Home People Celeste Combs takes a 360-degree View of the Customer

Celeste Combs takes a 360-degree View of the Customer

Celeste M. Combs of The Experience Group, taking in a 360-degree view at the Space Needle.

For Celeste Combs, founder of The Experience Group, helping clients succeed in e-commerce means not only helping them understand usability, for which she is a respected expert, but going beyond it to the total customer experience. It means taking a 360-degree view of a company’s total relationship with its customers, and making sure every part of the equation fits together.

“Over the last ten years, I’ve learned that it’s the total customer view that’s important,” she relates. “We might have created a wonderful, usable product, but a customer can still be unhappy with other aspects of their experience with a company. Usability is not only about ease of use, it’s also about the value that is connected to something. Working with dozens of companies, I’ve learned that how companies communicate about their products and services in advertising and brochures, how they support it with customer service and with technical support — it all drives customer expectations. You have to manage all touch points to create positive “emotion” throughout the customer life cycle.”

For years, Ms. Combs has been an advocate, catalyst and organizer around the Puget Sound for the understanding and appreciation of computer-human interaction, which she became immersed in while working on an advanced degree in human performance and product design. As a past Chair of the Puget Sound SIGCHI and past president of the Northwest Chapter of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, she has shared her passion with scores of colleagues and earned a reputation among those who know her for tirelessly giving of her time to “the business community at large,” like her recent presentation to the WSA Marketing SIG where she spoke about creating a more customer-centered organization.

While at Microsoft, Celeste contributed to nine successful products, including the Microsoft® Intellimouse, Microsoft® Natural Keyboard and Microsoft® Sidewinder game products helping to design and implement total user experience in the evolutionary phases of product development. An early pioneer of “experience design,” she began designing user experiences in the 1980’s working in Wellness Division of the Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas, TX improving workstation design and workflow efficiency, and over the years has garnered Business Week’s IDEA Design Awards, and the IEEE Pioneering Design award, among others.

After serving as Vice President, Customer Experience at Infopop Corporation, makers of the Web’s most popular discussion board technology, Celeste has returned to leading her own consulting practice, called The Experience Group, founded to provide consulting services to businesses striving to improve and achieve a high quality customer experience. She recently completed work on REI’s website and has worked with Avenue A, Lexant Corporation, Microsoft, Saltmine, Tangis and Xylo.  Many of her clients are small-to-medium sized business that use her expertise to strategically improve customer experience and design usable products and services.

“Customers communicate a lot with each other about their experiences through two kinds of customer community,” advises Celeste. “The digital experience is one of sharing product perceptions, like in an online travel community where you can find reviews of what hotels are like, as well as other peer groups. Offline communities are social groups where word-of-mouth is transacted between friends that recommend a business. In both cases, companies need to investigate what the most important aspects are from the customer’s perspective. It takes research and getting actively involved with customers. From your Web pages to your press releases.”

Celeste recently became involved with CRM Northwest / Seattle http://www.crma-northwest.org/index.html, a new organization that held its first meeting in October. Once again she is the SIG Chair and is also coordinating the Customer Experience group. “Our first Customer Experience SIG will be in March,” she beams. “It will likely be a “fireside chat;” the goal is to understand how to use the CRM model to strategically attain improved customer experience.”

The way Celeste has been spending her “free” time, you just might catch her, and her dog, Haley Comet, in action at a sporting event near you. Celeste has trained the Border Collie to be a fly ball racer in one of the most popular half-time events at Husky and Sonic’s games. Fly ball — now that’s the ultimate in 360-degree thinking! [24×7]