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The CX battle: Human vs. machine

Photo by Lucrezia Carnelos on Unsplash

The author shares three ways to improve marketing research and humanize CX using lessons from experiential marketing.

Article ID: 20180926-1 Published: September 24th, 2018 Author: Patricia Houston

This article was originally published by Quirk's.


“In this emerging experience economy, companies are focusing increasingly on designing exceptional customer experience to acquire, nurture and retain customers. They do so by using human-centered design principles to understand the stated and unstated needs of the customer.” @JoePine


Shifting the burden away from consumers is a common goal for customer experience professionals. Frequently, however, organizations think from the inside out rather than from the customer back. That means that a technology-based solution is put in place that benefits the company more than the customer. When we think more like event planners and less like IT specialists (who often don’t come into contact with the people their solutions aim to help) it’s possible to create seamless experiences that fit into the customer’s existing context and dramatically improve CX.


Here are three ways to humanize CX using lessons from experiential marketing.

1. Focus on setting the stage for experiences, not the typical default of adding more tech to our stack.

A friend told me that her credit card company, Capital One, notified her about suspicious activity in her Apple account. Concerned about fraud, she contacted both companies and was able to speak to real people each time after quickly navigating automated customer service touchpoints. Her issue was resolved and she was a happy customer. The point of her story was that both companies had designed a customer experience that demonstrated respect for her anxieties by using technology to both alert her to a potential issue and channel her to the right response resource in a timely manner. At that point, the human factor came into play. Well-trained customer service teams listened, learned and took action to resolve the problems. 

As researchers, how do we find the most necessary and appropriate places to integrate these human moments? Experience friction points can be difficult to uncover with traditional quantitative methods because in reality they are subtle, sometimes overlooked and not easy for consumers to articulate. 

Instead, follow the same principal – default to human. Here are two tips for discovering human moments:

  • Try it yourself. Make a return, call the customer service line or try the new service you are offering. You might be a sample of one but if you run into friction it’s unlikely you were the only one. Use your learning as a starting point for exploration.

  • Dig into unstructured CX data. Take the time to read through open-ends in your satisfaction surveys from time-to-time. Don’t rely on text analytics or coding alone. Look for well-articulated responses that include usable detail. Consider these open-ends to be an ongoing focus group. What can you learn that sparks a deeper exploration?

2. Make the measurement experience seamless and human.

Humanizing the measurement experience is a huge paradigm shift for researchers. First, we must assure it is frictionless, using partners that allow respondents to reply naturally in a human way via video snippet or unstructured text (such as morphii, VoxPopMe, STAANCE, etc.). It’s the best of both worlds. These tools allow researchers to collect distinctly human qualitative data that can be quantified. When we force respondents through closed-ended questions, we limit the chance of capturing raw emotion – the measure that means most when it comes to creating brand relationships – and risk losing consumer attention and honesty. 


To make this paradigm shift a reality (we’re only just beginning), we also need to start thinking about the end-to-end experience for research participants. This can be difficult because different teams, and even sometimes different companies, own the various tasks required to gather customer feedback. One team sets the survey, another writes the invitation, another sets the cadence of when invites go out, etc. 


To ensure we’re creating human feedback loops, consider selecting a few individual customer records and map out their feedback touchpoints in a given time period – essentially creating a journey map of the feedback journey. By taking as much care in planning the feedback path as we do the purchase path we can ensure better data quality and respondent engagement.

3. Personalize feedback to improve experiences and your data.

Taking the time to create a personalized customer feedback experience is often overlooked. A friend of mine spends a lot of time traveling on airplanes for his job. He flies the same airline most of the time to take advantage of the perks of being a frequent flier and is generally a satisfied customer. His issue? He receives the exact same customer service feedback e-survey after every one of his 70+ flights each year. The exact same survey. 


Now, I’m all about efficiency and as a marketing researcher I know the importance of standardization in data collection. But this airline is missing out on a huge opportunity with my friend. Why not treat the survey experience like we do lead generation and add personalization at certain points along the loyal customer funnel? Repeat customers are already fans. Keep them by giving them a chance to show you what they really think in different ways. You will show fans that you aren’t just collecting data for your own good. 


For critical pieces of data that need to be provided by the customer, think about when in the purchase journey you are asking for them. A post-purchase survey is not the only opportunity you have to ask a question, especially with digital transactions. Use some of the following thought-starters to re-think what you need to ask and when:

  • Can you move simple profiling questions into the check-out process?

  • What can you collect as part of a user’s profile that can be appended to feedback results vs. asking each time?

  • What can you pipe into a feedback survey to customize the experience?


Building brand relationships

It’s no secret that companies who think through the customer experience end-to-end from the customer’s perspective are building brand relationships that have staying power. It takes an arsenal of carefully constructed touchpoints to create a signature-level experience that wins fans and keeps them coming back. To win the CX battle, you have to be human. Taking care and rigor when planning the feedback experience is a win-win for researchers and consumers. A better feedback experience equals better data and engagement.