Managing the customer experience is critical to long term success.

Customer experience is a critical element in building a connection between them and your brand.   Many marketing departments now focus on customer experience as a critical part of their strategies to successfully bring consumers more closely to their brands.


Customer Experience: How To Manage What You Don’t Own

by Erik Long & Will Carter 
ZS Associates


customer experience

Measuring and understanding your customer experience is critical today.   Many marketing executives are experts in gathering feedback from their direct customers. They keep a pulse on market sentiment through voice of customer (VoC) programs that include listening posts such as surveys, Web analytics, user groups, and win-loss programs.


  • For many industries, the ecosystem of unowned touch points is growing larger and more complex every day.
  • CMOs need to envision the end-to-end purchase or customer journey.
  • CMOs must expand their listening posts and listen to what channel partners, agents, representatives, and consultants have to say.

However, many of those listening posts are aimed at “owned” touch points in the organization–the corporate Web site, sales force, products, and employees. These touch points can be directly shaped to work in tandem to develop the customer experience.

But what about those influencers who the company does not control but influence (or possibly even sabotage) customers’ overall perception of the brand? How well do marketing executives set up listening posts around these unowned touch points?

Take the example of an international airport that wanted to deliver a better experience for travelers. The airport’s marketing and commercial leaders had to first recognize that most customer touch points were not under their direct control: Of the 30,000 people with employee badges at the airport, only 1,000 were the airport’s own employees. Business partners, including the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), airlines, restaurants, and retail stores, employed the other 29,000. The airport also had to consider hotel, ground transportation and taxi services, and rental car businesses. Even though the airport’s management did not employ these workers and did not control the touch points, they are all part of what travelers associate with the overall airport experience.

The airport’s sales and marketing leadership was ultimately responsible for a traveler’s bad experience with the TSA or a restaurant. By focusing on only the 1,000 core airport employees, executives were missing a wide range of touch points and influencers who were integral to delivering the end-to-end customer experience.

The question then becomes, “How do you motivate, educate, and excite this complicated ecosystem of 29,000 new touch points in line with the marketing leadership’s customer experience strategy?”

The challenge isn’t unique to airports. For many industries, this ecosystem of unowned touch points is growing larger and more complex every day. Manufacturers deliver and distribute their products through thousands of stores, while financial services firms market 401(k) plans to companies through human resource consultants and financial intermediaries. Industries such as retail, technology, and telecommunications outsource much of their customer service and support to outside vendors, which may employ thousands of people in call centers to answer questions from frustrated customers.

That can put your company in a bind: You don’t directly control these influencers, yet you have to deliver the customer experience through them.

Regaining Control
Marketing executives need to identify the important unowned touch points in their customer experience and then influence and shape them to best deliver the brand promise.

The thought of gaining control over a myriad of outside influencers may seem overwhelming, but you can begin by taking four steps:

1. Map the journey: First, CMOs need to envision the end-to-end purchase or customer journey, and identify the role of each owned and unowned stakeholder in that journey. CMOs also need to set up listening posts with both owned and unowned touch points, including customers, channel partners, agents, employees, and peripheral employees. This enables companies to understand these touch points’ roles in the customer journey, as well as how they interact with each other. A good example of this is VoP programs that some technology manufacturers have in place for understanding the needs and requirements of their channel partners.

2. Narrow it down: Next, CMOs must determine which unowned touch points are most critical to the customer experience. We discovered with the airport example that not all touch points are of equal importance. Every traveler will have contact with the gate agent who allows them to board his flight, but not everyone will interact with a taxi driver. CMOs need the right tools to measure the role and importance of specific touch points across the end-to-end experience. It helps to focus on the five to 10 most important stages of the customer experience and shape those five to 10 touch points accordingly. A range of customer insight methods can help prioritize and narrow down which owned and unowned touch points are most important.

3. Tailor the message: Once you’ve identified the most important influencers, you must determine the level of communication appropriate for each of those touch points. Since TSA employees are more critical in getting travelers to their departure gates than fast-food restaurant employees, for instance, airport marketing execs realized the need to focus more of their efforts on the TSA security line. You also need to translate the customer experience strategy in a language your key influencers can understand.

Further, keep in mind that outside influencers deliver your company’s customer experience in different ways. Travelers’ interaction with an airline, for example, plays a bigger role in delivering the overall experience than interactions with a boutique retail store. This means that airlines need to have additional insight about the current airport experience and the feedback the airport is getting. For instance, how does the airport experience differ for business travelers versus casual travelers, or for direct versus connecting passengers?

4. Shorten the customer’s proximity: Many companies try to shorten the distance between themselves and their customers and end users. Take disability insurers, which traditionally sold policies to employers, which, in turn, provided coverage to their employees. Now some companies let employees choose their own insurance benefits from a pool of insurance offerings within a given budget. This creates a new touch point for employees researching benefits on the Web and asking co-workers about their experiences, which can help insurers influence their customers’ decisions.

Back at the airport, leaders realized the experience begins far before travelers reach the facility, so optimizing the experience for the high-speed rail line to the airport became a high priority. This helped travelers avoid traffic jams and delays, thus removing several unowned touch points that could cast a “negative halo” over an otherwise positive airport experience.

The importance of both owned and unowned touch points in the customer experience can’t be ignored. Marketers must approach the task through a wide lens, beginning with an understanding of a broader ecosystem of stakeholders. CMOs must expand their listening posts and not only monitor the touch points they control, but also listen to what channel partners, agents, representatives, and consultants have to say. It’s the first step to regaining control over your customer experience strategy.

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