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Customer Experience: Art or Science?

Updated: Dec 10, 2019

💥 What fires you up about customer experience?? 💥

Could it be CX’s huge potential to impact the bottom line, using proven strategies to help retain customers, encourage them to stay loyal and ultimately, ensure continued business success?

Or is it the opportunity to help people, make the world a little better, and step into the shoes of others to see the world through their eyes that really gets you going?

Whatever drew you to CX, it’s undeniable that it sits in a unique place in organizational landscapes - drawing on both principles from the arts and the sciences, it’s a fantastically well-rounded discipline which attracts a wide range of professionals for different reasons.

But the warm fuzziness of emotional, artistic CX doesn’t often make for a perfect pairing with the data-driven business science principles that the field also encompasses. Proponents of the arts and sciences have long debated the merits of each discipline, arguing that one discipline trumps the other, and the art and science of CX is no exception.

So here at CX Accelerator, we thought we’d debate the merits of the arts, and the science of CX. Which discipline is most vital? Which aspects of one wouldn’t exist without the other? We’ve brought on board CX Accelerator co-founder Nate Brown, and community organizer Kaye Chapman, to debate each side.


Why are the sciences so important to CX?

Kaye: While heart-driven, artistic customer experiences are at the core of what makes for great CX, it wouldn’t work at all without the techniques and methods which provide frameworks for success.

Science-driven CX has data at its core and provides real, irrefutable direction for businesses looking to improve what they do. It’s only by placing artistic processes within methodologies, and backing them by hard research, that CX moves from being an indefinable, fuzzy field to something which businesses can grow competitive advantage from.

Why are the arts so important to CX?

Nate: Customer Experience is clearly an artistic pursuit. I only passed biology in high school by the skin of my teeth, and yet I love CX. Why? Because it’s a tapestry of human emotions. Let’s look at the very definition of Customer Experience:

“How customers perceive their interactions with your company” (Forrester)

The key word is perceive. Our perceptions are based upon feelings. You could have the best textbook CX design ever created… every process was followed, and every box was checked… and yet the customer can still leave feeling undervalued.

It’s the application of human creativity and imagination (aka art) that makes for wonderful Customer Experiences. Consider greatest CX designers of our time….Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos… these individuals are artists by nature!

I will concede that while a foundation of scientific principles can be helpful, the core of Customer Experience is one of art. 😁

Rebuttal, CX as a scientific pursuit

Kaye: Interesting! While I agree that feeling is at the heart of what CX is today and that great CX is delivered mostly through the skills of highly emotionally intelligent people, I do wonder if science can go one better in helping us better understand exactly how that works.

Look at what Netflix is doing at the moment. Forbes wrote recently that their success is the result of data, analytics, and machine learning used to design content that people really want to watch. That’s a decidedly scientific endeavor designed to give people more of the fuzzy feelings that art is supposed to do - but with a whole lot less trial and error, and resulting in objective information that can be learned from and replicated.

That’s where I can see the scientific side of CX becoming even more important in the future - by using AI to refine the processes that CX practitioners are doing today based on trial and error, personal experience, and innate know-how. If Netflix can use machine learning to identify more than 76,000 genre types to better fit the tastes of its users, CX could also benefit from using objective science to help take the guesswork out of what it takes to keep a particular type of customer loyal and happy!

Rebuttal, CX as an artistic pursuit

Nate: Well played Kaye Chapman, well played. I had not anticipated the “AI” ace up the sleeve. Certainly, the future of CX will be heavily rooted in machine learning and similar technologies. Still, these sciences are simply a way to better understand the art behind CX - the art of human emotion. Consider “The New Science of Customer Emotions” on HBR. It’s emotionally invested customers who are loyal… as determined by high-impact motivators such as feeling a sense of freedom, a sense of thrill, a sense of belonging, etc.

The science of CX is simply an enabler. A brand can use these tools to understand the complex matrix of human emotions, and to assist in establishing meaningful connections. This is when the real work of CX begins. It’s the beautiful, creative, and personal design that separates CX champions from the noise of mediocre brands.

Kaye: Great point Nate, and I think that’s actually one of the deeper reasons why I’m really passionate about customer experience - the ability to connect meaningfully. I absolutely concede that the great experiences I’ve had as a customer might feel less significant if I didn’t feel they had real care for me at their core, and I’m sure others would feel the same.

As a consumer, I’m very sensitive to the differences between ‘warm’ CX that feels like it has my best interests at heart, delivered by someone who loves their job and who really cares - versus ‘cold’ CX that’s rolled out because it’s process, seen as a good business strategy, and that’s it.

That difference is the uniquely human care that the very best CX is full of! Moments shared between two people where both gain something from the interaction... the ability to make other’s lives a little bit better or even to completely surprise and delight... finding ways to connect with others despite being in totally different environments or even on opposite sides of the world. I believe those little things represent a very big differentiator that sets aside standard good practice CX from CX that really makes an impact. If you’re interested in building unbelievable experiences that customers absolutely have to tell others about, those things are precisely what you should focus on!

I hope that as the CX field advances that organizations recognize the potential in augmenting CX with science and technology while also building the EI capabilities of their people, allowing them to increase capabilities in both the art and science of CX. It’s certainly a mix of the two that will make for well-rounded CX, both now and in the future.



No wonder Customer Experience work is so hard! At the end of the day, both a strong scientific foundation and a dash of artistic flair are required for positive CX results that benefit customers, employees and organizations.

It’s because of this special blend of scientific rigor with emotional intelligence that CX is such an interesting job, held down by special types of leaders. For those leaders, this mix of skills brings some imperatives too:

  • We must be capable of telling compelling stories to inspire, as well as establishing sustainable best practices that can be followed by everyone in an organization.

  • We must be both a cheerleader and a coach, being forthcoming with praise while also recognizing that in delivering great CX, there is always room for improvement.

  • We must care for our customers not just because it results in profit for our businesses, but also because it’s simply the right thing to do.

Just as art and science wouldn’t exist without each other, great CX is about balance too - and our experience is certainly that it’s this balance that makes for top-of-the-class CX, delivered consistently and with heart.

How are you or your organization handling the balance between the art and science of CX? Do you have any tips as to how other leaders can walk this line successfully? Let us know in the CX Accelerator slack community!

Kaye Chapman is Comm100’s Customer Experience & Training Specialist, an internationally-experienced writer and trainer, and an MA student at University College London, the world’s #1 center for Education and Social Science. Kaye has worked with Fortune 500, governmental and private firms across the globe to advance customer service operations and embed leading learning and development strategy. As a specialist in Contact Centers, Kaye is passionate about using technology and training to improve experiences for customers and employees alike. Comm100 Kaye's Blog Kaye's LinkedIn

Nate Brown is the Co-founder of CX Accelerator. While Customer Service is his primary expertise, Nate is able to leverage experience in professional services, marketing, and sales to connect dots and solve the big problems. From authoring and leading a Customer Experience program, to journey mapping, to managing a complex contact center, Nate is always learning new things and sharing with the CX community. Twitter - @CustomerIsFirst LinkedIn - Nate Brown

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