Article Customer Experience Popular 8 min read

What Spaghetti Sauce Can Teach You About Customer Experience

Chances are, you think you know your customers, but you actually don’t. Here are some tips on how to get to know them better. 

The year is 1986. The UK and France have just announced plans to build the “Chunnel”. The space shuttle Challenger has disintegrated seconds after launch, killing its crew of seven astronauts. The Oprah Winfrey show has just made its debut. And American consumers have just three brands of spaghetti sauce to choose from: Ragu, Hunts, and Prego.

Ragu and Hunts dominate the market. Both pasta sauces are thickened with starch — the side effect of using this thickener is that it causes “weeping”, or the separation of water from solids. Prego, on the other hand, has developed groundbreaking “anti-weeping” technology, which allows for mass-production of a thickened sauce that holds its form, sitting atop the pasta in a pleasing way. But Americans continue to buy Ragu nonetheless.

Enter Howard Moskowitz. Campbell’s hires Moskowitz, a skilled psychophysicist, to develop the perfect pasta sauce that everyone will love. So Moskowitz steps into the Campbell’s soup kitchen, rolls up his sleeves, and creates 45 varieties of spaghetti sauce. He varies the sauces by sweetness, tartness, sourness, garlic levels, tomato levels, and chunkiness. Then, he takes his 45 variations of sauce on the road, and taste tests them across America, plotting the results as he goes. After two months, Moskowitz starts analysing his mountain of data.

What he finds would revolutionise the pasta sauce industry — and indeed, the F&B world as we know it — forever.

Moskowitz didn’t find the perfect spaghetti sauce. He found the perfect spaghetti sauces. He discovered that not everyone likes the same type of sauce — indeed, the majority of his taste testers (and there were a lot of them) fell into one of three categories: people who like their sauce plain, people who like their sauce spicy, and people who like their sauce extra chunky.

At this time in America, neither Ragu nor Hunts had a chunky pasta sauce in their offering. So when Prego developed its line of extra chunky pasta sauces, it immediately took over the market, making the company $600 million in a decade.

Suddenly, food and beverage brands sat up and took notice. They realised that their products, too, could be varied to appeal to different groups of people.

The Customer Experience takeaway from Moskowitz’ discovery

Moskowitz’ discovery remains incredibly relevant and important to this day, and is the key to unlocking a kick-ass customer experience. You don’t have one type of customer. You have many different types of customers, most of whom fall into groups that can and should be segmented in your customer experience strategy.

Now, for anyone who’s worked in customer experience, and I’m guessing that you are elbows deep in the CX world if you’re reading this article, you already know about horizontal segmentation. You’ve probably already grouped your customers into a variety of segments. Maybe you’ve even developed customer segment profiles, with names, ages, and nationalities, alongside job titles, yearly income, and spending habits.

You think you know your customers well, don’t you? Well, maybe you do. But maybe you don’t.

Here’s my question for you: have you or your company done a Moskowitz, and rolled up your sleeves and developed the proverbial 45 varieties of spaghetti sauce of your product, and taken it on a “taste test tour”?

If the answer is no — if you haven’t performed customer research — then you don’t know your customers. And if you don’t know your customers, how can you ever expect to come up with your industry’s version of extra chunky spaghetti sauce?

Chances are, you think you know your customers, but you actually don’t. Bain & Company conducted a survey of 362 firms, and found that 80 percent thought they were delivering a superior customer experience. But a further survey of those firms’ customers showed those companies to have been away in La La Land with their estimates: in practice, only 8 percent of their customers actually agreed with them.

To disrupt your industry, you need to get well and truly acquainted with your customers. Here are some tips on how to get to know them better.

1. Customer interaction

Remember the 8 percent of companies that did manage to deliver a superior customer experience, mentioned above? Bain & Company conducted further research into those firms to see what they were doing that was different. Turns out, the major element that set them apart was interaction with their most loyal customers. This, they did through focus groups, interviews, and observation. Upon conducting such research, you may find that your customers ought to be grouped in ways that don’t fit into your previously conceived nationality, age, and income brackets.

Take Vodafone, for example. After putting their customers under the microscope, the communications giant discovered that its customers could be grouped as either young, active and fun, or occasional users, rather than by geographic location as they had previously grouped them. This unique categorisation allowed the company to offer packages that were much more catered to their users, including games, popular ringtones, and more for their young, active and fun group.

2. Customer listening

They say that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason: because listening is more important than talking. Apply this theory to your customer experience strategy, and you’ll be onto a winner. There are many customer listening programmes out there, as you’re likely already aware, so be careful when choosing yours.

The key part about customer listening is that it doesn’t involve soliciting feedback from your customers — instead, by simply paying attention to when your customers talk about your brand without being prompted to do so, you’ll find you will be privy to far more nuanced insights. In order for your customer listening to be most valuable, it should meet five standards:

  1. Ensure objectivity by using an accurate sample representative of your customer base, bias should be removed by steering clear of leading statements and double-barrelled questions, and results should be replicable — which means that everyone involved in analysis should arrive at the same conclusions.
  2. Use the right methods for your objectives, and start by identifying what your objectives are. Once you’ve done that, you can have a better idea as to whether you’re more likely to get your most valuable insights via social media, in person, or perhaps website engagement.
  3. Engage your customers with compelling questions and dynamic logic, and encourage responses with rewards like gifts or store credit.
  4. Prioritise analysis by segmenting and coding your data to uncover themes and discover what’s driving your outcomes. This is best outsourced to an external data team who will not only be unbiased, but will ensure accuracy of all facts and maths.
  5. Find the story in your data. Motivate your team into action by allowing them access to audio and visual data, which is more emotionally captivating than numbers alone. If these audio-visuals can be interactive, all the better. Get your team together to analyse the results as a group — this can lead to brilliant ideas.

3. Maintain a real dialogue

Once you’ve set up excellent customer interaction and listening systems, your next step towards a delightful customer experience is to set up a feedback loop that will allow you to improve your offering on a systematic basis.

One way to do this is to set up a customer programme. Many companies are setting up monthly membership or subscription programmes that encourage not only customer loyalty and guaranteed monthly income, but also encourages real dialogue between the company and its members. Take the Dollar Shave Club (DSC), for example. The first of many direct-to-consumer subscription-based businesses, Dollar Shave Club quickly accumulated nearly 4 million subscribers.

The company’s VP of Information Systems said of their customer-to-company dialogue,

“DSC has built a strong data architecture to track and capture the details of every consumer interaction. The tech stack is state-of-the-art and consists of multiple applications supporting an event-driven architecture that helps personalize the user experience. This also provides the ability to try new things and immediately measure the results.”

Many attribute the success of DSC to their ability to understand their customers’ wants and needs, allowing them to deliver an exceptional customer experience that created loyalty and encouraged retention.

So you see, your customer research needn’t be complex to be compelling. Steps as simple as talking to your customers, listening to your customers, and creating a “tribe” or “family” of loyal customers with a consistent feedback loop, are all activities that feel very human — and that may just be why they work so well. Analysing the data you obtain from that and crunching the numbers may be the tricky part, but this is the key Moskowitz-inspired step that will allow you to find out surprising things about your customers — like the fact that one-third of pasta lovers prefer extra chunky spaghetti sauce — that could very well be game changers and turn your company into an industry disruptor.


  • Accessed 9 Nov. 2019.
  • Accessed 11 Nov. 2019.
  • Accessed 11 Nov. 2019.

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