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What ‘an obesity of experiences’ means for CX leaders

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What ‘an obesity of experiences’ means for CX leaders

Like many people I know, my family and I are taking our first significant vacation trip this summer. We’re staying within our own country, but there will be a several-hours-long plane ride involved. We have a valid reason to travel – my sister-in-law is celebrating a milestone birthday – but it’s not just a matter of travelling because we want to go.

After several years of staying put amid the pandemic, we are travelling at least in part because, at long last, we can.

Since the days of lockdowns began, however, something has changed in the usual conversation around travel. Or at least, a topic that might have been somewhat quiet has gotten much louder: the question of whether travelling is doing more harm than good.

In a recent article published by the German broadcaster DW, for example, there is a detailed discussion of the “ecoguilt” among some former tourists who are recognizing all fossil fuels that are being generated through plane and car trips.

The article featured an interview with Richard Sharpley, professor of tourism and development at the University of Central Lancashire in the UK. He couched this in a way I’d never heard before, and is worth quoting at length:

I’m old enough to remember when tourism was just the summer holiday, and you would look forward to those two weeks a year when you would go on holiday. It was distinctive, it was special, it was meaningful. Whereas nowadays it is so easy to travel.

When you can travel all the time, in my view at least, it loses the excitement. It loses its meaning. I’ve used the term “obesity of experience,” and I think, particularly in Europe and elsewhere, we are becoming obese on experiences. I think people will eventually begin to realize that to enjoy tourism, let’s do a bit less and really savor it when we do travel.

On the one hand, having an “obesity of experiences” would suggest that many customer experience (CX) strategies have been successful. If you define CX in part by removing friction that prevents customers from doing what they wish, the ease with which we now book flights, hotels and organize excursions are all signs of a job well done.

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If customers are getting an obesity of experiences as a result, though, the CX practitioner’s job is only going to become harder. Sharpley could be right, and there might be significant segments of the public who decide to travel less to help combat climate change. The same thing could happen in retail spending due to the effect of inflation, where consumers decide they have an obesity of experiences in luxury items as well.

Rather than ignore these trends and hope they’ll go away, CX teams should begin making efforts to learn more about their customers’ attitudes towards issues like the environment and the economy. Otherwise it might be difficult to capture the way they affect intent signals and overall sentiment like satisfaction. It may not be that a brand is offering bad CX, but that their customers feel guilty (bloated?) from the obese way in which they’re enjoying its CX.

Customers who travel or spend less to make such activities more meaningful will also have higher CX expectations when they do pursue  them. This is the strange, almost paradoxical paradigm for CX leaders right now: customers may feel that enough is enough. But when they begin to feel less obese in terms of experiences, they’ll be looking for a lot more to satisfy them.

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