IPMA International Project Management Association
3 February 2021 / 8:00

Customer Disappointment Experience (CDX): Why does it matter in PM?

Customer is the king. The words illuminate the centrality of role customers play in driving economic activities. As such, customer experience (CX) has become the most important consideration for new product and service development, and customer management efforts in general.

CX is defined as “customers internal and subjective response to their direct and indirect interaction with
a firm’s touchpoints” (Quach et al., 2020). The definition points to the holistic nature of customer experience management i.e. the direct and indirect interactions with the customers.

The comprehensiveness of customer experience management means that organizations face an uphill task to ensure that customer experience that they are providing is up to customers’ expectations. There are two factors that make things complicated: (1) customers being the humans have feelings, needs, wants and behaviours that shape and re-shape dynamically and unpredictably, and (2) no system can be perfect at any given point in time, thus leaving the door open for errors and mistakes. With that in mind, it is imperative that customer disappointment is always on the cards. However, the focus so far has been on enhancing CX. It raises the question, why not focus on customer disappointment experience?

We define Customer Disappointment Experience (CDX) as the customers’ feelings or understanding of non-fulfilment of expectation in relation to “their direct or indirect interaction with a firm’s touchpoints” (Quach et al., 2020).

While CDX can be regarded to have a role in a general business management context, the question is, does it matter in project management (PM)?

We argue that the importance of CX and CDX in PM cannot be overlooked. In fact, as projects are inherently value-creating entities, it becomes much more important that the understanding of customers’ needs and their disappointments are clear during project delivery in order to ensure that value is created and delivered.

Given the above, the next question then is what causes CDX and what could be done to reduce CDX at the project management stage? To answer, below we discuss some possible causes and some possible strategies to handle CDX.

Some possible causes of CDX

CDX manifests in various forms such as dis-satisfaction, bad feelings, and dis-engagement. A number of factors could cause CDX, and we discuss some of them below.

  1. Lack of understanding of the customer journey and CX

A lack of understanding of customer journey could contribute to CDX. Customer journey is defined as “the process the customer goes through, across all stages and touchpoints with an organization, comprising the customer experience” (Hamilton & Price, 2019).

Understanding customer journey means understanding the interaction that a customer could have at various instances with an organization’s touchpoints. If an organization is unable to map customer journey over the lifecycle of product or service that they offer, potentially quality and customer care problems could creep in leading to occurrence of CDX. By understanding the customer journey, organizations will be more likely to ensure customer satisfaction is achieved and CDX is avoided. A lack of understanding of CX is regarded to contribute to digital disappointment (Falkow, 2017).

  1. Unclear, confused, inaccurate or conflicting message

Customers are becoming well informed as information is readily available from multiple sources. Therefore, the clarity and accuracy of the message about the product(s), service(s) and the organization itself are naturally very important. If the message is confused, inaccurate, unclear or conflicting; the customer may feel betrayed and CDX could creep in.

The messages related issues could occur due to erroneous marketing material, unclear terms and conditions (T&Cs), hidden fees, misuse of terms, angel dusting, inaccurate advertisement, inaccurate functionalities description, unclear on inaccurate return policies information and conflicting information in the online and offline message, just to mention a few (YourDictionary, n.d).

  1. Product / Service design/functionality is not as promoted

One of the factors that could lead to CDX is that the product or service does not have all the functionalities as promoted by the organization. When customers find discrepancies in available functionalities compared to what was promoted or find that the the product or service does not include all the functionalities that they understood will be present, then it is likely that CDX will occur.

  1. Customer service is not up to the scratch

Customer service is one of the areas that, in hindsight, leads to CDX. Since customer service predominantly involves human beings, so the variability in the way service is handled from one person to the next could lead to CDX.

Customer service issues can arise due to a variety of reasons including (but not limited to): a lack of customer service culture within the organization; the lack of customer service training to staff; the lack of understanding of customer needs and empathy towards customers; the lack of understanding of product/service and their functionalities/features; the unavailability of skilled people to provide support; the lack of funds or resources to provide adequate customer service; the lack of channels for customers to get customer support; and the lack of top or senior management attention to customer service provision and the benefits of it.

  1. Promises made for add-ons are not kept

Often organizations try to sell ads-on to the product being purchased by the customer. For example, nowadays, retail stores offer extended warranty beyond the manufacturer’s warranty for an additional cost. This creates an expectation among the customers that they can actually get the product replaced or repaired for a longer period of time. However, if the organization selling ads-on is unable to keep its promise, CDX could creep in.

One of the issues with adds-on is the interpretation of what seller means and what customer understood. If there is a gap between these, then there is a greater chance that customer will not be able to have a good experience and feel disappointed.

Some possible project focused strategies to reduce CDX

  1. Appreciate the importance of CDX and CX in PM

As a starter, it is important that the project and sponsor organization recognize the importance of understanding and integrating CDX and CX philosophy during project delivery. If the project organization lacks the appreciation for CX and CDX, then it is likely they will not consider the relevant customer experience related issues.

While there aren’t any statistics and the literature which indicate the depth and breadth of using CX principles in PM; the high level of customers awareness and expectations necessitate that project organization proactively focus on using CDX and CX philosophies for project delivery. Recognition and use of CX and CDX will help ensure value is embedded in the output of projects.

  1. Integrate CDX and CX in design and development

Project organizations should make efforts to integrate CX and CDX principles into project delivery and particularly focus on CX and CDX at the design and development of product/service that they are creating. But to do that, they need an understanding of what CX and CDX mean in relation to the product or service that they are creating.

For instance, a project organization working on the construction of a building project need to understand how the orientation of rooms and living spaces, ease and convenience, the spaciousness of rooms, natural light and air passage, energy consumption, and innovativeness of design, just to mention a few, mean to the customer who will occupy and live in that building. At the same time, an understanding of the potential areas of disappointments e.g. poor quality of building material and fittings could help project organizations keep that in view at the design and development stages of the project and make efforts to reduce potential CDX.

  1. Integrate the buffers in product/ service design to reduce the chances of disappointment

It is important to build buffers at the product design and development stages to ensure CX is enhanced and the potential of CDX is diminished. For instance, a project organization designing and developing a vacuum cleaner product need to consider the quality and material of filters used. So that when customers use the product on different surfaces such as timber flooring, tiles flooring or carpet flooring, the customer experience is positive. By considering how CX will be affected when customers use the product on different surfaces will help project organizations design and develop the product in a way that has buffers against CDX.

  1. Consider customer journey throughout the whole lifecycle of product

An understanding of the customer journey over the entire lifecycle of the product is critical to reduce and avoid CDX. The mapping of customer journey for a product from creation to obsolete (cradle to grave philosophy) will help project organizations find ways to enhance CX and reduce potential CDX.

Using vacuum cleaner as an example, if project organization has a clear understanding of the evolution of technology used in the product, then they will be able to use a technology that is mature, leading-edge and compatible with other technologies used in the market. Also, an understanding of the whole lifecycle will help in gaining an understanding whether the spare parts for the technology being used in the product will be available over the product lifecycle, whether people with skills will be available to troubleshoot and whether technology is long-lasting.

  1. Educate and train project staff to recognize CDX and build capabilities to help reduce it

Proving education and training to project staff on the principles and philosophies of CX and CDX is an important strategy to build CX capabilities in project organizations. While project organizations can hire CX experts, but best customer experience can be built into the product if the entire team knows what CX and CDX mean? That can be done by doing small scale training as a starter, so that project staff understand the basics and get to know how to integrate CX and CDX philosophies at the design and development stages of the project.

Customers have become empowered and vulnerable at the same time as they are inundated with all sorts of information on a going basis. This makes decision making much more difficult, as customers have many choices. The situation requires customers to understand as much as possible and filter the information to base their choices based on the correct information. But that is not an easy thing to do.

Organizations, on the other hand, are also facing the same dilemma as they have to process a large amount of information to understand their customers, their customers’ needs and wants. The situation makes it difficult for organizations to understand what their CX should look like?

Given the above, customer disappointment is always on the cards. However, organizations so far have focused on enhancing CX and little attention have been paid to CDX and how to predict the occurrence of CDX.

As such, we have looked at some of the reasons that could lead to CDX and proposed some project-focused strategies to reduce chances of CDX. However, the listed suggestions are just the tip of the ice-berg and are only meant to build initial knowledge on the subject.

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Falkow, S. (2017). Digital Disappointment: Brands Getting CX Wrong, https://www.business2community.com/customer-experience/digital-disappointment-brands-getting-cx-wrong-01821732
Frohlich, T. & Calio, V. (2014), 9 of the Most Totally Misleading Product Claims, https://time.com/107224/misleading-products/
Hamilton, R., & Price, L. L. (2019). Consumer journeys: Developing consumer-based strategy.
Quach, S., Barari, M., Moudrý, D. V., & Quach, K. (2020). Service integration in omnichannel retailing and its impact on customer experience. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, 102267.
YourDictionary, n.d. False Advertising Examples, https://examples.yourdictionary.com/false-advertising-examples.html

© 2021 Jiwat Ram, All Rights Reserved.

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Author of this post

Jiwat is a Professor in Project Management. He has considerable experience of working internationally in diverse cultures and business environments.

Jiwat is currently serving on the Editorial Board of International Journal of Project Management.

Jiwat actively contributes to project management community. His work has been published in top scientific journals and Four of his published papers have remained in Top25 most downloaded papers. Additionally, two of his papers have been ranked as the Most Cited article published since 2012. More recently, he has published a number of articles on some of the issues confronting project management in various industry based outlets.