Chief Content Officer,
Techstrong Group


In this Digital CxO Leadership Insights series video, Mike Vizard talks to Janelle Estes, chief insights officer for UserTesting, about why digital CxOs need to factor inflation into how they manage customer experiences.



Mike Vizard: Hello and welcome to the latest edition of the Digital CxO Leadership Insight series. I’m here today with Janelle Estes, who is chief insights officer for UserTesting, and we’re gonna be talking about inflation. Not everybody’s favorite subject these days. However, it does play a role in customer experience. Janelle, welcome to the show.

Janelle Estes: Thanks for having me, Mike.

Mike Vizard: Connect the dots for us, if you would. So how does inflation impact customer experience and the way people might want to think about how they digitally interact with the end customer?

Janelle Estes: Yeah, absolutely. So I think the bottom line is that customers are people, people with lots of feelings and emotions around what’s happening in the macro economy, and in particular, inflation. So, you know, getting a sense of what is their state of mind at this current point in time? How do they think about you, your company, the goods that you sell, how you engage with them, and what’s important to them when they want to engage with you, when they’re in sort of a state of, let’s just call it what it is. It’s stressful right now. And people have big emotions around this. So making sure you understand what your customers, your target customers, are wanting and needing and expecting from you, and doing your best to deliver against that.

Mike Vizard: And how do I go about doing that? I assume that there’s some testing involved, but am I just putting up different offers and seeing how people react, or am I changing the tenor of the pitch that I’m providing? Or what exactly am I playing with?

Janelle Estes: Yeah, I think it’s all of the above and likely more. I think the most important thing that you can do is really understand the behaviors of your customers, and again, how they sort of feel about the experience. So depending on the industry that you’re in, how are people thinking about travel right now? How are people thinking about gas? How are they thinking about buying groceries for their family every week? What’s most important to them when it comes to making their decisions? And then how can you help facilitate that in a meaningful way? So one of the things that we’ve actually noticed is that customers are obviously very price sensitive at the moment. And so those who might be loyal to particular retailers might be actually now shopping across multiple retailers for the lowest price. And so thinking about what’s your experience, like not just in your own sort of digital property, but what’s it like in other sort of shopping comparison applications, or places where people might be pulling in and aggregating a bunch of data from different places? So you know, again, thinking about behaviors, understanding what those behaviors are, and then sure, absolutely testing different messaging; we have lots of customers right now that are looking at different offers, and how do they serve those up in a way that’s going to be most compelling to people, when they have sort of this external pressure around them? So looking at messaging, looking at pricing models, looking at you know; you even see some companies today that are instead of changing prices are making things smaller, right? And so how do people actually react to that? Usually not so well, to be fair, but I mean, there’s so many different measures and tactics that companies are using today to sort of skirt around inflation, or at least deal with it. And so making sure that you understand, is this actually going to resonate with your customers? Are you going to make them upset? Like, just getting actual feedback from people on your tactics, your ideas, is really key to delivering something that’s going to be successful.

Mike Vizard: Yeah, I guess they’re hoping I won’t notice that cereal box is half full right? What is your sense of why don’t more organizations test more for this stuff? Because there are some that are quite sophisticated. And then there are others that do hardly anything, and they just throw stuff up against the proverbial digital wall. So where does that level of maturity start to kick in?

Janelle Estes: Yeah, it’s a good question. I mean, I think every organization is a little bit different. And in some cases, organizations that are running really fast, I mean, we need the decision made yesterday, right? We need to get this out there today. Oftentimes, people are coming up against this notion that they don’t have time to get this level of feedback, they don’t have time to vet it with customers, because that’s just going to elongate the entire process of, you know, offering a new digital product or changing the pricing or, or what have you. The reality is this stuff can come in pretty quickly. You can do this in hours or even a day and doesn’t really elongate timelines. And so what’s interesting is that most organizations or companies, it’s not like they’re arguing with the value of doing this type of work. Many of them are just stuck with the belief that this is going to be expensive. It’s going to take too long and before we actually get the information we need, it’s going to be weeks or months, and we’re going to miss the boat. And so I think it’s really a mindset shift that happens for the companies that are doing it really well. They figured out a way to integrate it, you know, powered through tech built into their workflows. It’s not something that happens overnight, that’s for sure. But knowing that, you know, it’s not it’s not like it was 20 years ago, where it takes, you know, two months in a focus group renting out a lab in New York City for three days to get what you need. It can happen in a couple hours with tech.

Mike Vizard: Do you think people appreciate how easy it is for customers now to switch from one vendor to another? I mean, you mentioned some people are loyal to vendors. And of course, digitalization has allowed us to reach more customers and touch them in different ways. But on the flip side of that, it seems like the customer can just move from one vendor to another rather easily. And do you think people appreciate that today?

Janelle Estes: Yeah, oh, sure. The customer is absolutely in control. It’s so easy. I mean, there’s so many offerings and products and services that are essentially commoditized. And so really the only way to differentiate and to, you know, ensure that you can capture a more loyal audience is through the experience that you deliver. And I think right now, it’s particularly interesting, because if you’re able to show up in a way that’s meaningful and valuable; I mean, I’ll give you an example. I was just reading, I think it was a financial services firm that was waiving some sort of balance transfer fee. And they were doing it, and the reason that they were doing it, the way they were wrapping up this fee waiver, was due to inflation and hard times, and people being very conscious about every penny that they spend.  You can imagine, in those types of experiences, it might seem like something super small. But that’s perhaps an opportunity to really capture a customer for the long term. Right people remember, right now, people remember the experiences and the companies that alleviate their stress and alleviate their pain. And so while we’re in tight times where people can jump around based on price, we’re also in an opportunity to deliver experiences that really capture an audience and will keep them loyal for the long term, hopefully, even after this real challenging time with inflation has passed.

Mike Vizard: All right. Well, to quote Bill Clinton once upon a time, “I feel your pain” goes a long way and got him elected, right? So is there a way to do that intelligently without making it feel like you’re pandering, though, to folks? Because sometimes I think folks will get turned off if you come on too strong in terms of trying to give them the sense that you understand their pain.

Janelle Estes: Sure. Yeah, I think it’s all about, you know, knowing your audience, depending on who you’re, you know, delivering to, who you’re building experiences for, you will know whether or not your tactics resonate or not, or you should know, before, you should have a sense of if they’re going to work, right? Based on your ability to really empathize and understand who you’re building for. Now, of course, you want to test those messages, right? Like we just talked about, you know, making sure that you know, what, or if you want to offer this thing, how do you message it in a way that resonates most positively with people. There’s so many different ways to sort of, you know, play around and experiment, whether that’s through more automated ways, like, you know, tracking, you know, the sort of engagement through clicks and things like that. But even before you get to that point, you know, throwing three or four options out in front of your customers and saying, you know, which one of these is most compelling? There’s ways to ensure that if you want to deliver these types of, let’s call them benefits, in the current times, there’s a way to make sure that you’re delivering it most effectively in a way that’s going to resonate most positively with your customers. But it all does come back to continually talking to, understanding, empathizing with and being able to build this really strong intuition about what your customers need and want.

Mike Vizard: Does data science play a role in this, and for that matter, AI? Because a lot of times, I think people have a tough time distinguishing between experience and intuition, and what just might be plain indigestion and, you know, their gut tells them one thing, but they’re just having a bad day.

Janelle Estes: Yeah, no, absolutely. Those two things play nicely together. And oftentimes, what you see is something within the data that will make you want to go investigate some more by talking to actual people and talking to humans. And then, of course, when you start to get a better sense of what’s working and what’s not, that’s where you can start to build things into more automated ways. And thinking about ways to deploy through Artificial Intelligence. But the long and short of it is like, you cannot build great experiences, you cannot automate great experiences just by using hard data and where people are clicking. You have to understand the entire picture, 360 degrees of the customer, to build experiences that then you can scale through AI.

Mike Vizard: Do you think that we’re in danger of losing touch with our customers, because everything is behind this digital wall now, and it’s easy to kind of isolate yourself from them, and maybe we need to do more than, to your point, just track clicks?

Janelle Estes: Yeah, it’s already happening, it’s already happened. We’ve already built a wall between us and our customers. And so what is been sort of the cause of that is, you’re right, sort of the introduction of digital experiences. And, you know, we sit on one side of the digital experience, and then our customers sit on the other. The good news is that the problem, the thing that caused the problem, is also the thing that can create a solution. And that’s where, you know, we think about these technology providers that can actually help us reach our customers super quickly, at scale, through technology, right? And so instead of having to, like I mentioned, go to a lab in New York City, and you know, work with a recruiting firm, to bring me 10 of my customers who fit my target profile, and it takes a month to prep for it. I mean, there are platforms now that allow you to just go out there, filter down to who you’re looking to talk to, and then you can connect to them within an hour or two. That’s all powered by tech, by digital. And so that’s what I mean by, sort of the thing that created the problem is actually the thing that can help us, you know, fix the problem.

Mike Vizard: So what’s the challenge in getting people wrapping their heads around this? Why aren’t there more digital CxOs, banging the drum about this, or just getting out and engaging with customers more directly?

Janelle Estes: I honestly think a lot of it is around awareness. I think people don’t really understand or aren’t aware that this type of work can be done very quickly, and very quickly through technology. It’s really funny, you know, we work with lots of different companies in lots of different brands. And sometimes when we get in front of a, you know, Chief Digital Officer or somebody who’s running a company, and we show them one thing that we think is interesting, they immediately start to think of a million other ways that they could be, and should be, getting feedback from their customers. It’s almost like they have this light bulb moment. And that’s my favorite part of my job actually is watching, I can kind of predict when the light bulb moment is going to happen. And then they start to think about, oh, well, the marketing team could be using this, and social media team could be using this, and we definitely need this in e-commerce. And I think back to my sort of point and answer, which is I think there’s just generally a lack of awareness around the ability to do this. I think you can get all the data that you want in the world. I mean, how many data solutions are available to people who are running digital businesses? What’s not available at scale? Or like what’s not, the awareness that’s not there, is around how do you pair that data with the human perspective, with the perspective of your customers as people and human beings, and not just clicks and data.

Mike Vizard: Alright, folks. You heard it here first. It’s all about taking the guesswork out of the digital process. Janelle, thanks for being on the show.

Janelle Estes: Thanks for having me, Michael.

Mike Vizard: All right. Thank you all for watching this latest episode. You can find this one and all our other episodes on the Digital CxO website. We invite you to check them all out. And once again, thank you for spending some time with us.