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Below the Glass: What Most Companies Don’t Realize About Customer Experience

Nigel Vaz
Nigel Vaz
Image of Hand holding a mobile device over a brightly colored background.

Businesses have traditionally seen brand experience as an extension of marketing or public relations. Over the years, experience teams broadened their scope to include store layout, packaging and online shopping – essentially everything customer-facing.

With this convenient definition, experience teams could focus on marketing and occasionally wade into sales but mostly wouldn’t contribute to the development of products and services – and certainly wouldn’t play a role in their organization’s structure.

That’s all wrong and needs to change. In the end, these sorts of experience efforts amount to little more than raising awareness or selling online. That’s not a better customer experience. It’s just loud and brash – potentially overbearing.

In the book “Digital Business Transformation,” Publicis Sapient CEO Nigel Vaz explained why so many companies fail to modernize their experience capability – they aren’t looking in all the right places.


Michael Walsh

Senior Writer, Global Content Strategy

Image of mobile device illustrating what's above the glass, and what's below the glass—what enables the experience.

Every aspect of a business shapes the customer experience. We need to look on both sides of “the glass.”

Above the glass
What customers see on the screen of their smartphone. Shorthand for everything customers encounter directly.

Below the glass
What goes on under the screen of the smartphone. Shorthand for everything the customer doesn’t encounter directly but enables the rest.

To create the sophisticated and modern experiences that customers increasingly expect, experience teams must be multidisciplinary and include experts from the other capabilities for digital transformation: strategy, engineering, data and product. Customers won’t see much of their work directly, but they will benefit from the experiences this work enables.

Four major shifts in customer experience

According to Vaz, digital business transformation is just business transformation for the digital age. It’s a holistic approach to changing the way a business thinks, organizes, operates and behaves. Experience is a central component.

“Experience is defined by anything and everything that touches a user of a system, a process or a consumer and how much we can improve that person’s satisfaction, ability to complete their task and delight them when possible.”
Nigel Vaz
Nigel Vaz, Publicis Sapient CEO

He argued that four aspects of experience have fundamentally changed in the last ten years. Any attempts at improving customer experience should reckon with the following shifts:

Graphic: First Shift

Customer anchors business orientation

The business must be organized around the customer rather than a product or service. There’s no use inventing a product that impresses one’s colleagues if it doesn’t ultimately serve customer needs and deliver value to their lives.

Graphic: Second Shift

Experience spans the whole customer journey

Customers want stylish and seamless experiences. The entire process of discovering, purchasing and unboxing a product needs to be pleasant and frictionless – whether online or in-store.

Graphic: Third Shift

Digital creates value

No longer an afterthought, digital now informs how products are conceived and developed. What used to be thought of as a way to deliver products after development is widely understood to be a central part of the design toolkit. 

Graphic: Fourth Shift

Success requires digital

Experience teams cannot measure success simply by the marketing and public relations surrounding a product. They need to assess how well digital improved the customer’s attainment and use of the product.

Learning from customers

The customer experience and innovation (CX&I) team at Publicis Sapient uses design thinking to view the world from the customer’s perspective. They learn what drives decision-making by collecting and analyzing data from a wide range of sources: focus groups, mystery shoppers, online surveys, ethnographic studies, market segmentation, etc.

With deeper insights into customer behaviors, they explore new business models, technologies and value propositions to improve the experience. Their recommendations extend beyond ad campaigns and may include restructuring organizations or guiding the conception and development of new products.

Mobile phone displaying the Amplifon app experience.

Our experience strategy resulted in an innovative app for Amplifon, the largest hearing-aid retailer internationally. Rather than asking Amplifon’s customers which advertisements they liked the most, we asked which problems they faced regularly and would most like to see solved. They expressed frustration with changing their hearing aid’s settings when moving to a new environment and the stigma still associated with using those devices.

Publicis Sapient and Amplifon designed a new app that connects to Bluetooth-enabled hearing aids from most major manufacturers. With a smartphone or tablet, users can adjust the volume, reduce unwanted noises or change the hearing direction – all without calling attention to the process.

Experience was the foundation for finding this opportunity to improve lives with the right product. And though the designers played a major role, much of the magic happened “below the glass.”

Technical answers to ordinary problems

Image showing Bang & Olufsen audio products displayed across multiple devices.

In another use case, Publicis Sapient helped luxury audio company Bang & Olufsen create digital channels to engage with customers using a “story-led” commerce strategy. We created a platform that could house curated content about the company’s century-long history producing high-end equipment.

But this wasn’t simply a matter of building a website. Publicis Sapient needed to create a technical solution that could support the wide variety of immersive experiences that the team imagined at scale. Our technologists and engineers integrated a headless content management system, microservices architecture and various e-commerce solutions to support the entire platform.

Although customers will remember how they learned about Bang & Olufsen and when they decided to purchase a speaker on the global online store, most won’t ever know what happened “below the glass” to bring that experience to life.

Restructuring organizations

There are digital solutions, such as the Identity Applied Platform or CDP Virtual Lab, that can give companies unprecedented insight into customer behaviors and preferences. Once we know this, it’s not enough to create a single product or launch a single campaign.

A business needs to know what problems they are solving and for whom. This knowledge should lead to a reassessment of the entire organization’s structure.

“The goal is to surface, design and build ideas that will unlock value, adopting a customer-centric view that permeates all the way through an organization.”
Nigel Vaz, Publicis Sapient CEO

Superlative experiences shape and reset customer expectations. But they should also shape and reset the organization so it can produce more excellent experiences. This iterative process puts organizations in a state of constant beta – always learning, unlearning and relearning.

To put it simply, the “tried and true” organizational charts of yesterday will not be sufficient to keep up with the demands of tomorrow.

Become Ever-Relvant

It’s clear that the pace of technological change and increasing customer expectation has never been higher. Established businesses are struggling to keep up with the rate of change and many are disappearing.

By investing in their experience capability, businesses can establish relevance in today’s hyper-competitive marketplace and secure competitive advantage for the future.

“Make sure your goal for experience capability is not only to change what you can produce, but how fast you are able to produce and evolve it,” Vaz said. “The ‘move fast’ organizational goal is born out of the strategy, engineering and data capabilities as well, but how you approach experience and design will prove pivotal to achieving this.”  

Improving experience often entails going below the glass to work on the operation’s wiring and inner functioning. But when it’s over, the entire company will be that much slicker and efficient. 

"The goal is to surface, design and build ideas that will unlock value, adopting a c

To learn more about digital transformation, check out Publicis Sapient CEO Nigel Vaz’s book “Digital Business Transformation: How Established Companies Sustain Competitive Advantage from Now to Next.” 

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Nigel Vaz
Nigel Vaz
Chief Executive Officer