Case Study in Customer Experience
Thursday, April 22, 2004
by Mark Hurst
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Last week I came across a case study of a sharp, customer-centered
businessman, published in a top U.S. magazine:
He would stand outside stores and observe the behavior of
customers through the windows; later, as the customers departed,
he would ask them what had compelled them to buy, or why they had
decided to buy nothing and what they had been hoping to find.
I was impressed with the forward-looking, customer-centric research:
observing customers' natural interactions, asking them open-ended
questions about their behavior, without requiring pre-written tasks
or a large, statistically accurate sample.
In other words, his research wasn't too different from that of
Creative Good and other customer experience practitioners.
Question: Who is this customer experience guru with such modern
methods and strategic thinking?
Answer: Hallmark founder Joyce C. Hall, conducting customer research
in the year 1915. Hall wanted to know how and why customers bought
greeting cards, and how the process could improve - back when the
concept of greeting cards was still very new.
The New Yorker article goes on to say about Hall:
He gradually concluded that people used cards to maintain
emotional contact with friends and relatives, and that they
wanted cards that helped them convey personal feelings that they
were unable to forurmulate on their own.
This insight was the foundation of what would one day be a global
One insight built the global business. All it required was simple,
to-the-point research and some clear thinking to extract the
Here's what Joyce didn't do:
- Create tasks for customers. "You want to find a 'Happy 20th
Anniversary' card that isn't too sentimental. Ready? Go."
- Ask abstract, focus group-style questions: "If you could design
any sort of greeting card, what would it be?"
- Rely on surveys or a statistical sample. "In surveys of 500 card
buyers, they rated 'funny' second out of five criteria."
- Use a complicated framework. "The analysis of the customers'
mental model yields a semi-continuous persona in this ontological
Simplify, simplify, simplify. Conducting common-sense research, and
applying sharp strategic thinking, can yield dramatic results.
(Especially if the company's top brass - the CEO, if possible - is
physically present during the research.)
P.S. Find the article in the print version, since it's not online.
"Card Tricks," by David Owen, The New Yorker, April 19 & 26, 2004.
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