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How Customer Retention Requires Systems, a 360-degree Customer View, and the Jobs-to-Be-Done Theory [Podcast Recap]

A few weeks ago, I sat down with my friend Rick Denton to record an episode of his podcast, CX Passport. In this episode, we talked about travel (of course) and how customer experience comes down to understanding why customers hire (or fire) your product given other available alternatives.

Check out the full episode linked below, or keep reading for some of the highlights from our conversation. 

Travel is a magic worker, helping us gain new perspectives and shed preconceived notions about different people and places. As a whole, I’ve found that it makes us better people, informing the way we think and interact in our daily lives. 

From personal experience, I can also safely say that our experience with travel also translates to how we make decisions in business. 

These days we have access to so much data, but that data does nothing for us unless we know how to contextualize it. Like the people we come across when we visit new places, every customer leads a complex life, one that can’t be summed up with a single number. 

Assumptions are present just as much in business as they are in travel, and time and time again they are proved wrong. Today I want to talk about that: how retention relates to the entire customer lifecycle, how systems can’t be separated from one another and how the Jobs-to-Be-Done theory can unlock new ways of thinking about the customer experience.

The 360-degree Customer Experience

So what’s the problem with too much data, you may ask?

Well, the problem is not necessarily with the data, but the fact that many companies consider it the entirety of what they need to know about their customers. Data can be powerful, but it often makes us feel like we know more than we do. In reality, it can lead to huge gaps in our understanding of the customer experience if we don’t qualify it with additional information. 

Retention and the Customer Lifecycle

Problems originating from a company’s understanding of its customers usually lead to low retention rates. As high retention is a major signifier of a company’s longevity and overall success, it’s important to get right. 

As it is, many companies see retention as a problem for one department to solve, commonly hiring a sole retention team to figure it all out. To me, this is a fatal mistake, because it assumes that retention isn’t related to the entirety of the company. Hiring one team to address a problem that likely resides within every aspect of the company is misguided, to say the least. 

Bottom line: improving retention means doing more than simply putting a bandaid on the wound, it requires sustained effort to identify and fix the underlying problem. 

It’s All About Systems: Go Beyond the Score

The thing to keep in mind here is that everything is part of a system, and systems cannot be disentangled from one another. To get that full, 360-degree-view of a customer, you have to link all systems together.

When a customer purchases a product, they essentially interact with each team that makes up your company. They interact with your marketing team, your sales team, your product, and your customer support. Each facet is inseparable from the other, and together they weave the overall customer experience. 

Like I said earlier, having too much data is a common issue for companies today. They’re buried in numbers but unsure of how to extract the why from them; the reasoning behind the customer choice. And whether there be a drop-off in subscriptions or a huge boost in sales, the company’s ability to take action to respond to the needs of their customers is limited if they don’t understand the qualitative context that led their customers to their decision.

Jobs-to-Be-Done: Getting Inside the Problem

As a consumer, when you think about your split-second decision to either use Facebook or watch Netflix, was it solving a specific problem? It probably was, whether that problem was boredom, loneliness, or curiosity. 

A theory developed by Clayton Christenson called Jobs-to-Be-Done is based on the idea that as a consumer, you are solving a problem with every decision you make. This theory illuminates a new way of conceptualizing customer choices, helping companies understand how they might get inside of the problem their customers are looking to solve. The basis of this theory is to think of customers as hiring a product rather than purchasing it. 

For example, if I’m bored, I might ‘hire’ Netflix, or I might ‘hire’ Facebook for a couple of hours. In this case, the problem I’m working to solve is my emotional state of boredom. Through this lens, companies we might not imagine as competitors become competing alternatives for my attention and money. 

Thinking of the customer as hiring their product instead of just buying it flips the script, providing companies with a new lens to approach innovative solutions.

Context Matters: Milkshake Mayhem

An interesting example Clayton references is that of hiring a milkshake. 

As the story goes, a fast-food chain noticed that the majority of their customers were buying milkshakes before nine in the morning. They dug into the reasoning behind this, finding that their customers enjoyed picking up a milkshake for their morning commute to work as it helped alleviate the boredom and hunger on the drive. 

Discovering this was a huge unlock, opening up a whole new set of potential innovations for the company, all involving ways to make the morning milkshake pickup more convenient for those hurrying off to work. 

Without the pairing of quantitative and qualitative data, this particular fast-food chain would never have discovered the reasoning behind why their customers were buying morning milkshakes in droves. They wouldn’t have had the opportunity to innovate because they wouldn’t have understood the context behind the customer’s choice. 

Bringing It Home

In my work with companies, I try to highlight the necessity of thinking of the customer experience as one that inhabits the whole of the person and the whole of the company. Systems are inextricable from one another, and balancing qualitative data with quantitative is vital to paint a full picture of your customer’s experience. 

All in all, just how travel prepares you for the unexpected and imbues you with a sense of curiosity, so should business. Always approach it with innovation, my friends.