By Ryan Laver

The essential experiences

Customer experience is increasing in importance due to multiple reasons: ever-changing customer channels with high digitization acceleration, increasing demand for personalized interactions, personal choices and customer journey increasing complexity. These are just some of the many challenges managers face. It is true – especially in services – where the highly intangible defines customer experience through the deeply embedded emotional and relational aspects. In fact, a lived experience is by nature relational; it is the self in relation to something (e.g., nature) or someone (e.g., a person). In a business context, customers co-create and shape their experience through the interaction with an employee of the brand.

In this respect, Customer Experience Management is becoming a top strategic priority for organizations. Leaders who aim to shape the future legacy of their business and industry must address this human value by engaging with customers at cognitive, emotional, behavioral and sensorial levels in what we call ‘the essential experiences’. The essential experience is an experiential layer which deals with the physical context of a service: it regards dimensions such as the quality standards, the interaction paradigms and is deeply rooted in the concept of servicescape, which is according to Booms and Bitner (1981) “the environment in which the service is assembled and in which the seller and customer interact, combined with tangible commodities that facilitate performance or communication of the service.”

Customer experience tools

Hospitality is a fertile ground for essential experiences, given its client-centric obsession and dedication to cultivating and nurturing customer relationships. If it is the nature of hospitality to focus on designing peak and meaningful moments, triggering a process of transformation in their customers. The basis for transformational experiences is drawn through the assurance of high quality in the essential experience, which includes the pledge of brand standards and processes that allow consistent customer experiences – growing out of the essential scope, integration and relationships between people through connected processes, having a much broader perspective, involving the whole business, customers and ecosystem.

Therefore, a proper tool to assess customer experience quality and designed for a complex ecosystem must have the ability to assess a dynamic customer journey and the various touchpoints within it. Besides, the tool must use the relevant assessment scale types when evaluating various criteria. Lastly, the tool must use the appropriate rating scale to enhance the tool’s effectiveness.

At the Institute of Customer Experience Management at the Hospitality Business School in Lausanne (EHL) we have developed such tools which build on the main dimensions of customer experience (i.e. cognitive, emotional, sensorial, relational and behavioral), and that quantitatively assess the essential experience throughout customer journeys and touchpoints. As customer experience management has proven benefits towards financial performance and brand loyalty, these tools holistically assess the customer journey beyond simply improving standard operating procedures.

Human value is key

To be more precise, during the essential scope of the experience, brands must focus on avoiding dissatisfaction rather than trying to delight. This is a management practice that is successfully applied in several industries, such as financial services. However, customer experience cannot be curated in isolation, i.e., through marketing strategies alone or refined customer relationship management. Nurturing and managing customer experiences that pertain to a brand’s unique story and identity must be part of the brand’s holistic strategic vision and should unify the efforts of the entire scope of customer touchpoints.

Customer experience is not created in isolation; it is co-created and co-experienced by customers and employees during service delivery. Therefore, customer experience management can be achieved through placing employees at the heart of it – human value is key in managing this emotional complexity. An organization’s tool to assess customer experience must be formative. As customer experience is essentially a relationship between human beings, the scope of the assessment should be to improve the customer experience by triggering training possibilities for the employees. These tools must map the vast dimension of the experiential scope of the customer journey.

These tools allow the assessor to easily identify the weak points in the customer experience. Assessors understand when and where the vital touchpoints were secured or missed during the experience. Moreover, it outlines pivotal moments. Ignoring these moments can result in the permanent loss of the client. Therefore, the identification of these weak points and pivotal moments is essential to elevate a brand’s customer experience management.

Experience optimization

Customization and adaptation are key points to enable these tools to effectively foster experience optimization – through differentiation on specific customer touchpoints up to the flexibility to re-develop certain aspects depending on customer preferences. The tool must not be static in nature, but evolve alongside the company’s understanding of its target market segments and aligned with its customer-centric strategy.

Ultimately, a delightful, high-quality customer experience is the result of an expertly orchestrated, emotional, conceptual approach that employs brand values, standardized operations, human interaction, strategy, technology and overall experience design. Consequently, managing and designing excellent experiences for customers means creating an elaborate physical surrounding to elicit positive emotional perceptions of experience quality.