Who Owns the Experience?

Who owns the Experience

Who owns the Experience? We have all heard the concept of Experience Economy that dominates the evolution of our world today. Most companies have realised the importance of thinking in terms of experience and have started adapting, focusing on Customer Experience as one of the critical drivers for success.

People have been nominated Chief Experience Officers, a number of design tools are put in place to support this, a number of other more focused “experience” concepts are appearing around (Content Experience, User Experience, Product Experience, Digital ExperienceEmployee Experience, Supplier Experience…) but one question comes over and over again. 

Who Owns the Experience?

Most of the resources I’ve accessed state that we need to create some ownership at a very senior level (like the already mentioned Chief Experience Officer or Chief Customer Officer). 

Think of this person as being like a film director (…).
Just as a film director is responsible for producing a cohesive and engaging film, your “director” of customer experience is in charge of building a cohesive and engaging customer experience program.

Roy Barnes and Bob Kelleher, Who Owns Customer Experience

Unfortunately, stating that just one person “owns” the experience is misleading. Especially as these experiences do cross the typical organisational silos in most moments. Customer experience can be ultimately influenced by processes put in place by Finance, or Marketing, or Legal…. For sure, we need to have a defined vision of what type of experience we want to the define, but the idea that someone controls it all does not stand the test of reality.

The second best option is to ask the process owner to own parts (if not the entirety) of some specific journeys. So, for example, Retail Operations is asked to “own” the Customer Journey in store. Procurement is asked to “own” the Supplier Journey. And so on.

What’s wrong with this approach? Well, in theory, nothing…. except that we are merely applying a new makeup to an old thinking style. Instead of being able to exploit the power of the outside-in perspective fully, we continue to use internal organisational perspectives on the way we serve our customers.

Owning Customer Experience

In realityit’s easy to identify the owners of the experience. These are the people that interact with the customers at each Moment of Truth (I have described this concept in my post on Design Thinking for HR). If you are a B2C company, these are your frontline associates. In a B2B context its both the Sales People as well as the Customer Service. 

Retail is a prime example of this: I’ve argued already that we need to pay more retail associates precisely because they hold the secret recipe for a successful relationship with our customers. And we need to keep them responsible by rewarding them appropriately. 

There’s however another option: thinking of customers as the real owners of the Experience. After all, it’s them that “experience” the service and the product that the organisation offers. They are the only one that can evaluate the real “value” of an experience, and decide if it was positive or negative.

Owning Employee Experience

What about HR? The concept of Employee Experience is one of the latest that is developing. Still, instead of gaining traction from the discovery of the other realms of experience, it often pursues the same mistakes. Beware, I don’t dispute the fact that HR needs to have an essential role in proposing how the Employee Experience of an organisation should be. But the concept of ownership is a much broader one. In most of the Employee Journeys that we can map, the impact of HR is limited. 

The real owner is The Manager: something that can be very easily seen when things go wrong. You can have the most beautifully designed Candidate Journey, but if the hiring manager does not deliver feedback, you’re providing a bad experience. You can have the best-designed onboarding process, but if the line manager does not respect the meetings with the new employee, the experience is going to be wrong.

Just look at the below figure, the concept of Irresistible Organization that Josh Bersin put together. How many of these featured can HR own?

The Irresistible Organisation, by Josh Bersin
Fig.1: The Irresistible Organisation, by Josh Bersin

This is not something new; it’s part of HR wisdom a significant quote: people don’t leave companies, they leave bad managers. Yet we fail to understand then what our role as HR should be in the framework of Employee Experience.

  1. Move from Owners to Stewards. I genuinely believe that the concept of stewardship is the most suitable for this area. Rather than thinking of “owning” everything end to end, we need to cater for the culture of our organisation, nurturing its employee drive by supporting the people that have the highest impact on the experience itself. And we need to achieve this by creating a network of meaningful consistencies. Are managers rewarded for how they deliver this experience? If this is not true to at least to a certain extent, we will fail in improving the overall experience.
  2. Observe and Measure. This is where our role is essential: measuring what matters. Identifying what is important and holding managers responsible through consistent and objective measures and KPIs. 
  3. Be the Role Model. Let’s face it; HR often plays the role of the proverbial shoemaker’s child who goes barefoot. Longer than average recruiting processes, onboardings managed based on time available, always last in performance reviews… how many of you lived this situation? We need to invert this trend and ensure we can become role models for authentic experiences in our organisation, creating the conditions for others to identify us as models to copy.

Continuing to go by the idea that we “own” the Employee Experience will not make us progress. Plus, it will only help in making us the scapegoat when things go wrong. 


If we really strive for a true focus on Experience, we need to disentangle the broad concepts of who owns the experience. This will allow really to adopt a Customer-Focused design.

What do you think about this topic? How important is Experience Design for you?

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Cover Photo by Lan Pham on Unsplash

  1. […] Successful EX is simple, self-sustaining and localI think these are the true takeaways of the report from TI-People: Employee Experience does not need to be complicated. Of the 36 critical Touchpoint identified by TI-People methodology, only one is directly owned by HR. Managers play a crucial role in the delivery of Experience. What’s sophisticated si that For HR to fulfil its purpose of an EX facilitator and manager, it must find ways to involve and engage the line managers from the business as owners of the most critical pieces of EX. Not an easy task! […]

  2. […] appeal more to the human side than just to the technology one. This is particularly relevant as understanding and managing Consumer Experience becomes more and more a value differentiator. But this is also reflected in how Employees are […]

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