woman standing on a boardwalk in front of a ferris wheel
PHOTO: Juliana Malta

In today’s digital world, experiences can make or break a business in a matter of days, hours, minutes or seconds. Sentiments spread quickly on the various channels we have today — it can increase product demand and customer loyalty as fast as it can lower productivity or destroy the value of a brand (e.g., Tumblr).  

Reacting to these touchpoints cannot wait for feedback to be collected, analyzed and determined by committee what the best course of action is, which can take months, sometimes years to decide. In the experience economy, the advantage lies with those who can quickly respond to feedback and trends — positive or negative. Basically, success rides on one’s ability to act on that insight with confidence and speed.  

Today’s technologies enable us to correlate feedback into insights and subsequently actions, creating a virtuous cycle of improving customer experience and influencing the products and/or service offered. The following three steps create this virtuous cycle, which is foundational to any enterprise.

Step 1: Embrace Empathy in Application Designs

In “How to Get the Customer Experience Right in Voice Interactions,” I wrote about customer empathy being a driving force for a company. Engineers need a designer’s mindset, they need to develop customer empathy, and put themselves in the customer’s shoes when developing a solution. At the same time, designers also need to be aware about technological advances. They don’t need to be technology experts but need to be familiar with the latest and greatest in technology and work closely with engineers to ensure their designs are forward thinking. 

In this era of mass personalization, creating applications is about designing magical experiences, it is about listening to the voice of the customer (VoC) and creating solutions to help them solve real-world problems they are trying to fix. If businesses lead with empathy, they will build something that fits a need. When Apple launched the iPhone, the experience was so desirable that customers did not realize or feel the need for features like “cut, copy, paste” which did not exist in the first few years of the product.

Related Article: Drawing a Line Between VoC, Customer Experience and Customer Analytics

Step 2: Connect Experience Data to Operational Data

The goal of every enterprise is to be data driven. Two major sources of data are qualitative experience data from end-user touchpoints, and quantitative data from transactional systems and IoT data. Experience data from all the different sources (social media, surveys, web, in-app, pictures, video, wearables, etc.) on customer, product, employee and brands captures the human sentiment at key moments. It provides a richer, immediate and more salient understanding of the quality of an experience — it helps us understand the why. Operational data from business processes and transactional systems (e.g., finance, human resources, spend management, customer management, supply chain management) tells us what is going on and what just happened in a business. 

A friend of mine calls this instrumentation. He gave me an example that drives home the effect of running a company with bad instrumentation. Did you know that Kmart went into bankruptcy with a high customer satisfaction score (CSAT)? Because it was poorly instrumented, the company did not realize that its CSAT score was driven by its least valuable customer segment. By the time it added additional instruments to understand other signals such as who spends the most money or purchaser intent, it was too late.

Technology advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning have taken data analysis to new heights, enabling the processing of big data sets. However, the qualitative and quantitative data sets live in parallel universes. If we connect experience data to the operational data, businesses can gain new insights and take action that will result in new outcomes that responds to the feedback and improves future interactions. The virtuous cycle begins with new touchpoints that generate new experience data. Insights that connect the end user sentiments to operational data can drive actions in response to the feedback. These actions will then result in new business outcomes that create new experiences, which start the cycle again. In other words, the value comes from drawing insights when connecting the sentiments to the corresponding business transactions and taking action.

customer feedback cycle

Making the connection — between a specific experience and the operational system workflow to systematically identify and execute the corrective action in real time -- is the key to creating the infinite virtuous cycle of learning and continuous feedback.

Making this connection is not a trivial problem to solve. The pieces are all there, we just need to piece it together.

Related Article: Connecting Disparate Data Sources to Your Customer Experience

Step 3: Instrumenting the Enterprise

To support the instrumentation needed to steer an enterprise, we need to set the foundation to ensure that we can effectively leverage the overwhelming volume of data, draw truly meaningful insights and continuously adapt. The ability to do this with transparency, focus and agility will help us achieve game-changing outcomes. A typical cycle of growth for a company starts with launching a product/service, the product taking off and then scaling.  As they scale, they enforce certain measures to make sure things are not breaking. If the measures indicate things are breaking, they take corrective actions — thereby addressing problems before it's too late, as in Kmart’s case.

As organizations embark on the journey towards digital transformation and incorporate greater intelligence into their landscape, employee engagement and customer insights will be front and center of every enterprise. Digital boardrooms will not only have the logic and reasoning for actions, but also the emotions surrounding it.  

Related Article: Voice of the Customer Strategies: Effectively Turning Feedback Into Action 

Embarking on Your Journey

A holistic understanding of customer experiences through data-driven insights will have direct and measurable effects on tactical operations. Organizations looking to embark on this journey should think big, start small and move fast. Start in the most relevant areas that achieve immediate results. Automate repeatable processes to remove latency in interaction with customers, suppliers, employees and the broader ecosytem. Leverage data to detect patterns, predict outcomes and suggest actions. Innovate in areas that are discovered as businesses go thru these transformations. 

Business growth in the new experience economy is singularly focused on customer-centricity. When we understand what is in people’s minds, we can take those experiences and cater to both the emotional need as well as solving the problem.