5 foundational truths about Customer Experience from a CX pioneer

September 16, 2022 Chuck Leddy

It’s been 22 years since Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine co-wrote a seminal book about a (then) relatively-new concept called “customer experience.” The 2000 publication of Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business helped define and drive CX as a central concept in marketing and business. The book was based on over a decade of pioneering research conducted by Forrester’s CX research team, of which the co-authors were a part. 

Manning and Bodine’s book helped define CX and what it meant for business organizations: “Customer experience is how your customers perceive their interactions with your company,” they wrote. “Once you understand that, you can manage your business from the outside in.” 

Now Vice President and Research Director at Forrester, Harley Manning recently wrote a fascinating retrospective on the Forrester blog about the lasting impact of the seminal book he co-authored. In his retrospective, he notes that many things have changed in the realm of CX since 2000, especially around digital technology and the still-developing concept of “digital-first CX,” but that many aspects of Outside In still apply as powerfully today as they did in 2000. 

Here are Manning’s five foundational truths of CX that remain ever-relevant:

1. You need your customers more than they need you.

Customers can make or break your business, depending on the CX you deliver. The CX “revolution” Manning helped spark involved the idea that CX includes the product, the purchasing cycle, marketing engagement (online and offline), after-sales, and everything else that potentially impacts customers. Today, every marketer understands that multiple touch points (i.e., customer interactions) are the norm and that every single touch point is critical for building a strong CX.

In his retrospective article, Manning says that too many businesses continue to treat customers as if their time and feelings don’t matter: “They barrage customers with an onslaught of spam emails, deploy customer service phone menus designed to prevent people from getting to human help, [and] goal customer service reps on ending calls quickly (as opposed to solving the customer’s problem)." That approach is anti-CX.

2. Superior CX creates superior customer loyalty.

A great CX doesn’t need to be a “perfect” CX. Customers, after all, are human and understand that life can have the occasional pothole, the bad day in an otherwise good month. When brands have a clear, consistent CX strategy that gets driven across the entire organization, customers appreciate and reward the long-term CX discipline with their loyalty. When the occasional “mess ups” occur, they’re more forgiving because of the good times that have come before. CX, after all, is an ongoing, evolving relationship between brand and customer.

Manning’s retrospective on the Forrester blog describes the continuing importance of CX as a way to turn “purchasers” into brand devotees. Manning defines these brand devotees as “a type of super-loyal customer who is loyal because they are having a great customer experience . . .

One-hundred percent of the devotees of a brand intend to stay with it, 100% intend to buy more from it, 100% are willing to forgive it when it makes a mistake, and 100% are willing to pay a premium price for the brand (versus just 11% of non-devotee customers).”

3. Superior customer loyalty leads to superior business results.

Inside Out clearly defined the business benefits of a positive CX: businesses get “higher revenues resulting from better customer retention, greater share of wallet, and positive word of mouth, plus lower expenses due to happier customers who don’t run up your service costs.”

Manning’s retrospective echoes Outside In by reiterating the business benefits of a strong CX: “look at the business results of brands that have a high percentage of devotees. For Tesla, each devotee is worth 149% of a non-devotee. Its stock price went from $17 per share at its IPO in 2010 to over $800 per share as I’m writing this in July of 2022. That’s a return of well over 4,000%.” Simply put, maintaining and building a great CX is the best way to build any business.

4. Delivering superior CX requires business discipline.

Outside In was so impactful because it highlighted the strategic nature of CX, and how building a great CX took internal coordination, alignment, and strategic discipline around delivering on customer expectations. The seminal book made it clear that all organizational departments, as well as every single policy, process, and technology are components of a holistic CX ecosystem. CX wasn’t just the job of customer-facing departments, like sales and customer service, but involved everyone and everything in the business. 

“A customer ecosystem is the complex set of relationships among a company’s employees, partners, and customers that determines the quality of all customer interactions,” the authors write in Outside In. You need a strategy to drive CX, as the book explained: “employees and partners need a shared vision: a customer experience strategy. Without that beacon, employees are forced to set out on a random walk, and their decisions and actions will inevitably be at odds with each other, despite all the best intentions.” 

That need for a strategy to underpin CX hasn’t changed at all since 2000, says Manning, but has only become more challenging as CX touch points and digital channels proliferate.

5. Emotion is the key to CX differentiation.

CX certainly includes filling in the potholes in the customer journey, but CX goes beyond just fixing potholes and removing friction. In order to be a superior CX, there must be an emotional component. That need for emotion hasn’t changed since Outside In was published.

As Manning writes in his retrospective: “emotion has a bigger impact on customer loyalty than either effectiveness or ease. Sometimes it has a bigger impact than both effectiveness and ease combined. That’s because effectiveness and ease are table stakes,” but emotion brings CX to a higher level.

As Manning writes at the end of his retrospective, “the late, great poet laureate Maya Angelou expressed [the importance of emotion in CX] best when she said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” That’s as true for customer experience as it is for everything else in life.”

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