The Importance Of Actively Affecting Your Customers’ Experiences: David Fish

The Importance Of Actively Affecting Your Customers’ Experiences: David Fish


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About David Fish

Dave Fish is founder and CEO of CuriosityCX: an insights, creative, and customer experience agency. He has spent over 20 years understanding the grey areas of consumer behavior.

Dave has been directly involved in designing and executing Customer Experience initiatives and has extensive supplier and client-side experience in all facets of consumer behavior research. Dave held executive positions at The Engine Group, The Mars Agency, MaritzCX, as well as at JD Power, American Savings Bank and Toyota Motor Sales.

Dave regularly writes and presents on CX topics. His work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Automotive News, CNN, USA Today, Reuters, and CRM Magazine and on numerous television networks. He is a regular contributor to the American Marketing Association and is a featured columnist on CustomerThink. He holds a Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Claremont Graduate University and as Adjunct Professor of Marketing at the Sam M. Walton School of Business at University of Arkansas.

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Mary Drumond: (00:05)
This is Voices of Customer Experience, a podcast where we bring you the very best thought leaders and practitioners of customer experience and its overlapping verticals such as marketing, analytics, behavioral economics, journey mapping and design. Our goal is to help you be better at your job by listening to the experiences and leadership of others who like you have dedicated their careers to improving the dialogue between companies and customers. Voices of Customer Experience Podcast is brought to you by Worthix, the first and only self adaptive survey for measuring customer experience. Discover your worth at

MD: (00:46) Dave Fish is founder and CEO of CuriosityCX, an insights creative and customer experience agency. He has spent over 20 years understanding the gray areas of consumer behavior. Dave regularly writes and presents on CX topics. His work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Automotive News, CNN USA Today, Reuters and CRM magazine. He’s a regular contributor to the American Marketing Association and is a featured columnist on Customer Think. He holds a PhD in Social Psychology from Claremont Graduate University and is Adjunct Professor of Marketing at the Sam M. Walton School of Business at University of Arkansas. 

MD: (01:27)
Welcome back to season three of Voices of Customer Experience. I’m your host, Mary Drumond. Joining me today is James Conrad. 

James Conrad: (01:34)
Hi Mary. Great to be here. 

MD: (01:36)
And we have David Fish. Hi Dave. 

Dave Fish: (01:38)
Hi Mary. Hi James. 

MD: (01:40)
Thanks so much for coming on today. We really appreciate it. For the benefit of our listeners and those who don’t know your work, can you tell them a little bit about yourself, about your background, your education, what you do and how you’re trying to help CX with your work? 

DF: (01:56)
Sure. Yeah. So my story is a kind of a weird one. Like a lot of people in CX, there’s no school of customer experience that one goes to so a meandering path that started in banking and made its way into automotive and actually launching products for a major manufacturer up, Tundra for Toyota. And so that was, that was fun. And then a kind of moved over into the world of customer experience. That was my first venture into that on the client side. It was a big sort of awakening because my background is, or traditionally in like market research and psychology and consumer behavior and then I kind of jumped over into the world of customer experience and at the time it was more or less and in some places still is a compensation system. Where are you go out and take measurements and if you do really well you get a trip to Tahiti and if you don’t do well you make your franchise. So that was a big awakening for me. Yeah, I spent a little time on the client side doing that, jumped over to JD power and associates pick up my phd along the way in psychology, spent a good of my career at Merits research now Merits CX running. They’re different parts of the organization and was in charge of our product development for them and ultimately was the CMO. Rolled out of there, got kind of tired of just doing the research bit of it, the sort of the measurement bit and really started to develop a passion for influencing the customer experience. So not just measuring it and saying, hey, maybe you should think about doing this or that, but actually taking an active role with clients to actually affect the customer experience in store or online or wherever that that happens. 

DF: (03:31)
So with that in mind, I moved to another company as a Shopper Marketing Agency here in beautiful Bentonville, Arkansas where I live right now called the Mars Agency, led their customer experience practice there. They were very interested in, you know, helping a certain large organization here in Bentonville improve their in store experience. Spent some time doing that. Ultimately what I found though is that there’s a lot of organizations that you can’t escape who you are and where you come from. Then I have the benefit of coming from the employee side, the research side, the marketing side to some small extent the operations side, but your heritage really affects who you are when you grow up. And so what I found was if you are a marketing agency, you tend to think everything’s about communication. If you’re in human resources, we could affect everything which just getting the right people and training them well. 

DF: (04:16)
And if you are an ops, it’s all about efficiency and getting things there. If you’re in the digital space, it’s all about creativity. In reality, what I found was that it’s really all these things and no one was really good at doing all those things and bringing them all together. That’s where I found a curiosity. That’s my practice and it’s a small boutique CX practice. I like to say we’re a consulting firm that does a little research rather than the other way around. So we really focus in on helping clients understand the customer experience and then take the extra step to help them really affect it and change it and do some experiential design work. And we’re not necessarily experts and how you create a website or experts in supply chain, but we know experts who are, and so what we try to do is sort of bridge the gap between sort of the tactical doers in those big consulting companies that will give you advice, but maybe not give you the specifics on how exactly do we do that.That’s what curiosity is all about and that’s what I’m very passionate about.

MD: (05:11)
Awesome. How much do you think your background in psychology contributes towards you having a better view of customer experience?

DF: (05:20) I think a lot because you know, ultimately we’re all in the business of human behavior when it comes to customer experience. So understanding sort of the gray, I love the gray, like black and white as accounting and physics and engineering. A lot of those things are like that with human beings it’s be who knows why some people do what they do. And so it’s always been really fascinating to me and there’s like a lot of good theories and foundations and psychology there really gives you some insights on why people behave and to quote the famous psychologist in predictably irrational ways. 

MD: (06:03)
Love that book. But let me ask you something. Do you feel like that also reflects in your writing and in the articles you write? Because I see a lot of that behavioral science and the social psychology in your articles. I’m, I’m a big fan of your work and the stuff that you write. So I see that all the time. Do you try to get that across? Is that something that you try to share with the CX community of, of how others can also benefit from this knowledge?

DF: (06:24) Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, so it’s like, you know, I’m academia, it’s a bunch of theories and theories are pointless unless there’s some application to them. And so what I’m always trying to do is kind of fish and my background to see the pull out those relevant things that have applicability to the CX world and there’s a lot of them that you could, you could pull into it. So it’s been very helpful in a lot of fun. What I’ve noticed since it’s really sometimes the little things that are sitting right in front of you that can make huge differences, you know the way you say things and we have communications or just like the little things that people do or don’t do, that makes a huge impact to the customer experience. 

MD: (07:04)
When I approached you about being on this podcast, you shared with me an article that you wrote about pizza in your hometown. I love that article. I shared it with James as well, but there was a line in there that really stuck with me and its “consumers do not think in terms of partitioned off pieces of the experience, but of the experience as a whole.” So that’s you kind of addressing the individual silos that ended up influencing the experience and how we need to approach it in a different way as a whole. But I mean from a customer standpoint that makes absolute sense. But from the company’s standpoint, we actually have to kind of fit all these pieces into the puzzle to make sure that the whole is great. What’s some advice that you have for companies?

DF: (07:51) It is through this experience so that people, when they walk into a store or a beauty salon or have a service, anything at all, they’re not like thinking in terms of, well a, I thought the, you know, the hair product they use was good or wow, these floors walking into it as one big hole and experience it as a whole. 

DF: (08:13)
But a lot of times companies kind of get stuck in the, a lot of people talk about silos, right? And we got a lot of silos here in Bentonville real ones. It’s true. We kind of get caught in our little world. And I talk about frames quite a bit. It’s like, so if you are in supply chain, you can fix everything with supply chain, right? Like everything is a supply chain problem and everything’s a supply chain solution and that’s sort of your worldview. And then same thing with marketing. And so the interview questions, small organizations have a real easy time. So in my writing I talk about a lot of small, sometimes one or two personal organizations, barber shops and coffee places and pizza parlors and they’re doing it and they don’t even know it. Like they, they are so immense. Uh, I’m sorry, it’s so immeshed in kind of down into the weeds of how this all works that they’re not even realize they’re doing it. 

DF: (09:03)
It’s kind of like that the idea of flow. Like when you’re really good at what you’re doing, you become a leader and you don’t even, you don’t even realize that you’re doing it so well cause you’re so expert at it. Now, the reason these largely small organizations can do it well is because they’re small. The barber shop does not have an operations. They don’t have HR, they don’t have finance. It’s all one or two dudes are guys and gals can do all this on their own when we get to a larger scale and gets a lot harder because there’s so many people’s hands getting involved. And so I think a couple of things, uh, an advice to a larger organization is you have to, first of all, it’s the people. You have to have a passion. Everyone in the organization, it has to have that passion from the founder and CEO all the way down to the frontline. 

DF: (09:44)
Great companies who are really good at CX. You can pull anyone at Disney aside and they’re really into it like they believe in the brand. That’s, that’s the easiest way of doing it. But it’s not easy. But that’s the simple, yeah, exactly. Other organization’s approach it from a more of a standards of bridge and that’s, it’s a little harder, you know, so like pick up the phone within three rings or make sure you smile this wide. And so when I look, this is just fake. They’re, they’re phoning it in. So standard programs don’t tend to work as well as making sure you get the right people, making sure they believe and what your brand promises and then making sure someone, having people be able to pull themselves out of their own operating theater to see how the rest of the organization works. And some organizations, I work for a lot of Japanese firms and what they do is they rotate people around. 

DF: (10:33)
When I was younger I was like, that is stupid man. You’re rotating people around, they just mastered their job barely. And they throw him over into logistics or something like that. Well, there’s, there’s a lot of wisdom in that though because as you move around the organization, you are able to see other parts of the organization, how they work in gained some empathy, uh, not only for customers, but also how those functions work. And on top of that, you’re able to make social connections with the organization and we know that’s what organizations really function, right, is you call your, your pal over and distribution and say, hey, what’s really going on? And that these interpersonal connections within your organization really helped make them be quite effective. So that’s sort of like my background in organizational development, connecting with consumer behavior. You can see how the two really interplay with one another and how that you can’t really extract one from the other.

JC: (11:28) Yeah. Yeah. It’s really interesting. I’ve had the same experience, uh, years ago we worked with Toyota quite a bit and exactly. And I remember one day we had our new research director and he had come from accounting and I’m like, oh, how’s this going to work? But you know, it was, it was amazing though to see how they rotated through and how it helped us through know people that really understood the whole organization. 

MD: (11:48)
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JC: (12:16)
another thing you talked about in your article I thought was really interesting. I sort of pulled these lines. It was really well written. You say, you know, thinking about what we just talked about and getting people on board and either having a standardized approach or driving this culture of passion. You say there’s magic in being manically consistent and we’ve talked a lot on the podcast about this, about you know, sort of delighting are having these moments of delight versus delivering consistency. What’s your take on it? What did you mean when you said that there’s magic and being radically consistent and what’s your advice for companies today?

DF: (12:49) Well, people like consistency, you know the source of fear. Like the definition of fear is the fear of the unknown, right? Everything. Thinking about everything you’re fearful about, it’s you don’t know what’s going to happen. And so like eliminating that uncertainty is the core of the human condition really. 

DF: (13:07)
If you think about it, everything in your life, you want to be certain about it. When you’re certain you’re happy, you’re satisfied. Now there are cases where when there is uncertainty, it’s not a bad thing, but it’s on your terms. So the uncertainty of a surprise, it’s a positive effect. That’s an unexpected surprise. So you’re not certain that’s going to happen. You’re happy because it’s a positive thing. The other side of the uncertainty is like I said, fear like, oh my God, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it’s freaking me out. You know? So as you travel, like managing your day, if everything was uncertain, you know, if your car would start and if the traffic light, you know, it’d be, it’d be a miserable thing. So people look for that certainty in their life, in companies that deliver on that consistently. Like in that pizza article, they’ve been making the same damn pizza for a hundred years, you know? 

DF: (13:56)
And they’re very successful at doing that. If you look back at some of the other brands that are outside of the world of broad Pennsylvania, things like Twinkies in new coke and Sriracha sauce and other stuff that we tried to mess with, right? Yeah. People Freak out. They react to it. It’s part of their social identity. It’s sort of who they are. It’s part of being an American in some cases. Right? So don’t you dare take my Twinkies away from me. I’ll freak out.

MD: (14:12) Yeah, I know. So we don’t want to buy them, but I want them to be on the shelf at the supermarket.

DF: (14:22) Like those certainty those exist, you know? So, yeah, there’s a lot to be said with being persistently consistent in delivering the experience. Um, no. Some people will say, you know, that’s cool Dave, but that’s a great way of becoming forgettable. 

DF: (14:44)
I don’t know. I mean, well I use Amazon for example. I’m not like, Oh, I wish they’d be more difficult to work because then I would use a more like I just, it doesn’t hold any water for me. You know, making things more difficult. It makes for a more memorable experience. I think you want to remove those things that suck, right? And add those things that are great. Every business book that’s out there for blue ocean arm, that’s what they talk about. Right? And if you look at all these examples out there, disruption, that’s exactly what they’re doing. And they’re removing the bad parts and there doubling down on the good and making it cheaper.

MD: (14:46) Well that’s exactly what I was going to bring up, Dave. You know, you want to stay traditional, you want to maintain a certain sense of identity, but at the same time you do have to keep up with the speed of change of innovation in the market, so there’s kind of a balance there because at times we want new stuff and sometimes we just want the familiar feeling of home, right? 

DF: (15:25)
Yeah, it’s, it’s a good point. I think some companies kind of get confused though where there are places on that. It’s a hard thing to do, like if you’re Walmart or General Motors or Johnson and Johnson or your huge corporations that have been around for hundreds of years, people look to you and respect you and expect certain things from you. It’s going to be really hard to turn that ship quickly. I think what you see most often in terms of innovation with organizational change, and I’ve talked to a few people on this topic is the best thing you could do is probably butt off and start a new organization. The helps you be fresh in the map, not relevant, but be something new because it’s really hard. Again, back to my central premise, it’s hard to escape who you are. Then sometimes when you try to do that, it seems very inauthentic and fails miserably.

MD: (16:11)
We see this example, a lot of companies that try and don’t succeed in changing things up, and we also see the opposite of companies that don’t try at all and then they’re just, they disappear from one day to the next, right. They double down and just stay. If we just do more of the same, we’ll be okay. It’s worked for years. So, uh, let’s just work harder at it, you know? Yeah. Well you have that super famous example of, was it xerox turning down windows, right. Where they’re like, we’re not going to do this. And, and Kodak with the Digital Camera, they, they try to actually get rid of it and make it go away so that the market wouldn’t evolve. Right?

DF: (17:00) Yep. Yeah. And you’re seeing it all over the place to see in hospitality and automotive financial services across the board. It’s really kind of exciting times and it’s not without precedent, right. The turn of the century things are flipping around just like they are now. They just looked a little bit different. It’s, it’s speed, really exciting time to be a part of all those involved and see it happening. And hopefully be some kind of part of it and improving things for everyone as well. 

JC: (17:24)
The other thing you talked about in that article was about know thy customer and I think you talked about, you know, keeping things simple and it’s a welcome idea in today’s world where we feel like there’s so much complexity, but I love when there’s ideas that can sort of hone in on simplicity and don’t overthink. But could you talk a little bit about what you were trying to get at with know that customer? 

DF: (17:47)
I mean I really kind of bought into this whole design thinking and customer empathy thing. I’ve been doing this for 20 almost 30 years now and you know, I’ve done a lot of quantitative research and quantitative research is great, but there is nothing, there is nothing that substitutes going out and just talking to people and just getting to know them and you just learn so much in and you really do get that empathy. I, my whole thing is like, you could work in a big organization, but let’s, let’s get out from our desks and let’s go out and let’s talk with people. The pope car current pope would sneak out at night and against the security forces, uh, wishes and go out and talk with his flock, right? That’s how you get to know things. That’s how you really know what’s going on. And again, it’s not a new idea, but it’s absolutely important to get out and like, if we can break down, again, breaking down those walls between people designing products and services and getting them right in front of the customer and talking to them. 

DF: (18:42)
I think in some cases, market research has done at the service to the world and that it puts a barrier between the customer and the person who, or people who are creating the product. I think market research is role or customer experience for whatever you want to call it. What we need to do is remove that barrier. We need to take down that one way mirror, but we need to get these people together. There’s still a role for that. We’re the facilitator. We’re making sure this, this conversation is a productive one and there’s a mutual respect there that these people, these customers are not subjects. They’re, they’re human beings that have needs and wants and desires and kids and everything that’s going on in the world. And so I think that’s my other big passion is around that is getting people to talk with people and learning what they want and what they need and really getting that customer empathy. 

JC: (19:28)
Yeah, it’s a great point Dave, and you mentioned early in your introduction about your role now is more on the influencing customer experience side rather than the measurement. I wondered with what you just talked about, where are you finding some of the best insights now that you’re on the other side of the equation in helping companies take action? What do you mean? Like a specifically from where we were talking about getting out, talking to customers. You talked about quantitative data. As you think about where you source understanding and customer feedback, where are you finding your best insights as you, as you’re sort of influencing your customers and what they need to do? Where’s that, where are you seeing that coming from now that you’re, you’re sort of a user rather than a producer of data? Yeah, I think it really, it comes from all over. 

DF: (20:16)
I tend to really, because if you talk to people, like I said, it’s absolutely important, but you don’t know if, you know, Helen from Washington DC is just a one off or a representative of a lot of people. So you really have to balance. You do have to, there’s still a place for quantitative research out there as long as that quantitative research is good and that could also be acquired through talking to people. Um, we’re, we’re on a project recently where we rode around on buses with people for three days. Me and my team, and we just talked to people on buses and it wasn’t a structured format, but we were able to get quantitative information, but there was still that context that wasn’t so, you know, hey, Hello James, I’m calling on behalf of Blah, blah, blah. You know, it wasn’t boring surveyed. 

DF: (21:00)
So I think that’s a good place and we can’t ignore the digital world. Right. So there’s just, you know, I teach at University of Arkansas, you know, everyone says, oh, mark, research is going to die and blah, blah blah. And you know, no one wants to take service anymore. And it’s true. But the fundamentals are still there. People love talking about themselves. They do it on linkedin and they do it. Twitter, they do an unfair, you know, in all that data is out there and it’s there for the grabbing. And on the underside of that, companies are still very thirsty to understand more thirsty and an African understand why customers are doing what they’re doing. And so that whole digital world is, is absolutely critical. 

MD: (21:34)
Well that’s one thing that we find, you know, we were talking about talking to people and I can absolutely see that, you know, when you’re talking about a barber shop or when you’re talking about a kind of mom and pop situation, but when you think of huge, massive enterprises, what were global companies and how difficult it is or how many degrees of separation there are between the CEO and a front liner. Who’s the person that actually talks to the customer, you know? So would you recommend in that case or that for maybe for the CEO to take some time, I know there are CEOs who do do this and take a position in customer service and or go to a store and talk to people, look at people and hear what they have to say is you think that’s valid for big huge enterprises as well? 

DF: (22:19)
Absolutely. I think that big company diseases when you do get separated from your customer and you get this sort of almost arrogance, you know it’s like, oh they’re, they’re icky customers. They just buy our stuff. You know, really good companies do just that. There’s a CEO does go out, they talk with people and, and if you can just flatten those organizations out in re decrease that and it doesn’t, it like if you work in like accounts payable is like, what do I have to do with, you know, customer experience. I don’t have a role in that. Well, yeah you do. I mean, anyone who’s worked in any company knows that, you know, accounts payable or receivable for that matter has a big role because they’re collecting the money. If you have a great experience with a company in the bill pay are, that sucks. That just ruins the whole thing. So I do well one idea that, you know, and it’s been around for a while and I often suggest it and I haven’t had any takers yet, is take a day and have everyone in that organization, that big global 50 organization pick up the phone and call five customers and say, hey, just calling to see how things are going and the thank you for your business. Like how, how powerful would that be if we just took a day to do something like that. It’d be huge, you know? 

MD: (23:30)
Or maybe as you’re saying this, I’m thinking maybe we should all adapt the practices of these Japanese organizations and rotate our personnel all the time. My Gym does this. So and my gym, you’ll have someone who works up on the, you know, with the trainers and then the next week is in the child center. And then after that they’re on the swim department. So there are organizations that do practices and I think that’s amazing because once you perceive the pains of each department, you have a much better knowledge or a much more solid base to understand what the customer needs. Yeah, right. Once again, I don’t, I don’t know how possible this is in big, huge, massive organizations. 

DF: (24:10)
Oh it’s, it gets difficult too because if you were trained in biochemistry, you know, I’m probably too keen to moving to the call center. Right. And that’s, that’s cool. So there has to be some kind of balance in there. Sure. I think the other, you know, James, he asked the other let’s a great source of information, like in design thinking, they always talk about pretend you’re a visitor from another country. And I think asking a lot of questions of people and I embarrassed my entire family cause I asked kinds of questions about, cause I’m just curious about stuff. The more questions you ask, the more you learn. And cause people don’t necessarily always volunteer things, you know, until you start asking them probing and take an interest in what they’re doing. You learn a lot just by walking into a hotel and say, hey, how does this work and why do you do that? And just ask those questions that others might not. 

MD: (24:56)
And if you ask it the right time, I think that in general people are happy to share what they do, talk about themselves like you said. Right. Or give you a little bit of insight into what they do. 

DF: (25:06)
Yeah, absolutely. New people like talking about themselves, and people are interesting. I’m very lucky in what I do. 

MD: (25:13)
Well I think that you’ve named your company very appropriately. Well David, thank you so much. We’re kind of out of time, but for those who are listening and want to keep up with your work and follow up your publications, what’s the best way for them to do that? 

DF: (25:29)
Yeah, sure. So I have a blog. It’s CuriosityCX. I go out there and I publish on a regular basis. I’m also a columnist with a customer thing, Bob Thompson’s website. It’s a customer Those are my two regular gigs. 

MD: (25:51)
Thank you so much for being on here today, David. We really appreciate you coming on.

DF: (25:59) Hey, thanks. It’s great to talk with you guys.  

MD: (26:03)
Thank you for joining us on one more episode of Voices of Customer Experience. This podcast is hosted and produced by Mary Drumond edited and coproduced by Nic Gomez and Steve Berry. This podcast was brought to you by Worthix. Discover your worth at

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Mary Drumond

Mary Drumond

Mary Drumond is Chief Marketing Officer at Worthix, the world's first cognitive dialogue technology, and host of the Voices of Customer Experience Podcast. Originally a passion project, the podcast runs weekly and features some of the most influential CX thought-leaders, practitioners and academia on challenges, development and the evolution of CX.



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