Jenny, you have children, don’t you? No…? Er… ah… sorry… [awkward pause] …”

So why is it that in countless experiences with brands we have to give our names and our personal details three or four times, as we are handed from one person to another before we get what we were looking for? When we build guest journeys for our clients, we really focus on the integrations, to make sure that each part of the system talks to the others – like happy guests at the table.

Connected experience

We live in the age of the network. Not just social media, but networks of networks, online communities, Reddit boards, interest groups of all flavours, held together by rich conversations about our common interests and values. The beauty of mobile technology is that these great conversations you had at the dinner party will spark off many other lines of interest, they will open up new networks and strengthen existing ones. In the same way, I try to help my clients to make it easy for their guests to fit their branded content into their lives… wherever they are, whatever they are doing… to make it easy to link the conversation about your brand in with other stuff that they also love. This means mobile technology, brand partnerships, and thinking ahead of where guests are today, to where they will want to be in the future.

Some simple but powerful tools we have worked on here include integrated systems for booking, itinerary planning, checking in and paying for services and upgrades whilst on-site. Why would I want to have to keep swapping apps, websites, payment systems, tickets and barcodes? The guest expectation is one simple connected system that knows me, knows what I want, and helps me get it, right when I want it. And of course, the post-visit or post-purchase experience is incredibly important for driving repeats, establishing ongoing contact in a way that adds value for the guest, and allows the cycle to begin again.

Our friends at Lozinsky Consulting put it like this: “The Guest Experience begins at the very moment that someone considers spending time or money with a brand… so giving the potential guest intuitive and engaging digital experiences that make them feel curious and, more than that, eager to further explore the brand or the company is a must…”

At 9 Degrees West we don’t this guest-centric thinking is new or ground-breaking… we just think examples of deploying it consistently and effectively are rare.

If you’re interested in learning more about our work, or if you have questions please get in touch. Drop me a line at ben@9degreeswest.london. Tell me something about yourself in your email… I’ll promise not to forget it!

Ben Thompson is the founder and CEO of 9 Degrees West

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