Focus on Customer Experience: Combining People and Technology to Deliver for Customers

by Roy Atkinson
Date Published September 30, 2016 - Last Updated April 19, 2019

In commerce, customer experience (CX) is the product of an interaction between an organization and a customer over the duration of their relationship. This interaction includes a customer's attraction, awareness, discovery, cultivation, advocacy and purchase and use of a service. — Wikipedia

Customer experience is defined as your customers’ perceptions – both conscious and subconscious – of their relationship with your brand resulting from all their interactions with your brand during the customer life cycle. — SAS

What Is Customer Experience and Why Does It Matter?

For many years, there's been great emphasis on the value of customer service. Recently, however, that emphasis has been broadened to include more than just the service transactions that take place when someone needs assistance.

Customer experience includes far more than those transactions; it can be said to exist and matter even if the customer never needs assistance. In the (imperfect) Wikipedia definition above, attraction and awareness are named components. Customers—existing and potential—are developing impressions of your services; they're developing awareness. Whether or not they're attracted depends largely upon how these services are presented to them. That presentation is marketing, whether done by a marketing department or by the support center itself.

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You may think: “I understand this if you're an outsourcer: new customers need to be attracted to your support services. If you're external-facing, I get that, too. But if the support center is focused on internal users and customers, why does the customer experience matter at all?”

It matters more than ever, and for several reasons:

  • Cloud services and managed services are more available.
  • Customers and users expect great service.
  • Finding and using available solutions without consulting IT (shadow IT) is more accepted.
  • It's much easier to compare services using information readily found online.

Focus Point: Blended Support

According the 2015 Support Center Practices & Salary Report, more than half the respondents (57%) provide a blend of internal and external support, meaning they support both an organization’s customers/consumers and employees/contractors. This makes it imperative to do everything possible to ensure a good customer experience across the board.

Elements of Customer Experience

To fully understand the customer experience as it pertains to service and support, we can reorder the elements named in the Wikipedia definition above.

  • Awareness: At some point, whether through an employee orientation or through marketing of some kind, any potential user of your services must become aware of you. This can be through a website, intranet, email, printed materials, word of mouth, and any other way information is passed along from person to person.
  • Attraction: Once potential users of your services become aware of you, they begin to feel positively or negatively about your services. Which way they feel depends on how your services are marketed and communicated, and first impressions matter greatly. If the impression you give is one of professionalism and accessibility, attraction can happen. If the impression you give is amateurish and unwelcoming, chances are potential users and customers will turn away. Remember that many decisions are made based on emotions, not logic.
  • Discovery: A customer or user decides to give you a try and navigates to your web form, composes an email, clicks on your “Chat Now” button, or picks up the phone to call you.
  • Purchase and/or Use: This is where the potential user or customer becomes an actual user or customer and takes advantage of what you have to offer. The first impressions they carry from your marketing should be borne out by your service. If you've used phrases like “immediate assistance” and end users find themselves sitting in a 15-minute phone queue, you'll probably lose them. If they contact you for help fixing something they need to get work done and your frontline doesn't have the knowledge or authority to assist, the customer is going to have a negative experience.
  • Cultivation: While especially applicable to external customers, cultivation also plays a role in internal support. Cultivation consists of following up on outstanding issues, making good on promises, and doing everything possible to make sure that the customer or user is getting what they need within the bounds of your ability to provide it. While immediate follow-up is good, cultivation implies building a longer term relationship; the customer or user knows that they will receive quality service, and the support center gains insight into how business gets done.
  • Advocacy: Chances are, whether in your personal or professional life, you've been asked, “How likely are you to recommend us to a friend or family member?” That is the Net Promoter question, and it's designed to judge how many of those who have used your services will be advocates (often called evangelists) for you and your work. They spread positive word of mouth about you to people they know.

Focus Point: Why Do Customers Call?

Only about 60% of the end users in your organization will ever contact you for assistance, and it’s often even fewer. In October 2015, IBM famously shared that 40% of their internal Windows PC users had contacted support, along with only 5% of their internal Mac users.

Many users would simply rather go to a search engine or ask a colleague than call or otherwise contact the support center. The reasons why vary from organization to organization, but one common complaint is that once they report an issue, they receive multiple emails regarding the status of the issue, who's handling it, and so on. But sometimes it’s the reverse, and the user who reported the issue has to keep trying to chase down a response from the support center.

Everything Speaks

Have you ever contacted your own support center? If you haven’t, you probably should. When you do, notice how many rings it takes for the phone system to pick up, and listen carefully to the outgoing announcement. What unspoken messages are you sending your customers? Are you, for example, telling them that their call is important and then leaving them on hold for ten minutes?

Everyone wants to be treated well when they contact support, and a great deal of emphasis has been placed on the role of the analysts themselves in either producing or maintaining customer satisfaction. Many support directors and mangers by the adage, “Hire for attitude, train for skill,” meaning that they want people who can deal with other people, and then will worry about the technical skills needed after the person is hired. Of course, the people part of the equation is extremely important, but there’s far more under scrutiny here than just the support center's frontline.

Customer experience is made up of all the impressions a customer or user gathers about your service. As the Disney Institute puts it, “Service is manifested everywhere your organization touches the customer.” In order to improve the customer experience then, every touchpoint should be examined to ensure its usability, and also to make certain that it conveys the same messages to both prospective and current customers and users.

This is one of the places where technology can be of assistance. Web analytics can help us see where the customer is looking before contacting us, and whether or not they are following the paths we think they are. At which specific points to customers drop out of our websites? Do they find what they're looking for, or are we forcing them to look elsewhere? If it’s the latter, we are essentially training them to skip us and head straight to the search engines for answers.

Support centers are very good at measuring everything to do with an interaction with a user or customer: speed to answer, talk time, handle time, after call work, first call or first contact resolution, time to resolve, and so on. But what about before they call or email?

Customer experience management (CEM) is a strategy that focuses the business on managing all interactions with a customer throughout his or her entire experience with a product or service. The ideal customer experience is one in which the business communicates its vision, distinguishes its services from its competition, and creates loyal customer advocates [who] tell potential customers how great the business’s services are. —Julie Mohr

Customer Satisfaction and Customer Experience: Helpful Technologies

Of course, a key component of customer experience is customer satisfaction, and there are many tools listed in the HDI Buyer’s Guide you can use to help you properly measure it. But satisfaction measurement assumes that a customer or user has already interacted with your services by calling or chatting or contacting you through some other channel, after which they get a survey.

There are multiple ways to measure customer satisfaction, and there are pros and cons to each.

  • CSAT: Typically rated on a scale of five, from very unsatisfactory to very satisfactory. This is the most common way to survey and report customer satisfaction. The HDI Customer Satisfaction Index Service uses the CSAT model. 
  • NPS: The Net Promoter Score is usually rated on a scale of 0 to 10 and asks a single question: How likely are you to recommend us to a friend or colleague? Customers rating 0 through 6 are called detractors; those rating 7 or 8 are passives, and 9 and 10 are promoters. The score is calculated by discarding the passives and subtracting the percentage of detractors from the percentage of promoters.
  • CES: The Customer Effort Score seeks to establish how easy or difficult it was for customers to get their issues resolved. There's a single survey statement: The company made it easy for me to handle my issue. Customers indicate whether they agree or disagree with the statement.
    Often, these methods are used in conjunction; a CSAT survey may end with either the CES or NPS question, and the scores are tracked separately.

There are more targeted tools to help you understand the customer experience, and we’ve added them to the Buyer’s Guide as well.

  • Web analytics: What pages does the customer visit, stay on, jump off? Where did they come from, and where do they go?
  • Heat maps: What did the customer look at on the page? Did the setup of the page match the way they traversed it?
  • Customer journey/experience mapping: How did your customers feel in each segment of the transaction? 
  • Customer satisfaction measurement: Are you meeting the customer's expectations? How well are you meeting expectations over time?

It's also helpful to measure and track employee satisfaction. Our research data tells us that organizations that have satisfied or very satisfied employees also have higher customer satisfaction—on average, 5% higher than organizations with less satisfied employees.


Support centers, whether external-facing, internal-facing, or blended, would do well to study and track the customer experience. We're in the age of consumerization, and businesses have discovered that the entire experience is important, not just the service transaction itself. Unlike the recent past, when internal customers had little choice but to deal with the services offered by IT departments, today's customers have many choices and easy ways to become informed about them. Businesses have become very lean, meaning that people need to be more productive than ever and their technologies need to work well whenever and wherever they are needed. Informed support staff armed with the right tools can improve the experience of customers and increase the organization's likelihood of success.


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Roy Atkinson is HDI's senior writer/analyst, acting as in-house subject matter expert and chief writer for SupportWorld articles and white papers. Roy is a member of the HDI International Certification Standards Committee and a former facilitator of the HDI Desktop Support Advisory Board, as well as cohost of the very popular #custserv (customer service) chat on Twitter. Roy's a certified HDI Support Center Manager, and he studied advanced management strategy at Tulane University’s Freeman Graduate School of Business. Find him on Twitter @HDI_Analyst.

Tag(s): focus series, supportworld, technical support, support center, customer experience, customer satisfaction, customer service


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