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Make it Active: On CX Leaders and UX research

First in a two-part interview with customer experience expert Jeanne Bliss.

Words by Kari Dean McCarthy, Visuals by Thumy Phan

Jeanne Bliss is a pioneer in the area of customer experience (CX), particularly as it increasingly infiltrates the c-suite. Her latest book, Chief Customer Officer 2.0 is dedicated to leaders who grow their businesses by improving customers’ lives. We thought that sounded a lot like dscout’s mission, so we wondered what Bliss thinks of the CX leader’s role as it pertains to user research.

You said you’ve seen most customer experience leaders excel in their role as a “uniter.” Is there a personality trait or ability that you think makes them that way?

It requires someone who has right-brain and left-brain thinking. It’s an ability to quantitatively help people understand that CX is a growth strategy, plus the creative, pixie-dust storytelling passion to facilitate communication around the organization so that it becomes compelling.

I used to call it the Tom Sawyer formula: You get people to want to come to paint your fence.

That “quantitative plus qualitative” element is something dscout evangelizes for research. How do you see research fitting into CX leadership?

I think research is extremely valuable, but I believe people are doing it reactively. In many cases, there is not someone uniting it and bringing it all together. They're situationally reactive to what's presented at that time, and it becomes a one-off. Like “once a year we get ethnography, and we react to that.”

I believe in three keys to doing and using research. First, I believe in multiple sources of information that come together to tell the story of customers lives. Each source moves people differently. I believe in collecting unaided, real-time feedback that your customers are volunteering to you, so you have this constant flow of information, like “here's what they're having difficulty with, here's what's important to them, and here's what we need to fix now because our customers are in pain.”

That's active, but it needs to be organized and aligned inside the company so it can roll up. I believe that needs to be organized by stage of the journey so there's operational relevance.

Second, I believe in traditional and organized research such as ethnography and surveys and other things, but that it needs to be combined with real-time feedback to start telling a balanced story, to put it all in context and connect it, to create relative connectivity to one another.

"I used to call it the Tom Sawyer formula:
You get people to want to come to paint your fence."

Jeanne Bliss

And third, I believe in what I call experiential listening. We need our leaders and our people to walk in the shoes of our customers so that the storytelling is robust. For example, in the onboarding experience, there are things customers are in real-time telling us that are difficult. Or maybe it's difficult for them to download something.

We send people out to do experiential listening -- to try to do those things. How did it feel? Then follow it up with: Here's our research that validates it with a survey score and other quantitative information. Then we need to identify which areas these all converge on, so that we know there's the top of an iceberg that we have to focus on.

Absolutely. That’s one of the things that we're pushing toward: the idea of not just doing the research to identify or to solve a problem, but to actually follow people along their journey and to understand it.

Right, so the first piece is really connecting multiple sources for storytelling. But then also, like you said, use it in organic, dynamic, constantly refreshing manner, because we know the repetition of stepping through the life of the customer is what starts to embed a different kind of culture.

It's not just showing the complaints, but showing the screenshots or dropping a pound of paper on people's desks. Making them have to do it themselves, whatever it is. It’s playing videos. Showing them the lives.

We need to bring the customer to life to make them human, right? It’s back to that people nerd thing. We need to take customers off the spreadsheet and bring them to life. We need to make sure it’s not a single point in time, or the annual “we're going to present the survey results” thing. That data's old before you even start working on something.

We need to make sure it’s an always refreshing, repeated conversation that happens monthly, quarterly and annually before annual planning,

If you had to name one or two of the biggest challenges you think are facing CCOs in the next year, where would you say their focus will be?

They're kind of the perennial issues. The first is really uniting the c-suite to create focus and a united approach. The second thing is taking the human life off the spreadsheet, and also to focus on a few things to really improve the life. Sometimes we already know what is important to customers, it's just a matter of stopping and doing the work.

What makes a Chief Customer Officer? A willingness to become human duct tape. - Check out part 2 of Jeanne's interview on the CCO here.

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