INSIGHTS

Customer Science

Part of my new year routine has been ordering new business cards. In this electronic age, they are the only things I actually print, and I’m a writer! Well, actually, in a few weeks I’ll publish a book, Solve for the Customer (SftC), in paperback, and the two are related.

Printing cards requires a special diligence. The process is akin to carving something in stone, so you really need to think about what’s on them. Electrons are nearly free and inspire an iterative process that’s too expensive for the printing press.

I made a discovery while writing the book that fundamentally changes what I do for a living and the title I use, hence my need to reprint. The discovery is this: The front office and its practices have transitioned from art to science before our eyes.

Causes and Correlations

Many writers, including me, have recognized the need for such a conversion over the last decades, and CRM more than once gave us hope that the change was happening. We’ve been disappointed more times than I can count.

Writing SftC forced me to examine the panoply of technologies we now use, or at least offer to front-office practitioners to pursue their business efforts. For the first time, it appears that they all can work together in support of end-to-end efforts, not just on individual transactions.

That doesn’t make a science, though. For my definition of science, I looked to a major authority, Thomas Kuhn, author of the 1962 landmark work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. I know what you’re thinking — this is way out in the weeds, but if you have a minute, it gets interesting.

Kuhn examined how the sciences got started; how astronomy and physics gradually separated from astrology; how chemistry removed itself from alchemy. His observations were distinct and consistent and amounted to this: When we stopped assuming things and began experimenting and using a little math to understand our observations, sciences crystallized.

Newton (and Leibnitz) invented calculus and with it went on to describe mechanics and modern physics for instance. Later Einstein showed — exclusively through math — that Newtonian physics is a subset of relativity.

Hard sciences like physics and chemistry are only the most obvious examples for most people. The social sciences, from economics to sociology, also rely heavily on math — statistics, to be precise — and their universal symbol is the bell curve. In field after field, statistics has enabled us to understand the social world, providing us with probabilities of aggregate action if not exact formulaic certainty.

When we hear that particular lifestyle choices can result in maladies later in life, it is not because there is a certainty but because there is both causation (the behavior choice) and correlation (a high number of occurrences) — and that insight is provided by statistics.

The front office is like that, and now that we have big data and analytics, we can derive the causes and correlations to come up with the best practices, processes and requirements vendors can consider for specific situations. However, big data and analytics alone are not enough to comprise a science. In “customer science” (my term for it), I make an important distinction that revolves around customer experience — and it requires the concept of a moment-of-truth.

Navigating Cascades

We use “customer experience” as a noun in CRM (i.e., the customer experience), and for a long time it has been a noun. However, once we begin to think in terms of customer-facing processes situated around a moment-of-truth, experience becomes a verb. You experience a moment of truth. That’s an important difference, and it’s one that significantly helps vendors and customers.

A traditional customer experience is subjective, and when you consider the multitude of customers and the totality of their experiences, you are dealing with a big number. Because all experiences are subjective, they are also unique — there are billions and billions of them. With so many unique experiences, you can see that dealing with them, and trying to build software to accommodate them, is impossible.

Assessing customers’ experiences with a moment-of-truth approach is a more manageable problem. True, the experience is still subjective and customers are still unique, but there’s a limited number-of-moments of truth in any business, which your customers will be glad to verify. These moments-of-truth are linked in cascades, with each step setting up the next until you reach a conclusion. Without customer science, these cascades too often can end abruptly or inconclusively and leave customers frustrated.

Succeeding in moments-of-truth and successfully navigating a cascade is Boolean — on or off, up or down, true or false, it worked or it didn’t. If it all works, you have a happy customer; if the moment-of-truth doesn’t work and the cascade gets broken, you can pinpoint the problem and know exactly what to do to make it right.

As a matter of fact, you can develop contingency plans in advance for all of the things that could go sideways. Of course, you’d do this in your journey-builder application, and this brings up the need for a multifaceted software platform.

The modern software platform is the tool of customer scientists. Well-constructed platforms offer the technologies needed to capture and analyze customer data, as well as the social tools to communicate with customers.

Most importantly, the software platform also provides the data-gathering, analytic, social, journey-mapping, workflow and code-generating facilities that can turn customer insights into running apps that support moments-of-truth.

For decades, CRM vendors have delivered point solutions to support front-office business. Now, through customer science, we can bring all of the components together in a strategy that supports the customer lifecycle while efficiently and cost effectively positioning customer-facing resources to address customer needs. In a nutshell, that’s customer science — and it’s why, from now on, my business cards read: “Customer Scientist.”

Denis Pombriant is the managing principal of the Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant's research concentrates on evolving product ideas and emerging companies in the sales, marketing and call center disciplines. His research is freely distributed through a blog and website. He is the author of Hello, Ladies! Dispatches from the Social CRM Frontier and can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on Google+.

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