Customer experience is about so much more than the sale

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright September 7, 2021
A customer can have a great sales experience and still end up disappointed with the product. In an XaaS world, businesses must monitor outcomes too.

Hand drawing customer satisfaction concept © Melpomene -
(© Melpomene -

There are a huge range of sophisticated tools available to maximize the effectiveness of your sales operation — I've just finished an article about the latest from Salesforce. But as I closed up my keyboard, a nagging thought gnawed at me. Great sales tools are all very well, but no amount of improved selling will get you where you need to be if your business is still focused on the wrong product and the wrong metrics. The tools are important, but context is all.

For example, let's take a moment to examine how businesses collect metrics about customer experience. If your main point of engagement with your customer is during the sale, then it might be natural to assume that you should measure the customer's experience of that interaction. It's clearly on that basis that, most times I buy something online, I immediately receive a survey asking me to rate my purchase. But in most cases, that's measuring the wrong thing.

It's perfectly possible to have a really positive purchasing experience and still be disappointed when I receive or start using the product or service. A good salesperson will make me feel great about the purchase I've just made. A well designed e-commerce site or mobile app will make the ordering process simple and efficient. If there's a delivery hitch that is handled well by customer services, I might even give the experience a 9 or 10 net promoter score. But measuring my perceptions of these encounters doesn't give you much insight into whether I'm going to make a repeat purchase if the product doesn't do what I expected.

In a complex B2B sale, it's even conceivable that a customer might have an excellent buying experience extended over many months, and still end up canceling the contract a year or more later when implementation finally begins and it becomes obvious that the product isn't going to deliver the intended outcomes. If the seller handles that contract cancelation process well, the buyer might still respond positively to a customer satisfaction survey. But that shouldn't be taken as an indication that all is well.

Closing the deal is just the beginning

We are stuck in the rut of measuring these experiences because, in the old days, those were the only times we were in contact with the customer. Once a traditional product had been sold, there was no way of discovering how the customer was getting on with it unless they called up to complain. When they did, the customer services team was incentivized to deal with the issue as rapidly as possible, while incurring the least possible expense.

Those days are behind us. In today's always-on, digitally connected world, we now have the tools to measure the customer's usage of our products and services throughout their lifecycle, and stay in touch with them so that we can discover whether it continues to meet their expectations and needs. The customer experience doesn't end once the sale is done — closing the deal is just the beginning of a long-term relationship. Increasingly, vendors are adding recurring subscriptions to their offerings, to deliver additional value long after the initial purchase of a product.

This is the full context of what I call the Everything-as-a-Service (XaaS) model, so named because it takes the lessons learned by software vendors when they started delivering Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and applies them to any digitally connected product, service or experience. Like SaaS, XaaS (pronounced 'x-ass') is typically delivered with a subscription contract, but it's more than just a bundle of products and services, with the product cost amortized over the life of the subscription. What distinguishes the XaaS model is the continuous digital connection with the customer, which enables a three-stage virtuous cycle, iteratively adding new value to the relationship over time:

  • Engage. The customer is directly connected to the business every time they use the product or function.
  • Monitor. The business can see how all of its customers are using its products or services, and proactively fix any problems.
  • Improve. The direct connection allows the business to update the offering's digital features or suggest an upgrade to new capabilities.

Businesses must monitor customer outcomes

In yesterday's article, I wrote about the impact of the XaaS effect on a company's internal operations, in particular how a data-driven approach to tracking performance can iteratively enhance functions such as sales or skills development. But in doing so I told only half the story, because if a business solely focuses on improving its existing operations, it won't gain the full benefit of the XaaS model in its relationships with customers. On the contrary, it may even make things worse, because if the product or service still isn't meeting customer needs, then no amount of skilful selling or attentive customer service can mend that.

I had a recent experience with FedEx that illustrates this point. A crucial package wasn't delivered. I contacted customer service and my call was escalated to one of their top agents, who said all the right things about resolving my issue. If I had been asked for a net promoter score at the end of that call, I would likely have given it a 7 or 8 — not more because the issue was not resolved at that point. But the follow-up was abysmal, and FedEx now refuses to acknowledge that the package has been lost. I've since heard of another similar case in which the same thing happened. You can imagine what my net promoter rating would be if I were asked today. You guessed it — I now wouldn't recommend FedEx to anyone for the delivery of important documents.

My point here is that going through the motions of delivering a great sales experience or excellent customer service isn't enough in an XaaS world. Businesses must monitor the outcomes they're enabling for customers, and ensure that their offering continues to match what's needed. In the XaaS world, this is called customer success, and it's an evolving art. Many companies look at customer success solely in terms of whether their customers are successfully using all the functionality of their product or service. My advice is to go further, and look at customer outcomes — is it helping them achieve the results they want and need? Getting this right requires a new culture that starts right at the top of any business and permeates everything from product design and production right through to sales and service.

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