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Sutherland Labs: Getting Under the Skin of Customer Behavior

Minutes away from London’s Covent Garden, housed in a five-storey converted banana warehouse, is Sutherland Customer Experience Labs. This is an independent creative agency with its own P&L, offering customer experience mapping, idea generation and solution testing to Sutherland Global Services. However, three quarters of its business comes from external clients: delivering design and customer experience projects for banks and financial institutions, online and brick & mortar retailers, consumer goods and electronics manufacturers, media and entertainment brands, transport companies, hospitals and governmental agencies.   

The 20-strong team at Sutherland Labs is led by psychologist and anthropologist Owen Daly-Jones, who ran the Serco Experience Lab for 18 years, and the team has an overall average of 14 years’ experience. The team is multi-disciplinary, including researchers, social scientists, UX design experts, typography experts, filmmakers and photographers. They conduct traditional customer journey mapping and user preference analysis with focus groups and ‘voice of the customer’ surveys, but also go beyond conventional marketing techniques with video ethnography, diary studies and persona development.

Customer Experience (CX) labs are becoming a staple for CMS outsourcing vendors. In an attempt to move higher up the value chain and strengthen client relationships, vendors have opened dedicated CX labs to perform industry research, channel analytics, and specific market analysis, including analysis of data relating to customers’ preferences and interactions with brands. Sutherland Labs are not the pioneers in the space, but their approach is different.

For years the CMS industry has been capturing customer opinion through Customer Satisfaction Scores (CSAT) and Net Promoter Scores (NPS). And while the proliferation of social media and the growth of non-voice channels has increased the number of customer interaction points to track, the development of more advanced analytics tools has made the process easier. Every large BPO player provides solutions (either proprietary or via partners) to track all of these customer interactions in order to identify actionable pain points and sales opportunities. Combined with usability tests and post-exposure interviews, or more innovative approaches such as speech analytics and eye tracking, the result is that companies now have a much better understanding of their customers’ behaviour.

However, the fundamental problem of predicting accurately the correlation between declared intentions and customers’ ultimate actions remains. As Daly-Jones explains, while companies have lots of data to tell them what their customers are doing, they still don’t know why customers make the decisions they do. The reasons for this mismatch can be traced to the way people build and retain memories of their interactions with brands, but also to embedded biases and the psychological make-up of the individual.

Sutherland Labs is looking to understand what triggers customer actions, and to explore unspoken behaviors. One of the techniques used to achieve this is to shadow customers in their daily routines, observing them at home, in the workplace, and in public spaces, in order to witness brand usage patterns. Once insights are captured through video documentaries, the researchers present their findings to the creative teams who then generate solutions to specific pain points.

The problems with which Daly-Jones and his team deal are often new, emerging from evolving technologies or changing user behaviors. Also, the issues are not necessarily unique to a specific industry, and brands are more and more willing to learn from best practices outside their own industry.

Examples of problems analyzed from the perspective of behavioral disposition include:

  • Building rapport with  music brand customers over webchat
  • Decreasing agent attrition rate in a Sutherland contact center
  • Increasing response rates to a government healthcare campaign in Australia.

In each case, Sutherland Labs researchers were able to explore unspoken habits, analyzing the context and the detail of each interaction, rather than relying on what customers declare as their satisfaction level with the brand.

With CX consulting capabilities becoming more ingrained in the offerings of BPO providers, Sutherland Customer Experience Labs wants to differentiate itself by providing deeper analysis beyond already captured data. And to deal with the increased demand for such services, Sutherland Labs is opening a second location in San Francisco at the beginning of 2016, and has similar plans for the U.S. East Coast and Asia-Pacific.

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