6 Customer Experience Books Every Founder Should Read
Illustration by Bronwyn Gruet

While I’m writing this in March of 2021, having just experienced a generational winter in my home state of Texas that created a source of stories I can use to bore my future grandchildren to death, I realize one nice thing about power outages is a return to books.

I’ve always enjoyed reading, but I can’t say that it was a nightly affair for me like it has become during this stunning storm of 2021. With a headlamp and candles, I devoured several books while waiting for the power to come back on.

In that spirit (although I hope your power is quite stable), I started thinking about the great customer experience (CX) books I’ve read.

If you’re new to CX or if you are looking to improve, let me share a few classics with you, along with a few you might not see in the traditional best CX books lists.

1. “Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business”

Outside In” is required reading for anyone interested in customer experience. Superlative phrases like, “If you can read only one book,” or “Read this book now; do not pass go” fail to highlight the impact this book has had and still has today.

Using real-world stories from companies like Fidelity, Mayo Clinic, and other known brands, authors Manning and Bodine highlight the significant discoveries and gains companies achieve when they change from an “inside out” focus to an “outside in” approach.

The three sections on “The Value of Customer Experience,” “The Six Disciplines of Customer Experience,” and “How Customer Experience Transforms Companies” guide the reader with the basic playbook for customer experience focus and creation.

Interestingly enough, this book was published almost a decade ago, yet the principles shared are still being discovered by company after company as if they were new. Current readers may recognize elements like “Chief Customer Officer” as if it is no big deal, but this was unproven ground then.

I know this book shaped my approach to customer experience, and it will shape yours, too.

2. “Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service”

“The most magical place on earth” didn’t get that way by accident. If you see a book on customer experience and it’s from Disney, grab it.

Be Our Guest” focuses on customer service and the “Disney Difference.” Inside I found great insights, tips, and principles told from the perspective of Disney.

Even the book felt magical as it weaves real-world stories and brings you “backstage” and “onstage” to experience how “cast members” (employees, in Disney-speak) create world-class customer satisfaction.

“Be Our Guest” takes you through the magic of Service, Cast, Setting, Process, and Integration, providing practical steps on how to create this at your company.

I use the principles of this book with my clients today, including specifically guiding them to stop focusing on fixing issues and instead working to restore relationships.

Those simple turns of phrase mean so much in the Disney way of customer experience, and “Be Our Guest” walks you through how to inspire this magic at your company.

3. “Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers”

Gamestorming” is unlikely to show up on other customer experience book lists. Yet I often find that most CX books fail to mention some of the truly tactical elements required to create great CX.

How do you go from book theory to concrete ideas to real implementation at your company? First you need to brainstorm … or better yet … gamestorm.

“Gamestorming” brings fun to brainstorming and offers a way to enhance creativity in your company and break through with new ideas. You’lll find value in the nearly 100 different games, some of which you’ve seen before, and others you probably haven’t. The book also includes information on how to lead through each game.

Why does this apply to CX? Especially in a scenario where your customer either: 1.) Can’t be physically with you to tell you what they’re thinking, feeling, or doing, or 2.) Wouldn’t be able to express what they want because it hasn’t been envisioned yet, your company needs to be able to be creative.

I’ve frequently used the concepts in “Gamestorming” to help companies break through with new customer experience ideas.

4. “The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World with Kindness”

The Power of Nice” is not a CX book; and yet, “The Power of Nice” is a CX book.

I doubt the authors intended this book to apply to customer experience, but as I read it a few years ago, I realized that its principles apply in a company’s interactions with its customers.

With chapter titles like “Tell the Truth,” “Shut Up and Listen,” and “Put Your Head on Their Shoulders,” the authors create a guide for using the power of being nice to create success in the business world.

This easily transfers into the B2C or B2B relationship and should influence the creation of great customer experiences. Each chapter closes with specific actions one can take to activate the lessons learned.

5. “Start Reverse”

Uniquely published (trust me … don’t get an electronic version … buy the paper one), “Start Reverse” challenges the traditional approach of how to build an experience for a customer — much like “Outside In” above did with customer focus.

Instead of beginning with organization elements such as process and management, this book recommends you start in reverse by considering what experience you wish to create for your customer.

Walking you through a series of steps to ultimately create your company’s experience blueprint, "Start Reverse" also uses the power of storytelling, using great company examples such as Lush, CitizenM, and Le Pain Quotidien.

This may sound similar to other customer-centric approaches, but there’s something truly unique about this book. If nothing else, you’ll enjoy and hopefully be inspired to consider the “audition” approach to your hiring. I’ve read about it and have seen it in action, and it’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.

6. “Reengineering Retail: The Future of Selling in a Post-Digital World”

Reengineering Retail” focuses on what the much-maligned retail industry can do in a post-digital world.

Stating at the beginning that “retail is dead,” readers are brought through the decline of traditional retail and then given a blueprint for what successful retail will look like in the future.

Written pre-COVID, the main principles of the book still apply. What I appreciate most about this book is that, unlike others, it doesn’t treat retail as binary, assuming that those in the digital world will win and those in the physical world will lose.

Through the overall lens of experience, Stephens paints a picture of how those two worlds merge, blending the visionary futurist mode with tactical steps on what to do to make your company a relevant experience in the future.

Read these six books, and you’ll have a good foundation for creating a great customer experience in your company. So get cozy, put some music on, and get reading!

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