Clued In

“The tangible attributes of a product or service have far less influence on consumer preference than the unconscious sensory and emotional elements derived from the total experience.” 

-Lou Carbone

Lou Carbone has been a leader in the field of experience management for decades. He first started writing about the importance of clues for building experience management systems in 1994, when he co-authored an article with Steve Haeckel, then the chair of the Marketing Science Institute and later the author of The Adaptive Enterprise. In their earlier article together, they introduced the concept of clues as the fundamental building blocks of experiences, regardless of whether the clues are the result of an experience design effort or not. Lou later wrote Clued In to share a holistic and rigorous approach to spotting and managing clues, while raising the clue consciousness of your organization to create a more customer-driven culture and capabilities for continuous improvement.

In his book, Lou introduces a powerful vocabulary that can be used to elevate your customer insights efforts and to engage your organization at multiple levels (i.e., leadership, managers, and frontline employees). To start, he introduces the distinction between functional clues, which are how people evaluate the specific features of your products and services in more rational terms, and mechanic and humanic clues, which have more influence over your customers’ emotions and unconscious feelings about themselves as they interact with your brand. Mechanic clues are ways of describing your customers’ sensory experiences and how this makes them feel, such as the sights, sounds and smells when they walk into and through your store, or the taste of samples that you provide to them. Humanic clues relate to how customers feel interacting with other people during their customer journey, whether your employees or other customers. Your ability to change a premium for your brand and to encourage brand advocacy among your most loyal customers is much more influenced by mechanic and humanic clues than functional clues.

Beyond providing a way to describe clues, Lou also introduces the concepts of an “emotional motif” and the “brand canyon.” An emotional motif is the few words that best describe what customers feel about themselves and the emotions you want to reinforce across the moments that matter in the customer journey, which is not to be confused with how they feel about your brand (note that you can also create a complementary emotional motif for your employees). While a brand is influenced by the cumulative set of experiences a customer has with you over the journey, your brand is typically described in terms of how customers feel about the brand rather than how they feel about themselves interacting with the brand. This is a very important nuance. The brand canyon is the gap between what customers feel during the customer journey and the brand promise. The clues you gather along the customer journey allow you to assess the congruence of the customer experience with the brand promise, i.e., how big is the brand canyon.

Lou’s approach to experience management also highlights the benefits of focusing on driving a stronger emotional connection over reducing costs associated with a negative customer experience. It’s not enough to appreciate that cutting costs in ways that impact the customer experience can have significant, unintended consequences. It’s also important to get beyond merely focusing on closed loop feedback to reduce pain points on the customer journey, to also systematically building insights and designing experiences that deliver on your emotional motif. This delivers far more enterprise value than cost reduction alone. Lou helps companies to reframe value creation from short term opportunities in areas such as pricing, promotions, store design, or launching an ecommerce site, to a broader value equation tied to how we want customers to feel about themselves along the customer journey. This also allows you to connect your customer experience strategy more strongly to your brand strategy, building deeper insights into your customers' unconscious thoughts and feelings.

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