My Manifesto: Great Customer Experience Is Free

Here’s my new quest: To dramatically increase the focus on customer experience within companies by getting everyone to understand that great customer experience is really good business.

Great customer experience is not only free, it is an honest-to-everything profit maker. In these days of “who knows what is going to happen to our business tomorrow” there aren’t many ways left to make a profit improvement. If you concentrate on improving customer experience, you can very likely increase your profits.

Good customer experience is an achievable, measureable, profitable entity that can be installed once you have commitment and understanding, and are prepared for hard work. But I’ve had a great many talks with sincere people who were clear that there was no way to attain great customer experience: “The engineers won’t cooperate.” The salesman are untrainable as well as too shifty.” “Top management cannot be reached with such concepts.” 

So how do I plan on igniting the great customer experience is free movement?

First, it is necessary to get top management, and therefore lower management, to consider customer experience a leading part of the operation, a part equal in importance to every other part. Second, I have to find a way to explain what customer experience is all about so that anyone can understand it and enthusiastically support it. And third, I have to get myself in a position where I have a platform to take on the world in behalf of customer experience.

That’s really what I believe, but I must confess that those aren’t all my words. Just about everything written after the first paragraph came directly from the book Quality Is Free: The Art of Making Quality Certain by Philip B. Crosby. I’ve made minor edits and changed references from “quality” to “customer experience,” but those are Crosby’s words from his book that was initially published in 1979.  

Why did I “borrow” Crosby’s words? Because I see a lot of similarities between today’s need for customer experience improvements and the 1980’s quest for quality in the US. I was actually involved in the quality movement in the late 80’s and early 90’s — running quality circles, developing process maps, running workout sessions at GE, using fishbone diagrams, etc.

Here are 7 critical areas in which the great customer experience is free movement can learn from the quality is free movement:

  1. Nobody owns it (or the corollary, everybody owns it). In the early stages of the quality movement, companies put in place quality officers. Many of these execs failed because they were held accountable for quality metrics and, therefore, tried to push quality improvements across the company. The successful execs saw their role more as change facilitators — engaging the entire company in the quality movement. Today’s chief customer officers need to see transformation as their primary objective — and not take personal ownership for improvement in metrics like satisfaction and NetPromoter.  
  2. It requires cultural change. Many US companies in the 1980’s put quality circles in place to replicate what they saw happening in Japan. But the culture in many firms was dramatically different than within Japanese firms. So companies did not get much from these efforts, because they didn’t have the ingrained mechanisms for taking action based on recommendations from the quality circles. Discrete efforts need to be part of a larger, longer-term process for engraining the principles of good customer experience in the DNA of the company.
  3. It requires process change. Quality efforts of the 1980’s grew into the process reengineering fad of the 1990’s. As business guru and author Michael Hammer showcased in his 1994 book Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution, large-scale improvements within a company requires a change to its processes. That perspective remains as valid today as it was back then. Customer experience efforts, therefore, need to incorporate process reengineering techniques. That’s why these efforts must be directly connected to any Six Sigma or process change initiatives within the company.
  4. It requires discipline. Ad-hoc approaches can solve isolated problems, but systemic change requires a much more disciplined approach. That’s why the quality movement created tools and techniques — many of which are still used in corporate Six Sigma efforts. These new approaches were necessary to establish effective, repeatable, and scalable methods. A key portion of the effort was around training employees on how to use these new techniques. Customer experience efforts will also require training around new techniques. Here are a couple of my posts that describe this type of discipline: Experience-Based Differentiation and Are You Listening To The Voice Of The Customer.
  5. Upstream issues cause downstream problems. This is a key understanding. The place where a problem is identified (a defective product, or a bad experience) is often not the place where systemic solutions need to occur. For instance, a problem with a computer may be cause by a faulty battery supplier and not the PC manufacturer. A bad experience at an airline ticket counter may be caused by ticketing business rules and not by the agent. So improvements need to encompass more than just front-line employees and customer-facing processes. 
  6. Employees are a key asset in the battle. The quality movement recognized that people involved with a process had a unique perspective for spotting problems and identifying potential solutions. So the many of the tools and techniques created during the quality movement tap into this important asset: Employees. Customer experience efforts need to systematically incorporate what front-line employees know about customer behavior, preferences, and problems as well as what other people in the organization know about processes that they are involved with.
  7. Executive involvement is essential. For all of the items listed above, improvements (in quality then and in customer experience now) require a concerted effort by the senior executive team. It can not be a secondary item on the list of priorities. Change is not easy. To ensure the corporate resolve and commitment to make the required changes, customer experience efforts need to be one of the company’s top efforts. Senior executives can’t just be “supportive,” they need to be truly committed to and involved with the effort.

Corporations removed major quality defects in the 80’s, re-engineered business processes in the 90’s, and now it’s time to take on the next big challenge for corporate America:  Customer experience.

It’s critically important, it’s broken, and fixing it can be very profitable. So don’t settle for the status quo! It’s up to you.

As Crosby said in his book:

You can do it too. All you have to do is take the time to understand the concepts, teach them to others, and keep the pressure on.

The bottom line: The great customer experience is free movement is officially underway. Join me! Pass along the following link to this post to everyone who you think might be interested:

Written by 

I'm an experience (XM) management catalyst; helping organizations improve results by engaging the hearts and minds of their employees, customers, and partners. I enjoy researching and speaking about leading-edge XM topics. I lead the Qualtrics XM Institute, which is the world's best job. We're igniting a global community of XM Professionals who are inspired and empowered to radically improve the human experience. To achieve this goal, my team focuses on thought leadership, training, and community building. My work is driven by a set of fundamental beliefs: 1) Everything starts and ends with human beings, so you need to understand how people think, feel, and behave; 2) XM is a discipline that needs to be woven throughout an organization's entire operating fabric; and 3) Building the XM discipline requires a combination of culture, competency, and technology.

26 thoughts on “My Manifesto: Great Customer Experience Is Free”

  1. Free? The case could be made that it’s actually a profit center (less than free), but it requires investment and a change of culture. All of those can have heavy economic costs (tradeoffs) for many organizations.

    Saying “free” and then talking about the corresponding level of effort/change is likely to hit a lot of “whoa!”s along the way.

  2. Agreed — it’s not “free,” it’s even better than that. But I wanted to draw the parallel to the “Quality Is Free” movement in the 70’s and 80’s. If I wasn’t making that comparison, then maybe I’d call it:

    “Great Customer Experience Is So Profitable That You’d Have To Be Out Of Your Mind Not Deliver It.”

    But, that’s not nearly as snappy.

  3. Bruce, I really like this (wish I’d written it!). In a recent conversation someone asked me, why is “customer experience” becoming so important now? I drew a parallel with past waves of transforming business ideas, and I started with TQM. So your post here really resonates with me–thanks.


    P.S. I posted a link to your Manifesto on my blog, Customer Experience Leadership, just to help pass it along.

  4. I can’t agree more with #6 – Employees are a key asset in the battle. As I have begun to move from a “front-line” type position into a management and planning role, one of my biggest assets has been my nuts and bolts understanding of how things get done and what the true needs of our customers are. The key for me now is to be innovative and proactive in developing new ways for our organization to tap into this underutilized resource.

    Great post and many thanks for the insight!

  5. Wow, I couldn’t agree with you more! I think customer service – the overall customer experience is so far over looked by companies that it is sad. I recently watch an interview between Fox and the president of a customer service company called Mindshare. It mentions a lot of stuff you talked about. Thanks for all your great information (and I loved your part 2).

  6. I recently read a book by Rich Hanks that dives into delivering and measuring customer service and the importance of creating a healthy customer experience. His makes the argument that customer retention is far more important than customer acquisition. It’s a good one.

  7. Hi Bruce Greetings from Melbourne. Like Marnitz I’ve just found your blog via the Customer Think site. I love your comparison of customer experience with the total quality movement. Can I ask why you prefer the term Customer Experience rather than Customer Management or CRM ?

    1. Ray: I’ve been so busy that I’ve negelected my comments. Sorry. All too often CRM is associated with specific technologies and platforms, so I try and stay away from that term when talking about the broader elements of customer experience. For instance, almost noone who talks about “CRM” ever talks about corporate culture which is a critical component of customer experience. I actually wrote a report in September 2002 called Focus On Customer Experience, Not CRM. Thanks for joining the conversation.

  8. Hi Bruce Thanks for your comments. I got the synopsis of your article but couldn’t get the full document, can you give me a link please. Also on the CRM/Customer Experience topic, in our coaching business we use a model called Source & Outcome which we use to get to the bottom of issues. In our world both relationships and experiences would be “outcomes” of some other activity. Is the term Customer Management not a better “catch all” for the totality of business activity that gives us improved customer relationships and experiences ?

    1. Hi Ray: I’m not sure which article of mine you’re discussing. If it’s a Forrester research report, then only Forrester clients can get full access (without paying to download it). I like the distinction between source and outcome, I’ve used those concepts (although not those words) for a while. Often times when I discuss a metric like Net Promoter, I make it clear that detractors or promoters are “outcomes” so we need to understand what “sources” drive them to feel that way. As for the term “customer management,” I don’t love it. Customers should be engaged, empowered, enabled, etc. but not necessarily managed. So at least with Customer Experience Management, it’s the experience that’s being managed. Thanks for sharing your comment.

  9. Hi Bruce,

    Great Post!

    Happy to be adding this great manifesto “Great customer experience is only free” in blogroll. ( I am very passionate towards Quality movements and particularly the contributions of great Quality Gurus like Crosby,Juran and Deming (not necessarily in this order) ignited my Quality quests to greater heights.

    On customer satisfaction

  10. Good blog. I got a lot of good information. I’ve been keeping an eye on this stuff for a while. It’s interesting how it keeps varying, yet some of the core elements stay the same. Have you seen much change since Google made their most recent acquisition in the arena?

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