The Science of CX

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Customer Experience is still regarded by many as a soft-and-fluffy activity. There is a tendency to reduce it to simplistic statements: make customers happy; be nice; smile; apply the Golden Rule. Some managers merely glance at their NPS score, cheering when it moves north, shrugging when it slumps south, yawning when it flatlines.

In reality, however, Customer Experience is a science. Drawing upon learnings from various fields – consumer behavior, sociology, behavioral economics, psychology and economics, among others – CX entails the systematic study of customer perceptions, intentions and behaviors to explain or predict their future attitudes and behaviors.

Studying the behavior of people is inherently messier than the “hard’ sciences, such as biology, chemistry or physics, but CX involves evidence-based testable hypotheses drawn from observation and experiment.

That is a fancy way of saying that CX is a rigorous field of study, not a softball match.

It’s a rigorous field of study that, yes, also involves the art of data interpretation, storytelling and presentation. But, at its core, CX is the science of how customers respond to the experiences they encounter when considering, shopping for, buying and using a brand or product.

Now more than ever, that science can spell the difference between business success and failure.

Cause and Effect

As in any science, CX is about explaining cause and effect, stimulus and response. CX practitioners can draw upon three basic principles to examine the relationship between the experiences companies deliver (the stimulus) and customer reactions to those experiences (the response).

  1. Experiences that leave an impression upon a customer will affect that customer’s disposition towards the company involved.
  2. Every experience can have an impact on the larger customer relationship with a brand, but the overall relationship is more than the simple sum of experiences.
  3. The customer relationship will shape the customer’s ongoing behavior towards the firm.

A logical extension of the first premise is the flip-side: experiences that do not leave an impression have no impact on how a customer feels about the brand. Fleeting experiences that simply vaporize into the ether leave behind no trace and, consequently, no impact.

Some experiences are, of course, more important than others; that is, the impact of each experience on the larger relationship will vary. Customers also have “indirect experiences” that affect the customer relationship. These might include anything from advertising and reputation to social media, word of mouth and news coverage. Since people process and retain information differently, moreover, the customer relationship also has a personal dimension.

It’s the strength of the overall customer relationship, however, that is the driving force behind the customer’s behavior – whether they continue to be a customer, buy more from the firm or recommend the company to others. Ultimately it is the customer’s behavior that really matters, which is why understanding and managing the drivers of that behavior is so critical.

Fact-Based Decision Making

CX Scientists use data and analysis to understand how the different elements of customer experience interact with each other and to answer such questions as:

  • What creates a great customer experience?
  • How does Experience A, B, C . . . affect the overall customer relationship?
  • What is the impact of the Employee Experience on the Customer Experience?
  • What is the role of emotions in CX?
  • How does CX affect customer behavior?
  • And, of course, how does all of this affect business outcomes?

All of these items are measurable and the results quantifiable. While measurement doesn’t equate to action and management, the only effective path for businesses to address CX challenges and take actions to improve experiences and outcomes is by having a solid fact-based foundation on which to make informed decisions.

No, this foundation doesn’t tell you exactly how to solve the problem any more than the laws of physics tell NASA (or SpaceX) exactly how to build a rocket. The laws of physics don’t tell us what a rocket has to do to escape the earth’s atmosphere, land on the moon or dock at the space station, and then return to earth safely. Rather, it quantifies the inputs that define the problem, thereby enabling one or more solutions to the challenge.

When it comes to maximizing customer retention, on the other hand, the science of CX quantifies the importance of the various dimensions of the customer (and employee) experience in maximizing retention, identifies which metric or KPI best predicts retention and calculates the likelihood of retention. Armed with this knowledge managers can build a suitable rocket or determine a fact-based course of action to boost retention. Without these facts, a company or a space agency is flying blind.

CX in Practice

Part of the problem with the field of CX is the failure by many practitioners to approach it as a science. Many CXers don’t go beyond the theory and generalizations to empirically test and validate their assumptions. They don’t need to look at the science of space travel. All they need to do is start looking at the product and quality assurance people in their own firms, as these are groups that rigorously test products and innovations and measure the results to determine the right materials and processes to build a better mousetrap.

CX Scientists can and should harness many of the same scientific principles to investigate, test, measure, innovate and prove, for example, which configuration of online tools will deliver the best web experience, which interactions have the most impact on the customer relationship and what aspects of the customer relationship drive customer behavior.

Yes, the science of customer behavior is inherently more complicated than product quality testing because there is far more variance in human behavior than in the “behavior” of inanimate objects and raw materials. But the fundamental principles are the same.

This means measuring, modeling and testing to determine the best approach to accomplish the objective of motivating or prompting customers to engage in those behaviors that create value for the firm and reducing the likelihood that they do those things that destroy value for the company.

Every company knows the responses or behaviors they want from their customers – continue to buy, buy more, buy more expensive, recommend that others buy, give a larger share of spend. The CX Scientist’s job is to identify how to modify the experiences the company currently is delivering to stimulate or increase the likelihood that customers will engage in these loyalty behaviors, the behaviors that create value for the firm.

This is the science of CX in practice: helping the company do everything it can to deliver the direct and indirect experiences that motivate the customer behaviors that create value.

How to Start Being More Scientific in Your CX Program

Start by seriously kicking the tires on your current program:

  • Make sure you bake into the program a clear understanding of the effect or outcomes the company and leadership want. That is, identify the behaviors they want from customers overall and from each interaction you track.
  • Test that your current KPIs are optimized for predicting or explaining those behaviors. If they aren’t, test what metrics do a better job.
  • Re-examine the “inputs” you are measuring (that is, the aspects of the experience you are measuring) to determine if they are sufficiently powerful in explaining customer reactions or behaviors. If not, test the addition of other items to make the results stronger.
  • Link what you are measuring to what customers are actually doing to gather evidence regarding the extent to which a stronger customer experience influences customer behavior and business outcomes. Build the economic argument and establish the Return on CX based on your firm’s actual data.
  • Present the evidence to leadership, not just the scores, and anchor recommendations to the evidence.
  • And like any good social scientist, also appreciate the limits in your measurement tools and the ability to explain human behavior. We are dealing in probabilities, not laws of nature.

Businesses that embrace the science of CX will be able to lead from the front and effect change. Others are destined merely to flounder or follow.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you so much for this article. I agree with you 100%. I would like to make 2 comments, if you allowed me and would like to hear your feedback accordingly please.

    – “Fleeting experiences that simply vaporize into the ether leave behind no trace and, consequently, no impact”. It is true until they happen very frequently, then they start to have an effect. Example, liking a pair of shoes and not finding your size, is ok and I doubt it leaves an effect. Not finding your size 4 times in 6 month time, you start getting annoyed and although one experience alone is a fleeting one, its reoccurrence would have an adverse effect. It has a cause too: bad stock management. Same if you are going to have lunch in a café and although business opening hours in Google indicates its open, you arrive and they are closed-opening hours are not updated. Its okay if it happens one time. It is not okay if it happens twice a month and so on.

    Secondly, measuring CX in a B2B environment is way more complicated, as you are not dealing with one client who decides, buy, or not, and gives feedback. You are dealing with another brand as a whole. Therefore my question is what is the crucial factor that differentiates between B2C and B2B when you want to measure your CX?

  2. Thanks for your comments, Yazan.

    I agree with you: repetitive failures on otherwise trivial interactions will leave an impression, as repetitive disappointments for the customer no longer are fleeting. Continuous miscues, in other words, wouldn’t be fleeting and would have an impact.

    As for the difference between measuring CX in B2C and B2B settings, the major difference, it seems to me, is in the complexity of “meaningful” measurement. By “meaningful,” I mean that you want to understand what matters and influences or “drives” customer behavior. With consumers, that usually is easy, as in most instances the respondent is also the decision maker; if not, you can get routed to the decision maker or collect feedback from an influencer, typically a co-head of household.

    The B2B world can be far more complex, especially if you are trying to gauge the overall relationship. At the transactional level, this isn’t as much of an issue, as the company typically knows who called tech support, took the delivery, oversaw the installation, received the invoice, etc. This gets much more sticky when it comes to the relationship and trying to undertand how CX will influence retention, future purchases and recommendations. And there is no easy answer: in larger firms the people handling the interactions described above almost never will be the decision maker. In fact, those people may not even be influencers. How important to the overall relationship is the handling of a trouble ticket about which neither influencers nor decision makers are even aware?

    In addition to the complexity of B2B decision making, B2B relationships are more likely than B2C relationships to have ongoing contracts, SLAs (service level performance agreements), customized terms, dedicated account managers and service teams, customized infrastructure — a slew of conditions that are world’s apart from the typical B2C relationship.

    Stir into the pot the issue of the potentially vastly different financial importance of a company’s largest corporate customers compared to their SMB customers, and you have even more complexity, and no simple answer.

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