The impact of digital word-of-mouth and what it means for managing customer experience.

Customer experience (CX) is continuing its growth globally as a critical frame for driving business success. A look at Google Trends shows search interest for “customer experience” has grown 10–15% a year for the last 5–6 years:

Search Interest for “customer experience,” Worldwide, 2007–2017 via Google Trends.

If you’re not (yet) hip to CX or want a reminder of a somewhat ambiguous concept, consider some of the most popular customer experience definitions:

[Customer experience] is 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.

— Adam Richardson, Harvard Business Review (Oct. 2010)

How customers perceive their interactions with your company.

— Harley Manning, Forrester (Nov. 2010)

Customer experience is defined as your customers’ perceptions — both conscious and subconscious — of their relationship with your brand resulting from all their interactions with your brand during the customer life cycle.
SAS

We’ll add another: Customer experience is how your customers perceive, engage, and experience what you create. It’s every part of the process — everything.

Good CX makes for a happy customer, and a happy customer means repeat business and lifetime value. Delivering a good CX has always been a necessary ingredient for success — an unhappy customer won’t stay a customer.

Customer experience is authentic and authoritative.

But why the rise in focus on CX? A closer look at what makes CX important is helpful.

CX happens at the level of the individual. It is how a specific person perceives your business, brand, product, marketing, etc. A customer’s experience is unique and personal, original and non-derivative.

The originality of a customer’s experience makes it authentic.

Every aspect of the product or service is experienced in a unique way through the senses of the customer. You give the same product or the same service — or the same marketing campaign or advertising — to two different people and you will get two different experiences.

The customer, in this case the cowardly lion, gets a uniquely pampered and personal experience — could anyone else but the lion explain what this experience must have been like? Assuredly, not!

Those experiences are indisputable and genuine, even if they weren’t what was intended by the provider of the service.

Meanwhile, the authenticity of a customer’s experience makes it authoritative.

The authority of a customer’s experience is derived from it being indisputable. How do you debate how a customer experienced your product or service? If the service rendered is deemed poor or the product doesn’t perform as billed, how do you, the business, tell the customer otherwise?

If you’re hearing about the experience of an acquaintance, friend, or family member, you extend trust to what you hear in step with how much you trust the person sharing.

Together, customer experience drives an authentic, authoritative opinion about your business. “The customer is always right” is downright hard to dispute.

The power of the word—viva voce!

CX is a frame for understanding what drives that time-tested, age-old source of marketing — word-of-mouth.

W-O-M is often considered to be the most powerful marketing tool and the most effective form of advertising and has been undergoing a multi-decade rise in popularity for per Google Books Ngram Viewer:

A look at the popularity of the phrase “word of mouth” in books through 2008 (the most recent period for when the data is availble). The reversal began somewhere around 1987. Data via Google Books Ngram viewer.

In our digital age, it’s never been easier for W-O-M to spread. Smartphones and social media combine to give word-of-mouth a default one-to-many modality. Today, the private, personal customer experience is made public with just a couple snaps and swipes.

In addition to the scale of digital, modern word-of-mouth can bias towards exaggerating customer experience — you get either unbridled enthusiasm or shaming outrage. When was the last time you posted to Instagram or Facebook about a lukewarm customer experience?

On the receiving side, customers are both actively seeking out information about brands, products, and services, or passively consuming that information across whatever channels with which they are engaged.

Great customer experience, incredible W-O-M.

Here’s our distilled perspective. Competition for products and services has always led to businesses building better ways to do the jobs people need done. This facet of creating a great customer experience is not new.

What’s different is how the megaphone of digital is amplifying customer experience through word-of-mouth — ensuring that the best products will win.

The rise in focus on customer experience by businesses is just a matter of course.

Managing customer experience is not a solved problem.

The seed was sown for FullStory after seeing we needed a way to understand CX on the web. We built a tool to visualize customer interactions on our web app, both individually and in aggregate. Seeing the power of the tool, we thought other companies would benefit from having it, too.

FullStory was created — but it hasn’t stopped there. Managing customer experience is not a solved problem. It requires every team — engineering, design, product marketing, customer support, everyone — to catch the errors, pave the desire paths, build better marketing funnels, and make customer support more efficient.

Looking ahead, we are thinking hard about innovative ways to improve customer experience through proactive support or customer success.

We are all still in the early days of customer experience. What innovative strategy around CX is your company considering?