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CX 2020: Stephanie Thum's Take on Changing Conceptions of the Customer Experience


Technology and strategy is only one facet of CX. Ethical behavior and brand values also have a monumental impact on the overall customer experience. I had a wonderful conversation with CX influencer, Stephanie Thum, about how the digitization of the customer experience raises new questions, which will determine how we conceptualize the consumer experience. What follows is a short treatment of the changing conceptions of CX in the digital age. This article provides a brief look into the questions which will alter the customer experience over the coming decade.

An issue that Stephanie is passionate about is the need to provide equal access to services for people with disabilities, across all touchpoints, digital or otherwise. The battle for equal access across all platforms, digital other otherwise, is currently being disputed in the American court system. As the customer experience becomes increasingly digitized, businesses have to rethink what equal access means. Stephanie cited the following:


“Last week SCOTUS refused to hear a case where Domino's Pizza was fighting back against a blind customer who said that under the Americans with Disabilities Act, that he should be able to order a pizza on Domino's website or mobile app (but he couldn't because Domino's hadn't set up their digital space to accommodate blind customers). Domino's argued they only had to make their physical locations available to disabled customers, not their digital spaces. The blind customer won a lower court ruling. Domino's kept fighting. In refusing to hear the case, the lower court's ruling stands, and SCOTUS sent a message about the need for businesses to consider the experiences of, and accommodate, ALL customers in physical AND digital spaces.”


Equal access no longer means building ramps and providing handicap accessible parking. In the digital age, businesses need to think about how they can tailor online experiences to meet the needs of all of their customers. Not only this is it morally responsible, but also strategic, lucrative, and, in the near future, could be legally mandated.


Another ethical issue which is hot on Stephanie’s radar is the impact that misleading reviews have on the customer experience. 


“Customers oftentimes look to online reviews and ratings to make decisions, anticipating experiences based on those reviews and ratings. But what about when reviewers have been compensated to write positive reviews, incentivized with a discount on a future purchase, or reviews are just plain fake? Similarly, what are the implications of score begging, when auto dealerships, for example, beg for 10s on a  survey, rather than allow customers to provide an honest review that might not warrant a 10? How do CX pros consider these things when honestly evaluating the experiences customers are having with our brands? What's more important? The 10 (that's disingenuous because it's been incentivized so you can sell more), or the honest feedback about what a customer actually experienced that might help you improve your business?”


We see this with Yelp where companies are expected to “play ball” and cater to the sometimes outlandish requests of employees and reviewers. Morally dubious practices which surround reviews can adversely impact the customer experience . It can be difficult for consumers to choose the best product with proverbial wool pulled over their eyes eyes. Spreading misinformation blatantly disregards consumer trust, hurting a valuable relationship which underpins our nation’s economy.


Equally detrimental to customer relationship building is the misuse of confidential information. Leveraging patrons’ private data for financial gain is both wrong and illegal. Selling and buying phone and email lists is a common example of this type of abuse. The selling and management of customer data contributes to spamming, phishing, and online harassment. Luckily there are codified efforts to prevent this, including the CAN-SPAM Act, the EU–U.S. Privacy Shield, and CASL. Being committed to an ethical customer experience means not just abiding by these laws, but choosing business partners who do as well. You should make sure that any ESP you conduct business with understands and obeys these legal standards.





As the online presence of businesses grow, society needs to reevaluate what constitutes ‘ethical behavior’ when communicating digitally. Equal access across all platforms, truthful representations of brand identity, and the proper management of customer data are all issues on the forefront of this discussion. Better customer experiences start with customer-centric thinking. To empower customer success need to create processes driven by quality service for all and avoid dealings with disreputable brands.



Stephanie Thum Bio

Stephanie’s CX career began in the professional services world at EY, but most people know her as one of the U.S. federal government's first agency-level heads of customer experience (2012-2016). She’s a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP) with a background in corporate communication, business development, journalism, broadcasting, and PR. Just before launching Practical CX, she served as the chief adviser and subject matter expert for the federal team at Qualtrics, now owned by SAP.

Her personal philosophies: “Success in doing the CX work is just as much about influencing change as it is about technical competence. Focus on what you *can* do, not on what you cannot. Be resourceful, be trustworthy, ask the business questions nobody else is asking, and always be alert to the changing business landscape. These philosophies also go into how I coach clients and up-and-coming CX professionals.”




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