Defining “Experience”

‘You cannot manage what you cannot measure’

Kaplan and Norton, 1992, “The balanced scorecard: Measures that drive performance”, Harvard Business Review, Jan – Feb, pp. 71 – 80

‘You cannot measure what you have not defined’

George Kaempf, 2006, Personal Communication

The term “experience”, used in the context of business, design, innovation, marketing, and so on, has become so trendy and so overused, that it is in danger of becoming a meaningless cliche.  You will probably agree with me that it is worth stepping back and defining the meaning of the operative word in important phrases like: customer experience, consumer experience, user experience, experience design, experience research, and so on and so forth … Why should we care about the meaning of this word?  Simply because nowadays “customer experience” is one of the major levers for achieving business results.  In other words, it is widely belied that the bottom line is positively affected by: improving user experience, creating great customer experiences, measuring consumer experience … you get the point.

Lets start with the dictionary definition of the word and take it from there.  Here is what the Miriam-Webster Online Dictionary tells us about some of the meanings of the word (below I have listed only the relevant ones):

ex·pe·ri·ence

Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin experientia – “act of trying”

- the fact or state of having been affected by or gained knowledge through direct observation or participation

To relate this dictionary definition of “experience” to the business meaning of the word, I offer the following two definitions:

cus·tom·er   ex·pe·ri·ence

- the state of people interacting with products and services to complete jobs, achieve goals, get value and, in doing so, having emotional reactions

good   cus·tom·er   ex·pe·ri·ence

- the state of people interacting with products and services to complete jobs, achieve goals successfully with ease, get value and, in doing so, feeling positive emotions and sharing them with others

What do you think of this definition of “customer experience”?

In subsequent posts, I will examine the operational definition of the term, or the way in which we can measure it.

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