Over the past few years, customer experience has become a magic word that companies of all kinds are swearing by.

The customer experience is subjective. The company can try to influence the experience to make it more positive, but ultimately, customers create their experiences themselves. The customer experience is not a single service interaction, channel, encounter or phone call. Instead, it is all of these combined: a group of experiences, expectations and impressions, and these days, increasingly also recommendations and assessments by peer networks.

“The customer experience is the sum of the encounters, impressions and feelings that the customer forms about the company,” says Janne Löytänä, Partner at Futurelab.

Löytänä has noticed that while the customer experience is talked about a lot, few companies do enough about it. The term is often used as a synonym for customer service and customer satisfaction.

“Turning the customer experience into a competitive advantage is a strategic decision made by the company’s senior management and Board of Directors,” Löytänä explains.

Traditional methods, such as price, are not much of a competitive factor in the global markets. Even superior technical attributes are not sufficient if customers do not feel that the product serves them. Competitive advantages vary somewhat depending on the industry, but what all sectors have in common is that a superior method is difficult to find.

Meaningful or easy

From the customer’s perspective, the company can look very different than from the company’s own perspective.

“Every company thinks it is important and interesting to the customer. We are all customers of many different companies, and we are not particularly interested in much of what goes on in them. If the core business is not meaningful to the customer, the company can try to create something around the core business that makes it meaningful, or make the service interaction as quick and painless as possible”.

“For example, many customers value supermarkets that are easy to shop at, with a well designed shopping route that means it doesn’t take an hour to make your purchases. Studies indicate that saved time is more important than price. Customers are prepared to pay for a better experience”.

In some companies, customers get mentioned in speeches and annual reports, but at the practical level, the salespeople appear to have more important things to do than help the customer.

“Regardless of the size of the company, everything comes down to encounters between people. You must be capable of engaging in genuine dialogue, where both parties speak and react. This is certainly not easy if you have two million customers, but it is not impossible. The company must believe that if you create value for the customer, that value will be returned to the company down the road”.

“It takes courage to believe that the good things you put out will come back to you. Few issues of strategic importance are easy to fit into the short-term quarterly perspective that dominates the business world. You also have to understand the customer experience is not about single encounters. The key is that the customers will return”.