What Can Drift & Chimps Drinking Out Of Straws Teach You About Customer Experience? A Lot.


I’m an avid reader, and my book du jour is something I found on Bill Gates’s reading list called Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society by Nicholas Christakis. It focuses on human evolution and how we have this Blueprint to develop good societies encoded in our DNA. Christakis suggests that we have similarities with elephants, dolphins, and chimpanzees.

Stay with me.

In the book, Christakis presents a recent study done on separated groups of chimps where the task at hand was to drink juice with a straw. Ahead of this study, many researchers argued that few species, and perhaps none besides our own, have the capacity for culture – that is, the learned behaviors that are spread across a population and passed down through future generations.

For this study, researchers organized groups of chimps, gave them straws, and put them in rooms with juice boxes mounted onto the wall. One group started using the 7-inch straws to dip into a hole in the juice box, while the other started using the sucking method (as humans do). As you might guess, sucking the juice through a straw is more than 50 times more efficient; a chimp could down 50 milliliters of juice in 30 seconds, while it would take their dipping peers 10 minutes to pull out a mere 20 milliliters.

When the researchers put a straw-sucker and a straw-dipper in the same room, they found that the dipper would quickly adopt this better, faster method if they closely observed it in action.

Interestingly, when the researchers avoided putting a straw-sucker and a straw-dipper in the same room, they found that the straw-dipper would continue the learned behavior despite there being a significantly more productive alternative.


Now, there are arguments about what this research really suggests, but where I’ve netted out on it is this: humans definitely have the capacity for cultural behaviors to spread across a population and pass them down through future generations. And yet, the way our companies operate, it can be really easy to get complacent within the four walls of your office and fall victim to the same inefficient practices metaphorically equivalent to the straw-dippers in the chimp study.

Customer Success is Customer Experience

I’m a leader in Customer Success at Narrative Science, where we use Drift for conversational marketing on our website, support site, and in the near future inside of our data storytelling product, Lexio (which turns your most critical business performance data instantly into easy to read plain-English stories automatically).

Not too long ago, I got wind that Drift was the best software buying and onboarding and time-to-value piece of software our Marketing Ninja Andrea Watts had ever bought.

Talk about a surefire way to get a customer success pro’s interest. I knew I had to learn more. What did Drift do differently than the rest of the market? If Drift was the metaphorical equivalent to the straw-suckers, how could I make sure I got in the room with them so I could learn it too?

Now, I’ve already blogged about this topic in-depth (it actually went viral around the Narrative Science office) but here’s a recap:

I spent about a week interviewing everyone who touched Drift in the buying process – our marketing team, sales team, customer success and support team, there were so many groups and individuals who had fallen in love with this idea of conversational marketing and what it could do to customer experience. My goal was to capture what made this experience unlike any other buying experience we’d ever had and so I got in the weeds, looking through email threads asking about the specifics of meeting content, meeting decks, meeting follow up, the cadence of communication between teams, even the mechanism of communication (lots of texts between our buyer Andrea and our sales rep, Aaron)!

So what did it all boil down to? What did Drift really do differently? Drift didn’t sell us software. Drift helped us buy software.

To the untrained eye you may be wondering, what’s the difference?

Well for one, the Drift team was when and where we needed them at every turn. Aaron was available via text, phone, video chat, and Drift bot, and when his schedule didn’t like up to Andrea’s, no problem! He sent her a customized pre-recorded video to share with the team – he did everything in his control to reduce any friction Andrea would come up against trying to educate herself or educate Narrative Science on how to buy the software. Empathy and the removal of friction between the communication between our teams made the difference between software being forced down our throats to an active participant on the journey.

As a result of my research to understand the Drift buying journey, senior leaders at Narrative Science perked up. They took note of my interest to ensure our own product Lexio delivered an incredible end-to-end customer experience. I wanted to make sure I learned as much as I could so that Lexio could be held to the same (or even higher) standards as what our team experienced while buying Drift.

One of the first things we did to overhaul our customer experience was to change how top-of-funnel potential customers interact with us on our site. We went from a static form that would take anywhere between 24-72 hours to get a response, to a dynamic Drift bot that books meetings on the spot – reducing friction for interested potential customers and delivering a great customer experience from the start👇


To create great customer experiences you have to get comfortable being uncomfortable and – who knows – you might find that to be quite comfortable… and good for your career!

First, I was tapped by Narrative Science’s President, Nick Beil, to lead Customer Experience for Lexio – a completely new opportunity for my career and something I never thought would have come about because of a simple blog post. Then, this opportunity turned into the opportunity to blog for Drift (yes, this very post that you’re reading!) and appear on multiple podcasts talking about customer experience. And now, I’m continuing to focus on how we can apply learnings from other customer experience market leaders and apply them to later stages in the customer journey delivering that same high bar of customer experience.

Nick’s mantra these days is “get comfortable getting uncomfortable” and I couldn’t agree more, the impact of getting uncomfortable, of going beyond the four walls of your organization, of really getting interested in what other people like you are doing will lead to great outcomes for your company and for you personally.

So thank you, Drift for being the mentor I didn’t know I needed, for making me the most comfortable uncomfortable I’ve ever been and for the tremendous leadership in the customer experience space, you straw-suckers rock!

Stef Caldwell is an author, speaker, entrepreneur, yogi, and Narrative Scientist. As a customer success leader working in artificial intelligence, she straddles the line between humanity and technology.

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post. Interested in contributing content to the Drift blog? Email Molly Sloan at msloan@drift.com.

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