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What Does It Take to Generate Deep Contextual Customer Insight?

Customer Experience

Do you know your customers?

Is it possible to know your customers simply through ‘at a distant’ listening methods like NPS, post transaction surveys, social media, text mining customer call records etc? I get that many of you are convinced that you do know your customers. You are that you know what matters to your customers. You are that your VoC listening programmes provide you with insight into your customers.

If only it were that simple. Insight, deep contextual insight, is not that easily gathered. What am I pointing at? Let me share a story with you, a story that Irvin Yalom, an existential psychotherapist, tells in his book The Gift of Therapy:

“Decades ago I saw a patient with breast cancer ….. been locked in a long, bitter struggle with her naysaying father. Yearning for some form of reconciliation …. she looked forward to her father’s driving her to college – a time when she would be alone with him for several hours.

But the long-anticipated trip proved to be a disaster: her father behaved true to form by grousing at length about the ugly, garbage littered creek by the side of the road. She, on the other hand, saw no litter whatsoever in the beautiful, rustic, unspoilt stream. She could find no way to respond and eventually, lapsing into silence, they spent the remainder of the trip looking away from each other.

Later, she made the same trip alone and was astounded to note that there were two streams – one on each side of the road. ‘This time I was the driver’, she said sadly, ‘and the stream I saw through my window on the driver’s side was just as ugly and polluted as my father had described it’.

But by the time she learned to look out of her father’s window, it was too late – her father was dead and buried.”

Please note that the daughter did not get access to her father’s experience until she physically sat in his seat and travelled the same route that her father travelled. Or put differently, that little distance between the driver’s seat and the passenger seat made all the difference! Are you still convinced that you understand your customers and their experience, that ‘at a distant’ VoC listening programmes give you the requisite understanding of your customers?

What does it take to generate this deep contextual insight? Empathy

I say that if you want to excel at the game of service, of customer experience and/or customer-centricity, you have to get deep insight into the lives of your customers. I say that if you want to design great customer experiences you have to get deep contextual insight into the lives of your customers. I say that if you want to cultivate a customer-centric organisation then you have to get deep insight into the lives of your customers AND the people who work inside your organisation. And I say that you cannot get this deep contextual insight through ‘at a distant’ listening programmes. I say that to get this deep contextual insight you have to cultivate empathy.

How do you cultivate empathy for your customers and the people working in your organisation?

The short answer is go beyond ‘at a distant’ VoC listening programmes. Get out of the office and get on the front line. Put on the shoes of the front line employees and interact with, sell to and serve customers. Go further and put on the shoes of the customers, sit where she sits, and travel the path that she travels. If you have the patience for the longer answer then I recommend setting aside 20 minutes to watch the follow informative video: http://youtu.be/G9jC1ThqTNo

The 6 habits of highly empathic people

Here are the six habits of highly empathic people as set out and discussed by Roman Krznaric in the video above:

  1. Cultivate curiosity about strangers
  2. Challenge prejudices and discover commonalities
  3. Get into extreme sport – extreme sport of experiential empathy
  4. Practice the art of conversation
  5. Inspire mass [empathic] action and social change
  6. Develop an ambitious imagination

Final words

The price of deep contextual insight into the lives of our customers and the people who serve them is to travel the path travelled by George Orwell and Patricia Moore. You will get what I am pointing at if you watched the video. There are no short cuts. I say that it is only once you have that deep contextual insight that you will be in a position to even know what questions to ask on VoC surveys, what to listen to on social media, and how to make sense of the that which shows up on VoC listening posts.

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