full lecture hall from above
PHOTO: Mikael Kristenson

It all starts in college. For many people, a successful career begins with a formal business education. In fact, business is the most popular major for US college undergraduates, according to the Department of Education, with schools conferring more than 370,000 bachelor business degrees annually.

Every business school touts its ability to develop the next generation of business leaders by providing a foundation in finance, economics, operations, marketing, management and strategy. But most could be doing a better job training students in what has become one of the most important areas of business today: digital customer experience.

'Experience Is Everything'

As a PwC report put it, “experience is everything.” In the digital age, customers have unprecedented information, power and choices, as well as the ability to influence a brand’s reputation by what they share on social media.

“What truly makes for a good experience?” the report asked. “Speed. Convenience. Consistency. Friendliness. And human touch — that is, creating real connections by making technology feel more human and giving employees what they need to create better customer experiences.”

According to Forrester research, businesses that make their customers feel appreciated outperform customer experience (CX) laggards in stock price growth and total returns. This shows the undeniable benefits of engaging customers with an emotionally positive connection at every touchpoint in the relationship.

It seems natural, therefore, that universities would be making a priority out of preparing students for these new digital realities and emphasizing CX as a crucial subject. In our experience, however, most have a ways to go.

Many top institutions seem more focused on traditional aspects of digital experience — such as user experience (UX), cognitive design and human factors — than on customer experience transformation. This isn’t necessarily the fault of the universities. To be fair, many companies also are still working out the differences in these concepts.

CX exists at a higher level than usability and related topics that merely address how people interact with products. It also differs from another term heard often in corporate and academic hallways these days: digital transformation, the application of technologies such as mobile, data analytics, and smart embedded devices to reinvent business processes and customer relationships.

Rather, modern CX is a holistic approach to absolutely everything that touches the customer journey — design, research, product management, marketing, support, etc. — and employing empathy and human insights to stay on top of customers’ constantly evolving needs and expectations and build those insights into products and services. Think of UX and the rest as the “what” guiding product development, while CX is the “why” context for decisions that view every touch point through the customer’s eyes and become the central driver of delightful experiences.

Related Article: How Are Universities Responding to the Tech School Gap?

Universities Paving the Way in CX

Some universities are starting to get it.

The University of California, San Diego, is offering a for-credit course whose description gladdens those of us working toward greater understanding of what CX truly is: “Businesses that provide extraordinary customer experiences are better and different than their competitors and more profitable and longer lasting than their competition .… You will leave the class with actionable business management insights and best practices of how leaders surpass product, service, and price-based business with purpose-built customer experience.”

Rutgers University offers a certificate program in customer experience that promises students will “learn to understand customer's experiences, develop deep insights, and integrate innovative methodology throughout your organization.”

IE Business School in Madrid even has a CX master's program. “We live in the total experience economy,” the school’s site says. “How do you create seamless and  synchronized customer experiences across products, services, organizations and businesses?”

At many other universities, CX may be part of the curricula in business courses, but the overall effect is fragmented across departments and schools, with students getting bits and pieces on the topic if they’re fortunate to be in one of the classes where it’s discussed.

Related Article: The Path to Customer-Centricity Lies in Dismantling Data Silos

An Integrated CX Curricula

We’re not proposing a separate CX track is the right answer. Rather, academic leaders should embrace CX as a defining business concept and ensure it’s being covered in an integrated way across all relevant curricula.

For example, management classes should address how to set up a CX culture. Marketing courses should include a component on how marketers can address CX. The same for future product managers, experience researchers and design engineers.

As the new academic year swings into gear, here’s hoping more university leaders will realize they’re doing a disservice if students graduate without a firm grounding in CX.