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Recognizing the Evolving Customer Experience


With the advent of the digital communication age, customers have new ways to communicate and shop that didn’t exist 30 years ago. Effectively, for the customer – and therefore for your business – the world has become a much smaller place.

The historical customer experience context

To understand just how things have changed with the onset of digital technology, let’s examine the marketplace 30 years ago and compares it to the marketplace today. You could go back more than 30 years ago, but that isn’t necessary to demonstrate just how much the buying experience has changed for today’s consumer.

Starting with brick and mortar (and phones)

Thirty years ago, customers shopped at local shopping malls. They visited their doctors’ offices to get test results and phoned hotels, airlines, and car rental agencies to make reservations. (And, sometimes, they simply went to travel agencies to have someone else make all their arrangements.) They checked into hotel rooms and airline flights at the hotel’s front desk and the airline ticket counter. Thirty years ago, customers purchased pizza and tickets to sporting or cultural events by standing in line or making telephone calls.

Examining an old-school analog experience

The buying experience was completely different 30 years ago. Take a look at the 30‐year‐old financial transaction experience.

If a customer wanted to make a savings account deposit or withdrawal, he brought a bank‐issued passbook – a record of the account’s deposits and withdrawals – with him on his trip to the bank, along with the money – cash or checks – that he wanted to deposit. The bank teller would record the transaction in the passbook and stamp the passbook to make the transaction official. The passbook entry was the customer’s receipt from the bank for the transaction and the passbook showed the balance in the account.

If a customer needed to deposit one or more checks to his checking account, the process changed somewhat. The customer would manually prepare a deposit ticket, typically, but not always, at home. The deposit ticket identified the amount of the checks and, in some cases, the names of the people who issued the checks. The deposit ticket would also contain the bank’s routing number and the customer’s account number.

The people part of transactions

The customer then went to the bank, where he waited in line until a bank teller could help him. (If he hadn’t completed the deposit ticket at home, he’d fill one out at the bank.) When the customer reached the teller’s window, he’d present the checks and the deposit ticket. The teller would work some magic with the bank’s equipment to record the transaction, keep the checks and the deposit ticket the customer completed, and then provide a deposit receipt to the customer. The customer would keep the deposit receipt as his record of the transaction until the account statement from the bank arrived in the mail. Once the customer confirmed the deposit on the bank statement, he could, if he wanted, throw the receipt away. The customer was responsible for keeping a record of the deposit.

Experiencing an analog world

Customers used their checking accounts when they spent money. If a customer bought something from a store at the local mall, they often wrote a check to pay for the item—and typically they had to present at least two forms of identification before the retailer would accept the check because retailers had no assurance that the customer had enough money in the checking account to cover the cost of the purchase. The customer’s only alternative was to pay with cash.

To obtain cash, customers wrote checks to themselves, went to the bank, stood in line for a bank teller and presented the check. The teller would check the account’s balance and provide the cash.

Paper, paper everywhere

Customers paid phone, electric, water, and other bills by writing checks and mailing them to vendors. As the customers wrote checks, either to pay bills or to make a purchase from a store at the local mall, they would record information about each check – the date it was written, the name of the check’s recipient, and the check amount – in the checkbook register. Customers also recorded deposits in the checkbook register so that they could determine the account’s balance at any point in time.

Rinse and (manually) repeat

Vendors who received checks from customers as payment for items purchased at stores or for phone, electric, water, and other bills would bring the checks to a bank as deposits, completing deposit tickets and waiting in line for a teller, as previously described. The banks would keep the checks the vendors presented and return them to the customer along with the account’s monthly statement.

Before the digital age, your customer’s experience involved a lot of people and required a lot of time invested both by businesses and by customers, creating a lot of points in the buying experience where things could go wrong. And, your customer’s experience was localized. That is, if a customer had a bad experience – like having to wait in line for an hour – he might tell three or four people or, at most, five or six people.

My, how things have changed. In our next post in this series, we’ll take a look at the modern side of customer experience


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