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Developing a customer-experience vision

To provide a distinctive experience for customers, an organization must unite around the goal of meeting their true needs. Done well, the effort can power a vast amount of innovation.

Almost every successful company recognizes that it is in the customer-experience business. Organizations committed to this principle are as diverse as the online retail giant Amazon; The Walt Disney Company, from its earliest days operating in a small California studio; and the US Air Force, which uses an exotic B2B-like interface to provide close air support for ground troops under fire. Conversely, companies that are not attuned to a customer-driven marketplace are remarkably easy to spot. Consider the traditional US taxi industry, which is facing significant new competition from the likes of Lyft and Uber. Customer-service standouts clearly understand that this is central to their success as businesses.

McKinsey director Ewan Duncan explains why committed leadership is essential to orchestrate a comprehensive customer-centric makeover.

Knowing that your organization is primarily in the customer-service business is not, however, enough to achieve organizational change. To build internal momentum for initiatives to develop a unique customer experience, a company must understand how that helps it perform distinctively in the market. The conviction and shared aspiration that stem from understanding the customer experience an organization wants to deliver can not only inspire, align, and guide it but also bring innovation, energy, and a human face to what would otherwise just be strategy. The story of one US airport’s efforts to define a distinctive customer experience illustrates how such a transformation can take shape.

Defining aspirations

The customer experience an organization wants to provide can vary widely. For some companies, this transformed experience represents a step change. For others, the aspiration may, at least in the short term, require only more modest changes. Either way, the aspiration will translate into an overall mission and, ultimately, into guiding principles for frontline behavior.

ne caveat: it is easy to err by aiming too low. In our experience, looking at historical performance and at whatever helped satisfy customers in the past can often make marginal tweaks seem good enough. Understanding the fundamental wants and needs of customers must be a step in determining what a great experience for them should look like.

For example, five years ago, a taxi company might have thought that decreasing the wait time when a customer ordered a cab would be sufficient. But some companies saw a competitive opportunity in addressing the wishes of customers trying to deal with a transportation challenge by getting more control, comfort, and safety, as well as lower costs. Understanding and addressing customer needs more effectively is a key reason successful start-ups disrupt industries in today’s more customer-centric marketplace.


We find that several key questions commonly underpin successful stories and strategies:


  • What is a company’s appetite for change in the near term? Is the goal to change the customer experience fundamentally or simply to improve it at the margins?
  • What is the gap between the needs and wants of customers and what they actually experience?
  • How can the company gain a customer-experience advantage against competitors?
  • At which point in the experience should the company concentrate to have a real impact?
  • How do the overall capabilities of the staff support the customer experience the company wants to provide?


It is vital to define an aspiration centered on what matters to customers—and on how it affects your business. There may be no customer-experience location more demanding than major airports, and executives at one recently discovered how powerful and counterintuitive the responses to these questions can be. The executives formed a broad change team and spent several months determining what the airport should aim to deliver. Their aspiration at once captured the simplicity of the goal and the daunting complexity of the task: to provide the most enjoyable and efficient way possible for travelers to get from one destination to another.

Hand writing Smiley on the Customer - Customer Retention

by Leonel Azuela | Founder and CEO, Quaxar

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