“Customer experience”: same practice, different name

By Veera Siivonen

Helsingin Sanomat

Helsinki, Finland


I have difficulties understanding the big fuss about customer experience. To me, it is just a new name for the old theories. Maybe it’s a better phrase because it has the word “customer” in it. Still, it’s nothing new except for a new way for consultants to march in and sell their services to top management, who never really understood marketing anyway.

Let me explain.

Customer experience has always been part of the marketing process.
Customer experience has always been part of the marketing process.

I always believed in the basic four Ps that make up marketing fundamentals originating from the 1960’s marketing model — price, place (how it is bought), product, and promotion across all the touchpoints. Even then, the managerial approach included consumer behaviour analysis and market research. Later the theory expanded to cover the full product and service experience — functional and emotional, including all the service elements.

If you combine all the experiences from promotion to product — from first time you heard about a product to the present moment — that is, to me, a brand perception (i.e., how the customer thinks about a specific brand or company). If you are a user, your brand perception is more driven by product experience. And if you are non-user, marketing communication or what others say about something make up a larger share of that product experience.

So, when I hear consultants highlighting the importance of customer experience, I am always really bored because it is so self-evident. When they use figures to prove that companies focusing on customer experience do better than those that don’t — and some managers say, “Yes I want that! Let’s buy some good customer experience!” — I even feel a bit angry on behalf of all the good old marketers.

The answer to good customer experience is actually the same as for good marketing. Of course, a company organised around being better in the eyes of the customer does better than a company that is not interested in the customers. If you make customers angry with poor customer experiences, of course they will want to spend their money with someone else.

I feel angry for good marketers, because they have been trying to convince organisations about how important it is to understand the customers and their needs — and act on it — for ages.

Especially in my home market of Finland, there is a lack of respect for marketing. Marketing is seen as doing only these non-measurable, waste-of-money promotions. The real hero is the product designer (or engineer — we love product engineers!) who discovers something the customer doesn’t even know she needs yet discovers it magically at the shop, buys it, and tells everyone about it.

It’s great that we have all now discovered the importance of all the touchpoints decades after the creation of basic marketing theories. Maybe it is a good idea for marketers to reposition themselves as customer experience experts even though it would just mean positioning for the same thing. This would be basic marketing applied to marketers themselves — a new brand because the old brand was not a good one.

About Veera Siivonen

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