The defining elements of experience

Antoine Veliz and Liesje Hodgson

“Experience” is an epic concept. Philosophers, scientists, and artists have been grappling with the concept for centuries. Today, brands have joined in with the goal of elevating experiences to improve relationships with customers and grow their businesses.

The following four definitions are intended to simplify and ground conversations at the intersection of brand, business, and experience. They break down the broader definition of experience and parse it into three components: brand experience, customer experience, and user experience.

The result is a straightforward model for identifying the nature of a business’ experience challenge, identifying those responsible, and assigning metrics. It also clarifies the role that teams and individuals should play in shaping experience at the brand, customer, or user level.

Definition 1: 

Experience

“Moments that leave an impression.” 

This relatively simple definition is intentionally absent of customer, brand, product, and business language to remind us that, as people, we have a shared, implicit understanding of the term. “Moments” captures the temporal and sequential nature of experience, while “impression” describes the effect that ideas and interactions have on an individual.

Definition 2: 

Brand experience

“The cumulative effect of a business’ customer-facing touchpoints.”

Brand experience is characterized by the overall quality and effect of a business’ touchpoints. Influencing and evaluating it requires a holistic look at all the products, services, environments, and communications that a business creates for its audiences. When touchpoints are more coherent and effective, overall brand experience improves.

Unlike brand strategy and brand design, brand experience extends beyond the reach of the CMO or his or her equivalent; it is also the responsibility of the CTO, COO, and CCO. Cross-functional leaders and teams have the ability to shape how the brand goes to market across multiple channels, regions, and product and service segments.

Given the complexity and cost of measuring the quality of interactions with a brand across all touchpoints, channels, and audiences, the most effective way to benchmark brand experience is by looking within. To bring more effective touchpoints to market, internal teams should be sharing reusable, globally available resources like design systems and technology platforms that improve the coherence of the brand from channel to channel and, more importantly, minimize design and development time.

Definition 3: 

Customer experience (CX)

“The interactions a customer has with a subset of a business’ touchpoints.” 

An individual customer will only experience a handful of a business’ touchpoints over the life cycle of his or her relationship with the business. The organization’s ability to recognize and address the specifics of these relationships—the individual customer’s needs, the touchpoints involved, and expectations from one interaction to the next—is what determines the quality of the customer experience.

Business unit (BU) leadership is often best positioned to take on customer experience. At this level, there is greater clarity around who priority customers are and greater ability to influence the performance, relevance, and desirability of each touchpoint. Individual product and service teams are the most important allies in improving the performance of weak touchpoints and creating smoother customer journeys.

Most businesses are already using metrics like NPS or customer satisfaction surveys. However, they’re not often tracked by customer type, and they’re rarely standardized across touchpoints. To monitor and optimize customer experience over time, the same metrics should be applied to every one of the priority touchpoints with which a particular customer interacts. This information should inform product and service road maps by identifying touchpoints that fall flat and shining a light on those that excel.

Definition 4: 

User experience (UX)

“The interactions a customer has with a specific product or service.”

When a customer navigates a website, talks to a service representative, or opens a box, he or she becomes a “user” interacting with an individual product or service touchpoint. The quality of the user experience is defined by the accessibility and usability of a particular touchpoint, and the satisfaction provided to the user through the interaction.

The day-to-day work of planning, designing, and delivering user experiences that meet needs and expectations falls on individual product and service teams; however, high-priority touchpoints that are differentiating for the brand and critical to the business may warrant extra investment and attention from corporate brand and marketing teams.

Depending on the nature of the touchpoint, different UX metrics will apply. Consider capturing metrics that evaluate not just traditional usability (i.e., time on task, success rate), but also desirability (happiness, first impression) and relevance (NPS, conversion rate, trust) to get a more rounded sense of the nature of UX challenges. A highly usable product can still be ugly—or worse, useless.

In sum:

Before taking on brand, customer, or user experience (or perhaps all three), identify the scale and nature of the problem you’re trying to solve relative to where you sit within your organization. If your ambition and position are misaligned, you’ll need to win over the support of those responsible before you can move forward.

If you are looking to make interactions across the board feel more cohesive or trying to get teams to consider the impressions that a brand’s touchpoints should leave, you’re tackling a brand experience challenge that requires the attention and effort of corporate leadership and cross-functional groups.

If your aim is to win over one particular audience or make sure that a customer moves smoothly from education to sales to customer support to product use, you’re addressing customer experience. Tight partnerships between BU leads and touchpoint teams will ensure work streams are aligned in service of a shared, customer-centric goal.

And finally, if your goal is to introduce a new product or service or improve the experience of an existing one, you’re facing a user experience challenge that requires the collaboration of the teams specifically responsible for its design, delivery, and measurement.

Chief Experience Officer
Senior Consultant of Innovation