THE BLOG
12/10/2014 02:16 pm ET Updated Feb 09, 2015

User Experience: Hygiene or Strategic Differentiator?

There's no doubt that some people in some situations will pay more for goods and services if they are wrapped in enjoyable experiences. The question for you is whether these user experiences are hygiene or strategic differentiators in your particular case. Know that and you'll know where you must play not to lose and where you should play to win.

A generation ago Pine and Gilmore began a discussion about The Experience Economy. Their core thesis was that the progression of economic value had moved through extracting commodities, making goods and delivering services to staging experiences. Most recently Comrade CEO Thelton McMillian told me that user and customer experience together are the way organizations of the future will compete. To bolster his case he cites a Gartner survey's findings that "by 2016, 89% of companies expect to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience, versus 36% four years ago."

He's wrong.

It's a red herring.

Comrade focuses on financial services. As McMillian explained to me, "user and customer experience is relatively undifferentiated across banks and credit unions. From a customer's perspective the experience they have is synonymous with the brand, and the brand is the true differentiator"

McMillian suggests the learning from their successes is that culture, processes and technology "all must come together to deliver on a higher level of customer experience, and a brand promise."

Of course good user and customer experience is important. And some businesses can and should differentiate based on superior customer experience. But in the vast majority of cases these are merely hygiene factors, which, as Herzberg taught us, cause dissatisfaction if they aren't good enough, but do not increase satisfaction if you over-deliver.

The difference is whether the experience is the benefit. Certainly for some forms of entertainment like theaters and amusement parks, the experience is the benefit. Others, like some restaurants blur the line. As Pine and Gilmore said, "you are what you charge for". But you don't have to charge an admission fee or cover charge to be charging for your experience. The Ledoyen restaurant in Paris sells glasses of wine for six times as much as it costs them. They are most definitely charging for the experience.

Missed hygiene factors cost you customers. When Frontier took over AT&T's local Connecticut business a month ago, large numbers of customers experienced service outages. Frontier at first claimed the hand-over had gone smoothly (which it had not) and then took weeks to fix some of the problems. They tried to apologize by giving some afflicted customers $50 credits. Way too little way too late. They lost business by failing to deliver, failing to respond and then failing to win back customers' confidence. They just didn't seem to care.

However, whether it's hygiene or a satisfier, it's worth getting it right and certainly worth avoiding getting it wrong by what McMillian describes as The 7 deadly sins of digital user experience:

  1. LUST: It's easy to lust over design and fall prey to "shiny objects." Focus on solving the customer's problem instead.
  2. GLUTTONY: Over-indulgence often manifests itself in the design process as the dreaded "feature creep." Focus on the few most important features for the user.
  3. GREED: Don't get distracted by short-term return on investment. Instead, build an enduring culture of design and customer-centered thinking in your organization.
  4. SLOTH: Laziness at any point can lead to usability issues or broken interaction. Test usability and desirability often and continually.
  5. WRATH: Understanding customer frustrations is the first step in fixing your user experience whether it's lost voice mail, connectivity or anything else.
  6. ENVY: Find your own groove, differentiate your experience from competitors and use what you've seen as inspiration to push boundaries and innovate.
  7. PRIDE: Don't be too proud that you don't consider making changes in response to an ever-evolving market. There is no such thing as a finished product.

Net, differentiate on what you can charge for; but don't fail on hygiene factors.

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com