The CX Circle: Insights from Sensemaking

CX Circle

For our next installment of the CX Circle Book Club, our team read Sensemaking: The Power of the Humanities in the Age of the Algorithm by Christian Madsbjerg. While the book was only published this year, the points that are made present a new way to look at issues that has been occupying debates around education, thinking, and our greater society in general for many years. Read on to see what the TCFCR team thought about the book and how it influences the way we think about customer experience research.

Our favorite key takeaways from Sensemaking:
• Humans help technology make better decisions – “Algorithms can do many things, but they will never actually give a damn” (2017, p. 211). Algorithms, automation, and technology is all well and good, but without humans and the human element to technology, business, finance, etc. you will ALWAYS be lacking the ability to think critically, consider emotions, and make a rationalized and informed decision.
• To understand people, you need to study them from their lens (not yours) – In order to make business decisions, you have to consider the end user or customer. “You must do what they do and see what they see. But even that is not enough. If you really want to understand something about a culture, the trick is to see its ghosts–its artistic heritage, its history, its customers” (2017, p.18). Companies often develop new products based on their own ideas and some research, but miss out on connecting with their end user and truly understanding their pain points and needs.
• Big data is great, but it’s not the entire picture – Big data is a buzzword that everyone likes to talk about. We use it to make “better” and faster business decisions, but it misses one key element: the why. “Big data concerns itself with correlation, not causation” (2017, p. 29). Unless we look at the reasons behind the numbers, the data itself can be worthless. Knowing that 20% of your customers are dissatisfied with your service isn’t helpful unless you know why and how you can improve.
Context is everything – In order to understand each other, you need to understand the context of where people are coming from. This supports all of the points above (and throughout the book). “We are not individuals; what we say often has very little bearing on our actual behavior. We are, all of us, situated in a context” (2017, p. 49). The more we understand the context of people’s words and actions, the more we can serve them in the way they need. All of the big data and AI in the world cannot replace the humans that explore the context.

The book draws forth many arguments that I recently spent years learning, writing, and talking about during my undergraduate education at a public liberal arts college. There is a huge debate going on in not only education, but in terms of thinking and society at large over the benefits of a liberal arts education and what it provides an individual over a more specialized education in a certain field or discipline. Having a liberal arts education, which prioritizes the humanities (i.e. Literature, Philosophy, Social Sciences, Art, History, etc.) on the same level as more “hard” or disciplined areas of study (i.e. Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Engineering, etc.) enables students to look beyond the simple 1’s and 0’s in an algorithm and think critically about what those numbers represent, how they got there, what they mean individually, and what they mean as they come together to form a whole. It is this thought that underlies many of the points that Madsbjerg makes throughout his book, that no matter how intelligent we make artificial intelligence, and no matter how much we begin relying on automated data processes…no program will ever be able to look at data, think critically about it, and make an informed decision in the way that they human mind can.

One of the most interesting and compelling pieces that Madsbjerg highlights in this book is his third principle of sensemaking: The Savannah–Not the Zoo. To sum up this principle in the simplest way, the author is arguing that you will learn more about anything whether it is a certain species of animal, human behavior, or some other phenomenon by studying it/them in its/their natural habitat (the savannah) than by studying it/them in a controlled environment (the zoo). This is one point from the book that I think really lends itself to thinking about the customer experience world. Most of the research done in customer experience is conducted by bringing the customer to you and studying them using a manufactured tool such as a survey or some sort of feedback forum. While this information is useful to some degree, it is not studying the customer in their natural habitat and therefore not providing the most accurate information which is what companies should be seeking. In order to get the most reliable and honest information from customers, we need to rethink research and reshape it to better fit their natural experiences. Instead of performing a focus group panel where consumers are brought into a brand’s offices to participate, companies should invest in more in-field research where researchers tag along while consumers are engaging in services or shopping for particular products. This way, we are able to gain more real-time data on what goes through a shopper’s mind when they are in-store and thinking about making a purchase or investing in a service. This entire idea boils down to one bottom line: customer experience research is about the customer and rather than shaping the research to best suit the needs of the business, companies that truly care about their customers and who want to improve CX should adapt their research to fit the needs and desires of the customer.

In the end, Madsbjerg’s Sensemaking proved to be an engaging and insightful read for the TCFCR team as it allowed us to recognize a more nuanced approach to data and analysis. Be sure to follow us on Twitter @TCFCR and Like us on Facebook to stay in the loop regarding our next book choice for CX Circle in December. If you have a book you’d like us to choose, reach out and let us know!

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