Customer Experience Strategy

When it comes to delivering effective customer experiences, 9 in 10 marketers believe humans are more effective than automation. In this week’s episode, CX expert John Gusiff of Customer Centric Solutions LLC discusses some of the ways in which brands can harness customer experience strategy for growth. John shares his research methodologies and how Design Thinking and Jobs To Be Done frameworks have informed his approach to designing differentiated customer experiences

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS:

John Gusiff: When you think about experience design, it’s much more than the function of design. It’s a way of thinking as an organization, it’s a process, it’s a series of questions, and it typically takes a multi-disciplined capabilities within the organization to execute on it.  It’s a co-creative process.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising. Produce weekly, buy bigger. Hi. Hello. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency. We’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. Existing and potential customers interact with organizations through a variety of different channels, departments, and processes, making the customer experience, particularly challenging for marketers to manage. Forty-two percent of the marketing professionals surveyed by Ascend2, a research-based marketing firm, reported struggling to find adequate time and resources to improve their company’s customer experience. And according to the study, published in April of this year, nearly two-thirds of marketing professionals, 65 percent believe that ineffective design of customer experiences directly impacts that organization’s bottom line by creating missed opportunities for revenue while 31 percent of respondents believe it contributes to customer churn. When it comes to meeting customer expectations, 89 percent of marketers ranked human interactions as more effective than automated experiences. To discuss customer experience, or CX for short, our guest today is John Gusiff, the Chief Experience Officer at Customer Centric Solutions, LLC. John founded the company in 2002, after spending 15 years helping B2C and B2B brands design and implement customer acquisition, engagement, service, and retention strategies. John has worked directly with executives in marketing, sales, product development, customer service, and support functions to help them rethink how they better service their customers and implement the processes, organization, and technology to support it. To talk about CX, John is joining us from his home office in Issaquah in King County, Washington state, about 15 minutes east of Seattle. John, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

John Gusiff: Oh, thank you for having me.

Adrian Tennant: John, how do you define customer experience strategy?

John Gusiff: I like to start by stating what it’s not and what it’s not. It’s not simply UX. It’s not simply customer support. It’s not simply customer success. it’s much more holistic and it encompasses both brand experience and product experience. So I think within that context, it’s everything in every interaction an individual has with a brand across their entire journey.

Adrian Tennant: You’ve written that while design is a function, experience design is a way of thinking. How so?

John Gusiff: When we think about design, we often think about UX designers, creatives, and so forth. We’re often thinking about the function. And yet when you think about experience design, it’s much more than the function of design. It’s a way of thinking as an organization, it’s a process, it’s a series of questions, and it typically takes multi-disciplined capabilities within the organization to execute on it. And so I really like to just kind of champion the fact that it’s a co-creative process and then anyone in an organization can be involved in engaging in it. And everyone has something to add in terms of the value proposition of thinking through experience design. It’s not a document. It’s not simply a desired outcome, it’s a way of accomplishing or moving towards that outcome. And so I think when this goes in the context of strategy, it’s one it’s knowing, first who we’re designing for. That’s probably the most important step. But as well that not only know who you’re designing it for, but who we are. And there are two elements of that in that, there is no one-size-fits-all customer strategy across industries or across companies. And the starting place has to really be both your business model, as well as your brand type. So if I were to talk about two very aspirational brands in terms of an Apple or a FedEx, you wouldn’t expect common experience strategies from those two companies, right? And partly that’s because their business models are very different. FedEx is all about operational excellence. And so that’s more about consistency and repeatability, and delivery of that on a consistent basis.  It’s not about providing you options as consumers. It’s simply saying, “This is how we work. When you choose this delivery type, you should expect this.” Versus an Apple, which is all about product innovation. So you wouldn’t expect two companies to arrive at the same essence of what a customer strategy is just based upon their business model. I think the other thing is to recognize that not all brands are equal and all brands have what you might classify as a type. And so there can be disruptive brands. There could be service brands. There could be value-based brands. And there could be performance-based brands. And so when you start to think about customer strategy, I think first and foremost, you start with who you are as a business. What business are you in? As well as what your brand type is because your brand type and your positioning reflect what your brand promise is, which reflects how you go about executing your strategy.

Adrian Tennant: Customer experiences are typically designed to be easy, effective, and enjoyable. You’ve developed four key questions that help design such experiences. What is? What if? What wows? And what works? So, John, why are these four questions so useful in a customer experience context?

John Gusiff: So one is the sequence in what you ask them and the first question, by design, is what is? and it’s because your starting point should always be a problem statement. It should always be problem definition and understanding what you’re solving for and what you’re trying to improve. So I think that’s the most important foundational problem because it’s really assessing like, what’s the state today? Like, what do we do well? Where do we have opportunities to improve? What’s the perception of the brand? What’s the perception of the experience we deliver? And so that effect kind of defines where you have your gap assessment, right? Where you have opportunities to deliver new or differentiated experiences. Don’t start to jump into solving something before you’re clear on what you’re trying to solve for. The second question, What if? is really getting you to kind of think beyond what you’re even capable of today, right? And to really kind of envision what that ideal state would be. So, whereas what is? focused on current state, what if? is focused on the desired state or that end future outcome that you’re trying to accomplish. What wows? implies that you need to test out your concepts, right? So you envision new ways of delivering improved service or delivering new products or offerings, but you need to test them. And so what wows? implies that you need some way of getting customer feedback. So through storyboarding, through prototyping, through different mechanisms, and then finally what works? At the end of the day, you need to operationalize something. It has to be feasible as a business. It has to be technically feasible. It has to be sustainable over time. And so going through that process or sequence of questions helps you both envision broad and grand things, but as well, envision things that you could actually operationally execute

Adrian Tennant: What are some of the services that you provide to your clients?

John Gusiff: At the core, I’m trying to help my clients better understand their customers. Understand how to differentiate their brands through experience. And then third, operationalizes those experiences. so depending upon the starting point, that could be focused on a particular mini journey within our overall customer experience, or could be the broad-based customer journey. It could start with even defining who the customer is, who is that targeted customer, who we tried to serve better? Is that an existing customer base, is that a new customer base? So it spans all aspects of both, you know, defining who the customer is, how to better serve them. Typically within the context of the customer journey and leveraging different forms of consumer insights, research to inform how you go about that delivery.

Adrian Tennant: John, you have experience working across a broad range of categories, including retail travel and hospitality, healthcare, consumer packaged goods, and entertainment. It’s quite a diverse portfolio. What’s the common thread here?

John Gusiff: The common thread is one, oftentimes it’s the same customer who buys an automobile who purchases insurance, who hires a financial advisor, and so forth. And so while the context is different, the service offerings are different, it’s important to understand that they have other brand experiences and they bring those with them as they interact with different companies and brands. And so that same customer who buys through Amazon is purchasing services through you. And with that, they have a set of expectations of what good and bad experiences are. And it’s important to understand that they answer that – the experience – with those expectations.

Adrian Tennant: Listeners will likely be familiar with the concept of audience and customer segmentation derived from first-party transaction data and quantitative survey data. But you’ve written about using customer motivation and values in segmentation instead. Could you tell us more about that?

John Gusiff: Audiences are typically viewed in terms of who we’re trying to reach, that could be geographically, that could be demographically, it could be psychographically. But it’s really who we’re trying to reach in terms of creating awareness around the brand, differentiating our brands and services, and so forth. The thing that audience segmentation doesn’t provide you with is it doesn’t help you assess what your connection is to those customers, right? And so I think the distinction between how you think about audience segmentation in terms of who you should message or reach out to and communicate to, it’s very different from segmenting in terms of connection, in terms of understanding the motivations behind why people are searching for a product or service like yours. And as well as for the customers you’re already serving, what that brand connection is. You can seek out other customers like them who appreciate the same value proposition or the same products or services that they do. When you think about customer motivation, customer motivation is focused on the why, right? And so depending upon the industry sector, whether it’s, you know, small group travel as an example. The context behind motivation is around why they travel. And specifically why they travel in a group context. The motivations could be around the safety of traveling with others, The motivation could be around sharing experiences with someone, others. The why could be around connecting with others in a travel experience and having memorable experiences. And so that context of segmentation kind of helps drive why people are traveling, which guides what experience you’re trying to deliver as part of that travel experience. If you’re an extend that to kind of our retail scenario, If you’re trying to serve a customer from a standpoint of an athleticwear product or so forth, you’re wanting to understand the context of how they sweat. What level of activity they’re seeking to perform. You know, do they work out from a casual context? Or are they a  performance athlete? And so how do you tailor experiences to different people within that spectrum? I think the other thing that is beyond motivation, kind of the why, is what the value proposition of a brand is. And recognizing that there are different types of value propositions. There can be, kind of more functional elements of a value proposition in terms of how we simplify things, how we help people save time, how we help people reduce risk, how we connect people with other people, the quality of the product or service we offer and so forth. And so those could be elements of value that drive the connection from a functional context to a brand. But there are also emotional aspects of what that connection is, right? It could be the badge value of being associated with a given brand. It could be the access that being associated with that brand provides you. It could be a nostalgic experience related to that brand. And so the brands that deliver holistically around experience and holistically around connection are delivering not only functional connection but also emotional connections to the brand.

Adrian Tennant: We’re proponents of customer personas here at Bigeye. What are some of the ways that you typically create the data on which to base your personas?

John Gusiff: I like to lean heavily on qualitative research in crafting personas. I do it within the context of what I would call a Jobs To Be Done interview, and part of the jobs to be done context is understanding motivation, is understanding what can be referred to as kind of a struggling moment. The concept of a struggling moment is this idea that there’s some pain point in terms of what people are trying to achieve and what they’re unable to achieve and kind of their current state, versus an ideal or an appeal towards a different way of doing things. And so starting to understand for different customers, what that struggling moment might be. An example would be I did some work for a smart home company that designs and manufactures smart thermostats. And when you start to think about the struggling moment for the smart thermostat buyer, it differs across the consumers. That struggling moment could be waking up in the middle of the night and having to change the temperature. So their struggling moment, their motivation, their why for wanting a smart thermostat is to sleep better. The struggling moment for a different consumer could be that bill at the end of the month, just seems to ratchet up at, up and up, you know, throughout the winter. And so they’re struggling moment is having better control over their environment. and so both purchasers of smart thermostats, but for different motivational reasons. And all having different desires in terms of what they’re looking for, the product, and service. In addition, within that context, some could be looking for a smart thermostat to simplify their lives, more of a “set it, forget it.” And others could be looking for a smart thermostat to more deeply managing and control their lives, right? And so two different expectations around the same product within two different contexts of a consumer experience. And so I think one of the things that’s critical from a standpoint of leveraging insights research to inform personas is that it’s structured in a way to contextualize kind of that motivation, that struggling moment, as well as the framework of those interviews needs to be around the journey. You’re literally asking people to tell their stories. You’re saying, “take me back to what that struggling moment is. Talk me through why that was such an important struggling moment. Why that triggered you to start searching for a product or service to solve that, what products or services had you tried in the past, what worked or didn’t work?” We often think about that in terms of the context of a path to purchase. I like to think about it within the context of first thought. What’s that first thought that said, “Hey, there’s a product or service out there that may help me do this better than what I’m trying today.” The next stage, I think, is kind of that passively looking where we’re not spending a lot of time and energy, but we’re observing, we’re seeing products, whether it’s through advertising, whether they’re talking with friends, whether observing, you know, something in a store, we’re starting to observe potential solutions for the problems we have. And then there’s the next stage of actively looking. And so I think whether the context of design and designing for experiences, we’re trying to understand that level or that transition from first thought, to passively looking, to actively looking, to deciding, to then consuming, and capturing the context around each of those experiences. Because cross-functionally, whether we’re a marketing brand, product development, service, and support, we all play a role in terms of engineering experiences across that spectrum of the journey. 

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Sandra Marshall: I’m Sandra Marshall, VP of Client Services at Bigeye. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as advertising professionals. At Bigeye, we always put audiences first. For every engagement, we’re committed not just to understanding our clients’ business challenges, but also learning about their prospects and customers’ attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. These insights inform our strategy and collectively inspire the account, creative, media, and analytics teams working on our clients’ projects. If you’d like to put Bigeye’s audience-focused consumer insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email Bigeye. Reaching the Right People, in the Right Place, at the Right Time.

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Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with John Gusiff, the founder and Chief Experience Officer of Customer Centric Solutions. So John, I’m curious, what first brought design thinking to your attention?

John Gusiff: So my introduction to design thinking was actually through a book written by Clay Christensen, and the book was titled Competing Against Luck. And the core concepts that I got out of that book was this idea of disruptive innovation and the context that rather than innovation coming through technology itself, that true disruptive innovation always started with the customer. So Clay Christensen actually introduced the concept of job theory and this concept that customers have jobs, and jobs are a way of making progress in our lives. And then it’s really products and services that simply help us accomplish those jobs. And so one of the things he’s famous for is this idea of that we don’t hire a hammer because we want a hole in the wall. We hire a hammer ‘cause we want to put a picture on the wall. And so we always have to think through what we’re seeking to accomplish. That’s the context for why we hire different products or services. and he uses that “hire” word specifically. Because the concept he has is that you hire something to accomplish the job. And it’s important to note when you hire one product or service, you’re oftentimes firing another product or service. And it’s important to also understand what you’re firing. And I think that’s an important element of consumer insights research as well is to not only understand why people hire your product or service but what they’re firing in the process of doing that.

Adrian Tennant: So, John, in what kinds of ways do you typically apply design thinking to your work?

John Gusiff: I leverage that framework of the four questions and within those questions are a series of workshops or activities or processes that I’m trying to apply. So for each of those questions, if it’s what is? the typical artifacts or processes I use are around doing jobs to be done in interviews, to inform customer personas, and having those personas be motivation value and job-based. Understanding who they are, what motivates them, what they see as value in terms of the relationship with the company, as well as what jobs are they trying to accomplish. And then journey mapping and journeys are a platform, right? The whole purpose of a journey is to create context and context is always important when you think about experiences because experiences always happened within a context. And so we often get caught up in the concept of a journey when all it is, is a way of applying context to an experience and knowing where they are. Are they first discovering the brand? Are they in a consideration stage? Are they purchasing in a retail store? Are they purchasing online? Are they using the product? And so the journey just helped phrase the context for evaluating experiences. so those are the artifacts or tools I like to use within the context of answering that what is? question. as you move to the what if? where you’re starting to envision future experiences. I like to use many of the methods and principles that are involved in, what would people understand to be like the design, sprint, design sprints, were created by a guy by the name of Jake Knapp. Design sprints was the process that Google Ventures used for any of the acquisitions they made and the startups they funded as a way of helping their product development teams envision what their product offering would be and what the value propositions would be with that. And so when you’re in that what if? stage, it’s all about ideation. And so having different methods to do ideation to conceptualize experiences, To have a broad array, right? In design thinking, talk about divergent and convergent. And so you’re always trying to generate as many ideas as possible, in that ideation stage to then narrow in on the best ideas. So methods that I use within that are things like lightning demos. Lightning demos are a simple way of just gaining inspiration for what other brands and companies are doing and how they might apply to you. And then sketching. And sketching is simply just the lowest fidelity method of prototyping concepts and getting thoughts to the page. And it becomes a really powerful way to kind of get a bunch of ideas to paper, to work through as a group. When you move to the what wows? stage, you know, now you’re starting to envision or design the experiences. So you’re using things like storyboarding, you’re using prototypes, you’re trying to get user feedback. So you’re trying to create something that at least conceptualizes it. Put it in front of customers. Get feedback from customers. And then when you move to that what works? phase, you’re starting to blueprint. And so I’m using many of the techniques of people in service design, where you’re thinking about the layers of the experience, the customer interaction layer, the onstage aspect of the experience, the backstage aspects of the experience, the technologies or processes behind it. and there you’re really trying to figure out how do you operationalize it. What will it take to operationalize it? What do you need to do for a pilot? What you needed to sustain the solution over time. So really just within the context of those four questions, different tools, methods, and techniques driving from problem to ideation, to prototyping and testing to then operationalizing.

Adrian Tennant: You’ve worked with a very well-known athleisure company. You can tell us more about that?

John Gusiff: Yeah, so one thing in retail, right? Is everyone’s at a different starting point, your starting point could be that you sell your product through stores and they move online, or you sell your product online and you’re looking to launch to stores. Or you sell your product online and you’re looking to offer it within another brand store. And so, much of the work I’ve done from in the retail space has really been driving towards what an omnichannel strategy should be. but the starting point often differs. So one of the brands I worked with within the athleisure space, had a very strong store experience but had a very, early-stage online experience. And so the work we did there, it was really oriented around kind of, how do you take the things you do well in the store environment and recreate those in the digital or online environment? And so if you’re good at product education in the store environment, through your store associates, how do you become good at product education in an online environment? If you’re good at merchandising in a store experience, how do you become better at merchandising in the online experience? if you’re good at building community in the store experience, how do you translate to that building community in a digital experience? Leveraging the strengths of one channel and try to create similar experiences on another channel. At the same time, that company was trying to move from simply a product offering for women to a product offering for men. And so then you’re really having to really reevaluate. What is that experience that’s been tailored to serve one customer base and support a new, different customer base? And so, what is awareness of the brand to the men segment? Is that a positive awareness or a negative awareness? What does the discovery of that brand look like? When they walk into a store, does it feel like it’s their store or not? If they go to the website based upon the imagery and the presentation and so forth, do they feel like it’s their online store? And so reassessing what’s already there in terms of existing experiences, but just through the lens of a new consumer or a new targeted segment and so forth, and then rethinking, what does it take to transition those experiences to better serve a different customer? And all of that is beyond the product, right? You’re still making a great product. It’s just the experiences now need to be tailored in a different way, to a new customer base.

Adrian Tennant: John, I know you also worked with a home technology company, delivering insights that informed their new product development. Since we’ve all been spending much more time in our homes over the past year, that seems like an especially relevant topic. What were the parameters of that assignment?

John Gusiff: So probably most of you have come across companies like Homeadvisor, Handyman, Porch, Angie’s List, et cetera. And so all of those companies are really trying to serve homeowner needs in one shape or form. So the engagement I was involved in was really taking a step back and thinking through kind of what is that homeowner’s journey? From buying a home, going through the inspection process, to planning, to move in, to moving in, to purchasing their first appliances, to maintaining that home over time, to make improvements, and so forth because that broader kind of journey of homeownership understanding that holistically and collectively provided the lens with which to think through what could the various service offerings be to that individual. Was there an opportunity post-inspection, to help them address some of the items that were part of that inspection process in terms of feature improvement to the home or maintenance and so forth when they moved in? Was there an opportunity to help them in transitioning their utilities, or getting their internet set up, or redoing their home insurance on behalf? So was there a broader offering that could be brought to bear the beyond just simple kind of handyman services? That we know most of those provide in terms of connecting an individual with the handyman to do a specific project and so forth. But really looking at that total entire ecosystem of homeownership and what are the opportunities to improve that service based upon different homeowner needs? Recognizing that some homeowners are more do-it-yourself-ers and others are seeking advice. And the leveraging of other offerings to kind of make those improvements.

Adrian Tennant: Customer data platforms, or CDPs for short, have emerged in the past few years, enabling omnichannel brand marketers to see how customers interact with the brand on every platform. Today’s path to purchase can involve different channels with customers moving quickly between them. John, do you see CDPs as an opportunity for the experience designer?

John Gusiff: I definitely see CDPs as an opportunity for the experience designer. And the most fundamental opportunity is one, a CDP allows you to build, a greater kind of more 360-degree view of who your customers are, how they interact with you as a brand, in what channels they interact with you as a brand, and what that sequence of interactions is. And so for many companies, most of our marketing communications are very siloed, right? We have a set of marketing communications around advertising. We have a set of marketing communications around social media. We have a set of marketing communications via email. And so for someone to really think about kind of orchestrating experiences, or orchestrating journeys, you need to execute that strategy through a platform that can help you do that orchestration. So CDPs have started to move beyond just simply the collection of data around the consumer, but also the ability to execute different campaigns across channels in a more strategic and orchestrated way. So I think for anyone to try to design experiences specifically in an omnichannel context, having a platform that can enable that is a really critical component of your underlying technology infrastructure.

Adrian Tennant: John, if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about you or your firm, Customer Centric Solutions, where can they find you?

John Gusiff: My website is I’m also active on LinkedIn as John Gusiff – easy to find, there are very few John Gusiffs in this world- where I tend to do most of my blogging and posting in addition to my website.

Adrian Tennant: John, thank you very much for being our guest this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS.

John Gusiff: Thank you for having me.

Adrian Tennant: Coming up next time on IN CLEAR FOCUS:

Liz Mazzei: We began by defining the value proposition and target clientele for the company. I used transaction data, looked at testimonials and even the client service inquiries we received to understand that voice of the customer and what their real needs were.

Adrian Tennant: That’s Liz Mazzei, Director of Marketing for the direct-to-consumer organic meal and detox program brand, Provenance, next week on IN CLEAR FOCUS. Thanks to my guest this week, John Gusiff, the founder and Chief Experience Officer of Customer Centric Solutions. You’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked “Podcast”. And if you’d like to ask about something you heard, have suggestions for a guest, or a topic you’d like us to cover, please email us at We’d love to hear from you. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

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