Unlock the context behind the customer: the power of ‘C.Groups’


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Many companies want to deliver an experience that is considerate of a customer’s situation and needs. This is a great idea, as Don Peppers, author of Extreme Trust, points out in a recent Fast Company article :

Developing context-rich relationships with customers requires you to treat customers differently, by zeroing in on the different preferences that individual customers have. There [are] differences in the way customers perceive, desire, and use the product. Don Peppers in In Customer Relationships, Context is King.

But how? It’s a daunting task to understand every individual customer, not to mention the cost.

Fortunately, when researching how customers experience a product or service, patterns usually emerge. At C.Note, we call these patterns ‘C.Groups’ (yes, the C is for customer).

A C.Group is a cluster of people who have the same expectations with respect to a product or service at any given point in time. Within that group the people might be vastly different on the outside – age, race, religion are often irrelevant – but on the inside, at that moment, they want the same type of service, treatment or performance from a company.

For example, when we interviewed 40 visitors to the new Modern Art museum in Amsterdam using the Experience Scan, 4 – 5 C.Groups started to emerge (1):

Illustration of C.Groups for a new Museum in Amsterdam

“Day Trippers” come to the museum for entertainment. They love tea in the cafe and the Dan Flavin-lit staircase. “List Checkers” are on a tight schedule. They need to get in and out and see the highlights in an hour, while “Check it out!” are the most open visitors of all, curious to see the new museum. And I’m sure there is a group of “One Night Stands” who like art but don’t have time for museums. They’d rather party.

Why make C.Groups?

C.Groups can help shape what a company offers to whom, provide input to the Design department, help front-line staff empathize and adjust service quickly, and allow management to keep track of how they’re doing with each Group.

For the museum, identifying and understanding a group’s needs and context could help them sharpen their offering and improve the service. Why not a “Best of” audio tour for the List Checkers? a Curator’s App for the Connoisseur? a separate entrance for Day Trippers with stroller parking? Or, light the museum purple at night for the One Night Standers, as in the cover photo?

Net, well-researched “C.Groups” are worth their weight in gold (and more so than personas (2)).

An iterative Customer Groups creation session

How to make C.Groups?

While it’s not easy, it is cost effective, a lot of fun and an excellent way to get the company to focus squarely on the customer.

I’ll post more on this later (or contact me for help), but it involves a mix of deep research among customers and front-line experts (using tools like our Experience Scan and/or Rick Harris‘ Lifelines), checking vs. quantitative research and lots of iterative sessions with “those in the know” (ie front line staff).

And of course they’re not perfect : Customer groups don’t cover 100% of all people, but in our experience they get to 80% – 90%, enough to help guide design choices and front-line staff interactions with customers. As one store manager of a large fashion chain told us:

These 6 groups have helped enormously: my staff can now “see” the customer’s perspective. Of course each interaction is unique, but the Groups provide a handy starting point : are we talking about a Fashion Seeker who needs the latest trend pronto or a Wow Discoverer who might feel she doesn’t belong? –Store manager, large women’s clothing chain.


(1) 40 interviews are not enough to base customer groups on, but do provides direction.

(2) A footnote for those who work with personas: There are 3 differences:

  • First, C.Groups are specific to one experience and offer a much deeper look at what’s going on and how people’s contexts at that time shape their perceptions. In this regard, they are an invaluable design resource.
  • Second, C.Groups are fluid – meaning that people don’t belong permanently to one group – what a customer wants depends on the situation they’re in. As situations change, people change.
  • And third, it’s a Group, not a person. This is because in our experience the minute you call a group “Emma” or “Albert” that one face, age and gender becomes the face of all customers in the group.)

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Lea Ward
Director at C.Note, a customer experience design & strategy firm based in Amsterdam. Active blogger & author of Trust Equity: How to create products & services that matter. Award winner IxDA 2012.


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