Following your local happiness gradient

TBK: Episode 23 [Season 2, Episode 1]

This episode features an interview with Dr. Catherine Williams, Global Head of IQ at Qualtrics, an experience management software platform. Catherine has extensive background in data science and quantitative analytics. Prior to Qualtrics, Catherine served as Chief Data Scientist and Chief Data and Marketplace Officer at AppNexus and Xandr, which is part of AT&T. Catherine holds a Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Washington. She has also held postdoctoral fellowships at Stanford and Columbia Universities. In this episode, Catherine discusses growing a machine learning approach to unstructured data, using data to get to the “why” of customer behavior, and following your local happiness gradient.

Headshot of Dr. Catherine Williams, Global Head of IQ at Qualtrics

About the guest

As the Global Head of IQ at Qualtrics, an experience management software platform, Dr. Catherine Williams leads the engineering and applied science teams that build advanced intelligent features into the Qualtrics experience management products and platform, leveraging cutting edge text analytics, predictive intelligence, and statistical analysis to help customers better understand and act on their data in real time.


“When you think about companies trying to operate, they derive lots of data about what humans are doing, their transactions and touch points with those humans. And that’s really valuable information.There’s great infrastructure for understanding that and operating on that. I think that’s what people often mean when they say data-driven decisions. What are the objective facts of those interactions with the humans in your business? But that’s missing a huge component, right? A lot of what drives human behavior is their subjective experience and that doesn’t enter into the equation very often.”

“Companies have measured customer satisfaction or the Net Promoter Score, which is how likely are you to recommend this business or product to a friend or neighbor. And so they try to get some sense of how people are feeling, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. And so what we’re doing is just providing tools to derive a lot more information and really understand the why’s of your behavior. Not just, your customers did these things, but why did they do those things? How are they feeling about it? How might that affect their loyalty or their future purchasing behavior?”

“[My] graduate advisor told me to follow my local happiness gradient, which is a very nerdy math way of just saying ‘Follow your passion,’ but somehow framing it in math terms made it feel more authoritative to me. Later in my career, a wise CIO reminded me to always find those things in your day today that nourish you. I’ll put those two together and make one piece of career advice that has been meaningful for me, is just to find those things that light me up and energize me and, and find that thing, that passion. I do think that finding and following that passion, following that joy actually leads to better career results.”

Time stamps

[5:20] Using NLP to derive insights from unstructured data
[10:37] The importance of testing your own CX
[11:51] Qualtrics’ journey to becoming data-driven
[14:18] Promoting data literacy among employees
[22:54] Understanding the “why” of customer behavior through data
[27:39] Advice for people entering a career in AI


Connect with Catherine on LinkedIn | Check out Qualtrics
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