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Where anthropology ends and CX begins

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Where anthropology ends and CX begins

Jennifer Avery probably didn’t need her PhD in anthropology to recognize why we use “CX” as a short form for “customer experience” instead of CE.

“The X is sexy,” Avery, vice-president of strategic insights and global strategy at NBC Universal Parks and Resorts, told the audience at this week’s CX Strategies Summit in Toronto. “This is marketing to a very huge extent. But the X makes it sound mysterious and powerful.”

Avery was just as dismissive about the clickbait headlines that promise to solve all your CX problems in 10 steps or less. As proof, she gathered examples of articles that ranged from 10 steps to 1 (with the exception of two: “Two just doesn’t sound right,” she admitted).

Jargon like “customer journeys” brought out her contempt as well. “How many journeys do you really think people are taking at any one time?” she said. “I can tell you in the world of vacation planning, it’s not at all linear.”

As for metrics like Net Promoter Score (NPS), let’s just say she’s not a big believer. “Are you really going to recommend all these brands to people you know?” she asked. “If you did you’d be kind of weird, and no one would like you.”

The risk of overwhelm and intimidation
Avery’s point in all this was to expose the ways in which CX vendors and other experts attempt to overwhelm and intimate their customers through hyperbole and oversimplification. She was suggesting CX leaders ignore the buzzwords and focus on the truth about the experiences they’re delivering, rather than clinging to claims a particular technology can help you cut your churn rates in half.

What Avery didn’t talk about was her experience in helping advance CX at NBC Universal Parks and Resorts, which I’m guessing is why most of us showed up to listen to her. She also failed to touch upon one of the areas where  anthropologists bring a lot of value.

By studying the culture, languages and history of people, anthropologists help us understand what it means to be human. This has traditionally involved embedding themselves in a particular culture or group, or working with archeologists to derive insights from the past.

CX has always been a challenge in part because it requires an organization made up of many people to act in a human, one-on-one fashion with each of their customers. It’s hard to do at scale, which is why journey mapping is a helpful mental exercise for CX teams to practice.

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NPS may be flawed, but it’s a way of investigating the degree to which you’ve developed a positive relationship with your customers. I would have loved to hear how an anthropologist would recommend bringing more humanity into CX as it becomes increasingly digital, rather than face to face, in nature.

Picking apart jargon and metrics is as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. It might be better to ponder the words of Margret Mead, who outlined a vision for her profession that companies would do well to mirror in their CX strategies.

Anthropology, she said, “demands the open-mindedness with which one must look and listen, record in astonishment and wonder that which one would not have been able to guess.”

The difference, really, is that CX leaders need to go beyond astonishment and wonder. They must pursue the difficult work of making meaningful change as well.

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