I am sure you have heard of customer experience, aka CX. A quick search on LinkedIn shows a proliferation of open job positions such as customer experience manager, customer journey expert, and customer experience agent. Likewise, CX consultancies, CX certifications, and CX professional courses are everywhere. Managers of top companies always consider CX among their priorities, and even public organizations such as Verohallinto mention CX in their strategies. Overall, it is undeniable that CX has become a buzz in marketing and service practice.


CX emotions

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As service researchers, we want to understand phenomena that are relevant to the market and society. So, at the beginning of my doctoral studies, I was enthusiastic to start my research on CX. However, the initial enthusiasm was toned down by questions such as: “Is CX just a different name for things we already have researched, such as satisfaction and perceived quality?”, “How do you define CX in your dissertation?” I didn’t know how to answer these questions.

I thought somehow that the meaning of such a buzzword should be self-evident; after all, everyone was talking about this thing called customer experience.

I was wrong! Once I started paying attention to how CX was defined, I noticed that there were so many different views on CX. Some defined CX as the evaluation of a service; others conceptualized it as satisfaction; others believed that CX is an offering that you can create and deliver to customers. Try Googling “what is customer experience” and you will also find a diversity of definitions: a perception, the interactions customers have with companies, the relationship customers have with companies, the business engagement with its customers, etc. I felt a bit lost!


Houston, we have a CX problem!

By now you might be thinking that these definitions all relate to the customer’s interactions with a company, so why bother? Is this really a problem? I would say it is. A lack of a common definition means that we, researchers and practitioners, are not speaking the same language.

In scientific research, studies build on each other, and knowledge is created cumulatively. If different studies operationalize CX differently, it becomes more difficult to combine, compare, and use research findings. Furthermore, we largely operate on the assumption that CX (or the management of CX) leads to positive firm outcomes such as higher revenue. But, how can we know that if we cannot answer the basic question of what is CX? To actually test whether CX leads to firm outcomes we first need to know what CX is.

I assume that not speaking the same CX language brings problems for managerial practice as well. If we cannot agree on what CX is, what then a CX manager does? How to manage CX? Does managing CX involve creating a Disney-type of experience or tracking satisfaction metrics? Even if one would argue that CX encompasses all of these different definitions, then almost anything can fall under the term of CX, therefore losing its meaning. As one of my wise supervisors once said:

“If CX is everything, then CX is nothing”[1].


Toward a common language

Facing this scenario, my supervisors and I wanted to clarify our views about what CX was. I then read more than 130 articles about CX. While we concluded that CX is indeed a fragmented field, we also sought the commonalities among different fields to come up with a common language of CX. We presented the following definition [2]:


Customer experience refers to customers’ nondeliberate, spontaneous responses and reactions to offering-related stimuli along the customer journey.


Let me break down this definition, starting from its end:

  • Customer journey: Customer journey refers to the process customers go through before, during, and after a purchase or a service encounter, encompassing a series of touchpoints—the moments a customer “touches” or interacts with an offering directly or indirectly. For example, as a salsa dancer, I spent hours looking at the dance shoes of a specific brand online. I looked at them on social media, the company’s website, other retailers’ websites, etc. Finally, I bought them from Amazon, and I am waiting to receive them while I write this post. Therefore, my customer journey with the brand encompasses a series of touchpoints, some of which are even not totally under the brand’s control (e.g., when I bought them on Amazon instead of on the brand’s website). When I finally get to put the shoes to use, I will continue my interactions with this brand. Therefore, the interactions or relationships between customers and companies are part of the customer journey and, hence, they are essential for the CX to emerge. However, interactions and relationships are not the CX per se.


  • Offering-related stimuli: When customers undergo a customer journey with a series of touchpoints, they respond to stimuli or cues present in them—the smallest unit to which customers respond. For example, in my customer journey with the above-mentioned brand, I responded to the design of the shoes, the pictures, the website’s layout, and so on. Each touchpoint presents a combination of cues to which customers respond. While these stimuli are important for the CX, they are not the CX. They are its triggers.


  • Nondeliberate and spontaneous responses and reactions: CX refers to the responses to the offering-related stimuli along the customer journey. But the question now is: what do we mean by responses and reactions? We purposefully added the words “nondeliberate and spontaneous” to our definition to qualify responses and reactions. Responses and reactions can be of various types, such as affective, cognitive, sensorial, social, and behavioural responses. In my case, I felt a thrill and joy when I finally bought the shoes (affective responses). When I finally to wear them, they will likely hurt my feet (sensorial response), but, hey, at least I will feel that I look nice (affective response). So, what we mean by nondeliberate and spontaneous responses are those real-time reactions; not overthought responses or evaluative judgments. This differentiates CX from satisfaction and perceived value, for example. It also adds nuance to CX. CX is more than good or bad, positive or negative. Just think of the range of emotions anyone can go through in a customer journey!


  • CX, therefore, cannot be equated to satisfaction, value, Net Promoter Score (NPS), or the business’s operations (although these things are possibly related to CX)! I believe that this definition is a good start for us to ensure that we talk about the same thing when we are using the term “customer experience”, thus avoiding the problems derived from the lack of a common language. As for me, I will continue researching CX, and now a lot less lost than I was at the beginning of my doctoral studies.



Larissa Becker is an Assistant Professor in Marketing at Hanken School of Economics, Finland. Larissa’s research focuses on service research mainly from a customer’s perspective, especially customer experience. She is also developing the course Customer Experience Management which will be part of the new Hanken curriculum.


[1] The wise supervisor’s name is Aino Halinen-Kaila, and I am paraphrasing her.

[2] Based on Becker, L. & Jaakkola. E. (2020). Customer experience: Fundamental premises and implications for research. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 48, 630-648. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11747-019-00718-x