Why Customer Experience Extends Beyond the Interactions Brands Control

It’s time for a 360-degree approach that includes third-party apps and services

A growing trend of the digital age is that businesses rarely own all of their customer touchpoints. From food delivery apps to online shopping to banking, customer experiences are increasingly taking place via third-party apps and occasionally entire services that brands don’t directly control.

This is a game-changing development that raises a critical question many companies probably have not sufficiently thought through and addressed: How should brands manage their customer interactions when, so often, someone else is doing the actual interacting?

This question became even more important as the Covid-19 pandemic dramatically accelerated the adoption of digital business models that rely on third-party providers. And it points to the importance of a new kind of 360-degree thinking about customer experience that includes these third parties.

The role of third parties

Take DoorDash and other meal delivery services, for example. They used to be a niche part of restaurants’ business, but delivery sales reached new heights during the pandemic and have become an important revenue stream for many eateries.

That’s great, but restaurant owners also should be having a “holy crap” moment: “Wait a minute. This app has become very important to my business. But I don’t own it. Is it accurately showing my entire menu? Is the food still hot by the time it gets to customers? How do I really know what my customer is experiencing?”

Businesses can no longer afford to ignore the reality that more and more of their success is now linked to apps and services they don’t own.

These are questions that businesses frequently can’t answer because, unlike traditional one-to-one vendor-to-customer interactions, they lack the telemetry to know.

For instance, like so many others, my company uses software services such as Pendo to gather data on usage of our site and apps: what works well, where people may be getting stuck, etc. But are restaurants doing something similar, asking third-party delivery apps for data, such as how long people are spending on the menu page, whether they find it easy to order, how high are cart abandonment rates, whether food was delivered hot, etc.?

Imagine the insights a supermarket chain could gain with a better understanding of the experience its customers are having with the now-significant Instacart part of its business. After all, a positive delivery experience means more repeat business for the grocer, and vice versa.

But taking an overarching view of the delivery experience shouldn’t stop at the customer either. Perhaps, for example, it’s worth looking at whether stores should be organized differently to maximize efficiency for the Instacart professional shopper, which translates into faster service for customers.

A 360-degree approach to customer interactions

It’s becoming integral for companies across almost all industries to take ownership of all customer interactions, whether they directly control them or not. A good example is how Chipotle considered the new customer experience reality. The quick service restaurant accelerated a move to a second-kitchen model in its stores to exclusively handle online orders, and thus improve speed of service for all patrons, whether digital or on-premises.

So, how should a company move forward on this 360-degree approach? The first step is to acknowledge and understand the new digital dynamics and make it a priority to understand how third parties are enhancing or hurting customer happiness.

No company would release a product or app without soliciting detailed feedback on what users like and don’t like about them; the same precision is required of any other partners playing a role in the customer journey.

Businesses can no longer afford to ignore the reality that more and more of their success is now linked to apps and services they don’t own. Rather than look at customer experience from only their own view, they must put themselves in customers’ shoes and recognize that what constitutes customer experience is much broader than they’d thought.

Andy MacMillan brings 20 years of enterprise SaaS experience to UserTesting. As a former product executive at Oracle and Salesforce, he saw the critical role that customer-centricity plays in creating great experiences. By helping companies become more customer-centric, he has grown multiple enterprise SaaS businesses to hundreds of millions of dollars.