The Customer As A Signal

How do we approach customer thinking in a programmed world? Where the customer experience is controlled by computers, data and signals of 1’s and 0’s?

Two things first:

  1. Computers execute on customer experiences – they do not design them. Deep understanding of human motivation and situation is becoming more and more paramount to creating customers – but we have to understand how to feed the customer experience design into a computer in order for it to motivate and delight customers.
  2. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that the old world was without its faults:
    • Demographics provide statistical averages – and was surely one of the best tools available when it first got introduced (in 1662). But, certainly there are better data to record and use today than what was obtainable 350 years ago.
    • Personas (1990) are to biased and often contain colorful information that only exists in the minds of its author.
    • And the linear customer journey (1997) is trying to force customers into patterns of behavior, when in fact customers are all behaving differently. (A Google and Shopper Science study from 2012 found that from the 3000 customers they surveyed there were 3000 individual customer journeys).

Understanding the computer
Computers follow the simplest law of input and output. They do not think, act or do anything on their own. If a computer based customer interaction doesn’t work it was designed poorly by humans. We have to understand the capacity as well as the limitations of a computer – think of it as a cog – it does what we tell it to do – no more and no less.

Humans decide the content, design and rules of every interaction and feed these rules into a computer who acts on it. If the experience feels robotic, false or lacks human touch, it was designed poorly – by humans. 

Blaming the computer for poor customer experience is like blaming the alphabet for poor writing skills.

The Customer as a signal
How are computers enabling us to create a better customer experience? Again – two things:

  1. The customer doesn’t exist – in the mind of a computer. Which only reads data, or signals, unbiased, and interprets them in order to return an action.
  2. Computer based interactions are composed of hundreds of components, representing unimaginable opportunities. Still a lot of companies stick to standardizing layouts and interactions – based on the physical assumption that individualization is complex and costly. But, not in a scalable, digital world; individualization runs the same cost as generalization.

What is a signal? Signals can be anything from the customer clicking one of your banners online, downloading a mobile application, making a request to customer service, using some specific functionality on a product they already own etc. Anything that can be recorder is a signal.

What is the process? How do we understand customers and go about creating customer experiences in a programmed world? (describe this as a sequence)

  1. List customer actions – Make a list of what you want customers to do?
  2. Identify patterns of signals and probability for action – What did existing customers do before they did the action? And do you recognize some patterns with higher probability for action than others?
  3. Build models from preferred patterns – Tell the computer to look for selected signals and patterns.
  4. Be on the look-out for customers matching the patterns/models – When a customer interacts compare their data history with patterns we have modeled – in real-time.
  5. Know where they are in the customer journey and where you want them to go – The model helps us know who they are and what they want, the non-linear customer journey helps us understand where they need to go next.
  6. Design a tailored experience from individual components – Every interaction and platform is individually designed based on the inventory needed to motivate the customer.

The customer as a signal is a way to understand how computers work in the interaction with customers. To understand the limitations of the computer but also see the potential of data driven customer experience.

As customers interact with companies across several of platforms, understanding how computers work will make the difference between creating tailored human designed, computer executed experiences – or just messing things up.

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