Some things in life are better understood by the historical gap they reveal. For example, when a vendor talks about how its latest version of software delivers on the integration challenges of its customers, this probably means that the previous version did a pretty poor job. And similarly, the fact that so many organisations today are saying that customer experience — snappily shortened to CX — has become of paramount importance. How could it ever not have been, you might well ask.

The game has changed, of course, making direct connections to people much simpler to achieve. Digital technologies, in the form of online tools, apps and smart gadgets, have brought organisations far closer to their user base than historically. The lowly automobile, whose previous ‘interface’ consisted of a rubber-coated wheel and a few levers or pedals, has been upgraded to enable interactions between manufacturer (itself hastily wondering how to become a service company) and traveler.

While CX is important in terms of helping people interact with services, it should not be seen as the whole story. From a CX perspective, measures of success might, for example, be the number of times an app is used, or the transactions through a given web site. Such results are interesting and valuable, but they are only one part of a relationship between a person and an organisation. Like an iceberg they represent the part above the surface, while much more potential exists underneath.

As the automobile example suggests, simple interactions can only take a relationship so far. Existing rhetoric from companies such as BMW suggests that companies are relying on existing brand loyalty — in BMW’s case this relationship may be stronger, but not every manufacturer can depend on people buying a make of car simply because they always have.

So-called stickiness — the propensity for someone to return to a given supplier next time around — applies just as much for large-ticket items. We see this with travel sites, which rely on a user’s previous experience not only in terms of lowest cost but ease of use and potential bonus features. As a result, we can see CX as a means to a deeper end, namely customer engagement, retention and ultimately propensity towards a given brand.

This may appear a broad point but it has some quite specific ramifications, notably in terms of how much customers trust how suppliers collate and use the data surrounding each transaction. As a recent example shows, where Facebook blocked a UK insurer from scanning posts to determine a potential customer’s risk profile, not all use of customer data is going to result in their increased desire to work with a company (in this case, one could expect the opposite).

In other words, CX is just one facet of overall customer confidence in a transaction, in its supplier and in the brand it represents. While customer may choose not to use an app because it is awkward, equally they are not going to trust a brand that seeks to exploit them. As we become increasingly transparent in our doings, the trust we have in our suppliers needs to increase commensurately. So, by all means focus on CX but retain focus on the longer-term strategy to ensure customers want to keep coming back.