Resurrecting CX in the Age of AI

Resurrecting CX in the Age of AI

As the story of business continues to unfold in the Age of AI, it seems increasingly more clear to me that we’ve lost the plot. Somewhere along the road to our technology-fueled future, we’ve collectively forgotten about one of the most critical factors in the entire equation of business: the customer.

I don’t mean that we’ve simply lost sight of the customer’s experience, or making continued investments in true customer service, though it’s fairly obvious to me that we have. Rather, I mean that we’ve lost sight of just how important customers are entirely. Full stop.

Over a relatively short amount of time, we’ve transitioned from building businesses that serve customers to ones that serve users to ones that serve numbers.

The word customer has essentially become a euphemism for revenue, which is typically depicted as an aspirational dollar amount that can be squeezed and extracted from each one of us, often expressed as LTV (lifetime value) or CLV (customer lifetime value.)

But what frustrates me about this isn’t that we’re thinking of business in terms of revenue projections—that’s exactly what we need to do to build sustainable businesses—it’s that we say we care about customer service and customer experience (“We’re a customer-centric organization!” “Our people, including our customers, are our most important asset!”) and then do nothing to improve either of them, because to do so is often at odds with priorities like automation and expense reduction.

But it’s past time that we reckon with the fact that without the customer’s experience, there is no business experience.

Without customers, there are no businesses.

When customer service mattered

Years ago, organizations truly cared about customer service, and stories of companies going above and beyond regularly made the news.

In the nineties, REI famously replaced writer Cheryl Strayed’s hiking boots by mailing them to an outpost while she was walking the Pacific Crest Trail. (The company was subsequently immortalized in both the memoir, Wild, and the big screen adaptation starring Reese Witherspoon, PR events that even the biggest marketing budget wouldn’t have accomplished.)

Tony Hsieh, the late CEO of, prioritized customer service above all else, going as far as moving the company’s headquarters to Las Vegas so they could staff their own customer-service call center with employees steeped in the Zappos culture of delivering “WOW through service.”

In a 2010 article he wrote for Harvard Business Review, Hsieh recalled their efforts to be a world-class customer-service organization, which comprised a variety of bottom-line-reducing investments that included free two-way shipping (unheard of at the time), a 365-day return policy (also unheard of at the time), and a customer-service number that was prominently affixed to the header of every page of their website (as opposed to buried deep in the bowels of the site where no one could find it.)

Hsieh also recalled a particular circumstance that sums up just how seriously Zappos took—and still takes—customer service.

“When one of our reps found out that because of a death in the family, a loyal customer had forgotten to mail back a pair of shoes she’d planned to return,” Hsieh wrote, “the rep sent her flowers; now she’s a customer for life.”

Examples like these abound in HBR and Fast Company and Inc., and you can likely think of two or three yourself, but I’m willing to bet that they weren’t all that recent.

Ask yourself this: When’s the last time you had a truly exceptional customer experience? When’s the last time you felt truly valued as a customer? When’s the last time you actually told someone about it?

For those paying attention, the lessons we’re learning from the early days of the Age of AI aren’t new. They’re lessons we’ve already learned, often ages ago—and somehow forgotten. Customers matter. People matter. Intentions matter. Creativity matters. Deep work matters. And, above all else, experiences—not augmented, not virtual—but real, tactile, tangible, memorable experiences matter.

Yes, technology allows us to perform tasks faster, and automate processes, and offshore the responsibilities we don’t want to take on, but just because we can doesn’t mean we should. There’s a fine balance to be had here, one that demands we put human experience at the fulcrum.

Businesses that discern how and when technology can enhance and improve the customer experience are the ones that will thrive over the next few years.

Businesses that master the art of restraint are the ones that will flourish.

Businesses that go back to first principles, who see customers as people, who see customers as real human beings having a real human experience with their organization, are the ones we’ll be writing about in years to come.

So, mine your past and remember where you started.

It just might hold the key to your future. 

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