Customer Experience in a Business Discipline (Part 3 of 7)

>>>Customer Experience in a Business Discipline (Part 3 of 7)

Editor’s note: Recently we brought you the first 2 parts of our 7 part series “Customer Experience in a Business Discipline”. If you missed them, please click here for part 1 and here for part 2.

Within this series, we will dive into each of the six key areas within Customer Experience Management: strategy, customer understanding, design, measurement, governance, and culture. Part 1 provided a high-level overview while part 2 examined the importance of a defined strategy. Without further delay, let’s examine the role of customer understanding:

Entrepreneurs have long lived by the mantra “Scratch your own itch.” That is to say, products and services should serve the needs of the creator first, because (it’s assumed) his or her needs are naturally shared with a more general audience. Some take this a step further by inviting friends and family to comment on new product or service ideas.

A few noteworthy firms perpetuate the idea that this approach is favorable to true customer understanding. For instance, Apple famously eschews focus groups and surveys altogether; Phil Schiller, Apple SVP of Worldwide Marketing, was recently quoted in a trial against Samsung as saying, “We don’t use any customer surveys, focus groups, or typical things of that nature,” He continued, “That plays no role in the creation of the products.”

However, customer understanding has little to do with unilateral feedback, and much more to do with an intimate knowledge of the customer born of personal observation. This is defined as ethnography, and finds its roots in anthropological research techniques. Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine, authors of Outside In, say, “Ethnographic research methods like diary studies, in-home observations, and one-on-one interviews can help you understand how to create experiences that fit within the context of your customers’ personal or professional lives.” Does Apple employ ethnographic methods in its product development? It’s hard to say (they surely observe their products in the wild), but the firm’s lack of faith in focus groups and surveys may not be so damning for the practice of customer understanding after all.

So if not focus groups and surveys, what exactly is meant by “customer understanding”? It concerns the knowledge seeded by the intersection of quantitative data, such as business analytics and performance metrics, and supporting qualitative data from substantive observational study. Both components must exist, with nontrivial time and attention paid to each, before a firm may lay claim to knowledge of its customers and their psychographic composition.

Controlling project change part 2 of 3

How does one undertake an effort to improve organization-wide customer understanding? Following is a time-tested recipe for understanding one’s customers in a manner that transcends traditional segmentation:

1. Collect data

Collecting quantitative business analytics is well-travelled territory. Most firms have teams dedicated to business intelligence, and those that don’t can easily find support from trusted advisors in the field.

Organizations typically have less experience in the realm of qualitative, ethnographic research, which may include in-home observation, interviews, and customer journals. This is an area in which a capable user experience consulting firm such as SDLC Partners and its UX team may provide insight and support.

2. Synthesize research

Once you have conducted your research, you must synthesize the data in a manner that converts it to actionable insight. What assumptions about your target segment have you tested? What surprised you? What findings warrant further inspection (perhaps in the form of a follow-on study)?

3. Document findings

UX Magazine calls personas, “The foundation of a great user experience.” A persona is an archetype for a group of users, frequently a target market segment, which bears characteristics of the majority. Once a persona is adopted, he or she becomes the means by which the organization engages in dialogue about the segment. According to Jason Noble, Lead User Experience Designer at SDLC Partners, “Personas are extremely helpful when it comes to understanding customers’ needs and wants. They highlight target audiences in a new way, and ultimately drive customer satisfaction and sales.”

A step beyond personas, scenarios document typical ways in which a persona might interact with a product or service, under what conditions, when, and why.

Journey maps take personas and scenarios yet a step further. They document an interaction with a product or service from beginning to end of a customer interaction, and assign emotions to each critical touchpoint. According to, “What makes a customer journey map much more powerful than simply delivering personas and scenarios is its ability to highlight the flow of the customer experience—from the ups and downs along the way to those critical pain points where our attention and focus are most essential”.

4. Share results

Perhaps most important among the four core exercises of the customer understanding practice is disseminating its knowledge. Importantly, there’s no single method of distribution which trumps them all — The most effective communication approach is a multi-channel strategy which reinforces the research and its findings through consistent rhetoric and credible top-down buy-in.

Execution of this recipe will vary from one organization to the next. Kevin O’Connor, President of User Insight, estimates that persona development alone requires an investment of $80,000 – $120,000 for the typical organization. Certainly, the depth and breadth of these exercises will be dependent upon organizational goals, preexisting insight, and budget.

The method by which your organization approaches this practice is less important than the fact that it performs it in the first place.Customer understanding is the bedrock of customer experience management, and decisions about strategy, design, measurement, governance, and culture all flow from the customer understanding pillar. Only with meaningful customer understanding, therefore, are the benefits of the CXM business discipline fully realized.

This recipe will give you a running start on your way to new depths of customer understanding, and a solid foundation upon which to execute other customer experience management activities. As with any recipe it’s easily tailored, and you should feel free to season to taste.

Our next edition of this series will dive into design. Stay tuned…

Brian Lash is a Consultant II at SDLC Partners, a leading provider of business and technology solutions. Please feel free to contact Brian at with any questions on this blog post or to further discuss Customer Experience Management.