Will it Fly? How to Leverage Quantitative and Qualitative Customer Listening

I’ve been doing customer experience design for a long, long time. In the old days, I would have read about some intriguing customer innovation and assumed that the attempted breakthrough was crafted on a firm foundation of customer listening and data analysis.

For example, had I read about something like Indian airline, IndiGo’s, recent effort to create a “quiet zone” (no children under age 12 in rows 1-4 or 11-14), I would have assumed a well thought out process. I would have imagined that leaders at IndiGo might have started hearing mounting customer complaints about noisy children on their airline and then conducted survey’s, focus groups, and even initiated beta testing for possible solutions.

Here is the truth from the trenches… 

Often I walk into well-intention design efforts (like IndiGo’s) that have little more than an assumption underpinning the design. 

In the case of IndiGo, I have no personal knowledge of how the “quiet zone” concept came to be, but frequently (even in large companies), customer understanding is limited prior to launching such a wide-sweeping and potentially controversial initiative.

For example, what is the core demographic for IndiGo (business travelers, leisure, families, or mixed)? What is the positive impact relative to the unintended consequences (removing a pain point for some business travelers while making parents feel less welcome)? Is the business benefit monetizable (will people pay more to sit in those rows)? How effectively can you deploy your solution (if I am sitting in row 14 and a parent with a screaming child is in row 15 – does the “quiet zone” offer sufficient benefit)? Is there a less dramatic solution (a simpler design if you will) that will achieve similar results? As someone who travels a lot, I find noise cancelling headphones a wonderful solution, plus I love to see parents with children on the plane – remembering those days when my children were young.

Ultimately, the marketplace will determine if “quiet zones” are a positive innovation for the airline traveler or if they are a flop. Rather than debating that issue here, let’s simply review some of the key steps needed in solid customer experience innovation:

1) Teach your entire staff to be spotters of opportunities to remove a customer pain point, make a transaction more efficient, or increase the pleasurableness of the customer journey.

2) Track customer comments (social and direct) mining for opportunities to make the lives of customers better.

3) Form hypotheses about what customers want and assess the magnitude of those wants by surveys segmented by higher value customer types.

4) Follow-up your quantitive survey findings, with focus groups/ethnographic studies/customer journals, or other qualitative approaches that get at the nuances of customer needs.

5) Prototype solutions based on maximum customer and economic value.

6) Revise trial solutions based on continued quantitative and qualitative customer listening.

7) Watch for desired effects of improved customer experiences on your key performance indicators.

Customer experience innovation is a design discipline, not simply the best guess. 

The difference between “world class” customer experience brands and lesser competitors is the degree to which they develop and sustain their discipline to leverage both quantitative and qualitative components of customer intelligence.



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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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