Over the past ten years, the term "customer experience" has become a priority at organizations of all sizes all over the world.
From its customer care roots - to its ascent in importance within marketing and UX teams - the end-to-end customer experience is more important than ever before.
But how does a company go beyond talking about customer experience and actually improving it?
The first step is in understanding what consumers care about. When we put ourselves in the shoes of our customers, we realize that we don't think of separate, silo'd departments and teams. Subconsciously, we think of the interactions we have with a company, and how those interactions make us feel. We create mental models and we think of how these interactions compare against alternatives - to decide which is the most ideal fit for us.
Each vertical and product category is unique, but we all use our powerful minds to make decisions in similar ways - whether it is choosing which grocery store to visit or which software to use for a particular task.
Whether an initial purchase is influenced by great marketing, positive word of mouth, or surprising first impressions - the customer experience is what ultimately keeps customers happy. And we all know how valuable it is to retain happy customers.
Without further ado, here are the twelve dimensions that I consider to be central to the customer experience:
A company's purpose has to with why it exists today; what its identity stand for, and what its unique role and mission is. As a company that has transformed multiple industries - Apple is a great example because it all started with the desire to make the world a better place by removing barriers to learn (initially about computers).
A company's products are what consumers are ultimately paying for. While consumers once focused on high quality, we now go beyond products' main utility and care about peripheral elements of surprise and delight - such as Netflix's personalization features and exclusive content.
A company's vision has to do with the specific, world-changing goals a company seeks to accomplish in the long-term. Elon Musk's vision for Tesla is clear: "To create the most compelling car company of the 21st century by driving the world's transition to electric vehicles." Despite the company missing a few deadlines in the past, pre-sales of the Model 3 are sufficient evidence that Tesla is here to stay and on track to transform the auto industry forever.
A "brand" is ultimately about what people think when they hear a company or product's name. Since the 1980's, Nike has built a brand that commands incredibly loyalty. From its globally-recognizable logo to a long history of relevant and creative advertising, Nike has turned into an iconic company that inspires people and resonates with them at an emotional level. Instead of focusing on itself, the Nike brand has turned athletes into heroes - and, in turn, making its customers feel like heroes - fighting against whatever may be holding them back from greatness.
Distribution is all about how a product makes its way to the consumer. Convenience, availability and consistency are key. Amazon has built one of the most remarkable companies in history through incredible logistics. Amazon can get a book or treadmill to delivered to your home within a day, and it can have a digital book delivered to your Kindle device or app within seconds. It can also power your cloud services and database storage needs with great reliability.
Services like AOL and ICQ introduced the world to the idea of online community. Community has been a human need throughout our history, and the internet has facilitated new ways of connecting us with others. Facebook in 2016 is a company that is venturing into virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and laser-beamed WiFi; but it all started and it all revolves around its 1.3+ billion global network of users. And Facebook has inspired a whole new generation of communities of all kinds - from AngelList to Houzz.
Consumers have been talked down to for tens if not hundreds of years. And we're done with it. These days, a company needs to have a unique personality; a recognizable voice and tone that we can appreciate and trust. MailChimp is a great example of a company with a clear and unique personality. In fact, they're proud to publicly share their approach for voice and tone, and content, with the world.
Of course, we can't talk about the customer experience without talking about price. A company's business model and strategy are essential to its price. For Swedish-born Ikea, price is a differentiator that goes hand in hand with its unique brand and product. It may take you a whole day to put together an Ikea product, but you know the quality you can expect for the price you pay for.
Human beings like stories. We don't like to be sold to and we don't like to be bombarded with irrelevant spam, but we are suckers for a good story. From its very beginning Airbnb has had quite a story to tell. The story of its inception gave way to the story of the sharing economy, to its huge growth to 600,000,000+ hosts and travellers in 191+ countries. Airbnb today makes us think of bungalows, castles and all kinds of unique stories of people who "belong anywhere."
As startups, small businesses and global corporations become increasingly digital, their partnerships and integrations with other companies emerge as priorities. Some companies align very well with certain ecosystems - such as operating systems - while others create ecosystems of their own. Alphabet, the company that recently emerged as Google's parent company, has an ever strong ecosystem. Google alone represents Android, YouTube and Drive - and we can expect big things to continue to emerge out of Nest, GoogleX, Google Ventures and Calico.
Onboarding is a well known term in consumer internet and SaaS companies - but I like to use it as a broader term. Onboarding is about the first few times you use a product; how the company holds your hand through that process. If that experience is intuitive and pleasant, you are much more likely to return. Square is a great example of a company that created a product category that did not exist - and it executed brilliantly in terms of how the product could be used with ease from the moment you open up the box.
When you have a product issue with Zappos - you know you can expect better than average customer service because the company encourages its employees to chat all they want with a customer. The idea of service goes far beyond customer care and customer support though. Service is about the responsiveness, attitude and willingness to help that a company has when you engage with them. Starbucks is a great example of a company that knows how to treat its customers both offline and online - even if they get your name wrong from time to time.
Any company can excel at any one of these dimensions. Many great companies will thrive by being great at several of them.
However, to be great at all twelve of these dimensions is very difficult. Some companies claim to focus on their core while others simply do not know where to start when it comes to improving the customer experience. They say they are customer-driven but they are nowhere close to delivering on their promises.
We often hear about companies being engineering-driven, sales-driven or design-driven, but the world's best companies truly focus on the customer. The best of the best - think of Fortune or Interbrand's Top 20 - are all experience-driven companies. They are exceptional at each of the twelve dimensions outlines above and they are also far ahead of their competitors - in the minds of their customers, where it counts.
And this is not only the case for the world's top brands of today. This is also the case for many of the top emerging tech startups. From Pinterest and Snapchat to Xiaomi and Uber, today's most valuable unicorns are experience-driven companies.
It pays to be experience-driven in a world where consumers are not very forgiving or patient. It pays to be experience-driven in an age where competition is rampant and switching from one product to another is frictionless.
The time to become experience-driven is now.
Learn more about experience-driven companies by watching the video from my SXSW 2016 keynote below, and let me know what you think on the comments or Twitter.