Clearing the CX Myth

Somewhere around the mid 1990’s the term “Customer Experience” emerged as a distinct new level of economic offering. So unique it defined a new economic bracket in business. The Experience Economy.

This new economy wasn’t really that new. Walt Disney has become to be identified as the father of this new type of economic offering when he opened his first theme park. Unlike traditional amusement parks filled with assorted rides and games, Walt Disney leverage the practices of theatre and used these same principles in the design and creation of his parks. This new offering generated high value and greater incomes. Experiences had become distinctively different then services as services were to goods.

Eventually other companies saw this model of experiences providing greater financial value and began shifting gears to adapt to this new model. Since customers were willing to pay more for an offering that was more theatrical businesses learned to stage engagements and the rise of the Experience Economy was in motion.

Over the following years, the term “Customer Experience” evolved. A way of defining the offering to be distinctively different than that of customer service found with the current Service Economy. Customer Experience was more intentional and orchestrated than the occasional interaction a customer may have with a business or brand. Customer Experience was the application of science and theatre. It was a thing unique to the Experience Economy and not just some action observed by companies of how their customers interacted with them.

As the Experience Economy evolved and more and more companies began developing their own experiences for customers, other industries needed to become part of this thinking. Anyone providing services to other services, like retail, needed to sound like they were part of this new economy.

And this is where the confusing begins. The term “Customer Experience” was unmeasurable by current standards of customer evaluation. It had too much personalization and empathy tied to it. It was hard to define and harder to explain as a service offering. Thus the term “customer experience” was adopted and slightly change so companies who specialized in studying and evaluating customer behavior and loyalty, could sound like they were part of this new economy, yet still use traditional practices to stay relevant.

Most companies didn’t know the difference anyway, so no harm, no fowl. Right?

No. You see, true designers of experiences, knew the difference and understood that the requirements of creating a “Customer Experience” was much greater that traditional retail or service design. Many more disciplines were required to achieve an offering of greater value, You just can’t expect customers to pay more for the doing the same job.

At this point as I write this, I imagine the old Elixir wagons that rolled from town to town selling hopes and dreams of mysterious cures, with banners covering old signs words like “Magic Elixirs” and “Medicine Show” with new terms like “Wonder Drug” and “Mobile Pharmacist”. New name, same game.

This brings me to the point of this post. Most companies looking for that next new thing don’t know the difference, so other companies use this level of ignorance to repackage their customer service programs as “customer experience” programs. This repackaging without regulation, has created mass confusing for many terms originally developed for those who created Experiences and understood the world of the Experience Economy.

Here’s a list of terms with their original intention and their current usage. Most of these definitions are source from publications and online job listings.

Customer Experience: (noun) A personal and customized staged offering that is memorable with an increased economic value. The common abbreviation was CX or CustExp. Due to the dilution of the term, CX is slowly becoming eXp or X.

customer experience: (verb) the evaluating of a customer’s interactions with a brand.

Experience Design: A discipline of design that focuses on the creation of staged engagements for customers.

Experience design: a function of brand design and application in spaces of customer interaction.

Experience Designer: (original) a professional who designs engagements for customers that are both personal and customized by blending the principles of theatre, business and architecture to provide a space/place of engagement that is both personal and memorable while providing greater value.

Experience Designer: (currently) a designer who understands various principles of design, branding and architecture with a focus of enhancing the customer interaction environment.

My hopes for the Experience Economy is a level of regulated terms and principles to help avoid confusion and misrepresentation. My great dream is that those seeking to create true Customer Experiences or Experiences will take the time to educate themselves on what the Experience Economy is and what Experiences really are for customers.

Until that day, start with my favorite book “The Experience Economy” by B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore. Joe Pine has come to be know as the Godfather of the Experience Economy and with Jim Gilmore, they have literally written the books on the subject.

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