September 08, 2003

The Customer Experience Makeover

Mark Hurst, founder of Creative Good consulting firm that gave us the customer experience approach to design – a more holistic method with strong focus on business needs - has for the first time documented what he calls the ‘Customer Experience Methodology’.

Mark has been writing on customer experience since 1998 in his newsletter and white papers. Although he has been talking about why customer experience is important and what it can do, until now he never attempted to define what precisely the term means.

It took six years for Mark to come forward with a methodology. Why now?

The trouble with customer experience

Customer experience is an ambiguous and problematic term. Unlike user centered design, user experience or Interaction Design, customer experience is used in a lot of different contexts with slightly different meaning each time.

I could find seven books on Amazon that use the phrase customer experience/s in their titles. None of them however, speak anything about a design methodology that Creative Good specialises in.

Six of the books are on strategy and marketing and one each on customer service and ‘web-based self service’ management. The only similarity these books have with the Creative Good approach is that each advocate a focus on the customer.

Then there are other problems. Creative Good doesn’t own the domain And there are individuals like Patricia Seybold who have been talking about customer experience for a long time. A couple of quick searches on Google show that Mark Hurst and the term customer experience appear together on about as many pages as Patricia Seybold and the term.

Adoption of a brand

Information Architecture – to take an example - on the other hand has been wildly successful in promoting itself. Both these disciplines originated about the same time in late 90’s. Today one finds close to 80,000 mentions on Google for the term “Information Architect” compared to about 10,000 mentions for "Customer Experience Analyst. "

IA had clear and strong advantages from the beginning. It has a single meaning and is used in the same context. There are many books on IA - some of which have been hugely successful - that tell you what it is even though the community may argue about it. Which brings up the next point - it is a strong and thriving community with its own associations, conferences, mailing lists and an active web magazine.

Last month, in his Good Experience Newsletter Mark Hurst ridiculed the user experience community for coming together to discuss the proposed label of Interaction Architecture. In an uncharacteristic tone he argued that labeling a discipline is a pointless exercise and it is the value that a practitioner’s work creates that really matters.

There’s little doubt that the value of a discipline will ultimately decide its survival. But a big reason for adopting a name, rather a brand is how attractive it appears. Yes, how it rolls off the tongue is an important factor. If something sounds cool, it will have be more followers. You can’t argue about it. A brand can be a very powerful thing. Any market researcher will tell you that.

Information Architecture is definitely a ‘cool’ brand which is a strong contributor to its widespread adoption just as other reasons are the value it brings and the advantages cited above.

Repositioning Customer Experience

Until last month, Creative Good's customer experience was a single term carrying two meanings a] quality attribute of a product/service/system/website and b] the creative good method to enhance that quality. By releasing the Customer Experience Methodology, Mark Hurst has given a new name to the second meaning of the term.

This latest step to reposition Creative Good's customer experience by differentiating it from the rest with a new title and an acronym [CEM] is clearly an effort to ward off some of the ills associated with the term.

Mark seems to be eating his own words. It is an inadvertent admission that the term customer experience has been diluted over the last few years and more importantly, that labels are indeed important.

We have already seen the term user experience appear on Creative Good website in its redesign. I’m certain we will now see a wider adoption of the new term Customer Experience Methodology on the site in coming days.

But don’t get me wrong

A discourse on labels, although very relevant speaks little of value of the discipline. I must admit that I was a big fan of Mark Hurst for a long time. I may have changed course after it appeared that Mark was moving beyond the digital domain but I stay convinced of the fundamentals of this approach.

Mark Hurst was perhaps one of the first persons to recognise the limitations of usability and importance of strategic thinking in design. And unlike the other popular discipline which is forever obsessed with tool-ware - methodologies, techniques and more methodologies - customer experience recognises that it is the end that matter more than the means.

Related Links
Mark’s consulting firm Creative Good and newsletter Good Experience
Customer experience white paper by Creative Good [PDF 12 kb]
View search results for customer experience. Seven books out of 28 shown here on CE.
Bio of Patricia Seybold, founder Patricia Seybold Group
Google results for “Patricia Seybold” “Customer experience” and “Mark Hurst” “Customer experience”
Google results for "Information Architect" and "Customer Experience Analyst"
Good Experience Newsletter August 2003

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