Have you ever repeated a word or phrase so many times that it becomes meaningless? Or written a word so many times that it begins to look misspelled? This psychological phenomenon, first identified by Edward Titchener in 1915, is called semantic satiation, or verbal satiation. In the simplest terms, the repetition causes brain fatigue, which temporarily strips the word of any meaning.
The constant drumbeat of market-speak has nearly pushed us to the point of semantic satiation with the terms “customer experience” and “customer experience management.” White papers sponsored by technology vendors, marketing messages from digital agencies, analyst research reports, trends coverage by journalists, and hundreds of conferences with “CX” in the title–it’s enough to render “customer experience” meaningless.
I admit to potential culpability here, as part of the team at Digital Clarity Group, a research and advisory firm focused on customer experience management. But overuse and misuse make me keenly aware of the need to be precise about what the terms mean-and what they imply for business leaders, practitioners, buyers, and users of technologies and services for delivering world-class customer experience.
Our definition of customer experience management necessarily begins with the notion of customer experience: “Customer experience (CX) is the totality of a customer’s interactions with a company or brand. Note that in this definition, customer refers as well to prospects-those who have not yet conducted a transaction with the company-and that the totality of interactions includes all channels and touch points over the entire life of the relationship. As a business discipline, customer experience management refers to the strategies, processes, skills, technologies, and commitments that aim to ensure positive and competitively outstanding customer experiences.”
If we consciously attempt to avoid semantic satiation and pay attention to the words, analyzing the definition highlights the complexity of managing experience. A few key elements stand out. For one thing, the practice of experience management extends beyond customers to include prospects, partners, donors, students, and citizens, depending on the nature of the organization. For another thing, experience is holistic. It spans all points of interaction. It is not just digital. It is not just marketing, but the lifecycle of marketing and sales and support. It is not just web or mobile; it’s call centers, physical locations, and maybe even good old-fashioned postal mail.
Adding the global dimension makes the challenges even more daunting. What does it mean in the context of customer experience and customer experience management? Delivering true global customer experience demands more than local offices and localized websites. It requires locally and culturally relevant communication and engagement, not just content in multiple languages. It entails multilingual and multicultural SEO. In addition to localized marketing material and product literature, best-in-class global customer experience can include virtual assistants in call centers who can instantly adapt to the language of the customer, multilingual knowledgebases for self-service, and localized information that drives partner performance in markets that are served through third parties.
If these needs weren’t challenging enough, it’s a common trap to think only about the external-facing activities that are required for customer experience. The complexity of managing and delivering great experiences worldwide is further compounded by the organization’s internal systems, practices, and processes. Global businesses have complex back-office needs that are as demanding as those that are customer-facing, such as critical business documentation (human resources policies and procedures) and aggregated business metrics gathered from disparate geographic regions. Employees and contractors shouldn’t be forgotten audiences, and ignoring their needs for multilingual content and multicultural engagement puts great customer experience in jeopardy.
It’s no wonder that our brains get fatigued when we think about global customer experience and global customer experience management. Most global business leaders do not need to be convinced that proactively managing the customer experience is critical to their organization’s ability to compete and remain relevant. However, once convinced, the risk of semantic satiation becomes real for these companies. They can say “customer experience” over and over so many times that the words lose meaning for the business. The key challenges are understanding what global customer experience means within its context and taking right-sized action that aligns with business goals. It is also critical to approach and execute global content management as a strategic business practice. Great experience demands the ability to engage. And that, in turn, starts with words that the customer understands.