A lot of talk in today's digitally centric world revolves around user experience. It has become a discipline within web development and companies that are technology dependent for their business often intermingle the concepts of user experience and customer experience. That may work for some, but I think the majority of businesses need to think more holistically about customer experience and make sure that the life cycle of a customer is well thought out and mirrors the expectations you have for your organization.
A lot of aspects beyond marketing go into defining the customer experience. When you think about all the different areas of your company that touch a customer - sales, customer service, delivery agents, social media, advertising - it's hard to make sure that each touchpoint is creating the same feeling or the consistency required to stay true to the brand and the value proposition you defined on that whiteboard those many years (or even weeks) ago. But it's very important to achieve that clarity in order to keep customers from the first experience all the way to the end of the cycle. That's why Gartner said in one of their studies, “89% of companies surveyed plan to compete primarily on the basis of the customer experience by 2016.“
I've spent the bulk of my career in services marketing, and the strategic intent of the customer experience is especially applicable. Since so much of how a customer interacts with a service-based company happens offline - interacting with a sales or delivery person, a customer service rep, a recruiter or even the receptionist - it's important that everyone is singing from the same songbook. A question answered different ways or a less than favorable interaction with one area of the organization when a problem arises can blow up all the marketing work done to establish a brand in the blink of an eye. We also know that negative experiences are communicated more widely on average that positive ones, so the more we can create the same brand and customer centric experience with each part of your company that touches a customer the more traction your marketing efforts will have over time.
These concepts do travel to the online world as well. Think about Zappos - they are praised for their customer-centric model. Although they are classified as an online retailer, a lot of their customer experience model is based off of tried and true customer service principals and a consistency of customer care that extends throughout the organization. Just because your business generally works with customers around a click doesn't mean you can't create a great experience.
"You've got to start with the customer experience and work backward to the technology," said Steve Jobs. I think there's merit in all businesses looking at their model this way, especially if you have it backwards right now. Customer loyalty is often the indicator or long-term success, so make sure you customer experience profile ends up there.