Can You Utilize Anthropology to Better Understand Customers?

What would he see or think if you brought in Dr. Indiana Jones to help you better understand your customers?  Or, better still, if Margaret Mead or Ruth Benedict was your customer anthropology coach?

At the core, anthropology is the study of humanity.  Social or cultural anthropologists seek to understand how a culture, tribe, family or clan link together through language, myths, mores, beliefs, rituals and symbols.  What is it that makes the Cochiti, Samoans, Curds, Navy Seals, Hell’s Angels, Hatfield’s or McCoy’s a linked clique beyond their common history or shared place?

Customers have many similarities; they also have major differences.  Their sense of sameness comes through a similar reading of signals and symbols with common interpretation.  Their differences lie in their varied reactions to the factors that make them alike.

We enjoy checking into a hotel via the front-desk, complete with its capacity to influence our room choice and amenities.  We have colleagues in the same geography doing the same role who would bypass check-in conversations to get straight to the hotel room.  And, their extravert or introvert personality is far from the segmentation factor at work.

What if you carefully watched your customers on their journey through your organization either on line, on the phone, via chat or in person with an eye to seeing them anew as a social clan?  What are the artifacts customers rely on to signal them through their customer service experience?  What role does the style or tone of their chosen interaction venue play in influencing what your customers see and feel?  Put on your Indiana Jones hat and see your customers for the first time.

© Chip Bell Group, 2023.  Courtesy of John R. Patterson (  Permission is given to download and distribute this article as long as it contains this copyright notice.