By Dan Cornwall, Chief of Design

The last 5 years have seen a strategic shift for businesses to become ‘customer-led’. While this has raised the priority to consider the experience of customers, many still struggle to conduct regular qualitative research with customers to directly learn how they think and feel when interacting with their brands, channels, and products.

It is good to think about ‘what customers might want’ in projects, however, it is not really ‘customer-centered’ unless you are able to talk with to them directly to gather feedback on their needs – or in other words – what is needed to put them ‘in the centre’. Learn more about the difference between ‘sympathy’ for customers vs. ‘empathy’ for their needs.

Quantitative measurement has a place

Surveys, NPS, and VoC are still the mainstay for many NZ and Australian companies, as they provide regular quantitative measurement for executive decision-making. These perform an important function as ‘Indicators’ of customer sentiment as an outcome of interacting with your business. However, while they can indicate if something is working well or not, they can’t tell you why or how to fix it. They also tend to be delivered equivalently with all other sales and performance metrics, clouding the ability of decision-makers to prioritise action on customer experience needs.

For example:

  • If NPS goes down one week but back up the other, what should be done?
  • If NPS is low in one channel but sales have increased, do we need to change/improve the experience?
  • If brand tracking says we are rated as having higher consideration week on week, does that mean we have a sustainable differentiated experience? Or does it mean something else?

Like a speedometer in a car, these measures are a vital part of tracking your CX performance. However, as an ‘experience-o-meter’ they don’t provide the diagnostic detail needed to create differentiated or market-leading customer experiences. To do that, we have to be brave and get under the hood, which means talking to customers.

Define your ideal customer experience principles

Much like the cultural values and principles of your organisation, the experiences you provide customers should have clearly defined experience outcomes.

To deliver our brand promise, we need to define 3-5 ways of how engaging with our brand should feel. These experiences may be a mix of universal principles for all brand engagements, or may vary depending on customer expectations of different channels / or different journeys.

For example, customers may want to feel “supported” when being helped by staff, but feel “in control” when self-servicing online.

Talking to customers helps us understand what these experience principles should be and what they mean to customers through-out the journey (also why they matter in the context of their overall lives).

We can then create ongoing measurements around these experience principles.

For example – During research, we might learn that customers want to feel like an experience is honest, gives them ‘confidence’, and lets them be ‘in control’. We can then tailor both ongoing qualitative and quantitative measurements around these experience principles. This creates additional experience metrics to accompany our NPS score to provide a richness that is more informed and actionable.

You are not your customer

In any project, we have an unavoidable bias toward achieving our goals, making requirements easier for the team, and leveraging industry and business knowledge about processes and priorities. While you may be ‘A customer’, you are not ‘Your customer’. If you were a mouse in a maze experiment, you would be a mouse on steroids who had memorised a map of the maze and knew how expensive the cheese at the other end was.

Talking to customers directly helps dispel this myth and gets everyone on the same page. Customers are quirky, busy, brilliant, and also sometimes confused and illogical humans who need to be directly engaged and observed to understand their needs.

Build empathy, avoid bias

As humans – both at work and as customers ourselves – our emotions and how we feel about a situation play a huge role in our overall decision-making. However, when it comes to designing customer experiences, it’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing on the functional journey and not the overall human one.

If a product on a website is complicated, having an easily found “buy now” button is less useful if customers feel confused and uncertain about the risk of purchasing the product. It’s easy to de-prioritise the invisible feelings of a grey silhouette called “Customers”.

Luckily, humans by nature are social creatures with a hardwired feature called “Mirror Neurons” that enable us to see others doing something and feel what they feel in that moment. This is the magic of directly engaging with customers through interviews and design testing.

Only by watching customers engage with our products and services, and having them share their emotional and cognitive journey, can we trigger our mirror neurons to feel empathy for their needs in our creation of customer experiences. Learn more about the different types of empathy and their role in research.

Build your culture of customer centricity

It’s easy to fall into a trap of talking about customers, not to them. The more frequently actual customers are given a voice in video, audio, or quotes in documents, the more clear it is that customers are part of the process, not an anonymous ‘target user’ for project outcomes.

As an investment, directly talking to customers provides benefits for both: projects being more successful, and cultural transformation continuing within the business.

Focus on the big picture

A customer’s experience of your business is what Seth Godin refers to as your brand promise or brand story. A customer’s loyalty comes from a combination of their experiences with you upholding that promise and their own identity aligning with that brand story. (e.g. think brand loyalty to Nike or Apple).

It’s very hard to build brand loyalty or retention through continuous promotion and discount. That path leads into a ‘race to the bottom’ and commoditisation of your offering. The only way to win loyalty when prices rise and lower (other than customer inertia) is through a valued relationship with your product and brand experience. The best way to start building that relationship is by talking to customers to understand what they want and need that you can provide.

In summary,

  • To be truly ‘customer-centered’, you need to talk to customers directly.
  • Quantitative measurement has a place, but it doesn’t tell you why or how to improve customer experience.
  • Define your ideal 3-5 customer experience principles to align teams around how the experience with your brand should feel.
  • You are not your customer. You have insider knowledge which may lead you in the wrong direction.
  • Build empathy, avoid bias, and focus on learning what customers think and feel.
  • Build your culture of customer-centricity. Make actual customers visible and heard in your internal comms.
  • Focus on the big picture. Building your customer experience delivers a brand promise customers can feel loyalty toward.

If you need understanding or researching your customers needs now – or in the future, we can help. Get in touch now.