The Forces of Customer Experience: Drive Stronger Relationships through a Better Understanding of Customer Needs


Share on LinkedIn

Do you truly understand the forces that are at play in your customers’ minds? Doing so is a critical step in the design of customer experiences that can foster strong relationships and drive competitive advantage. But at a time of such great upheaval, how can you tell where to focus your efforts and investment in order to drive profitable relationships? This article introduces Ipsos’ new human-centric framework and explains its importance in uncertain marketplaces’

The COVID-19 crisis has generated significant changes in customers’ expectations, attitudes, and behaviours, many of which have changed the makeup of customer-business relations for the long term. The impact of the crisis will be sustained as we enter a period of transition, post-lockdown, where businesses have to adjust to a ‘new normal’, with physical outlets reopening while social distancing still applies, and remote channels continuing to see a surge in demand as more customers continue to interact digitally and via the contact centre.

In this new normal, a priority for organisations will be to work out how to reinvent their ability to service customers in a way that is in line with health and safety requirements but also meets changing customer needs; the ultimate goal remaining the same as before: designing experiences that drive stronger relationships, competitive advantage and revenue growth.

A framework for the ‘new normal’

Tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) such as customer satisfaction or Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a good way to keep a pulse on customer sentiment, but it is not enough. In order to design experiences that truly connect with changing customers’ needs, organisations need to leverage proven frameworks which provide strategic guidance to focus on what truly matters.

Ipsos’ has developed a framework for customer experience that helps organisations drive stronger relationships through a better understanding of customers’ functional and relational needs. Our research spans nine sectors and employs behavioural science theory to frame the analysis of more than 9,000 evaluations of customers. We were able to quantify the impact of ‘emotional attachment’ on relationship strength and customer outcomes, and to identify the key ingredients of strong relationships between customers and companies.

Figure 1 – The Forces of CX

Source: Ipsos R&D

Towards a more human-centric CX

Our data shows that, while there are benefits associated with creating functional satisfaction, huge gains can be achieved in terms of ‘business success metrics’ as relationship strength increases. As demonstrated in the chart below, when a customer is emotionally attached, they are:

  • far more likely to express a preference towards the brand
  • much more likely to recommend the brand (than if they were just functionally satisfied)
  • significantly more likely to stay with the brand in the future.

Figure 2 Emotional attachment is key to driving higher Customer Lifetime Values

  • Unfulfilled – customers fundamentally dissatisfied with value proposition and services
  • Functionally satisfied – customers who think the company is delivering well on all the basics but not showing any emotional attachment
  • Emotionally attached – customers who feel an emotional connection with the brand in addition to being functionally satisfied

Source: Ipsos R&D

The Forces of CX – The science of strong relationships

So, how can organisations design and deliver the type of customer experience which drives ‘emotional attachment’ and strong, meaningful and profitable relationships?

Through our R&D we identified key dimensions, which we then validated to be strong predictors of ‘emotional attachment’ and relationship strength.

Figure 3: The Forces of CX

Source: Ipsos R&D

Fair Treatment – previous research, including our paper Get Fair or Fail: Why Fairness is Key to Business Success1 highlighted the importance of Fair Treatment on customers’ relationships with brands. If an organisation’s value proposition or service handling is fundamentally unfair, customers will simply not engage further. In the context of COVID-19 it is of course crucial for brands not to be seen to be profiting unfairly from the crisis. An example of good reactive service includes some Internet Service Providers upgrading their customers’ package at no extra cost to help them better interact with others during lockdown.

Certainty is all about making customers feel that things are clear, transparent and working as expected. Customers like to be able to understand what the next steps are and get clarity on outcomes. Customer choice quite often involves some amount of uncertainty, particularly in challenging times. Brands should be mitigating this by providing clear information and a strong, consistent service proposition. For example, providing estimated availabilities for products currently out of stock can help customers feel less uncertain.

Control is about helping customers feel that they are in the driving seat. It means providing customers with meaningful choices and the ability to access the full range of services and options available. Fluctuating levels of service and product availability associated to the COVID-19 crisis means that it is important for brands to find ways to give consumers back their sense of control. We’ve seen some supermarket chains providing step-by-step instructions on how deliveries will be made to customers to foster a sense of control.

Status is about making customers feel valued, respected and worthy of special treatment. If that is accomplished, it can, of course, help to strengthen the relationship. Very loyal customers tend to expect preferential treatment, and this is also true in challenging times, meaning that brands need to find ways to show flexibility and recognise the loyalty (e.g. freezing tier membership status for frequent flyers while international travel is banned) of their most valued customers.

Belonging is about helping customers feel you care about the greater good and that they share your values. A brand’s ability to build a sense of belonging is key to build a truly meaningful relationship with a sense of purpose and authenticity. Some organisations successfully demonstrate, via the customer experience, that they truly care about people. For example, some e-commerce companies have provided free e-books and audiobooks to help keep children entertained and help with home schooling.

Enjoyment can take different shapes depending on the nature of the sector, but it is ultimately about enabling achievement of goals and removing hassle. In some cases, it can be about allowing customers to focus on themselves and feel a sense of pleasure throughout the experience (e.g. restaurants). In other cases, it can be about delivering services in a way that makes customers’ lives easier so that they can feel a sense of freedom.

Leveraging the Forces of CX to drive competitive advantage

We were able to identify statements that can be included in customer surveys to capture the Forces of CX. By adding these dimensions to customer surveys, organisations can now diagnose, prioritise, and (re)design their customer experience accordingly, so that it drives the right outcome.

Three key analytical steps are needed to provide the right guidance.

Figure 4: Diagnose, prioritise, design

Source: Ipsos R&D

Using the Forces

The Forces of CX is a framework grounded in behavioural science that enables organisations to take their CX strategy to the next level. The framework can help organisations shape experiences which fulfil customers’ fundamental needs and create long-lasting and profitable relationships, leading to a better Return on CX Investment (ROCXI).

Consequently, the Forces of CX should be at the heart of any successful CX improvement initiative, and the understanding of the importance to deliver on the Forces of CX must span every level of an organisations – from C-suite to frontline. This framework needs to shape Voice of the Customer programmes and the resulting insights and action plans should be truly embedded into your organisation’s culture – a culture that needs to be fundamentally customer – and therefore people-centric.

For more information and to download the full whitepaper, visit

Source: Ipsos R&D


1 Get Fair or Fail: Why Fairness is Key to Business Success

Jean-Francois Damais
Jean-Francois is Global Chief Research Officer at Ipsos, for Customer Experience. He has 15 years of experience in understanding and measuring service brands and customer relationships across a wide range of sectors and geographies. Jean-Francois has led the development and global roll-out of several innovative solutions in the CX area, authored several papers, and regularly speaks at conferences. He heads up an international team specialized in the modelling of both structured and unstructured data.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here