How It Feels to be Obsessed with Customer Experience

Obsession is dangerous.

Whether you're obsessed with the aesthetics of athletics (like my little brother who reads Uni Watch and makes sports graphics for fun) or #obsessed with nail art (like the hoards of happy people posting pictures of their holographic glitter manicures on Instagram), if you've ever experienced a crush or an fixation of any kind, you know that it's a siege.

It starts out as a spark of curiosity, and then it takes over all the empty space in your brain.

It propels you forward to take inspired, albeit sometimes irrational action.

So, when I hear a CEO casually mention that their company is "obsessed with CX" or when I read a post about a "customer-obsessed sales culture," I always wonder if those leaders understand the implications of what they're saying.

Customer Obsession, in Real Life

At a personal level, I am obsessed with customer experience. It's why:

  • In 2012, I spent most of a perfectly good party sitting on the floor with my laptop open, helping a customer debug an email template, while my friends played flip cup and sang along to Carly Rae Jepsen songs, because I was convinced that I was this customer's last hope to get their campaign out on time the next morning; it's why
  • On a Saturday night, over a glass of wine and a chocolate-grapefruit torte, my husband looks into my eyes, asks "What's on your mind?" and gets a response like, "Why we don't show our password field requirements to customers before they attempt to set their passwords…"; and it's why
  • Yesterday, at 5 o'clock on a Friday afternoon, I found myself recklessly Slack'ing a C-level executive about the color of some subtext on a mock-up for a new pricing page, because I thought the color grey made some of the details look sneaky. (I'm sorry.)

Deep down, my intentions are pure.

I care about customers - because customers are people - and I think that when people buy a good or a service they deserve to be treated with respect, and that we can show that respect through thoughtful design, messaging, and responsive support.

But, when you're truly obsessed with your customers, sometimes those good intentions come oozing out from under the surface in unexpected and unmanageable ways.

And, that uncontrolled oozing of molten passion can be detrimental to personal relationships, individual career paths, and company operations at large.

Customer-obsessed companies who hire customer-obsessed people need systems to put all that energy on rails.

GIVE YOURSELF A SAFE PLACE FOR YOUR HIGH STANDARDS

In the 2017 Letter to Shareholders, Jeff Bezos (Amazon) shared two things that struck me. He wrote:

  1. "Customers […] are divinely discontent. Their expectations are never static - they go up."
  2. The answer to how to stay ahead of customer expectations is "high standards."

In practice, being obsessed with customer experience often feels like having unreasonably high standards.

But, for individual contributors, it can feel painful and risky to exhibit high standards at work.

For example: if every time someone shares a new marketing landing page with you, if the first thing you do is burst into a well-populated Slack channel to criticize the capitalization scheme of the header text for not matching the writing style guide, eventually your co-workers are going to (rightfully) avoid sharing things with you, if only to save themselves from dealing with your pedantic bullshit. And, you, the well-meaning but un-reformed pedantic individual, are going to wonder whether you're actually helping make things better or just creating a lot of noise.

Finding the right balance between speaking up for high standards and building positive, trusting relationships with your colleagues is easier when there are systems in place to promote and contain critique.

Now, a quick time-out for a disclaimer:

time out

As of writing this post, I work with a company called FullStory. And, before I started working with FullStory, I was a FullStory customer in a previous job role. Lots of the processes that I'm going to hype here are either things that I've seen working well internally at FullStory or things that are just easier to do when you're a FullStory customer. But, this is a personal blog post, and it's not intended to represent the views or positions of my employer.

time in

Set Aside Structured Time to Indulge Your Obsession

FullStorians have long practiced a group activity called Game Film.

Game-filming is pretty simple: you just dedicate some time for you and your colleagues to sit back and watch how customers interact with your website or web app.

If you manage a SaaS app or any kind of website online, I highly recommend that you plan to Game Film immediately after any major launch - whether it's a new feature or a new navigation redesign. Pop some popcorn, dump some M&M's on top, and get ready for a salty-good time.

popcorn

But, how do you stay close to your customer experience when there isn't something new?

Schedule recurring Game Film meetings.

Recurring Game Film meetings become safe spaces for grueling empathy and high standards to breathe. And, the time is deliberately set aside so that it won't interrupt or distract from other tasks and projects.

Here's what you need:

  • A session replay tool* (so that you can play back customer experiences and watch how people interact with your site or web app)
  • A workflow management system like JIRA or Trello (so that you can log customer experience bugs in a place where they'll get processed and fixed)

Here's how it works:

  • You book a recurring meeting on the calendar that's an open invite to anyone who wants to attend. (An hour once a month is a good place to start!)
  • During the meeting, at least one person volunteers as the conductor to present and hit play on customer sessions.
  • During the meeting, at least one person volunteers to take notes and make sure that all of the insights that come up from the meeting get logged in your workflow management system as either a) ideas for enhancements or b) customer experience bugs to get resolved.
  • As a group, you watch customer sessions, pause when you see something wrong, and facilitate group discussion about how you can make your customer experience better.
  • Wrap it up by making sure that the notes from the Game Film session are in a publicly-accessible document, where everyone can revisit them later if needed.

What's great about group conversation during a Game Film meeting is that everyone is encouraged to watch with high standards and to speak freely in response to what they're seeing. In this setting, open critique feels more like scientific observation than personal attacks on anyone else's work.

And, when you're done, you have a small list of action items for things you can fix, things you may never have noticed otherwise.

Even a completely unstructured Game Film meeting is likely to yield some kind of actionable insights.

If you want to super-power your Game Film sessions, focus the sessions you're watching to specific customer-focused initiatives.

*If you don't have a session replay tool available, think about what other mediums you have at your disposal to help communicate customer experiences in a visceral way. Do you have video recordings of UX research study calls? Does someone on your support team have a curated list of cringe-worthy live chat transcripts? You might not be able to Game Film, but you can still put together a recurring meeting with whatever qualitative data you have at hand to focus on debugging some aspect of your customer experience.

Focus Obsession on Optimization or Bug Resolution

Whether you're Game-filming or starting customer experience research or just coming face-to-face with a session replay dashboard for the first time, you may feel overwhelmed, like you're drinking from the fire-hose.

If you know that you want to understand and improve customer experience, but you're not sure where to start, I suggest that you either start by:

a) Looking at a conversion flow that you want to optimize, or b) Reacting to frustration signals Then, back into the specific customer experience problems you aim to solve.

STARTING WITH A CONVERSION FLOW

First, define a clear conversion flow that matters to you and scope that conversion flow down to its smallest form.

It may be easy for you to identify a conversion flow that matters to you if it relates directly to an objective or a KPI metric that you own.

If you're feeling totally lost because you don't have a specific goal or KPI in mind, start by writing down as many steps as you can imagine might fit in an ideal customer journey (knowing and setting aside that real customer journeys often take winding cowpaths that you'd never expect or anticipate).

funnel list

Think about how people discover your service or product and purchase it.

If your conversion flow has a lot of steps (more than 4 or 5), think about whether you could narrow the lens to get at just the key steps in the customer journey before a major conversion point - whether that's a sign-up or a purchase or renewal or something else entirely.

Then, work through your list and identify which key steps must happen in order for the conversion flow to be a success.

Those steps that must happen become the key parts of a funnel report.

Go identify what URL paths or button text correspond to each of those points within your conversion flow, and build a funnel report to represent this part of the customer journey.

Once you have a conversion funnel setup, identify the biggest drop-off point.

funnel list
A FullStory Event Funnel, where each Event maps to a key step in part of the customer journey.

(In my funnel, that's the drop-off between 80% of people starting a trial and 53% of people getting to their first magic moment.)

Now, channel all your customer obsession energy on learning more about that drop-off point and optimizing to close that gap.

If you have a session replay tool with built-in search and analytics, you can start by creating a segment of everyone who has taken all of the key steps in your funnel except the conversion point step. Then, watch sessions (or schedule a Game Film meeting!) for customers who drop out of the funnel at that point.

Look for what those customers have in common:

  • Are most of the people who don't convert on mobile devices?
  • Did they all come from a specific ad campaign?
  • Are lots of people seeing the same error message?

Then, drill down into the common themes and look for the cause of problems affecting conversion. Maybe you learn that:

  • The installation page isn't optimized for mobile browsers and it's hard to complete that step on a phone,
  • The ad campaign is targeted and attracting people who likely aren't a perfect fit for your product, or
  • The feature only works if you have browser pop-ups enabled, so lots of people are seeing errors.

Data captured in your customer experience / session replay platform may be enough to help you clearly identify the cause of a conversion problem, but you don't have to stop there.

Talk to your customers. Ask them about where they got hung up, and listen to what they have to say.

Or, if you can't talk with your customers directly, connect with someone at your company who can represent the voice of your customer. Some companies have formal "voice of the customer" programs where people aggregate verbatims and qualitative data from surveys, focus groups, and formal research and compile all of that data into themes about what customers want and need, so they can speak up on a customer's behalf. If you don't have a VOC program yet, talk to someone who works in sales or customer support. The people who communicate directly with your customers are likely to have the context you need to understand a problem and to help you make a case to remove friction in your conversion flow.

Compile your findings and present the problem as a customer experience bug to be fixed. Collaborate with colleagues or product managers to prioritize and design a solution. Once someone makes a change to resolve the problem, revisit your funnel (filtering for sessions that happened after the change) and look to see if the drop-off has closed at all.

care bear stare
Live footage of you and your co-workers making customer experiences better together.

Is your conversion rate higher?

Well done! Now, look for the next biggest drop-off in your funnel and go work your magic all over again.

📈 Report. Investigate. Learn. Act. Watch your numbers go up. Repeat.

STARTING WITH FRUSTRATION SIGNALS

If you don't have a clear conversion flow that you're aiming to optimize, another way to approach learning and optimizing the customer experience is by reacting to frustration signals.

Now, if you don't have a tool like FullStory that automatically surfaces Rage Clicks, errors, and other heuristic signals of customer frustration, start by looking at your customer support cases, survey responses, or complaints posted on social media. Where are people expressing frustration? What problems seem to be coming up over and over again? Once you identify a problem, estimate the scope of that problem.

Now, if you don't have a tool like FullStory that lets you easily search for how many other people had the same frustrating experience, you may use a system to count support cases related to a known issue. And, once you have some critical mass of complaints from customers with recognized and substantial customer lifetime value, you may be able to prove that this is a big enough problem to warrant a fix. But, for the purposes of this blog, I'll illustrate how you can do this faster with something like FullStory in your stack. Let's say that someone posts on Twitter that they're super annoyed because there's a big pop-up taking up 80% of the real-estate of our homepage and it won't close.

Within a matter of minutes, you can:

  1. Search and find the session with that specific customer's experience
  2. Watch their session to confirm what they reported
  3. Leave a note on the session, annotating the point in time when the broken pop-up happened
  4. With a single click, use your note to report a bug for triage, so that an engineer can get all of the metadata about the session (everything from the browser User Agent string to the Console logs) without needing to ask the customer to send over more details so they can replicate the problem
  5. Quickly search to see how many other customers experienced the same problem
  6. Respond to that customer to apologize and acknowledge that we're seeing what they're seeing, and
  7. Proactively contact all the other people who experienced this problem but didn't report it, to let them know you're doing something about it.

search for errors
In FullStory, you can use Omnisearch to filter for sessions where specific errors occurred.

Translate responsive support into proactive customer care.

Just keep in mind that as you get better at proactive customer care, you're going to get fewer support tickets from confused or frustrated customers. So, if you're currently evaluating your self-worth by how many tickets you can crush in a single week, you may want to start looking for a new metric.

📉 React. Investigate. Respond. Proactively communicate. Watch error reports go down. Repeat.

Change What You Cannot Accept

In our personal habits, as a function within our companies, or in terms of results for our customers, an obsession with CX seeds change.

Being obsessed with customer experience means being open to constant improvement, continuously looking for the next minor detail that can make things clearer, easier, better next time.

But, if, like I do, you: * Sometimes feel like a bull in a china shop (or, "a puppy going to town on a new bone"), or if you * Sense that your obsession for CX is sapping your focus or disrupting those around you, then

Stop and consider: Is there a system that I lean on or spin up to harness this obsession for good?

You don't need to be a "Chief Customer Officer" or a "UX Researcher" or the "Voice of the Customer Manager" to initiative a positive process.

Tackle the chaos of your customer experience obsession the same way you'd tackle any other customer-facing bug.

Be curious. Identify the problem. Make a change. Observe. Repeat.