Modeling the Customer Experience

Have you ever considered how much of the customer experience is not dependent on software?  We tout CX as if it was something in a can that could be opened and poured all over the customer relationship to make it better.  But that’s not it and we know that though, if we admit it, we’re left at square one wondering what to do about it.

Too often the customer experience is vendor defined and that leads to something that’s well within the capability of the vendor to deliver without breaking a sweat.  I am not saying this is in some way premeditated and bad but it’s traditional and the results have not been especially striking.  So what can be done about it?

If you take a clean slate approach, there’s actually quite a bit that you can learn that drives the customer experience and I divide it into qualitative and quantitative research.  First up, the qualitative bit.


Performing qualitative research into your customer base is a lot of fun and it is also the most challenging to your ego because you are asking customers to tell you point blank what they think and while some of it is good, some is also bad and even ugly.  It starts with open-ended questions to small groups of users.  In these communities, you only need a few hundred people and the main criteria is that they trust each other and whomever is moderating.  When those conditions are met a lot comes out and you can learn a great deal that will eventually go into your definition of a customer experience.  

You can’t expect this to happen in a room full of employees and executives.  Words like “I think…” are only valuable when someone who has plunked down takehome pay for products and services — or the B2B equivalent — speaks them.  But you are not done.  What you get from this is raw material for your quantitative research.


What you find out in qualitative research is generally pretty good but you need a better understanding or refinement of the findings.  Usually, qualitative research identifies a problem area and quantitative research identifies possible solutions.  For example, qualitative research might tell you that your customers are tired of black as the standard and only color for their Model T, but it won’t tell you that 37 percent favor red, 12 per cent want white, and 42 percent like blue while the other 9 percent don’t care much.  Conversely, qualitative research about whitewalls might elicit a yawn, so there’s some finesse required in all this.

Ideally, both kinds of research should be conducted at regular intervals.  Qualitative research should ride far out front of the wagon train scouting the horizon while quantitative research ought to be more like checking the horses every morning for signs of fatigue.

Beyond a product mentality

All this is great if you sell products and especially if you sell them in a conventional build it, sell it, and collect the money model.  But that model is rapidly shrinking.  In its place we have subscriptions and we all know that subscribers can be notoriously fickle, dropping a vendor literally like a bad habit at any time and for any reason.

The rapid evolution of subscriptions has caused the advance of a new class of data gathering and analysis.  Various emerging analytics vendors are now offering solutions that perform “health checks” on customer bases.  Basically, they capture a good deal of use and financial data to determine patterns that can lead to churn or attrition, upsells and the like.

For me this is the best example of fully engaging in the customer experience because only the customer can truly define what a good experience is or should be.  In near real time these companies capture customer data and turn it into knowledge about the customer so that customer facing personnel can make decisions about how to adjust the experience — not at the level of the group but at the level of the individual.  Note that this approach, by exclusion, leaves happy customers alone and only focuses on problem areas.

Vendors that are employing these multiple kinds of research about their customers and prospects are finding it is easier to retain customers as well as to identify those that either need help or who might need to buy more.  It’s a great strategy for keeping customers and expanding your footprint while managing your costs.  That’s not to say that attrition ever reaches zero.  A good customer retention number is in the low nineties.  But companies that follow these approaches to understanding customers are more likely to know better how to please customers and that’s better than getting a room full of executives together to pick a new theme color for the Web site.