What Your Customers Can Tell You That Metrics Never Will

“Get closer than ever to your customers. So close, in fact, that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.” ­Steve Jobs


Yes, I live in the real world where CFO’s and COO’s want to know the return on investment for everything.  As Steve Jobs’ statement clearly implies above, you can never be too close to your customers.

I started out in my career never truly understanding that, in order to affect real customer focused improvements, I needed to be able to relay customer needs and wants in a quantitative way. Those senior to me were not really interested in hearing about my “gut” or what I “thought.” So, over the years, I developed an appreciation for the numbers behind a business and how it informs actual customer behaviors. In fact, I use quantitative information often to help organizations create a more holistic view of what their customers want and what they do.

Having said all of that, I would like to point out some of the qualitative ways we can gauge a customer’s perception of our brand and even make informed projections about what their behavior might be.

Before I go there, I want to highlight one thing:

“Customer experience is how customers perceive their interactions with a company.”-Forrester

Perception implies an element of the senses, which are also connected to the emotions we experience. To this extent, a customer’s interaction with your brand has much more to do with how they feel about you. There is no one number or spreadsheet that can uncover that dynamic.  In most cases, you have to get in front of them, or at least, talk to them to truly understand their perceptions of the products and services you offer.

Organizations that are planning on doing more than just checking a box regarding a survey rating or other metric must know the “why” behind the scores. That is the only way to pinpoint meaningful customer-focused improvements. Below are some methods you can use to uncover the emotions behind the numbers you may see on surveys, systems and other analytical tools.

1. Interviews

It is worth it to request interviews with customers, especially if you are trying to uncover insights in a specific area of your business. For example, you are about to start designing a new app and you want to make sure you are going down the right road, or you are responding to survey information that indicates an overall discomfort with a registration process, and you want to make sure you make meaningful changes.


2. Business Reviews

In a B2B setting, I have found business reviews (sometimes known as “partnership reviews”) to be a highly effective way to get in front of customers and find out what they perceive your strengths and weaknesses to be. If you have built up trust with them so that they know you are coming from a place of authenticity, they are more likely to give you candid feedback. Don’t stop there! Ask them if they can partner with you to take the necessary actions to improve, especially if those actions will retain them as customers. Scheduling these reviews every couple of months is really quite prudent as their strategic direction may change and leave you with a blind spot. You can download an example of a business review template here. If you need help with the process flow for these meetings touch base with us.


3. Focus Groups

Focus groups are a great way to talk to more customers and to see their interaction with one another and the issues on the table. These work great for internal and external customers alike. I have found that building rapport first and then starting the conversation off from a non-threatening place makes these gatherings more productive. The idea here is to uncover as much open and honest feedback as possible from important stakeholders. You wouldn’t be taking up their time if you were not looking to gain insights. Also, providing some context for the attendees helps them know their purpose and also empowers the entire group to use their unfiltered voices to affect positive change.


4. Advisory Boards

Advisory boards can act like a focus group, but really tend to focus on more strategic issues and are formed for the long haul. This is an informal group who might offer advice from marketing and product development to human resources. They tend to meet quarterly, and really act as a sounding board to the senior leaders of an organization. At these board meetings, you talk to real customers about their real emotions with very little filter attached.

Increase Customer Satisfaction and Improve Retention.

5. Customer Journey Maps and Personas

A Customer Journey Map (Map) is really a depiction of the stages and steps customers take when engaging with an organization. Using customer feedback via interviews, focus groups and survey comments, the Map represents the journey and corresponding emotions of customers.

Personas (sometimes referred to as “buyer personas”) are characters created to represent the different user or customer types that might use a brand or service. Creating personas is a great exercise in truly understanding what a particular customer segment might want or experience with a brand.

Customer Journey Maps and Personas are useful tools to get into the shoes of the customers whose journeys you are trying to improve. These tools take the assumptions out of customer experience innovation.


6. Surveys

I know that surveys are considered more of a quantitative form of customer insights, but there are some very cool ways that you can look past the scores and numbers to reveal much more.  Many survey tools have some form a text analysis that moves you closer to understanding the “why” behind their survey responses. These add-ons can give you a better understanding of how your customers actually feel about what they are rating. While this is not a replacement for some of the methods above, survey tools with these added insights do augment the overarching quantitative insights.

In the end, it is wise to gather, review and take action on both the data from and emotions of your customers. Your organization will have a greater chance of improving their experience with your brand if you have a well-rounded view of their true voices.



Heather, a recovering attorney, is a customer experience consultant, trainer and speaker with proven expertise in building Voice of the Customer and Voice of the Employee cultures and acting as catalyst for customer-driven cultural & process improvements. Heather is a frequent author on LinkedIn’s Pulse platform, a blog contributor for Huffington Post and a member and Certified Customer Experience Professional with the Customer Experience Professional’s Association. She is also a Net Promoter Certified Professional. Heather truly believes that the most effective way to transform customer’s experiences is to transform organizational leaders into people who better relate to and empathize with their teams, use their team’s voices to inform customer needs and partner with their teams to drive cultural and customer-focused organizational improvements. Heather has a bias toward action, and she enjoys consulting leaders, training teams and speaking to audiences on topics of importance to customers and employees alike.