Using values: connecting deeply with customers

(This is another in a series of posts about gathering & using customer stories via social media. Prior posts are listed at the bottom of this post.)

Last post I talked about using emergent constructs to determine customer values related to a company’s product or service. Values are things customers find value in, don’t find value in, or find negative value in (that is, they buy & use in spite of a characteristic).

Knowing the values that apply across customer segments is a powerful tool for companies. They can use this to architect their services, products, support, etc., to emphasize the values that connect with the customers they want to attract. They can also focus their attention on those customers who share the values that they offer, and ignore customers who have other values.

Companies that understand what their customers value often have very deep connections with those customers, and strong attendant loyalty. Examples like Harley-Davidson, BMW and Apple come to mind.

Startup companies by definition espouse a set of values, often set in place by their founders. At least in part, this is because startups have to make explicit tradeoffs between what they will and won’t do. This address by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, at the recent SxSW Interactive Conference, illustrates the tradeoffs Zappos made:

For established companies, espousing values isn’t so easy. They don’t have the resource scarcity nor the founder’s focus of a startup. But they have a crucial resource most startups don’t–a customer base and history serving it. So, they can tap that base to gather stories and use the emergent construct sensemaking processes set out in the earlier posts in this series.

The story-gathering approach can measure values as the companies and markets change–and as the company’s leadership grows more disconnected from customers and their values, an inevitable result of business growth. Another powerful advantage: story-based values can trace back to the actual stories that influenced them. This is useful for communicating the values and their importance to internal groups and the outside world. “We help our customers save precious time by providing an easy-to-use, intuitive system. For example….[real user story here].”

[A similar type of assessment was described in the recent book "Marketing Metaphoria" by Gerald and Lindsay Zaltman. The Zaltmans use interviews and constructed collages to derive the values (what they call "deep metaphors"), rather than by gathering and looking at stories.]

Prior posts in this series:
Many ways businesses can listen to customers
Are 200 stories more useful than 2,000,000 data points?
Dealing with what customers tell you online

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  • Michael Yacavone

    Have you found that the prompting question should change when looking for values? I recently prompted a small team for stories on communication – web and internal (future backwards). When I tried to test the emergent constructs (alone) it was difficult to extract values. Couldn't decide if I need more people for bootstrapping the thinking, or if the question didn't lend itself to values extraction.

  • jmcaddell


    The situations where I've used values have been customer-oriented, and my
    story-eliciting questions have been focused on recommending-type stories,
    such as: “If your best friend was considering buying [product/service], what
    story from your experience would you tell him to convince him he was doing
    the right thing?” and the reverse question (what would you tell him to
    convince him he was making a mistake?).

    The stories that come out of those questions naturally bring out values. In
    other situations, like more operationally-focused ones, values didn't come
    out as easily.

  • Larry Irons

    I enjoyed the post John. I really appreciate the focus on stories your approach brings to the customer experience discussion. In addition, I've appreciated the Workable Wondering method developed by the Zaltmans, especially in its applicability to the say-mean gap in research on customer experience and general issues in experience design. I offered my take on a similar issue late last year.

  • Pingback: Tom Gibson - Creating Outstanding Customer Value

  • mlgreen8753

    BMW advertisements always appear to be highly targeted, a strong indication that BMW has done their research and knows clearly what their customers want.

  • jmcaddell

    Paul, Dave,
    Thanks for your help with the team. If you would like a team shirt, please send along your size. They are trying to place the orders this weekend. Thanks!

    John Caddell

    Caddell Insight Group

    1 (717) 798-8108

    (Follow me on Twitter at