A few years ago, two Fortune 500 customer experience programs chose different paths. Both were household brand multinational retailers. Both sold consumer electronics. But today, one has become one of the most successful companies the world has ever seen, and the other is bankrupt.

There are no shortcuts on the journey to creating a great customer experience. Sadly, the bankrupt company was hoping for one. At the time, they wanted to copy and paste a metrics-focused customer experience program like others in their industry. Their stakeholders were obsessed — to a fault — with total data precision and accuracy. Their program never made it off the ground.

Overemphasis of metrics is common in customer experience. So common, in fact, that our discipline has become synonymous with the Net Promoter Score (NPS), a popular measure of customer satisfaction used by 2/3rds of Fortune 1000.

Gartner recently announced most CX programs fail to impact business outcomes that matter. I wonder if this intense focus on NPS is partly to blame. So many CX programs invest most of their energy in managing their NPS scores. This energy does not always improve real customer experiences. Data matters, but what you do with it matters more.

Related Article: The Long Tail Effect and What It Means for Customer Experience

Good CX Data Is More Than NPS

Quantitative measures like NPS only capture part of the story. We are dealing with human interactions, after all. In peer-reviewed social science research, scholars at the most elite institutions work to understand human behavior. Many believe qualitative data can hold more value in understanding or interpreting subjective human experiences. Ray Iveson of Procter and Gamble and more recently Duracell noted on a podcast recently that “Consumer response does not always line up with the quantitative measurements that we take.”

Apple, for example, takes a mixed approach. They keep tabs on NPS (quantitative), but they also capture more subjective data, such as sentiment of retail floor employees after customer interactions. They also monitor freeform comments from customers. They adopted a training program inspired by the Ritz-Carlton luxury hotel chain and encouraged employees to get to know their customers better to personalize their service.

Apple’s more holistic view of the customer experience drives its ability to implement real change. They could anticipate, for example, a floor rep who needed a break after working with a difficult customer, reducing the risk of the next customer interaction being less than ideal. If Apple was solely focused on NPS as its only metric of success, an innovation like this one would be out of the question.

An impactful customer experience program understands more than numbers on a dashboard. When it comes to CX data, we should focus on choosing which tool in our toolbox to use in order to change and improve customer experiences, not just scores. Let’s take a closer look.

Related Article: Follow These 6 Tips to Boost Success of Your Customer Experience Program

Understanding Our Options With CX

Customer experience is about impact. And if we want our programs to have impact, I think there are three areas of focus that empower CX programs to drive actual change and improvement.

What Is Possible in Customer Experience?

Making an impact with CX starts with knowing what can be done. It is harder than it sounds. It starts with considering what we, as CX leaders, can accomplish through our companies. If we understand how people make decisions at our company, and what motivates action, we can begin to understand if we are working in:

  • A place where people are likely to change if their manager tells them to.
  • A place where people are likely to change if they get paid more money.
  • A place where people change if they understand why.

Understanding what is possible in your company is about understanding persuasion, culture and human psychology. We can only be as effective as our ability to influence the organization to change.

The book that inspired the lean startup method (Four Steps to the Epiphany) guides entrepreneurs to consider where energy already exists for change. If you want to build a product, for example, find problems that people are already spending a lot of money to solve, and help them solve it better.

The same logic can play out for CX programs. A successful strategy finds current initiatives in the company that can be improved with CX. So, if our priority is impact, we need to take time to understand what change is possible, what change is already wanted and start there.

Learning Opportunities

What Is Needed By the Customer?

There are often several interpretations for any metric. To have real impact, it helps to know the why behind the metric. Without understanding the reasons behind scores, it’s hard to design and advocate for changes that would truly improve the experience.

For example, many companies have adopted usage-based pricing models in B2B SaaS. And some have seen lower NPS after implementing that change. Without understanding the reasons behind the lower score, one might assume that usage-based pricing makes the price point too high, or that customers don’t like pricing changes. Both are possible, but would require a very different solution.

A few conversations with customers might reveal a totally different story. Through comments and in-depth interviews, one SaaS company learned that their customers were fine with the price, and even willing to pay more, but were frustrated with the predictability of the fees. In other words, if they could track and predict their usage better, they would be able to plan for the budget they needed to increase their usage.

In this case, resolving customer’s dissatisfaction with pricing could create opportunities for more revenue — the total opposite of what the low NPS score after pricing changes could lead us to assume.

When we put NPS and other quantitative measures in their proper place, a more human-centered CX becomes possible. We gain the ability to act based on a much more important factor for customers than simply pursuing metrics: their why.

What Is the Next Action?

If I could chart a new mantra for CX programs for the next 10 years, it would be “action not just insight.” We need to try and test ideas to learn and not just settle for producing insights that don’t lead to impact. After we have taken stock of what we can and cannot do, and what our customers need, let’s start making changes and measuring their success. Change a store greeting. Update a chatbot. Add a customer check-in between contract signature and go-live. These are the kind of meaningful steps we need to be taking to drive more impact, and they can’t be motivated by a score alone.

Related Article: Companies Are Misusing Net Promoter Scores: Here's How to Fix That

Questioning Our First Assumptions

As CX leaders, we are surrounded by tempting opportunities to make a quick judgment call based on the numbers on a dashboard. But we do ourselves a disservice if we spend our time fine-tuning our data without actually talking to customers and ensuring their experience improves. Customers are happy to pay more for your product if you are providing good customer service, and 80% feel that the experience offered is just as important as the company’s product or services. We know experience matters; we have to build experience management programs that focus on experience improvements.

Opinions change. There’s not one truth that rules all. The customer experience is fluid, changing and ever-evolving. There is no one way that an individual feels about another person; it’s likely a mix of many different emotions.

Take the same approach to the way you run your customer experience program for your organization. Embrace the ambiguity and act. It’s only human, after all.

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