What Role Does Intuition Play in Customer Experience?


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I originally wrote this post as a twopart series for InsideCXM in February 2014.

A couple months ago, I wrote a post called The 15 Senses of a Great Customer Experience. The last of the 15 senses that I wrote about was the sixth sense: It doesn’t hurt to be able to perceive those things that are not seen or immediately apparent. That intuition is something that will allow you to delight your customers.

What does that mean?

Let’s consider first what a “sixth sense” is. As we know, we have the five senses, but many believe that we also have a sixth sense, or the ability to see or perceive the unknown or the unseen. Merriam-Webster defines it as “a keen intuitive power.”

Why is that important to customer experience? I think there are three ways to look at this sixth sense: (1) anticipating an event or issue and addressing it before a customer knows about it or deals with it (proactive service); (2) sensing something in or about the customer in front of you (empathic  intuition); and (3) asking for a faster horse (innovation).

Proactive Service
Imagine if companies: knew what we wanted before we needed it, knew why we were calling before they even answered the phone, or solved a problem before we even knew it existed.

How many times have you called a company, entered your account information or phone number into the IVR, only to have to give it again to the person who actually takes your call, and yet again to every person you are transferred to? Why can’t they just recognize who you are because of the phone number you called from? Or how about if you just entered your information once, and then someone cheerfully answered the phone, “Hello, Annette. If you’re calling about the outage in your area, we’ve got a technician out there working on it now.” Or better yet, what if they called you and told you that there’s an outage, they’re working on it, and they anticipate having service reinstated within two hours, all before you even knew there was an outage. O wait. Or better yet. How about if the issue never happened because they’re just that good.

Amazon provides a great example of proactive service. They understand the reason for, and the benefit of, taking action for customers or before customers have to. From their annual letter to shareholders:

Most customers are too busy themselves to monitor the price of an item after they pre-order it, and our policy could be to require the customer to contact us and ask for the refund. Doing it proactively is more expensive for us, but it also surprises, delights, and earns trust.”


We build automated systems that look for occasions when we’ve provided a customer experience that isn’t up to our standards, and those systems then proactively refund customers.”

Target, on the other hand, recently provided an example of what not to do. In their data breach last month, they had the opportunity to do something proactively for their customers, and they failed. As soon as they knew there was a breach, they should have (a) contacted their customers (instead of having customers find out via the evening news) and (b) assured them that their cards (for REDcard holders) had already been canceled and that new cards were issued and on their way. Had they taken a proactive approach, they could have saved a lot of anxiety for customers – and saved a lot of customers and revenue for Target.

Better yet, what if they’d never allowed the breach to happen to begin with. That would be the ultimate way to delight and earn trust.

How many times have you been on a flight that was delayed, causing you to miss your connection? Or the flight was canceled, and you were stranded, fighting for yourself to get a new flight to your destination? I think the airlines are getting better about rebooking travelers in this scenario, but it doesn’t always happen. What if they just kept the non-weather-related delays from happening in the first place? Is that possible?

Southwest Airlines has a team called Proactive Customer Service that works with 14 other departments to ensure operational efficiencies, effective communications, and better customer accommodations. Their job is to evaluate flight disruptions, determine the customer impact, and reach out to customers proactively so that the customer doesn’t have to reach out to them.

As you can see, offering proactive service involves the confluence of several things: data, technology, people, and communication.

This type of service needs to be consistent, meet or exceed customer expectations, and be on 24/7. Once you’re known for proactive service, you’ve raised the bar – and if you stumble and fail to be proactive in the future, you’ve just taken the experience from delight to disappointment.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. -Ben Franklin

Empathic Intuition
The second way we can look at this sixth sense is what I’ll refer to as empathic or empathetic intuition. What is it? A gut feeling, an inner voice, an awareness, or instantly knowing what another person is feeling or experiencing.

While proactive service refers to “the hard stuff,” empathic intuition refers to “the soft stuff.”  The employee senses the emotions you are feeling before you even say a word. In the customer experience world, part of that comes from pure empathy, and part of that comes from having the right information at their fingertips. Why is this important? Consider this example. You just arrived at your hotel after a long day of traveling. You walk up to the desk to check-in (without saying a word about your delayed flights and other travel hassles), and the hotel rep acknowledges that you just traveled across the country (information at his fingertips before you arrive) and senses that you must be exhausted (because he would be, too, after a long day of travel); he then tells you your room is ready, your wake-up call is set, and your favorite snack and magazine are sitting on your nightstand.

That might be an easy example; there are probably a ton of easy examples. (But are they reality?) Empathic intuition refers to truly walking in your customers’ shoes. It’s also about doing what’s right, without being asked or told and without fear of retribution. And treating the customer the way you would wanted to be treated in a similar situation.

Are you developing and encouraging this sense in your employees? Are you treating your employees with the same level of respect and empathic intuition as you’d like to see them show their customers?

Henry Ford is quoted as saying: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” The thought process behind that is that people don’t know what they want or will want and that some visionary (e.g., Steve Jobs) can innovate a better product or experience. I’m all for that. Listen, if it wasn’t for Steve Jobs, we’d still be carrying around a Walkman and cassette tapes – and so much more. (Eek, I just dated myself, didn’t I?)

The problem is, these visionaries don’t come along every day. If and when they do, I know we will all applaud them.

In the meantime, what can companies do? They need to…

  • Know and understand their customers.
  • Really listen to customers – not just through surveys but also through various channels, e.g., social media.
  • Always be listening.
  • Always be capturing transactional and behavioral data.
  • Analyze (including predictive analytics) what they know about the customer (from the aforementioned listening and data capture) and use those insights to develop personalized experiences.
  • Always be linking what they know about customers to what they do with/for customers.
  • Map the customer’s journey; without knowing the journey, you won’t understand what the customer is going through, what their needs will be, and where their journey might break down
  • Create process maps to go with the journey maps so that you can track the “inner workings” of the customer experience
  • Have the right tools, processes, and systems in place to automate proactive response or to prevent the need for proactive response
  • Hire the right people and develop and train them on how to anticipate customer needs and emotions – and how to act, react, and more importantly, proact
  • Always be adapting

How well is your company at anticipating the needs and emotions of your customers? Are you using your sixth sense to ensure customers have a great customer experience?

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift. -Albert Einstein

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Annette Franz
Annette Franz is founder and Chief Experience Officer of CX Journey Inc. She is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, consultant, and speaker. She has 25+ years of experience in helping companies understand their employees and customers in order to identify what makes for a great experience and what drives retention, satisfaction, and engagement. She's sharing this knowledge and experience in her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the "Customer" in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business).


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