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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Do Your Employees Know Too Much to Think Like Your Customers?

Mark Zuckerberg and a coalition of technology companies (including Ericsson, Qualcomm, Nokia and Samsung) and nonprofits have teamed-up with the aim of bringing the Internet to the two-thirds of the world’s population that currently doesn’t have it.  A lofty, admirable goal.

Beyond our respect for the societal benefits of this project, we discovered within reports of the project an intriguing challenge they faced: getting ‘Silicon Valley types’ (who live with high, hi-tech items) - to comprehend life in, say, a farming village in India!
While building a permanent lab to simulate in-market technology conditions, Facebook became aware of the ‘disconnect’ between their view of their category – as ‘insiders’ – and the perspective of their target customers.  To Silicon Valley insiders a 2010 Android phone is “ancient” but to many of their target customers it’s “high technology”.   When forced to interact with such hardware, staffers were heard referring to “low-end” phones and networks.   Of course for the majority of the world’s population a first generation Android phone is not “low-end” or ancient but rather is current reality.  And before the engineers could begin to conceive of how to tackle the adoption problem, their mindsets had to be drastically altered. Rather than thinking and talking about “low-end equipment and service” they needed to start referring to it as “typical hardware”.


Great, But What's This Got To Do with Your Business?

You aren’t tasked with bringing the Internet to the world’s population, but we see an important lesson here.  Just like those Facebook technologists, most business executives and marketers are simply so close to and so knowledgeable about their products and category that they fail to relate to and experience their category from their customers’ perspective.  They’re privileged to use the latest and greatest versions of their products and by doing so can be out of touch with their customers’ current perceptions and problems.  Like Facebook’s technologists they are industry insiders and very different from most of their customers and prospects.

Consider a few examples we’ve encountered in past assignments:

  • Insurance company executives observing focus groups conducted among their policy holders refused to believe they were bona fide customers.  Why?  Because the participants hadn’t carefully read their insurance policies and didn’t really understand the coverage they were paying for.  (The executives, on the other hand, lived and breathed the details, understood the terminology and legalese, and would never have bought a policy without reading and digesting every word.) The executives weren’t bad people, they simply couldn’t comprehend any customer not having the same information as they had.
  • Auto executives found owners' descriptions of the Owner Experience as inconsistent with their reality.  In lengthy discussions it was learned that the executives had never purchased a car in a dealership but rather selected their next year’s model from a company website and the car was subsequently delivered to their corporate office.  They hadn’t visited a dealership for service because their Administrative Assistants scheduled their cars for servicing.  The car was picked up at their office and dropped off later the same day, washed and detailed to perfection.  They knew all the design features and specs and how their cars compared with the competition, but their corporate positions actually limited their opportunity to experience their product in the same way as their customers.

Challenge Your Perspective, Step Outside Your Office and 'Look In'

We all want our executives and staff members to know everything there is about our products and our category.  Ideally we would like customers to share much of the same knowledge.  But pragmatics interfere; consumers interact with too many types of products and services and lack the time or the inclination to listen, read, or digest the information available.  The two realities are very different.  Taking steps to help management understand the experience of a “typical” customer, and even encouraging your internal partners to modify the language they use to talk about it, as Facebook’s coalition did, can lead to progress in delivering higher quality products and services.


5:39 pm est          Comments

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