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The 5 pillars of customer experience

by Mike McDerment  |  July 8/2008  | 

FreshBooks is in the experience business. If you are in the experience business (and I’d argue everyone is), you need to design great experiences for each axis of interaction that exists between people and your business. Where to start? Consider strategies for each of the five pillars of experience.

User experience
Whether you build consumer goods (like iPods, cars, air conditioners) or web apps like FreshBooks, people use your products without you around. When you’re not close by to help them understand a confusing interface, or explain why your keypad’s buttons are too small for their arthritic fingers, they are judging you based on the experience they have using your product. Great design will ensure the people who use your products have a great experience.

Support experience
What happens when things do go wrong? You need to be there for your users. Customer service/support is about extending the user experience beyond physical interaction with your product and being there for your customers when they are at their most vulnerable (and sometimes volatile). If your customers need help, be there. We find at FreshBooks that we get a lot of calls that have nothing to do with our service, but we’re there for our customers nonetheless because they reached out. We consider ourselves lucky that people reach out to us in their time of need and we try to honor their trust and respect by giving it back to them ten fold.

Marketing Experience
They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Marketing experience is all about making first impressions. Have you ever been excited about a product before you held it in your hand? Have you ever heard about a *company* before you knew what they did and got excited about that company? Being extraordinary is a big part of a key ingredient to delivering a great marketing experience.

Catastrophe experience
Given enough time, *everything* fails. The ironic thing is it’s not the fact that you fail that matters – human beings are understanding of failure – it’s how you handle yourself and treat your customers when your fail that matters.

Community experience
If you continue to execute on the other axes of experience, in time a community of people will form around your company and products. These people will be your greatest spokespeople and your nonsalaried sales force. Your community will be responsible for many first impressions, and will also be the medium through which you engage your best customers (evangelists). Spend time in your community and lead by example.

Great experiences are a scarce resource and they will never go out of style. Great businesses are built on these pillars, though the emphasis on the respective pillars shifts from one to the next. Find your mix and invest in the pillars – it’s a surefire way to build a successful business over the long run.


  • Junger Oufant

    I feel that ‘Support Experience’ and ‘Catastrophe Experience’ intersect in so many aspects that they should be lumped together.

    Also, if you don’t execute on the the other 4 pillars, ‘Community Experience’ will still be present, although in a negative way. Ex. http://www.ihatedell.net/.

  • http://romanz.org Roman

    Great post on how to create products that would concentrate on user experience. Thanks a lot for sharing you strategy, very helpful for new and not so new entrepreneurs who design new products.

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  • http://startupcfo.ca Mark MacLeod

    Great post. People buy from startups for two reasons: access to great, new technology and a level of service (or experience) that bigger companies cannot or will not provide.

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  • Diana Potter

    I love your comments on support. I think that’s something so critical to how your business is perceived and the support I’ve received from you guys rocks. Humorously enough my day job is support/community type stuff and we feel the same way. I’ve even helped our customers with your tools when they had a random question while asking about our tools :) . Going one step above and beyond can make a customer for life.

  • http://www.clearcrystalmedia.com/gc/ Chris Peters

    Thanks for this great write-up. I’m glad that you highlighted product experience as the first element because you can’t do the other elements without that.

  • http://www.bestmark.com/ Customer Experience Measurement Company

    Your article is right on target! I can especially relate to “Support Experience” and “Catastrophe Experience.” Customers have a myriad of choices when it comes to selecting who to do business with. If you are not employing these two principles, at the very least, you won’t have a need for the rest and you will more than likely lose that customer (not to mention potential referrals.) Customers who feel valued will understand things happen, provided you are honest about the problem and FOLLOW THROUGH.

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