Customer Experience Isn’t Marketing

Marketers, those experts at telling us what we really want, are now saying customer experience is the new marketing. I’m here to tell you it’s not.

One of the challenges with customer experience, when done well, is how absolutely all-encompassing it is.

So, yes, the marketing your company does is part of the customer experience, but it’s not the only part. And, yes, the better your customer experience is in reality, the easier it will be to market your brand. Your customers will evangelize for you, thanks to a superior customer experience.

customer experience isn't marketingBut marketing is still marketing.

Marketing is taking the idea of what you provide and making it appealing to those who might be in the market to purchase. Customer experience is about the entire journey a customer goes on with your brand.

Customer experience includes points in the journey often overlooked – or ignored – by marketing:

  • Invoices and billing: Your customers might only have this one touchpoint with you regularly. Is it up to snuff?
  • Complaints and customer service: Your customers will have issues. If the process to tell you about them and then resolve them is painful, no amount of marketing can help.
  • After the marketing stops, your customers are onboarded. Is their first experience a good one?
  • Does the mobile experience and online experience serve the customer where they are or is it disjointed?
  • What about the exit? Do you leave them feeling jilted or likely to return?

So, please, for all of our sakes,

please stop saying customer experience is the new marketing.

It’s not. It will help your marketing, but let’s keep the discussion about experience where it belongs – on your customers. Consider the experience as a differentiator, a critical part of your mission, a game changer or even a recruitment tool. But don’t call it marketing.

When confusion sets in and we start believing this type of marketing hocus pocus, we make mistakes like American Airlines did. They called their new logos and paint jobs on their planes a “new customer experience.” Passengers who were routinely disappointed in the actual customer experience flocked to social media to call foul. Then you read quotes like this, from an article in Forbes:

A spokesperson for American said, “The new look, including our new fleet, is a strategic investment that is needed to improve our customers’ overall experience. . .”

No, it’s not. J.D. Power & Associates 2013 released its North America Airline Satisfaction Study and American Airlines was ranked second to last in the traditional airlines category. The last? None other than U.S. Airways, which is expected to finalize a merger with American Airlines later this year. If I were the CEO, I’d start worrying about the experience my customers are having, and quickly. Shiny exteriors and modern logos don’t go very far when you are mistreated or dissatisfied by the time you step foot on the aircraft.

The fact American Airlines fell for their own PR – that marketing and the stuff that goes with it is enough to call the customer experience – shows just how deep this mythology runs in some organizations. Don’t fall for it. Communicate with your market, by all means. But don’t forget to actually deliver on the experience.

This article was written for and a version was first posted on Sensei Blogs.

Image credit: Plymouth Devon via CreativeCommons


Jeannie Walters

Jeannie Walters is the Chief Customer Experience Investigator™ and founder of 360Connext, a global consulting firm specializing in the cornerstones of customer experience: customer engagement, employee engagement and connections like social media. 360Connext serves mid-market companies and larger by helping them evaluate their true customer experience. The evaluations always lead to improvements which then lead to results like increased online conversions or loyalty.

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  1. margieclayman says

    This is spooky – our agency’s post today is about a survey showing that most CMOs were concerned about customer engagement over anything else, including maintaining the relationships, nurturing loyal customers, etc. That’s CMOs. We question whether marketers really need to borrow customer service issues. There’s a lot about marketing that still needs some polishing from what we can see.

    • says

      margieclayman We must be cosmically connected, right? That’s a possible answer. There is SO MUCH happening in marketing these days – and how IT now has to be interwoven into all this is another discussion – but I agree it’s evolving. Good to see you here, Margie!

  2. says

    A new logo will make my flight experience better? WOW…. that’s some special logo! What WERE they thinking?
    You’re so right. Customer experience is only one part of the machine and you have to get people there first before they can have a customer experience!

    • says

      anitahovey Right! And marketing is really a promise of what the experience will be. If you get that wrong, the experience will be bad. But if marketing sets the right expectations and the experience delivers…magic!

      • cyrus_allen says

        jeanniecw anitahovey so who manages price, creates the product or service, manages the channel etc?

  3. Alan Gilmour says

    I couldn’t disagree more. Marketing’s role must be to align the resources of the business to meet customers rational and emotional needs and thereby deliver on the brand promise. You reduce marketing’s role to the colouring in department responsible for ‘making it appealing’. For too long marketing and marketers have shied away from the customer experience resulting in a failure to deliver. Too long the customer experience is doing as little as you can get away with at lowest cost. The customer experience should be seen as a competitive advantage.

    • says

      Alan Gilmour I’m not sure how we’re disagreeing? I completely support that the customer experience should absolutely be a competitive advantage. Marketers should embrace it. But marketing (typically) does not carry on throughout the customer journey and align with the actual experience the customer is having. But calling a better logo a better customer experience is ludicrous, and that’s what happens when marketing is painted with the customer experience brush without real substance – organizational change throughout – behind it.

  4. rsomers says

    I like this post and I’m in violent disagreement with myself about it. As chief marketer for an organization, the experience our customers have is one of my major concerns. As someone said, “Marketing can no longer be in the business of making promises the business can’t keep.”
    But my input there should be as a manager of the business, not a marketer. I want our customers to have a superior experience for the same reason I want our products to have superior engineering. As one of the managers of the business, I advocate for that. That isn’t the same as funding or managing that function.
    As a marketer I don’t budget for customer experience or manage headcount in that area. Like any manager of the business, I need to look at the person responsible for customer experience and hold them accountable to doing a good job. (Just as the person in charge of that area needs to hold me accountable for doing excellent marketing). Marketing and customer experience depend on each other and should be partners, but that can’t be confused with fusing the two disciplines.

    • says

      rsomers Great way to say it. Partnership is key. Everyone in an organization should be invested in the customer experience, but not everyone owns the discipline. 
      BTW – Don’t become too violent with yourself! We want you around. 😉

    • cyrus_allen says

      rsomers I like your introspection, but wonder who are these mysterious people responsible for customer experience? Front line staff, the people crafting the finer details of your product or service? Those setting the price to get the value equation right? Those people running the supply chain to ensure products are where customers expect them to be when they expect them to be? 
      A big myth being perpetuated in this thread along with others in the online space is that marketing and CX are different things.  See my post response above. As the chief marketer, or the ‘Steward of the 4 Ps’, the CMO should be orchestrating all the things that go to make up the value exchange between the organisation and the customer.

      • says

        cyrus_allen rsomers I don’t think anyone is saying marketing is not part of the customer experience, but marketing activities alone (like the AA example) do not equal what the customer experiences. The CMO is not typically plugged into every detail along the journey, and now there are progressive organizations with Chief Customer Officers or customer experience or insights teams. Understanding the journey your customer takes is a different task then stewardship of the 4 P’s.

        • cyrus_allen says

          jeanniecw cyrus_allen rsomers Well I guess that’s the value of a democracy – we can have different views! :)  IMO an organisation would map and manage each customer journey as part of their management of the Ps. Think about it this way: a journey consists of peripheral awareness through to active engagement (online, F2F, store etc – let’s call those channels, or Place); a person then buys through various channels; uses the product or service (Product), and they receive service/support when needed through one of various Places. Customer-oriented organisations don’t argue over whether it’s marketing or customer experience – they define and execute with crafted experiences in mind, that encapsulate all Ps. 
          In fact, CX is not new. Yes, there’s a new ‘industry’ built up around it – but successful organisations have for years understood one basic truth: A good brand is a great promise, well delivered.

        • michelhogan says

          cyrus_allen jeanniecw rsomers or as I like to say Brand is the result of the promises you keep… so figure out what promises you can make then move heaven and earth to make sure you do keep them. I’ll let you all argue about who does that and what label they wear.

    • says

      geoffliving Agree. They are tied but the experience ultimately takes the customer from marketing (awareness) to either exit or loyalty. The marketing function typically doesn’t address what happens after the promise, but often pays the price if the experience doesn’t live up to the expectations set.

      • says

        jeanniecw geoffliving True, and in the social era, marketing is often left with the repercussions. But marketing can also fail to extend the experience afterwards, so, both need to be up to speed in an ideal situation.

  5. cyrus_allen says

    Forgive me, but you confuse what marketing is with how many people do it.  Remember the 4 Ps? Or let’s call it the identification, creation, communication and delivery of value that someone will pay you for.  The experience of any product or service is derived from and evaluated through that process. 
    Marketing and customer experience do not exist in isolation. We need to stop talking about CX as if it is something we can ‘manage’ as a separate component of the business. It’s not.  Your businesses already provide a customer experience to everyone of your customers – whether it’s a crap or brilliant experience, they still get one. 
    So, if you believe marketing is the coloring in department responsible for good creative then their contribution to CX is limited to setting the expectation (brand promise) with the customer. The American Airlines example supports this – no point painting your planes if the underlying product quality is poor.  If marketing also manages product, price, channel, and god forbid service, then the function is directly impacting and managing whatever experiences your customers receive.

    • says

      cyrus_allen I really like your point and agree that the customer experience is happening whether you manage it or not. That’s a universal truth, for sure. I would say there are ways to proactively manage what experience you want your customers to have. Marketing sets the stage for this, in my opinion. I don’t see many organizations who put service under the marketing leadership. Are you seeing that?

      • cyrus_allen says

        jeanniecw cyrus_allen Yes I see incorporating service as a very large value creation opportunity for organisations.  Eliminate the ‘hand off’ that occurs between those incented to sell and those who pick up the pieces. A large telco here has moved partly in that direction, with strong dividends in terms of satisfaction.

  6. michelhogan says

    I guess, sure – if you only think of marketing as marketing communications and identity management…

    • says

      michelhogan There’s clearly more to marketing than that. I’m just trying to highlight that marketing is not enough to say that’s the experience of customers.

  7. Jatoc says

    I would say that good marketing should evoke emotions and experience that customers will go thru trying your product/service. That said customer service should be a very I,portent components of any integrated marketing communication plan. But, customer experience also feeds other areas such as engineering or quality department .Very important to remind us to see this from the customer experience perspective and we will realize that this area get helped by marketing thru social media. At the end, I like the partnership definition to xombine these two levers.combine these two levers

    • says

      Jatoc  Engineering, product development, ecommerce, etc. Pretty much every part of the business, including but not exclusively marketing. I agree the partnership is key.

  8. CarolLynnRivera says

    Marketing people love their buzzwords and their cool phrases that make them sound trendy and important. Except me. I am strictly anti-trend and the minute I hear some stupid phrase twice I already think it’s a conspiracy :)
    Not that long ago I wrote a post in which I yelled at everyone for using the word “engage”. 
    Glad there are people like you around to keep the self-importance in check! Experience is a thing, but it’s always been a thing. It’s not some new thing the cool people just discovered. And marketing is still marketing. Or maybe “marketing is the new marketing”. I’ll throw that one around Twitter and see how many people I can get to jump on the bandwagon!

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