As Marshall McLuhan once said, “Most of our assumptions have outlived their uselessness.” This has never been truer than now, and we have customer data to thank for it.

While data has always played a role in experience design, the digitization of customer experiences — both online and in physical environments — has greatly expanded the depth and breadth of customer data available. As a result, the way CX pros use data is undergoing a significant change. Rather than be passive recipients of data reports, CX pros are becoming active data miners and explorers.

The effect of this exploration is that CX pros, empowered with data that they now have direct access to, are challenging long-held orthodoxy, assumptions, and conventions. Consider the following:

  • CNN tunes its coverage to consumers' tastes . . . to the displeasure of critics. While critics may heap scorn on CNN for its extended coverage of Malaysia Airline Flight 370, the numbers tell a different story. After crunching the data, CNN concluded that viewers were not tiring of MH370 coverage. In fact, the analysis indicated that viewers wanted more of it. This led CNN to extend the coverage well beyond what CNN producers (and other network producers) intuitively assign to such an event. The call paid off as consumers continued to tune in, helping CNN boost its viewership.
  • Zeebox backtracks on a best practice . . . after engagement drops 50%. Social TV app Zeebox (recently rebranded as Beamly) thought it was doing the right thing by moving from a tabbed interface to a navigation drawer, but the results were catastrophic — customer engagement dropped by half! Zeebox scrambled to issue an update that restored the tabbed UI. A second attempt proved equally disastrous. What started out as an attempt to embrace a widely used design pattern revealed that such best practices are contextual, not universal.
  • Duolingo tailors its lessons based on your native tongue . . . not pedagogy. Language learning app Duolingo is using A/B testing to change the way its customers learn languages. Among its discoveries, it learned that Spanish speakers learning English had a harder time learning the gender-neutral pronoun “it” than other nonnative English speakers. This insight drove it to break from the norm and delay the introduction of the term until much later in the course.

Customer data is no longer the exclusive domain of data analysts. A new model has emerged where all employees have access to customer data and are empowered to use it. The result is a reexamination of every aspect of experience design. I’ll be speaking more about how data is affecting CX pros at Forrester’s upcoming Forum For Customer Experience Professionals East in New York on June 24th and 25th. I hope to see you there.