We are all measuring customer experience wrong

Almost everyone over the age of, let’s say five, has been a customer. There are vanishingly few places on the planet where goods and services don’t change hands in some exchange of value. Being a customer is a pretty universal experience. 

So if we all do it, why are we so often disappointed by the customer experience we receive? Because we are all measuring Customer Experience (CX) wrong, which leads those of us whose job is to deliver CX to focus on the wrong things.

The state of play

If I asked you to quantify how well you deliver CX, I bet you’d come back with a bunch of metrics that focus on your teams’ performance. You’d likely list customer experience metrics like Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT), Net Promoter Score (NPS), Average Handle Time (AHT), First Contact Close (FCC), First Response Time (FRT)—the same ones that most teams display proudly in slide decks or on websites indicating how wonderful their service is. 

But has any customer who has received a bad experience ever been comforted by the fact that, on average, 98% of your customers are satisfied? No one has ever had a truly horrible experience with a company and then said to themselves or their friends: “Well, it’s alright, most of their customers are happy.”

Similarly, we present wonderful improvements to leaders like: “Our FRT has improved by 25%!” Maybe it’s even highlighted in bright green with a star beside it. But that’s a change from four minutes to three, which is an imperceptible difference to the customer. Is that something to celebrate? Will your customers be any less annoyed when your associates pick up after three minutes listening to Kenny G on hold instead of four?

Measuring customer experience shouldn’t be the same as measuring the performance of the agent’s delivery! What you should care about is the value the customer is receiving and how they are receiving it. Customer experience is providing value with as little friction as possible. The higher the friction, the worse your customers’ experience is likely to be.

Let’s rethink the measurement of CX and a framework to better understand the relationship between value and friction.

Why value and friction?

Typically, CX is defined as: “The experience the customer perceives from every touchpoint they have with a brand.” While not wrong, it misses a key reason customers exist: value. 

In any customer-vendor relationship, the true experience is measured in value to each party. There are many different kinds of value, though for vendors it is usually monetary value. For instance, a loaf of bread provides me with nourishment, which is a value I am willing to pay for. The vendor gets money, I get sustenance (and maybe enjoyment or pleasure).

Value is only a part of the equation though. If your website is full of marketing jargon and minimal tangible product information, a user must read every word in order to understand what it is you do. That person is encountering friction to get what they need. If a prospect must book a call to get a basic quote or demo, that is added friction.

To the customer, these tactics feel like a company places more importance on obtaining their contact data than on actually winning their business.

If you went to buy a loaf of bread, but it didn’t have a price tag and before you could take it off the shelf, someone had to “assess your carbohydrate needs” you’d scoff and shop elsewhere. Yet, we accept this with other services. This is the relationship between friction and value.

With that in mind, let’s introduce a new definition of customer experience: 

CX is the value received relative to the friction experienced, during every interaction a customer has with a brand.

Do any of your current metrics measure the value of an interaction against its friction? If we want to consistently provide exceptional services, we need to rethink how we speak about CX delivery. 

The Value-Friction CX Framework

Using the value-friction definition, let’s examine measuring customer experience. To maximize the experience, the key function of a touch point would be to deliver value to a customer with a minimal amount of friction. This would be the “expected customer experience.” If we deliver more value with less friction, we are exceeding expectations, while conversely if we deliver less value relative to friction, we are likely to have missed customer expectations.

Let’s look at the six regions in this framework:

1: Average expected customer experience

Every customer interaction should provide higher value relative to friction. That is the base customer expectation. Some friction is expected in the process, for example searching for your brand, reading what it is you do, or watching a demo video. And likewise some value should be given: clear identification of what you do, how to contact your support team, accurate knowledge articles, and succinct pricing guidelines. No customer will be frustrated at that exchange. Most of your interactions will likely fit in here. 

2: Exceptional customer experience

This is when you provide more than expected value with less friction. For example, with an amazing automated process, a customer can solve their problem quickly, with no hassle and get exactly what they wanted out of the touch point. Think about real-time order delivery status or hassle-free, automated returns. These are examples of very low-friction experiences that also provide high customer value. 

3: Going above and beyond

Commonly known as surprise & delight. This is when you beat the expectation of the customer. These contact points provide added value beyond what was required by the customer and do so with no added friction. Examples include a free sample product when you make a purchase, a discount after a bad experience, or complimentary concierge onboarding for a SaaS app. When you provide unexpected additional value that also reduces friction, that’s when you end up in this part of the framework.

4: Frustrating value

There are rare cases when friction is absolutely required, and while the customer may be frustrated, the heavy process is needed to deliver value. 2FA is an example of this. While it is universally seen as a high friction and frustrating process, it provides better security and therefore has higher value.

It’s worth noting that experiences in this area are ripe for innovation to lower friction and improve CX. Think about how 2FA can be replaced by biometric sensors on phones, providing a faster and easier (yet still secure) process.

5: Make customers work

These processes are heavy friction, yet do provide what the customer wants. The overall customer experience is low, but they did get some value. A great example of this is when you force a customer onto the phone to cancel a subscription. 

These are the experiences that form the core thesis of “The Effortless Experience” by Matt Dixon, et al: “As effort increases, loyalty decreases. The more work customers must put into getting their problem solved, the less satisfied they become and the less likely they are to repurchase from or promote the company.”

6: Missed opportunity

When friction outweighs the value or there is very little value at all in an interaction, you have missed an opportunity to engage more meaningfully with your customer. This is when your webpage focuses on marketing jargon instead of product value, when your pricing is not shown or not clear, or when your knowledge base has missing or outdated content, for example.

How do we fix it?

The goal of the Value-Friction CX Framework is to help an organization measure customer experience across their customer journey and see where interactions fall within the six regions. By doing so with an honest assessment, you can start to focus attention on the areas where your customer experience needs work.  

Each touch point has its own metrics that can help determine where it falls, however overall CX measurement still remains elusive. Newer metrics such as Value Enhancement Score can help measure the perceived value and when compared to Customer Effort Score, you can easily see if you fall outside of the ideal 1, 2 or 3 regions.

Once you have these mapped, we need to change the conversation to a value-driven one. This means reframing how we talk about metrics.

Using a customer support example, it is likely that as a part of a business review you use a chart similar to this one:

This example is very internal performance-centric. It tells us how the team is doing against internally defined goals, but it tells us very little about what the customer actually experiences. (CSAT might tell us whether a customer was satisfied with an answer, but not whether the experience of getting that answer was fantastic or frustrating.) 

What if we altered this chart to also focus on the customer experience? Using the data, surveys, insights, etc. (like Voice of Customer) that we gather across the business, what can we tell about the customer experience as it relates to the agent performance metrics? 

As an example, Let’s look at reducing the average call time from 25 mins to 10 mins. Within the Value-Friction Framework, this would be a reduction in friction to get what you want: An average expected experience in region one. You are more operationally efficient.

However, what if your data tells you that customers value empathy and accuracy over speed?  If your feedback has comments such as: “the agent was terse,” or “I didn’t feel like the agent wanted to listen,” the friction might be lower, because of the fast AHT, but the value has decreased the experience into region six. You have missed an opportunity to engage with your customer. So even though your scorecard is green, your customer experience is not. 

Measuring customer experience requires combining the insights with the metrics.

The outcome will look something like this:

Adding these two columns transforms a performance conversation into a value conversation.  Now when you speak about Time to Resolve, the framing is clearer: our team is meeting the metric, but our customer still feels friction in our process. In the haste to be speedy, we increased friction through poor handoffs, low quality communications, or imperfect processes, and the customer isn’t receiving the maximum value. The narrative is now value based: how do we remove the perceived friction while maintaining our excellent service? 

As you can see, it’s not that we’ve discarded all the team performance metrics you’re already measuring, it’s that we’ve enriched them with customer insights to tell a more complete story about value vs. friction.

Iterative improvements

Now that you have a list that combines your insights with your metrics to give a holistic view of performance and the customers’ reactions to that performance, you can prioritize the most impactful improvements. A good starting question is, “Which of the touch points is delivering the most negative sentiments, the highest friction, or not providing the best value?”

These improvements will likely impact agent performance and customer experience and will change your metric goals, results, and customer feedback. As you evolve, you need to reposition and refine the experiences in the framework and start the measurements and insights process all over again. The result is a constant focus on CX at each touch point. You are now measuring actual experience improvements through the use of performance metrics and insights.

Measuring Customer Experience

To measuring customer experience completely, you must:

  • Relate metrics to the explicit and implicit feedback you receive from your customers
  • Draw conclusions about how your customers gain value and how much friction they go through to do so
  • Align your touchpoints with the Value-Friction Framework to better understand how your metrics react
  • Constantly evolve your customer experience based on these steps

Focus on aggregating data from across the customer journey and aligning it to the Value-Friction Framework. That means you need to look at things like the search words that get people to your page, what visitors click on when they first visit, the steps they take to get through checkout or sign up, product usage patterns, survey results, support ticket data, and the reasons customers churn. Combining all of this with strong backing metadata about the people and companies you sell to will help create a holistic picture of your explicit and implicit customer needs.

We’ve all been measuring customer experience wrong. It isn’t one number or our teams’ performance against KPIs. It’s the value we deliver against the friction customers face.

Every touch point provides value to your customers and understanding, measuring, delivering, and improving what is valuable to them is the ultimate way to improve your customer experience.

For more ideas and a deeper discussion on the value friction framework, listen to Craig's interview on The Startup Smoothie podcast!

Craig Stoss