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.

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.

On Commitment

oncommitment

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.