The Customer Experience Company (CEC) will officially be 15 years old in September, 2018. It’s been an amazing journey born out of the idea that if organisations were to focus on humans and their unarticulated needs, they would emerge as leaders and gain competitive advantage. This would be enduring – no matter what changed in the world, a human or customer centric approach would result in better run organisations that performed better, and created better futures for all.

I’ve always wanted to fix things (I was a tinkerer from way back) and to help improve the lives of people, even if that sounded almost unrealistic and perhaps even too altruistic for a startup.

A year prior to opening, I studied the best way to establish a business, and decided that from Day 1 we needed to look and feel big. After months of deliberation, I prefaced the term ‘customer experience’ with “The” – seriously, how could this be so important? Similarly, putting the word “Company” at the end was equally important – it made us look big!

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In September 2003 when The Customer Experience Company was launched, the world was less complex. LinkedIn had only just launched, MySpace was emerging, the iTunes store opened, Andy Rubin invented Android and Skype went public. There was no iPhone, no cloud and social media had just begun. The idea of an experience was new – defined as, “an event or occurrence which leaves a lasting impression”. I was confident the idea of customer experience would itself be an enduring concept. Many organisations were investing millions of dollars in CRM and trying to answer the question – How do we ‘relationship manage’ customers? But it turned out to be the wrong question! The industry had seen many CRM technology-led projects not delivering on expectations and millions wasted on systems integrators and software vendors promising salvation that never came.

Fifteen years later and we have grown from 4 to 35 people and work from our purpose built design studio at Circular Quay. We’ve spent the last 15 years working hard to create real and meaningful change reflected in our case studies. Real business problems solved using design thinking and service design to achieve customer and business outcomes. We’ve worked with Service NSW, New Zealand Inland Revenue, Transurban, EML, Westpac, NSW Treasury and other great organisations who understand the importance of building a customer centric organisation.

So, what’s next? We are in a market that is digitally and technology obsessed. We have similar pitfalls ahead of us as we did in 2003 with CRM except that acronym is being replaced by ones such as AR, VR, AI (not to mention ERP and CRM projects that are still not working!). I’m not saying that these technologies won’t be relevant in customer experience and digital transformation, they sure will be, but let’s make it customer led, not technology led. Be thoughtful and evidence based, be measured and understand your market and customer/stakeholder context. This is what will deliver experiences and products that get adopted and will in turn de-risk your projects.

Customer experience and design disciplines will continue to evolve but intent matters most. Whether it’s your intent to improve things in this world, or the people and organisations you work with. From the very beginning, CEC has worked to create better experiences by deeply understanding the ‘why’ within your customers and stakeholders. And that’s what success has meant for us.