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You’d have to have been starved of internet access not to realize the Game of Thrones (or GoT for short) season finale aired recently. I’m a big fan of the show, having seen all episodes and read all the books.

Maybe due to the combination of this passion and my obsession for CX (not to mention a couple glasses of Dornish wine), it suddenly hit me: the CX landscape is as complex and changing as the power struggle in GoT. As I started thinking back on my past 13 years in this space, I noticed some striking similarities between the characters on the show and the different CX phases I have seen.

Panel research: Well-intentioned but ineffective (Ned Stark)

Ned Stark in his final moments

Ned Stark in his final moments (Picture: HBO)

After a painful career spent in IT outsourcing where I succeeded when I cost people their jobs, I joined a panel research company. We provided the panelists for market research companies to survey for their end clients. The big buzz at the time was for long form surveys. Although a test of each panelist’s patience, they could uncover some interesting insight into buying behaviors of various customer segments.

The problem was that as these surveys became more familiar, the panelists participating became wise to them. Quickly, they learned how to game the system to break the screener questions as they sought to complete them as quickly as possible. In the end, the data couldn’t be trusted so their value in quantifying and measuring CX became limited.

Which Game of Thrones character does this remind you of? To me, hands down this is Ned Stark – a dedicated husband and father but loyal to a fault. Very deliberate, great intentions, but doomed to failure as he was unable to see what was changing around him.

Early-stage website surveying: Useful but ultimately too flashy and long-winded (Oberyn Martell)

Oberyn Martell in typical pose (Picture: HBO)

Early-stage website surveying involved interrupting website visitors with a high volume of questions. The answers – it was claimed – enabled you to predict behavior by measuring customer satisfaction, which in turn provides key CX insight. A bold claim, for sure.

Could these long form pop-up surveys do this accurately? In my opinion, no. But the bigger issue is that there has been decreasing patience for these types of experience interrupting long-form surveys over the past several years – especially as mobile becomes the de facto channel for digital interaction.

In fact, any website questionnaire with more than 15 questions has been subject to lower participation and completion rates year over year. This is despite increasing website and mobile traffic. What used to require 100,000 unique visitors to create a statistically significant sample now requires two to three times that number.

With this being the case, early stage long-form website surveying was a flawed concept that couldn’t deliver all the things it said it could. It was long-winded and at best ambitious, at worst cocky, arrogant and flashy.

Which Game of Thrones character does this remind you of? Oberyn Martell – a flamboyant yet brilliant warrior whose flashy arrogance ends up getting himself killed. Long form surveys that thrust themselves into a customer’s website experience sound great in theory and were fun while they lasted but – like Oberyn – are destined to die.

Big Data: Hugely powerful but only if deployed effectively (the Dothraki horde minus Daenerys Targaryen)

The Dothraki Horde on the battlefield

The terrifying Dothraki Horde in action (Picture: HBO)

If you’re in the CX industry or indeed in any technology-related role, “Big Data” is a phrase you’ve probably heard a lot. What is it? The name says it all: it’s a considerable volume of data.

“Big Data” is a term I heard in my early days selling panel research services. It had been around for a while, but due to advances in technology, the ability to take all your CX data from a range of different sources, bring it together and turn it into something meaningful seemed realistic, exciting and potentially extremely impactful. But it doesn’t feel like we’re there yet.

In much the same way, the Dothraki horde – a tribe that is strong, fearless but lacks sophistication and direction – shares many of the same characteristics. The Dothrakis are potentially very powerful but they’re not easy to control and never seem to evolve without external help. However, the difference is that the Dothrakis end up being led by Daenerys Targaryen – a fearless, respected leader and one of the biggest characters in the show – who helps them realize their potential. There may well be a Daenerys in Big Data’s future. However, as of now, it’s a great concept of untapped CX potential.

NPS: Unchallenged but flawed and – maybe – set for a fall from grace (Cersei Lannister)

Cersei Lannister on the Iron Throne (Picture: HBO)

Net Promoter Score (or NPS) is a KPI that has been widely accepted as an indicator of customer sentiment for years. The metric relies on customers answering the question “how likely are you to recommend X” on a scale of one to ten.

Higher scores (9 or 10) are defined as promoters and lower scores (0 to 6) as detractors. Subtract the percentage of detractors from the percentage of promoters and – hey presto – you have your NPS score. For many, this has established itself as a key CX measure.

I see some key similarities between NPS and Cersei Lannister. For anyone who doesn’t know, Cersei is the archetypal baddie, the most powerful character by name (at time of writing) and the evilest figure in the show. That may seem a bit strong but hear me out.

Now I’m not for one second saying NPS is evil. I’m sure the people who designed it and the companies who continue to reference it as a key part of their research regard it as a key and accurate metric.

However, since NPS first started making waves in the market around 2003, it’s held a position of power in many organizations. A bit like Cersei. But – also like Cersei – it’s flawed and inspires questionable ethical actions that only denigrate its usefulness.

Let me explain. Organizations spend millions tracking NPS and, by the same token, attempting to convert customers to promoters. For example, I recently got a call from a company because I scored it a two on the likelihood to recommend question (I should have scored it a zero but that’s another story).

There was no open-ended question in the survey to provide the reasons for my score. So, instead, this company’s attempt to convert me to a promoter was to call my cell phone everyday for a week. It made no effort in the moment to understand why the CX I had experienced resulted in my status as a “detractor”.

Think of the money they spent on me and then project that across an entire customer base. That’s a lot of dollars!

The problem was simple and purely dictated by my own personal, individual interpretation of the question. I’m simply not comfortable recommending many things to other people – irrespective of my experience.

There are maybe three things that I may recommend to anyone: a restaurant, a TV show (GoT is really good), or a doctor.  Other than that, I simply don’t.

Don’t ask me for a recommendation on anything finance related. That is super important – life-defining in fact – so I don’t want to be responsible for anyone else’s financial mistakes.

Same goes for retail.  My kids make fun of the way I dress so why would I even consider telling someone where to shop?

Which brings me back to NPS and Cersei. NPS can be ruthless, with many companies assuming that it is the only option and no other measurement matters.

Although likelihood to recommend is important, the customer is much more complex than that. People aren’t straightforward. They will interpret the question differently, which means you won’t get accurate data. With that being the case, how can it be a reliable measurement of CX?

Customer-initiated feedback: Straightforward, uncomplicated and highly effective (Jon Snow)

Jon Snow: thoughtful uncomplicated problem solver (Picture: HBO)

Customer-initiated feedback – the act of simply allowing your customers to speak to you on their terms – is simple but effective. It provides you with highly diagnostic and actionable insight to enable you to size and resolve problems and in turn improve your CX.

Which GoT character does this remind you of? Jon Snow, the straightforward transparent honest King in the North. He’s not trying to fool anybody. What you see, is what you get.

His is an unlikely story, rising from an illegitimate birth (something heavily stigmatized in GoT) to a throne other characters – at least on the surface – have greater birthright to. This is purely the result of his integrity, leadership skills and the respect he commands as a result. He punches above his weight, in much the same way as customer-initiated feedback.

Think about your CX. Is your analysis characterized by its complexity or its effectiveness? Customer-initiated feedback is straightforward and effective.

Simply provide your customers – whether in digital or any other channel – the ability to choose if they want to tell you something and what they want to tell you. No games, no ulterior motives, just listen. Jon Snow is like an open book. He’s not complicated yet he achieves great things.

What about the future?

GoT has captured public emotion like few TV shows are able to. There are so many theories and counter theories of future storylines that I wouldn’t like to predict what happens next. All I know is I can’t wait to see what happens in the final season. But it looks like I’m going to have to…until 2019 if rumors of the screening date are to be believed.

I have a little more clarity on the future of CX. Maybe a new measurement will become popular that claims to solve all your CX problems. Developments this specific in nature are difficult to predict.

One thing I do know is this (and it’s something my grandfather first told me many years ago): “You have two ears and one mouth, God did this for a reason”.

Listening is the key, regardless of the latest fad in the marketplace. No matter how much you want to know about me, 50 questions that you design will never give you the answer of who I am as a consumer.

Instead, take a step back, make it easy for me to talk to you, and then simply listen. You will be amazed at the knowledge you gain.

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