Act with Certainty

The ForeSee blog for CX professionals and the Voice of Customer community.

Know Your Customer Experience Elephant

Have you ever heard the story of the two men who had never before seen an elephant, and were peeking at one through tiny pinholes in the holding pen fence at the zoo?

With his drastically limited field of vision, one of the men sees just the tail, and swears, “I can see it clearly, an elephant looks just like a snake.”

The other man sees just a leg, and says, “You don’t know what you’re saying, an elephant looks like a tree trunk!”

Know Your Customer Experience ElephantUnfortunately, many business leaders view the customer experience this way. The data they collect only shows pieces of the customer experience, leaving them to guess at what the full picture looks like.  You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Making game-changing business decisions based on only a partial field-of-view, and managing the all-important customer experience by intuition, what worked in the past, or worse yet – educated guessing – is a less than optimal solution.

During my travels, I notice a lot of common themes around the data being used and how company leaders from a wide range of organizations and across every industry use it to make business decisions.

First, they typically already gather an immense amount of data, using traditional market research, behavioral data, and simple survey or feedback tools. They may even be asking that single Net Promoter Score question of a large segment of their visitors, and making game-changing decisions based on that single question. All of the elements of that large data set may help them gain a high level directional view of customer experience, and an idea of overall customer sentiment or “brand temperature.” However, I constantly hear about how this data alone is lacking in what they truly need – the actionable insights needed to make the best business decisions.

Here are some common pitfalls I’ve come across when the data used isn’t steeped in rich scientific credibility; and lacks a reliable, accurate, precise methodology with predictive capabilities:

  • Market research, behavioral data, simple surveys and feedback paint only a partial picture of the customer experience that lead to partially informed and potentially incorrect decisions that result in an uncertain impact on the customer experience. Used alone, they can contribute to confusing correlation for causation. These tools alone are, most importantly, not predictive.
  • Many professionals I’ve talked to feel they are operating in reactive mode. They find themselves reviewing large volumes of behavioral data and unstructured survey/feedback that is keeping them busy with very large “To Do” lists and constantly scrambling to make tactical changes to their customer experience. The biggest obstacle is making decisions without feeling confident that they truly understand which changes are the most critical to driving behavior for highly important persona groups such as new customers, first time visitors, and brand loyalists.
  • Company leaders experience great challenges measuring cross-channel impacts. For example, how powerfully do web/mobile/social channel investments drive offline purchase behavior at the dealer or retail store?
  • Business leaders often proceed down the path of “measurement by proxy”, in which – for example – behavioral data alone is erroneously used to assume a deep and accurate level of insight into the overall customer experience. I spoke to a company recently that assumed a visitor’s “time on a page” was their most important metric, indicating an engaging and satisfying digital experience. That is one possible outcome. But in reality, spending a long time on a page could represent a highly unsatisfied visitor who was unable to complete their task or find the information they were seeking. They then leave the experience not only unlikely to return, but also highly likely to broadcast negative word of mouth about your brand to their friends, colleagues, and social networks. In this case, time on page was used to infer “by proxy” what should be directly measured by precise metrics focused upon customer satisfaction with that experience.

Using the right measurement system affords business leaders the powerful capability to broaden their field of vision to a holistic view and truly measure their entire customer experience. They will be able to concisely identify and prioritize the changes that will have the most impact on driving desired behaviors for the most important segments of their prospects and customers.

Don’t view your customer experience through pinholes. Know your elephant!

About the Author

Peter Malamas is an Enterprise Account Manager at ForeSee. His specialty is online solutions that help companies acquire new customers and build stronger relationships with existing customers, using customer experience analytics, digital marketing, and social media. Peter’s experience ranges from individual sales contributor to a leader who’s started-up and consistently grown product lines and business units as Director of Strategic Partnerships at eWayDirect, VP Sales & Product Management at SGA Executive Tracker, and President at idEXEC, an infoGroup company. Peter is based in Manhattan and is a Board Member and Chair of the Educational Committee at the Direct Marketing Club of New York.

Read more posts by Peter Malamas


  1. Shep Hyken

    Love the elephant metaphor here. It is so true. Customer data can be overwhelming at times. The original Wikipedia definition of Big Data is an amount of data that is overwhelming. The key is not about having a lot of data, but knowing what data is relevant. The best leaders don’t just know how to interpret data. They know which data is important to interpret.

    1. Peter Malamas

      Thanks for the comment Shep. I am 100% in alignment with your thinking. While Big Data is a very hot topic, I think Big Insights is much more exciting and actionable.

  2. Dan Enthoven

    When you look at large swaths of data in a silo it’s easy to get overwhelmed. How you turn that data into actionable insights is what matters the most. Don’t assume the data is telling you anything because assuming mean you are putting your attitude over your customer’s actions.

  3. Peter Malamas (@petermalamas)

    Thanks Dan. Well said. Assumptions will often lead us down the wrong path, and it’s always wise to listen to voice of your customer. One of my favorite client comments was someone who said to me “it’s great for my ego when ForeSee validates my good decisions, but even better when you stop me from acting on an assumption and doing something wrong!”

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