Does Customer Experience Exist?

I had the great misfortune of visiting the UNIQLO clothing store in Paris a couple of weekends ago. Dragged into the store by my other half on a Saturday afternoon what greeted me was pretty much man hell. The store was stuffed to the gills with shoppers. The aisles were too narrow. Lines for the changing rooms wound around the store and queues for the tills were about 20 deep. People were having sex just to make more room. (Ok I made this bit up.) Even my wife, who could shop for Ireland, gave up after a few minutes and suggested we leave.  Rather than simply walk out it felt like we were guided to the exit by human peristaltic movement and defecated from the store. On any customer experience metric this failed big time. Yet the store was packed?

This experience also reminded me of a recent article about Richard X. Bove, a noted bank analyst, who pulled his money out of Wells Fargo Bank because of poor customer experience and went on to trash the bank via social media. The very same Richard X. Bove however in his capacity as a banking analyst said, “I am struck by the fact that the service is so bad, and yet the company is so good”. The bank retained a strong financial status in sharp contrast to the poor customer experience it was providing. Bove continued to recommend the bank as a safe investment to his clients despite the fact that Bove himself would not keep his own money in that bank as a customer.

So here we have two examples of businesses where customer experience stinks yet both businesses are thriving. We could easily come up with others. We are told by customer experience evangelists that businesses must make every customer interaction count. That customer experience lip service just doesn’t cut it anymore. The examples above appear to reject this theory.

There are a number of ways we could try and interpret this. Is customer experience just another victim of the recession as more and more consumers are becoming more and more price conscious? Does price alone explain why Uniqlo is packed to the rafters?

Is customer experience simply irrelevant in some markets for example financial services? The Richard X Bove example above can be easily explained by the focus of many banks on their investment rather than retail arms. Why would Wells Fargo invest in an improved retail banking customer experience when it will have little impact on their bottom line?

Finally and more controversially does customer experience even exist? Are we not talking about process excellence here? UNIQLO for example focus on process execution as their key differentiator;

UNIQLO has established a SPA (Specialty store retailer of Private label Apparel) business model encompassing all stages of the business–from design and production to final sale. By continuously refining this SPA model, UNIQLO successfully differentiates itself from the competition by developing unique products.

Apple and Amazon are often cited as customer experience leaders but both also excel in process execution and supply chain excellence.

Many organizations are doing perfectly well without focusing on customer experience. So does customer experience even exist? Is customer experience really just process excellence?