Guest article by Yasin Sahhar, finalist of the 2023 SERVSIG Best Dissertation Award.
Being a finalist for the SERVSIG Best Dissertation Award is a great privilege. I once again thank the flourishing SERVSIG community for this recognition. My Ph.D. research is entitled “Understanding and Managing Customer Experience in Practice – A Phenomenological Inquiry.” I was invited to share some reflections on my research, and I am happy to do so in two blog posts. The first was recently published and is about understanding experience in practice. This second blog post zeros in on managing experience throughout the customer journey.
Boundary condition: a deep understanding of customer experience in practice
Customer experience (management) is critical for firms and can potentially create a competitive edge (De Keyser et al., 2020; Lemon & Verhoef, 2016). Managing customer experience and skillfully offering compelling customer experiences can reap massive benefits for organizations (Williams et al., 2020). However, this is not as easy as it may sound. As I pointed out in the previous blog post, organizations should first – and continuously – focus on creating a deep and human-centered understanding through analytics and interpretation of experience in practice, and how it evolves in today’s dynamic world. This is and should be the first boundary condition before even thinking of anticipating customer experience.
The balancing act of anticipating customer experience
Managing customer experience is an ambidextrous endeavor (Sahhar, 2022). In our paper, we show that customer experience management throughout the customer journey is a balancing act between distinct modes of organization and engagement (Sahhar et al., 2021). Service managers can organize their practices around ad hoc and regular practices, and they can engage in reactive and proactive manners. We found that reactive engagement restores customer experience, and proactive engagement bolsters customer experience. The figure below depicts this balancing act of anticipating customer experience. The balancing act refers to the ambidextrous and systematic act of continuously combining and switching back and forth between the practices.
Sophisticated interventions can positively trigger customer experience
Anticipating on customer experience necessitates consistent and delicate harmonization with the customer’s value creation and destruction practices. Strategic and successful customer experience management is not solely about creating memorable or frictionless experiences; it involves the risk of structural unreflective – taken-for-granted – customer experiences (Sahhar & Loohuis, 2022). To mitigate this risk demands for mental and organizational flexibility in which marketing managers should pay structural attention to what and how customers experience in their value co-creation and co-destruction practice. Additionally, what we coin as ‘artificial practice interruptions’ of a mild nature can act as sophisticated managerial triggers to incept the customer’s experience positively. So much so that it may create customer delight. For instance, a welcome drink at the check-in counter of a hotel or an insurance provider – usually in the background when no problems arise – prompts customers with a notification and a gesture of appreciation.
Conquering the Herculean task
Although my research offers insights to understand better, orchestrate, recover, and positively influence customer experience, I argue that it certainly is a Herculean task. Surmounting this strenuous undertaking calls for outstanding effort and perseverance. The indispensable starting point for conquering this task is to deeply comprehend the nature, characteristics, and fine nuances of customer experience. The combination of advanced technologies (e.g., AI) and human-centered approaches (e.g., phenomenological inquiries) offers way to do so. Service providers’ practices of different natures, in conjunction with the customers’ experience and practice, can set the correct parameters for facilitating positive customer experiences and anticipating the somewhat erratic nature of customer experience. This demands multi-level responsibility, i.e., front-line employees, middle management, and strategic guardians. Can firms join this delicate dance in the adventurous journey of ‘managing’ customer experience?
Assistant Professor in Marketing and Service Research
University of Twente, The Netherlands
- De Keyser, A., Verleye, K., Lemon, K. N., Keiningham, T. L., & Klaus, P. (2020). Moving the Customer Experience Field Forward: Introducing the Touchpoints, Context, Qualities (TCQ) Nomenclature. Journal of Service Research, 23(4), 433-455.
- Lemon, K. N., & Verhoef, P. C. (2016). Understanding customer experience throughout the customer journey. Journal of Marketing, 80(6), 69-96.
- Sahhar, Y. (2022). Understanding and Managing Customer Experience in Practice: A Phenomenological Inquiry. University of Twente, Enschede, The Netherlands.
- Sahhar, Y., & Loohuis, R. (2022). Characterizing the spaces of consumer value experience in value co-creation and value co-destruction. European Journal of Marketing, 56(13), 105-136.
- Sahhar, Y., Loohuis, R., & Henseler, J. (2021). Towards a circumplex typology of customer service experience management practices: a dyadic perspective. Journal of Service Theory and Practice, 31(3), 366-395.
- Williams, L., Buoye, A., Keiningham, T. L., & Aksoy, L. (2020). The practitioners’ path to customer loyalty: Memorable experiences or frictionless experiences? Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, 57, 1-9.
Photo credits: Christophe Hautier.