Shortly After Getting Home For The First Time

Research is Key to Customer Experience — Lessons From My Rottweilers

Eight years ago I decided I needed a dog — and not surprisingly my therapist at the time agreed — although she recommended doing some research. After all I had done the same thing before selecting her — and really, who makes large, complex decisions without investing the time and money to do research the right way? Everyone is after the greatest return possible, so a little investigation was obviously prudent. Common sense almost. And yet, eight years later, I’m still amazed at the inability or reluctance of companies to understand and embrace the importance of customer experience research.

Digital has disrupted and will continue to disrupt nearly every aspect of life and business — much the same (yet on a smaller scale) as adding a dog to my life. Making the necessary investment in strategy and research before embarking on a new digital initiative — one that affects their customers, employees and shareholders — not just me, my family and lifestyle— is just common sense and smart business.

See, my entire life I have loved Rottweilers. In terms of dog breeds they are to me everything a dog should be: loyal, noble, big, goofy, stubborn and beautiful. They also have developed a rather bad reputation over the years and I wanted one I could train to be a therapy dog — to take into cancer wards and children’s hospitals to aid the healing process and help dispell a misplaced fear of the breed. I had a goal in mind — a desired Return on Investment (ROI).

“customers who had the best past experiences spend 140% more compared to those who had the poorest past experience”

— Harvard Business Review; The Value of Customer Experience, Quantified

So I did what seemed like common sense to me (and apparently my therapist) — I invested 12 months of my time investigating, researching and strategizing.

  • Puppy Personas — I read everything I could get my hands on about the breed. I visited every Rottweiler owner I could find to meet their dogs and see how they behaved. I started to create a persona of what this puppy could be, would be as it aged and what impacts different behaviors would have on my lifestyle. Rottweilers are stubborn, high energy when they are young and never seem to stop testing boundaries. My puppy would need me to be strong, consistent and engaged to ensure he had the best life possible- the best experience. All dogs are pack animals, but Rottweilers have a tendency to be singular at times in their attachments. I did not want him to be too attached and over protective of me so I would need to ensure my approach to his training compensated for this. When I felt like I had a complete picture of known behavioral elements of the breed and the corresponding changes I would need to make, I moved onto the next step.
  • Into the Field—Obviously surveys were out so I expanded the reach on my inquiry. I talked to other owners I couldn’t visit, interviewed veterinarians (both those who would and those who wouldn’t treat Rottweilers), flew back-and-forth across the country examining breeders facilities and even tracing and studying genetic lines. I went into the field to challenge my assumptions and validate my thinking.
  • Puppy Paths aka Journey Maps — After about 8 months of this I started creating a journey map for my puppy — from the day it was born through the first two years of life. I charted what the breeder would do in terms of early training and feeding during the first eight weeks before I arrived to pick him up. I sketched what the journey would be like from the breeders, back to the airport, the flight we would take, the drive home. I scheduled the first 12 months of training, vet visits, times for socialization and at each step identified potential friction points and prepared to address them or remove them completely.

Today, Thunder, my German Rottweiler, born in New York and now at home in Colorado, turns seven and there hasn’t been one incident or moment where I felt like I didn’t know what I had gotten myself into. Everyone that meets him comments on how well behaved he is, how well he gets along with other dogs. Why? Because I invested the time and money into the research and leveraged every ounce of that research to ensure both his experience and mine were optimized and frictionless.

Stock prices of companies that invest in (experience) design outperformed the S&P 500 index by 219% between 2004 and 2014…

— Wharton School of Business

Yes, this research required a significant investment in time — over a year. Yes, this search required a significant amount of money. Yes, this research required a great deal of critical analysis of myself, my situation and the impacts this particular dog would have to my life. But it was all worth it because over the past seven years, the experiences we have shared have been amazing. Like the commercial says, “5,000 dollars; a year of time; the experiences with my dog — priceless.”

When I tell this story at cocktail parties or networking events people are slightly shocked at first (either because I didn’t adopt a rescue — for the record, our second dog is a rescue; or because I invested so much time and money before I actually picked up my puppy). Yet within a few moments, you see the understanding dawn on their faces, the light bulb flicker to life.

What confuses me is that in the world of customer experience, of digital, of smart communities and the internet of things, I still run across companies who refuse to understand the value and importance the research phase of every project is to the overall success and return on their investment. Not just doing it right, but then actually applying what they learn.

“Many sophisticated, intelligent people lack wisdom and common sense.”

— Joyce Meyer

I work with companies who are willing to spend millions of dollars developing applications, revamping internal solutions, re-architecting critical delivery systems, investing in new platforms. Companies who will spend millions more on deploying these solutions or marketing them. But these same companies — when you attempt to educate them on the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of a strategic, research-based approach — lose all semblance of vision and understanding and fall back to ‘we already know it all’ or ‘we just need it faster’ or ‘we don’t have the budget so we’ll skip it or we can do it for less.’

At the heart of every experience are people. People who are now in control of what experiences they engage with and which ones they don’t. This has been the case for nearly a decade and will be more the case moving forward. Without understanding the end experience of the people a company is impacting with their digital initiatives, their chances of success plummet and in most cases they might as well light those millions of dollars on fire. Understanding that experience and how to design, develop and deliver a solution that will enhance rather than hamper; engage rather than bore; provide value rather than simply eat battery life requires research.

Perhaps I’ve been in this industry too long and witnessed too many examples of what can happen when clients do the research and the bodies of too many failed attempts when they don’t. Perhaps my definition of common sense is different than others. Perhaps I have a higher expectation of return on investment when I make my buying decisions. (Which is odd since I don’t have a board of directors, shareholders or investors.)

Regardless of why companies refuse to invest the right amount of time and money into a strategic, well-defined and carefully executed research phase is beyond me. But then again, some people adopt Great Danes or Pitbulls or German Shepards without understanding what they are getting into as well. The resulting experiences end up on the nightly news, go viral on social channels and turn into internet memes for all the wrong reasons — creating impressions and experiences no amount of money will correct.

I invested $5,000 in research buying a dog and the return has been, literally, priceless. Why wouldn’t a company developing a solution that could touch thousands of people and generate documentable, Wall Street-ready return invest 100x that? I mean, if I could have done the research on my first marriage in advance, maybe I wouldn’t have needed that therapist.

So before you head down a path that could make you look like a bad dog owner, do everyone a favor and give us a call. Or, if it’s too late, I can pass you my therapist’s number.

Stop by the Universal Mind website and learn more about how you can avoid the mistakes we have seen hamper so many and capitalize on the real return of digital solutions.

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