Years ago, I wrote a post titled, What Exactly is Employee Experience?. I know I’ve written tons about customer experience, and I’ve included my definition here and there, but there are always new folks coming into the discipline, so why not do a refresh.

Plus, I’ve had several conversations over the last couple weeks that reminded me that it’s still challenging for some folks to understand the concept of customer experience. It’s important to clearly define it (and there are various definitions out there, but I think most of the more reputable ones are in line with what I’m saying) so that it can be used, designed, and executed properly.

What Is Customer Experience?

Customer experience is: the sum of all the interactions (including with product and price!) that a customer has with an organization over the life of the “relationship” with that company… and, more importantly, the feelings, emotions, and perceptions the customer has about those interactions.

Notice I called out product and price. They are both certainly factors in the experience, but they also play crucial roles in shaping how customers perceive and interact with a brand.

The quality, functionality, and performance of a product greatly influence the overall customer experience. A well-designed, reliable product that meets or exceeds customer expectations can enhance satisfaction and loyalty. Conversely, a subpar product can lead to dissatisfaction and negative perceptions of the brand, regardless of other aspects of the customer experience.

The pricing strategy and perceived value of products or services impact how customers perceive their overall experience with a brand. Customers evaluate whether the price they pay is justified by the quality and benefits they receive. A fair pricing strategy that aligns with customer expectations and provides value for money can contribute positively to the customer experience. Pricing that is perceived as too high or unfair relative to the product or service may lead to dissatisfaction and negative word-of-mouth.

What Is Customer Experience NOT?

You can’t talk about having a clear definition of what customer experience is without talking about what it is not. Customer experience is not customer service, user experience, customer success, customer marketing, voice of the customer, customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, customer improvement, customer engagement, customer-centricity, or customer understanding. Those all have their place in the customer conversation, but they should never be used interchangeably with the term “customer experience.”

These articles should help to clarify that.

Ultimately, customer experience is the umbrella, rather, the umbrella discipline. All others fall within or under that umbrella. Proactively define and design the experience – based on your customer understanding work – and everything else should come easier than it does.

The Offenders

Who are the primary offenders? Who uses the terminology incorrectly?

  1. Software providers: suddenly every piece of software was (and is) CX software. That’s just not the case. Yes, you want to facilitate a better experience with your software, and I appreciate that. But your software has a specific purpose and solves a specific problem; so if you want to sell your software, tell your audience what it really does, what problems it solves for them.
  2. Brands: one of the first brands I saw that used the term incorrectly was Gap. I saw a job posting on LinkedIn many years ago for a Customer Experience Associate. Again, I get it. This person is going to help facilitate a better experience for customers. But they were really hiring a sales associate for the sales floor of their stores. I’ve seen countless examples of this since then.
  3. People who don’t know any better/different: They just don’t. This is why we need to keep the definition out there, so people can educate themselves. Knowing what it means allows you to do the right thing to ensure you achieve your desired business outcomes.
Why Does It Matter?

It’s all about the customer, right? That’s a good thing, right? So why do customer experience professionals get their shorts in a bunch about the incorrect usage of the term?

Trust me. I appreciate that so many folks are using the term. But it confuses things, and it doesn’t help the professionals who are working hard within their organizations to actually understand customers and design a better experience for them.

If you don’t understand what it is, how do you expect to be successful through customer experience management? And how will you reap the benefits of a great customer experience if you don’t do the work behind the scenes to ensure that the experience is designed and delivered to customers’ expectations?

It dilutes the term, what it means, and why it’s important. When you’re everywhere, you’re nowhere. People become desensitized to it.

And yet, it sure is being used a lot. I’ve heard it anywhere from earnings calls to commercials. The intention is there, and it’s great. It would just be nice if people really understood what it means. It’s not customer service. (That is one of those interactions in the definition.) It’s so much more than that.

A few years back, the CXPA did a nice job of putting together a resource to explain not only what customer experience is but what a customer experience professional does. The professional isn’t selling t-shirts or resolving customer issues. The customer experience professional is “a catalyst who enhances an organization’s results by understanding, designing, and improving experiences across the entire customer relationship.”

In Closing

I wrote (and have spoken about) David Foster Wallace’s article/speech, What the Hell is Water? It lends itself well to what we’re talking about here, where people don’t misuse the term or rarely even use it because it’s just what we do. It’s what we live and breathe.

As I ended that article, I’ll end this one:

When customer-thinking is part of your culture, when delivering a great customer experience is ingrained in the DNA, when everyone speaks “customer,” then you’ve achieved the “What the hell is water?” level of customer experience maturity. Here’s hoping that that’s not too far off for your company.

Just because you don’t understand it doesn’t mean it isn’t so. ~ Lemony Snicket


Annette Franz is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, speaker, and author. In 2019, she published her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the “Customer” in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business); it’s available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. In 2022, she published her second book, Built to Win: Designing a Customer-Centric Culture That Drives Value for Your Business [Advantage|ForbesBooks], which is available to purchase on Amazon, Books A Million!, Target, Barnes & Noble, and thousands of other outlets around the world! Sign up for our newsletter for updates, insights, and other great content that you can use to up your EX and CX game.

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