Customer experience is much more than simply buying and using a product. Whether a firm is B2C or B2B focused, every interaction the customer has with a company or a company

One critical area for a business to focus its innovation efforts is on customer experience. In the digital environment this is also referred to as the user experience.

Physical or digital experience notwithstanding, given the past 2 years of economic disruption, marketers face a new set of drivers that will determine the types of experiences people may desire in a foggy future.

Many consumer companies have been seeing their revenues and profits shrink. As consumers become more price conscious, private label products are enjoying some economic growth. Consumers are observing that private label product performances are acceptable and it is highly possible consumers won’t return to higher priced brands in the future.

This current recession feels different than previous economic slowdowns. It is possible that the consumers’ collective approach to buying products and services has permanently changed due to the nature of the global economic collapse.

This recession is different because banking and financial systems were on the edge of failure. Investments in stocks, bonds and real estate dropped across the entire world. That has been pretty scary.

Due to the level and depth of the economic crisis, it is likely that consumerism for the foreseeable future is going to be much different than it has been in recent memory. That leaves marketers in a very precarious situation. Presumably, we are looking at some significant social changes taking place. These social changes will lead to a shift in what the consumer looks for when purchasing products and services. Price sensitivity may be a short term issue, but we don’t know yet the long term implications.

As a result, marketers need to get out into the field and spend more time with people in focused ways to map these evolving social changes. The result of the effort will enable marketers to create the new type of experience the consumer now desires but can’t articulate.

Where consumers used to be interested in paying for convenience, it is unknown to what degree this is still the case. Going “green” and focusing on environmental sustainability was a huge issue a year ago, but how much is this still the case?

While consumers over the past 10 years were increasingly fixated on their own personal drivers, marketers need to know the extent to which people are more focused on their families or extended social networks, for example.

Recently, I went to the website of a large retail pharmacy chain to establish my 83-year-old mother on automatic prescription refills for mail delivery. The website was horrible because it lacked intuitive usage, was cluttered with too much data, and graphically was very hard to read. While waiting for the drugs to be delivered in the mail to my mom’s house, I received status email messages that did not convey any useful information. When the drugs arrived they were delivered in an ugly, battered, battleship-gray envelope with no retailer branding. When the package was opened, the bottle cap was not attached and the pills were loose in the bag. Finally, the bottle top was a child protective cap, which is impossible to open for an elderly person with arthritis, and the website does not offer a way to order any other type of bottle.

This “customer experience” was decidedly poor and negatively impacted my overall impression of the retailer, which will lead to my spending less money with this company. There were social issues involved since I was performing the setup for a family member. There were integration issues with the payment process, the insurance carrier, the mail delivery, etc. All of which illustrates the need for a marketer to understand the complete cycle of the customer experience and the importance of understanding the drivers and players all along the delivery chain.

Customer experience is much more than simply buying and using a product. Whether a firm is B2C or B2B focused, every interaction the customer has with a company or a company’s partners can affect the long term customer relationship. Ultimately, the company providing the best customer experience will earn superior performance and build obstacles its competitors will find hard to beat.