Designing the customer experience of the future

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There’s nothing we love more than geeking out with someone who is as passionate about brand experience as we are — which is why we’re super excited about our next podcast guest. Not only is Brian Solis the Global Innovation Evangelist for CRM powerhouse Salesforce, he’s also an eight time best-selling author, digital anthropologist, analyst, and practicing futurist. In this week’s episode, host Perri Chaikof and Brian talk about everything from consumer “heartset” to lessons learned from Undercover Boss. Let’s dive right in.

Putting the "customer" back in "customer experience"

As CX professionals, we think and talk about CX all day every day. But it’s easy to lose sight of what we actually mean by that. “When we talk about customer experience,” says Brian, “I always add an apostrophe: the customer’s experience. Because we tend to think about design and technology from the inside out.” But when we get caught up in the back end, we miss the essence of experience.

experience is an emotional or intellectual reaction to a moment

While many brands look at customer interactions as tactical and transactional, what they need to do is adopt a human-centered perspective. The customer-centricity of apps like TikTok and Instagram along with the ubiquity of smartphones has raised the bar for CX everywhere; consumers now expect every brand interaction to provide that level of personalization. 

Just as minds shape technology, so does technology shape minds. Brian explains, “We’ve created a genre of digital narcissists who are used to being at the center of their own experiences. Their brains are being rewired as they use digital.”

Alongside this trend, the divide between those who design experiences and those who consume them has deepened. This gap grew during the pandemic, which made consumers rely even more heavily on digital experiences while also isolating brands from their customer base. Consumers today experience technology differently than they did in 2020, but most brands haven’t caught up.

Connect the dots between how executives think and what customers want

Brian points out that this disconnect resembles what so often happens on the show Undercover Boss. Just as bosses are frequently surprised when they see what it’s like to be a front-line employee, executives rarely understand how their customers are experiencing their brand. “We don’t call our own customer service. We might not use our own products, shop in our own stores, or visit our own websites.” Brands need to understand and advocate for customers so they can design experiences around what customers want — not what executives want to achieve.

We used technology to reduce cost at scale, but that came at the expense of delivering better customer experience

Innovating the way forward

A recent Salesforce study found that 71% of customers have switched brands in the last year. According to Brian, “Customers feel empowered and they’re exercising that empowerment by being incredibly experimental.” Brands need to really think about why this is happening. Providing an excellent brand experience isn’t about making piecemeal improvements to old models; it’s about overhauling the entire approach. That means shifting focus from what brands sell to how they interact.

the business model is remodeling. Its about agility, evolution and staying relevant

As customer expectations continue to rise, any experience that doesn’t feel native and intuitive may make them disengage, regardless of how good the product is. In fact, the same Salesforce study found that 88% of customers say brand experience is just as important as products and services. The line between product and experience is increasingly blurring, and both need to be top notch for a business to stay in the game.

This calls for a CX stance that values innovation over iteration. In an iterative approach, technologists look at existing processes and try to improve them through digitization. “We start optimizing, scaling, and automating yesterday’s experiences that were probably terrible to begin with,” Brian explains. But taking yesterday’s playbook and making incremental changes without regard for how customers think and feel will no longer work in a competitive digital-first market.

Bring insights to push you forward and deliver value to the customers

The challenge for brand leaders, says Brian, is to justify investing in CX internally. He likes to think of himself as a mini venture capitalist, seeking customer loyalty and demonstrating its value to the business as a return on investment. In an era where consumers change brands more often than ever before, the best way to guard against an uncertain future is to embrace innovation.

From mindset to heartset

According to Brian, “No one wakes up and says, ‘I can’t wait to call customer service!’” So brands must go out of their way to make that a positive experience. At its core, CX isn’t about algorithms, conversion rates, or KPIs. It’s about what’s inside. Brian puts it like this: “Experience is felt from within, interpreted in the brain and heart, and then expressed in terms of our own filters.” Because it touches the emotions, it’s best to think of CX as a heartset, not a mindset.  

To define and align the overall CX strategy, Brian suggests companies consider investing in an experience style guide. Similar to a brand style guide, this roadmap should inventory the kinds of thoughts and feelings the brand aspires to evoke in customers, acting as a touchstone for marketing, customer support, and other departments.

what we need is an experience style guide to use as a unifier for cross-functional collaboration

In the spirit of one of his favorite brands, Disney, Brian likes to approach CX the way filmmakers approach a movie. Storyboarding is about testing out the story arc to see if it’s believable, immersive, and memorable. He says CX should be approached the same way, using personas and scenarios to test out if the experience evokes the brand’s values and heartset.

At the end of the day, the only experiences people remember are the ones that are either excellent or awful. Brands need to create memorable, positive experiences to satisfy the desires of the digital narcissist. “We’ve stripped out humanity from so many business touchpoints,” Brian says. It’s time to bring that spark of joy back into brand interactions.

Experience the full episode

Check out this week’s episode on YouTube or listen on your favorite podcast platform to hear the whole conversation, and dig deeper into:

  • Putting the customer at the center of your brand interaction strategy
  • Keeping up with future customer expectations by innovating, not iterating
  • Using technology to be more empathetic and earn customer loyalty

You can connect with Brian on LinkedIn or via email at And don’t forget to subscribe to the Brand Interaction Digest for exclusive podcast content.

Lynn Pine
Lynn Pine

Lynn’s career has spanned across different kinds of content, from copywriting, to journalism, to marketing, and even mystery puzzle games. She brings facets from all these disciplines into her work at Ada. Outside of that, Lynn loves playing games, hiking, and reading about trees.

More info about Lynn Pine: LinkedIn

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