The Experience Effect

The Experience Effect is changing how we do business. This is where Tahzoo comes in. No longer does one-size-fits-all content suffice. Today’s leading businesses need to consider everything they do in terms of “The Experience.” This goes for every company I know. If you make three-dimensional products; good for you, but that product is an experience. Look to the iPhone for inspiration, it’s as much an experience as a phone. If you provide a service, even better.

We live in a service economy. Services are experiences, too. Technology has allowed us the privilege of learning what our customers want, need and desire and we can use that information and some pretty remarkable technologies to meet them on their terms. We can speak to them in their language and we can treat them to experiences they really care about. This is what the customer experience is meant to be.

For you and I as individuals, the Experience Effect means we will increasingly define our experience by our ability to share them with our families, with our friends and with the world. For the businesses of the world, the Experience Economy will mean understanding that no matter what product or service we deliver, we are ultimately delivering an experience, some make that experience something different, something memorable. And lastly, companies must be honest and truthful about the experiences they create. Only when experiences are sharable, different and authentic can they truly transcend.

The Experience Economy is real and it is changing the world. It has already altered every business on the planet and it will continue to do. Now, more than ever, the quality of what we experience is more valuable than the quantity of what we own.

Let’s use that knowledge—and this moment in time—to change the world.

Brad

The Culture of Experience

The culture of customer experience is upon us… although very nascent, while there have been a few companies grounded in customer service over the last 20 years they are outliers and not the norm. Most large companies are organized to serve themselves while providing a service or product to the market. Typically, one part of the organization is dedicated to the customer in the context of sales or marketing.

In the customer experience economy, the entire organization needs to be designed to serve customers and deliver a shareable experience. It must be understood throughout the organization the real value of a consumer spending their money and time interacting with a brand. I used to say that all companies are becoming publishers whether they wanted to or not, because the competition and the way that all purchasing has become considered sales cycle was going to force the issue. However, I think that we are now seeing with the proliferation of connections between people and the speed of communication through technology that all companies are now experience providers.

For many years the experience, the interaction, was managed by a division within a Fortune 500 company who looked at the in store or in branch or in restaurant experience and created something that was visually appealing, memorable, pleasant and efficient. The design, well executed, helped consumers know where to stand in line, where to get help or look for specific products. It was staffed with friendly people who could naturally fill in the missing details or connections but most importantly provide a personalized experience or build a personal rapport with the consumer. They made the intuitively inefficient and efficient experience; if the design wasn’t quite right the personal connection filled the gaps.

As technology has replaced many of these branches, stores and human touch points, in part because it’s more cost effective, in part because the speed of the transaction or the convenience for the consumer held sway. Large companies have inarticulately made an effort to increase the number of touch points or tackle the gaps in service as a series of technology and marketing projects. As with all transformations, a serialized and interstitial set of projects never provide the harmony and richness of the experience a consumer demands. Often times when I hear large companies speak about their digital transformation or customer experience projects they feel like how a symphony would be written by series of committees each focused on the instrument they play.

It is the whole experience, in all its dimensions that need to be addressed. For a large company this is an almost achievable amount of organizational alignment required in a short period of time. Most companies have been built over decades and the organizational division, operating principals and culture cannot be rewired overnight. As with most disruption triggered by technology, the initial innovation is obtuse but with great promise. So while the value is well understood, the adoption model follows standard distribution curve, the early adopters take a leap of faith and when the point of leverage to value is understood the majority steps in. In some cases, the adoption curve can be accelerated when “killer” applications can be applied.

In the case of digital transformation, the killer application is personalization. Delivering experience in context, that is relevant and personalized is the key to moving an organization forward. In the case of customer experience and within the experience economy, the accelerant is the ability of large organization to deliver personalized or in contextualized experiences. While it may take a decade or more for a Fortune 500 company to reorganize, we can deliver value today through a more personalized experience.

As expected the organizational changes that will take time to work their way through a company that spent decades building for and organizing around 20th century models can recognize immediate value by through technology recreating the front line staff that helped clients find what they needed, answered questions and most importantly build a sense of intimacy between a consumer and brand.

Decision-Making Theory

As you know I’ve been writing from time to time on how to improve our decision-making processes within Tahzoo. We are good qualitative decision makers and I’d like to see us add some quantitative competency to our process. One technique is using probabilistic modeling to improve prediction. In a business setting we need to make the best decision based on an expected outcome, however; more often than not there are several possible outcomes that need to be considered.

One of the challenges of qualitative thinking, thinking from the gut, is that we are often told to trust our gut and the weighting is done at an emotional level. We evaluate the outcome we feel strongest about and often the one that we’re most hopeful will happen and then decide on a course of action. This is a great strategy for matters of the heart or in situations where the information is extremely limited.

At Tahzoo, we are often faced with multiple possible outcomes, for example, how long will it take us to fill a critical role in the business, and how does that impact projects and revenue? Is the multiple-year lease for the new office we are about to sign going to be large enough to support the number of people we expect to hire based on our growth projections?

With each of these questions, you need to make an estimate of the likelihood or probability of something so you can plan for the next steps. What do you do when there are multiple possibilities, how do you chose a path? Over the years I’ve developed a technique in which I try to consider all of the possible outcomes. I spend my idle thinking time thinking about people’s motivations, or alignment of interests, I gather data when possible, I ask people what they think will happen and why. Then lastly and probably most importantly I try to remember situations that are similar and my prediction was wrong and why.

After I’ve had time to think the issue through, (sometimes I wish I had more time but that is the way it goes at Tahzoo) I pick what I think are the three most likely outcomes. So for the sake of example, let’s take the lease situation… after much consideration, I believe our compound growth will require us to hire 100, 150 or 300 people over the next 7 years. When I weigh these possibilities to do my best to give them a percentage likelihood of happening base on all the available information.

Now there are a number of other techniques that I use, but I thought this one would be good to start with. So next time you have a decision that includes predicting the future or several possible outcomes try this method and let me know what you think.

For those of you who in enjoy math, send me a note and let’s get into probabilistic modeling, it is the future of our programming strategies for personalization. I am also a big fan of Monte Carlo simulations and Bayesian decision-making theory and computation.

Client Partner and Delivery Lead

I am asked from time to time to better define the role of Client Partner and the Delivery Lead. As part of a project kick off, I spent a few moments outlining the basic working relationship in an effort to ensure a successful engagement. The following is an excerpt from the letter that I wrote to the team…

Not unlike a pilot and a co-pilot, (the client partner and the delivery lead) they are responsible to fly the plane. It’s hard to imagine any circumstances in which they are not locked at the hip working through strategies and solutions to ensure the best possible experience for our client. As a team they need to ensure that we have the right people on the job, that we are delivering a level of quality that makes us all proud to be a part of Tahzoo, and thirdly that we are building our business within the account. While the division of labor between the two may change based on the client and individual expertise, the entire company needs to be operating in support of the pilot and the co-pilot. It is their plane; their account they are accountable no exceptions. There is no delivery view and sales view of the world that is acceptable to me. Tahzoo is not a hierarchical company… we are all here to serve the client or serve people who are serving the client. If you are in a position of leadership or expertise or administration you are at Tahzoo to give the team what they think they need to be successful.

The first deliverable from this team should be a vision statement/document that details what success looks like for this account. Keep in mind that we are a CX agency – our view should include the entirety of our client’s customer experience. We need a north star so that everyone who works on this account knows what we are aiming for and what are the major success milestones. I would expect this deliverable to be a page or so and a must read for everyone involved.

Digital Innovation

I spoke this week at the Digital Innovation Summit in Utrecht. It was a wonderful event with over 100 attendees, including customers, prospects and partners. My speech focused on the experience economy and how the quality and shareability of an experience is a hallmark of good marketing. In the experience economy it’s not about how much you have but how good you have it!

There are many examples of companies like Uber and AirBNB that are not only delivering exceptional technology enabled solutions, they are also leveraging underutilized assets in innovative ways. My charge to the marketers in the audience was that they need to focus on individualized experiences and brand interactions that can be easily shared.

On my blog www.letsgobegreat.com there is a short paper that I wrote if you’re interested in having a more detailed overview of my hypothesis. I continue to focus on more public speaking engagements, building our social network and providing more thought leadership around the experience economy and digital marketing. We are building the marketing engine across the company with a particular emphasis on partner outreach and geographically authentic experiences.

Thanks to Jen Adamski-Torres for getting up at the crack of dawn to live tweet some sketches that linked to my speech. Check them out on Twitter if you are interested.

What Is in a Number… 522?

In the United States there are 6.4 million new businesses started each year. A small business is defined as an enterprise with less than 500 employees, with the total number of small business in the US at any one time is around 28 million. Only 50% of new businesses survive more than 5 years and less than a third more than 10 years.

Tahzoo is 6 years old this month and for the third year in a row we are on the Inc. 5000 list! This year we are 522, a really impressive accomplishment when you consider our success against the odds. We have been very fortunate and now we need to be good stewards of our success and continue to build on the foundation that we’ve created.

Our mission is to establish and grow relationships with global customers. As we bring the various service offering to our clients, Staffing, Marketing Consulting and Technology implementations etc.; it’s all in service of toward their digital transformation. Enabling our clients to deliver the best service and the best experience to their customers. As an added bonus, all along the way, our clients get to experience in practice what we preach… that working with Tahzoo means that a bunch of Smart and Happy people will help you be successful.

Thank you everyone, let’s remember why we are here and take a moment to appreciate what we’ve accomplished.

Congratulations, Team Tahzoo!!!

Doing Right by the Client

I keep coming back to this one idea: if we are to be a truly global consulting company supporting the best brands in their customer experience journey, we need to provide a level of service and quality that is unequaled in the industry. The Tahzoo experience should be a fair exchange of value delivered in a frictionless manner. 

I recognize that for Tahzoo (and most companies), we will fall short of our ideals from time to time. We will fail to meet expectations or provide a deliverable that just isn’t up to the Tahzoo standard. The Delivery Lead will have the primary accountability to resolve any issues to the client’s satisfaction. Having made that clear, it’s everyone’s responsibility to delight and exceed client expectations. 

Service recovery … It’s how you handle problems, issues or concerns that matter. Most reputations for great customer service are built on how the company recovers or addresses a misstep or failure in execution. Companies like Nordstrom and Zappos are well known for how they empower their staff to fix issues. Even at Microsoft (not often considered a customer-focused organization) had “Make it Right Funds,” which was a reserve budget for remediating software implementation challenges.

Internal and external relationships
To be great at anything, it takes hard work over an extended period of time. One of the Tahzoo core values is that we hire Smart and Happy people. Every consulting company should and can be measured as a collection of internal and external relationships (this is one reason why we survey all of you so often, ask that you rate your week and your experience with your peers). I often say that you could easily make a determination about the long-term financial success of our company based on this measurement. It’s easier to build great relationships with happy people, teams work better when we they are happy and I would much rather spend my time talking with someone who had a smile in their voice than the alternative.    

I remember one misstep at one of our Clients. The customer’s expectation and our deliverable did not match up. These things happen from time to time, but what I really appreciated about how our team responded was that they engaged the customer. There was no recrimination or blaming of the client for not understanding, just an earnest effort to seek to understand the concern, express our apologies for not meeting their expectations and a commitment to resolve the issue to the client’s satisfaction. I was proud of how the team handled this today and I reminded them that the goal isn’t to avoid having problems it’s to make sure that when we do, we go above and beyond to make the client happy.   

Keep all of this in mind when hiring and collaborating and when you’re taking care of clients. It always pays to go the extra mile to make a difference for a client. You are empowered to do the right thing by our customers. 

Tahzoo’s Customer Experience 

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I was listening to an old interview with Steve Jobs today, he was discussing the process of product development and how he’s learned over the years to start with the customer experience in mind rather than the technology. I was again struck by his passion to deliver a phenomenal experience to his customers. I have been focused the last couple years on making sure that Tahzoo had the capability to help our clients deliver a great experience, but, candidly, I haven’t spent enough time crafting the experience I’d like for our clients.
 
When I founded the company I established the company values as part of a strategy to ensure that we had the right people. In the early days when I was acting as the account manager, I labored over the quality of our work and ensuring that we provided the best possible deliverables, I figured setting a good example would carry the day. As we began to grow we focused on hiring smart and happy people as core tenant of our customer experience strategy. More recently we created the Delivery Lead role as the keeper of the customer experience.
 
While these are important in setting the foundation for our company they are not nearly as explicit as we need to be around our customer experience. I was talking with one of our clients who had recently hired McKinsey to conduct a strategy workshop and while the workshop was in process they filmed the white boarding exercise and interaction between the teams. The video was streamed live to a group of graphic artists who produced a slide deck that represented the meeting inputs outputs and decisions. At the conclusion of the meeting the McKinsey team handed the client a freshly printed and readymade deck. Our client was blown away by the experience and we talked in detail about how Tahzoo could make similar improvements in our customers’ experience to set us apart from the field.

Just another example of how you never know where the next inspiration might come from or the surprising ways that the customer experience can be continually improved. Like Steve Jobs said, start there and you’re going to do alright.

On Commitment

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Commitment is a powerful word. I have been reflecting on that word a bit recently. When I started Tahzoo I had a dream that we could build a company that would change the way that companies engage with their customers. I have been and will be committed to that dream until we have accomplished our mission.

I’m reminded of my time at Nordstrom, when I first started with the company. It was during the holiday season and we were very busy. An older gentleman I didn’t know joined us behind the counter to help ease the burden and make our customers’ experience better. As it turned out, it was John Nordstrom who helped me gift wrap packages for the afternoon. What an impression that made on me—not only of their commitment to great customer service, but his willingness to go beyond his desk job to actually roll up his sleeves and get behind the counter to help. His action was very powerful. And I was clearly impressionable, as I still recall this moment for the positive impact it has had on me.

The internet, while creating many efficiencies, has also removed much of the human touch. The digital age has depersonalized an important part of the human condition. Meanwhile, commerce—how we spend our money—is a very social part of the human experience … our cities are built around market squares, we create friendships at our regular cafés and we recommend to our friends and family experiences and products that we enjoy. We’ve resurrected a part of the human connection through social media, communicating with one another our likes, dislikes and preferences, however this hasn’t solved the problem of feeling disintermediated from the brands we enjoy.

The vast majority of companies provide a one-size-fits-all digital experience that requires you the end user to find the bit of information you care about … to me the internet feels a lot like shopping in a store without anyone to help you find what you want and then if you’re lucky enough to find something, you have to go through a self-checkout process. We can do better, we can teach our customers how to do better and we can make the world a little bit better.

A great company must do two things well … care about its customers and employees … and be dedicated to changing the way that information is shared and how business is done.

Not too long ago Tahzoo was just a small team, only 10 people, however we were committed to an idea and to one another … that if we cared about our employees and cared about our customers we’d be a company worth caring about. While at times this may seem trite, it was and is the fuel that propels Tahzoo. You see, businesses can be started for many reasons—to make money, to exploit a market opportunity, to arbitrage labor markets—or they can be built to do something meaningful. In our case, my first act at Tahzoo was creating our values, even before I decided what we would do as a company. I thought if I was going to start a company it should mean something, stand for something and do something that makes a difference.

With all that said, I want to change our little part of the world. I want to help our clients figure out how to do a better job of taking care of their customers. It’s really just that simple. They should hire Tahzoo because they believe we can help them. And, we should help them. We should understand the trust they have bestowed upon us and act accordingly.