April 12, 2013 | Krystel Harvey

The Customer Experience Hunger Games


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A year and a half ago I never would have thought of comparing the blockbuster movie and book, The Hunger Games, to customer satisfaction analytics. Who would?

Well, while recently re-watching the movie, a silly thought squirmed its way into my head: what if all digital channel owners were more like Career tributes than the heroine, Katniss?

Okay, so humor me for just a moment if you would.

For those of you who are not as familiar with the movie or books, Tributes are those unlucky souls chosen through a lottery to represent their geological districts in a fight-to-the-death competition against tributes from other districts.  Career Tributes are those who do nothing but train their entire lives in preparation for the Hunger Games. They are usually favored to win because of their training and knowledge of the games, relying on battle-proven techniques.

The Customer Experience Hunger GamesKatniss, our heroine – by no means a Career Tribute – was at an advantage in her first Hunger Games because the location in which she was fighting was exactly like her home, District 12. In her second tour of duty, the stadium was something she had never encountered before. Although she struggled in the games, she managed to adapt to her new surroundings and survive by learning and applying new skills that relied more on being perceptive of the environment around her and adapting to it (i.e. identifying poisonous berries and learning camouflage) rather than relying solely on the abilities she’d cultivated as a child growing up in District 12 (i.e. archery, agility).

The Limits of Behavioral Data

For my job here at ForeSee, I speak with a lot of very bright people every day who run very important businesses. People in their Districts (ok, companies, but please bear with me a little longer) depend on them to make the right decisions, provide great experiences, keep their business afloat, and hopefully thrive. Occasionally, I’ll meet with someone and find that they are very much like those Career Tributes: strong, experienced, and relying entirely on their own sheer brute force to succeed.

Sometimes the advantages Career Tributes trade on are entirely dependent on their behavioral analytics or looking at what worked in past roles/experiences and applying that to their current challenges. For example, if my behavioral analytics tell me that drop off is extremely high on a certain page, it is a bad experience and needs fixing. But, what if your customers found what they were looking for on that page and it convinced them to buy your product in your store? Not such a bad experience after all, now is it?

You can’t disregard your past experience and previous strengths entirely. Behavioral metrics do have a place in the Customer Experience Hunger Games. However, they won’t always work for you in every situation because the playing field isn’t necessarily the same across all businesses. People come to your business with their own unique sets of expectations and have very different experiences. What worked for one business will not work for another. Why?

Although being a Career Tribute who relies on training and battle-proven techniques can be wonderfully advantageous, it’s simply not enough. To be so laser focused on your quantitative behavioral strengths is often the downfall because you get cocky. You think you know better than your customer because you’ve won before and you believe so much in your own strength, you forget to consider your customers.

Blockbuster is a great example of a company that refused to change to meet an evolving set of customer expectations. The old formula worked, and worked very well, for a very long time. With the advent of Netflix, Blockbuster stuck with what they knew because they were either afraid of or refused to acknowledge a change in the landscape. By the time they decided to address the new market, they were already too far behind.

The Dangers of Feedback

Here’s how I see it, the shift toward embracing qualitative metrics is well underway. And, although they surpass quantitative metrics in many ways, there are certain pitfalls in relying on the wrong kinds of qualitative metrics such as feedback.

In The Hunger Games, District 5’s tribute, known as Fox Face, played the game dependent entirely on her opponents’ actions and intuitions. She managed to stay alive for a very long time by not playing the hero and filching other tribute’s findings when their backs were turned. She didn’t survive because she relied too heavily on the other tributes’ instincts and stole poisonous berries that were intuitively (and mistakenly) gathered by Peeta, Katniss’ fellow tribute from District 12. Needless to say, if it wasn’t for Katniss, it would have been Peeta that succumbed to the fruity death. This is how I feel about relying too heavily on feedback, which can be just as dangerous (if not more so) as relying too much on behavioral analytics.

One of our customers, who shall remain nameless, once depended entirely on feedback to make their business decisions. They had just implemented third party video banner ads and their visitors unmercifully complained.  Even though these ads were a huge revenue generator for them, they considered taking them down for fear of displeasing their visitors. Feedback, after all, was overwhelmingly negative. At the time, they weren’t working with ForeSee yet and therefore didn’t have a reliable measurement system in place that could discern the delta between what visitors complain about and what actually drives their satisfaction and ultimately their future behaviors.

Upon implementing ForeSee’s methodology they realized that while yes, these ads weren’t a beautiful experience and caused a lot of complaints, they actually had very little impact on their visitors’ loyalty or future behaviors. Not only did ForeSee’s measurement system help them avoid a costly mistake, it also redirected their attention toward a more impactful initiative that ultimately did drive positive business performance.

I guess the lesson here is that you need to approach your business like Katniss did in the Hunger Games. In a world of high competition and low switching costs, the customer experience is the final frontier in which to differentiate yourself and be the last Tribute standing. In making sure your experience is the best, you can’t just rely on the old, tried-and-true behavioral metrics and you can’t fall into the feedback trap. You need a measurement system in place that will show you the way to improve, manage forward, and succeed. Otherwise, you might end up like Glimmer, and no one wants that! But that’s another story for another time.

Be careful, it’s a jungle out there.

About the Author

Krystel Harvey is ForeSee’s Regional Manager in the San Francisco Bay Area. With seven years of experience in the customer experience space, she has a particular passion for the retail and internet services industries. Krystel holds an undergraduate degree from Brandeis University and a master’s degree from Stanford University.

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