Customer experience — what it is, why it’s important, and how to deliver it

A business owner uses his iPad to improve the customer experience of his brand.

Customers expect a great experience at every point along their journey with a brand. While delivering a positive, smooth, and dependable customer experience at scale is essential to doing business, it’s not without its challenges.

Increasingly for today’s customers, their experience matters as much as your offerings. In fact, 86% of consumers say they’re willing to pay more to receive a superior customer experience. And 64% are more likely to recommend your brand if they have a great experience, leading to increased referral business and higher return on investment.

Customer experience (CX) has become a critical component of modern marketing and sales, as businesses focus on meeting high consumer standards and improving overall lifetime value. More than 40% of data analytics is geared toward optimizing the customer experience, and with good reason. Marketers need as much information as possible to ensure they’re maximizing their ROI every step of the way.

In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about customer experience — what it is, why it’s important, how it differs from customer service, what good and bad customer experiences look like, and the strategies you’ll need to provide amazing CX. Specifically, this article will cover:

What is customer experience?

Customer experience, or CX, is essentially every interaction a consumer has with a brand — across all channels and departments — and their perception of that experience.

The most important thing to recognize is that customer experience is a relationship that’s built over time through a series of interactions that take place across organizational initiatives and departments. Customer experience is a consumer’s opinion of how these interactions are carried out and whether they consider them positive, from introduction to the sales cycle all the way through to customer support.

Each touchpoint is an opportunity for a company to create an impression with the customer and enhance the relationship to encourage follow-through on a sale, retention, or referral. Providing excellent CX will differentiate your brand and build customer loyalty.

Customer experience vs. customer service

It’s a common mistake to confuse customer service and customer experience. One is actually a component of the other. As part of curating a positive and engaging customer experience, a brand must provide high-quality customer service.

By definition, customer service is providing prospects and consumers with assistance and advocacy when it comes to products and services. This can entail anything from live support agents to online resources encompassing frequently asked questions. Aspects of high-quality customer service include providing timely responses and user access and keeping interactions positive and helpful.

Customer experience takes those support efforts and amplifies them, providing reasons for a customer to become a customer or remain one. Support teams can also use the other elements of the customer’s experience with your company to understand their journey and provide relevant information to streamline the support process itself. All of this can be managed through dedicated systems that make cross-departmental communication — essential for CX management — viable and effective.

86% of consumers are willing to pay more for a superior customer experience. 64% who have a good experience are likely to recommend a brand.

The importance of customer experience

Customer experience is essential to business operations because of how it impacts key metrics such as net new sales, customer retention, and lifetime value. Customers who have a poor impression of a brand or a negative experience are less likely to continue to do business with that company.

In fact, 95% of consumers share their negative experiences with others, whether in their personal network or more broadly online through social media or review websites. The good news, though, is that 87% of customers are also likely to share with others if they have a positive experience.

CX doesn’t just affect referrals and recommendations. It also impacts brand loyalty, as 66% of customers say good CX makes them loyal to a brand — more than pricing and branding combined. Users who identify with a brand and feel as if the brand is engaged with them are more inclined to become and remain customers, expanding their overall lifetime value to the company. This, in turn, can drive down marketing costs and drive up ROI, vital parts of a profitable business model.

Brands in competitive markets can also use customer experience as a clear differentiator. When products or services appear similar to one another at a glance, user experiences with a brand and its reputation can be the tipping point for a purchase decision.

It’s interesting to note that while customer experience spans a variety of departments — including product development, sales, marketing, and support, to name a few — 25% of organizations are planning to integrate their customer experience approach with marketing and sales into a single function by 2023. This unified strategy may help drive interactions and experiences with a brand into a more streamlined operation while increasing opportunities for personalized communication and curated content.

The downsides of bad customer experience

A poor customer experience can be a differentiator in another way. Companies lose $136.8 billion in sales due to avoidable churn each year, often dropping customers because of a bad customer experience. And remember, CX goes beyond customer service. Consider the entire customer journey and look for pitfalls where users or buyers could become discouraged, frustrated, or inconvenienced — and then identify ways to improve and become more efficient.

Examples of poor customer experience can start with marketing content. Brands need to ensure that all of their information is made available and accessible on all devices. Consumers make nearly 73% of their purchases from a mobile device. If landing pages and website content are not easily accessible, seamless, and designed responsively, consumers are likely to be impatient and move on to a competitor.

And that’s just the start. Other examples of tactics and processes that can lead to a bad CX include:

What is customer experience management?

Customer experience management, also known as CXM, is the approach a company takes to improve consumer satisfaction with goods and services, often by leveraging technology to track and monitor interactions. After all, with so many components of the customer journey impacting how a consumer perceives, interacts with, and appreciates your brand, marketers would be hard-pressed to manage the process without the right technological tools.

Customer experience includes every interaction a customer has with your brand, both online and off. Providing excellent CX will differentiate your brand and build customer loyalty.

Part of this management is monitoring and personalizing engagements with the customer along their way. The experience begins from the minute the customer sets eyes on a brand. Marketers must consider those first impressions and how to clearly establish calls to action that are engaging and pertinent. Nurturing programs through marketing automation and customer success platforms can help further entice on-the-fence consumers to take action with personalized messaging and promotions that grab their interest.

Once a prospect converts to a customer, CXM ensures they remain aware of the value-added services, products, and support that are available to keep them satisfied with and loyal to the brand. Customer experience platforms regularly provide updates, engagement messaging, and marketing campaigns specifically designed to keep consumers’ interest for the long term. Combined with reliable, high-quality products and services, excellent customer support, and engaging marketing materials, CXM helps businesses gauge their successes and spot issues before they arise, crafting touchpoints that engage and optimize along the way.

Customer experience strategy

Creating a customer experience strategy is all about looking at the customer journey holistically. Start by establishing all the pivotal touchpoints that a potential customer has with a brand during the customer acquisition process. Consider their expectations for an engaging experience and compare that to the existing processes in a company. This can help outline areas for improvement to bolster the customer experience against potential drop-off during the crucial introductory process.

Having a customer experience management system in place can provide critical data points that are necessary for building a robust strategy. Customer relationship management (CRM) systems can provide insights into interactions ranging from filed cases to email correspondence. Marketing automation tools can demonstrate which email messages resonate with your target audience and which do not with statistics on open, read, and click rates, among others.

Don’t overlook customer data from other sources. Consumer behavior, such as purchasing history, deal sizes, and referrals, can give marketers insights into what messages, programs, and profiles are top performers. Those that miss the mark can be reworked and examined to find out why and where customers are not clicking to optimize the customer experience even further.

Customer profiles and buyer personas are critical to all of this. Understanding who to market to and how can make a major impact on campaign effectiveness. Customer profiles can be developed from purchasing behaviors and key demographics to further segment target lists into personalized subgroups that may be more responsive to messaging than others. It’s all about making sure the customer’s experience with a brand is second to none.

Customer experience examples

By now, it should be clear that customer experience is all about how a potential or current consumer perceives a business. While positive feelings take time and patience to nurture and maintain, one poor interaction can give customers a negative impression that damages your brand significantly.

One prominent example of how to engage with customers in a positive way and collect vital feedback is through the use of surveys. Brands should offer a variety of ways for customers to provide their input, whether with a quick rating from a recent purchase or a wrap-up survey about their experience with a support team member. These methods allow users to remain engaged with the brand and feel heard when it comes to their interests and needs.

Another way to engage customers is to leverage artificial intelligence (AI). Brands are increasingly using AI to provide resources such as chatbots for customer interaction. Not only does AI often deliver much faster results than interacting with humans, but it can also integrate with a CRM or CXM system to personalize responses.

What marketers and companies need to make sure of, however, is that technology does not replace personal or human touches. The data doesn’t lie. More than 75% of consumers prefer to make phone calls to live support representatives rather than search for answers in an online knowledge base. If a marketer’s target buyers fit this description, their customer journey and experience should be tailored to those specific needs.

Marketers and companies need to make sure that technology does not replace personal or human touches.

How to measure customer experience

Once a strategy is in place, marketers need to know whether their customer experience programs are actually effective. There are several metrics that help make these results tangible and actionable. By measuring their CX programs, marketers can track progress, identify areas for improvement, and determine the ROI of specific campaigns.

Here are just a few examples of customer experience metrics that can be tracked with the right management system.

Get started with customer experience tools

CX is integral to business success, especially now with customers going online freely and frequently to share their feedback — good or bad — and look for alternative products and services.

Marketers and operational teams should prioritize customer experience since it encompasses all of the interactions that an individual has with a brand, not just their customer support requests. A misguided email campaign or faulty service call could be just the trigger to cause a customer to leave a brand. By improving customer experience through personalization, analysis, and cross-departmental collaboration, companies are better poised for success, retention, and ROI.

When you’re ready to optimize CX at your organization, start by analyzing your customer journey and noting any points of friction or areas for improvement. Next, you need to find the right tool to help your business provide exceptional customer experience.

Adobe Experience Platform makes real-time customer interactions possible. It gives you the ability to analyze customer experience data that really matters, train AI and machine learning models, and connect all your CX technology to a single source of truth.

With Adobe Experience Platform, marketers can create true, comprehensive customer profiles that drive relevant experiences for every person, from messaging and promotions to sales and support. Everything is tracked and available in one place, making information sharing among teams a breeze while centralizing the metrics needed to determine success.

To learn more about creating a customer experience that really makes a difference, watch the Adobe Experience Platform story.