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).
- Experiences that leave an impression upon a customer will affect that customer’s disposition towards the company involved.
- 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.
- 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.