Time to Hit Refresh on Customer and Employee Experience Design Efforts?

What Matters And Is Missing In Those Who Are Working On Improving The Customer/Employee Experience?

I’ve worked with folks working on improving/transforming the Customer Experience.  I’ve also worked with folks working on improving/transforming the Employee Experience. In the process, I have come across personas, customer journeys, voice of the customer surveys, design thinking, service design, process mapping…. Yes, I have come across plenty of stuff.  Yet, I say that I have not come across that which gives life to the work of designing/orchestrating experiences that touch human lives as lived.

What is it that I am pointing at?  Let’s listen to Satya Nadella talk in his book Hit Refresh:

iu

Richard didn’t give me an engineering problem to solve on the whiteboard or a complex coding scenario to talk through. He didn’t grill me on my prior experiences or educational pedigree. He had one simple question.

“Imagine you see a baby laying in the street, and the baby is crying. What do you do?” he asked.

“You call 911,” I replied without much forethought.

Richard walked me out of his office, put his arm around me and said, “You need some empathy, man. If a baby is laying on the street crying, pick up the baby.”

Yes, that sums it up well.  Most of the folks that I have encountered are intelligent like Nadella and have about the same emotional intelligence (empathy) as he had when this event occurred many years ago.

How Important Is Empathy in Experience Design?

Great design necessarily has to be human centred as only human beings can appreciate the presence/absence of great design.  Is any kind of empathy sufficient?  Or is a particular kind of empathy necessary?  Lets listen to the folks at IDEO:

Human-centered design is all about building a deep empathy with the people you’re designing for…..

In the Inspiration Phase you’ll learn directly from the people you’re designing for as you immerse yourself in their lives and come to deeply understand their needs..

Notice, that IDEO folks speak of “deep empathy” – the kind of empathy that arises only after one has spent enough time immersed in their lives.  It is that immersion (living in the arena in which life occurs) that leads to the deep understanding of their needs.

Yet, time after time I see folks ‘study’ their target (customer, employee) from a safe distance (sitting in the stands) through a variety of means – surveys, focus groups, interviews. Then use their intellect to come up with personas, journeys etc.  All intellect, zero empathy.

Can you just take these ‘intellectuals’ and turn them into empaths with some classroom training?  Or maybe an empathy app.  Is it this simple?

The Right Kind of Life Experiences Are Essential To The Presence of Empathy

I say that suffering is essential to empathy.  It is my own (personal) suffering in the arena of cancer that has led me to accept a request from a friend to reach out and talk with her friends father who is dying of liver cancer.  How about Satya Nadella?

I discovered Buddha did not set out to found a world religion. He set out to understand why one suffers. I learned that only through living life’s ups and downs you can develop empathy….

It’s just that life’s experience has helped me build a growing sense of empathy for an ever widening circle of people. I have empathy for people with disabilities. I have empathy for people trying to make a living from the inner cities and the Rust Belt to the developing countries …. I have empathy for small business owners working to succeed. I have empathy for any person targeted with violence and hate because of the color of his or hers skin, what they believe, or who they love.

My passion is to put empathy at the centre of everything I pursue – from products we launch, to the new markets we enter, to the employees, customers, and partners we work with.

So how did an ‘intellectual’ like Nadella turn into such an empath.  The clue is in the line “It’s just that life’s experiences …”  Is there a particular life experience that was the turning point?

Little did I know then how profoundly our lives would change. Over the course of the next couple of years we learned more about the damage caused by utero-asphyxiation, and how Zain would require a wheelchair and be reliant on us because of sever cerebral palsy. I was devastated.

Something awful like this happens. It brings your world to a halt and suddenly you ooze with empathy.  Right?  Not necessarily. Let’s listen to Nadella:

I was devastated. But mostly I was sad for how things turned out for me and Anu.  Thankfully, Anu helped me understand that it was not about what happened to me. it was about deeply understanding what had happened to Zain, and developing empathy for his pain and his circumstances while accepting our responsibility as his parents.

What Are The Implications For Your Customer/Employee Experience Efforts?

Empathy is central.

Yet, time after time, I come across Experience ‘teams’ full of Nadella’s – intelligent, hardworking, and self-centred.  Folks who treated everything an engineering (process, technology) problem. These folks even when they think/speak ‘walking in the shoes of the customer/employee’ are doing nothing of the kind. Mostly they are projecting themselves (their mindset) into the shoes of their customers/employees.  Worse, these folks are blind to this – so blind that when someone like me points this out it simply does not show up on their radar.

What’s missing is the Anu’s of this world – people who naturally feel/think and show up/operate in terms of the needs/suffering of the other – fellow human being.

Until the Nadella’s are teamed up with the Anu’s of this world, and listen – really listen, most of the experience design/improvement efforts will yield little of value.

Enough for today. I thank you for your listening and wish you the very best. Until the next time…

Maz Signature

On Technology In Experience Design: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Brussels Airport: Human Beings and Technology Complement One Another to Deliver A Good Experience

It’s Monday morning, early, as we are about to land at Brussels airport I decide to take the train rather than the taxi.  On landing I look for and follow the signs for the train. I arrive at level -1. Now I am presented with choice: to get my ticket from the ticket machines (many of them, all of them available for use) or queue up at the ticket office and be served by a human being.  I choose to queue up and be served by the human being.

To the lovers of technology and its promise to reduce friction and bring about nirvana my decision does not make sense. Surely it would be faster and easier.  So why did I not use the machines? I lacked prior experience with these machines. I lacked the kind of contextual knowledge needed to figure what ticket I needed. And importantly, previous bad experiences – like the refusal to accept my credit card, or being told by the inspector that I had purchased the wrong ticket….

Further, and please make a note of this, I knew that the automated ticket machines do not have the same kind of being as a human being.  What am I getting at? I am talking about flexibility, intuitive contextual understanding born from a shared humanity, and a natural inclination towards helpfulness.  How best to illustrate?  Follow my story and you will see.

Within 2 to 3 minutes of queuing up I am face to face with middle aged man behind a glass screen. Do I speak French or English?  I notice that this man had been speaking in Flemish to his colleagues. So I speak English and ask him for a ticket to Bruxelles-Nord.  He flexes: he switches to speaking English fluently. He flexes: he asks me if I want a single or a return. I tell him that I need a return. He tells me the price and issues the ticket.

Time to pay. I get out my credit credit and look at the card processing machine. I haven’t come across this type before. I cannot figure out where the card goes and which way it goes. So I ask the man. He flexes to meet my need: he shows/tells me the correct place and way of inserting the card. I am grateful as I had not seen that slot in the machine.  I think bad design! Great that there is a human being to make up for the poor design of the credit card machine.  I pay. I thank the man and make my way through automated barriers to the train.

When I arrive at Bruxelles-Nord I find myself happy.  I took the road less travelled – I normally take the taxi – there were challenges. And the right combination of humanity and technology allowed me to overcome this challenges, easily, and left me feeling good.  Good!

London Heathrow: Getting Technology and Humanity All Wrong

Same day. It has been a long day. Finally, I am off the aeroplane and making my way to passport control at London Heathrow- later than expected. The taxi driver has just rang me to ask where I am.  So I am keen to get through passport control.

I arrive at passport control along with many others. Two choices – follow the lane for e-passports or the other lane.  Not an easy choice.  There is long queue in the e-passport lane as the demand falling on this lane is greater than the capacity of this lane.  This lane is automated and the technology (the machines) are not keeping up with the human beings.  On the other hand, there are only two lanes open in the other (alternative) lane.

Whilst in the midst of making the decision, I find myself shepherded into the e-passport lane.  I wait. I wait. I wait. Finally, I am near enough to the machines, the technology, to see what is going on.  There are 15 machines, only 10 of them are operational.  Imagine if you ran a call centre and on a busy day one third of your staff were off ill. What kind of an impact would that have on service levels?  OK, that accounts for some of the imbalance between demand and throughput.  What else is going on? I look.

As I am looking, for about ten minutes or so, I notice a few things. I notice that the process of getting through the machines is longer – every time – than with a human being checking passports. So even if everything worked like clockwork, it takes longer to get through these machines. But everything isn’t working like clockwork. It is about as far from clockwork as one can imagine.

I notice that most folks simply do not how to use the machines.  I can see the confusion on their faces. I can see their apprehension as they find themselves face to face with the passport (and facial recognition) machines.  There are no easily (intuitively) understandable instructions. For example, folks don’t know whether to put the passport face up or face down in the scanning area.  The machine does not detect wrong procedure and alert folks. It does its processing and when it is finished a big red cross comes up on the screen. But no useful error message or guidance.

At this point I ask you to think back to my situation at Brussels Airport. Remember me turning to and being served – as in helped out – by a human being?  So you may be wondering what happened to the human beings at passport control. This is where it goes from bad to ugly.  Allow me to explain.

I can only see one human being on my side of the machines – a woman in her late twenties. She is standing in front of machine 11 – only machines 1 to 10 are operational.  She is looking at what is going on.  Her contribution? To look down at the people struggling with the machines and provide useless advice.  The looking down is evident in her face and her tone of voice.  She keeps saying “If you put your passport against the machine and push down then it works fine”.  Folks are doing that and for some of them it is not working out. Clearly, they are at fault given her stance.

I notice that every person who cannot get through the automated passport check  – which is at least one in every three – is instructed by this young lady to go and see the man at the end of the line.  I look and see that there is only one man at the end of the line. He is busy – there is long queue.  The price of cost reduction through technology centred automation is being paid by us – the users.  I look at the faces of the people like me waiting patiently to get through this nightmare. I can see the frustration, even contempt, in their faces. Some of them are voicing this frustration – in a very understated English way.

 

Where I Stand In Regard To Technology

1 – It is my experience that the claims made in regards to technology (in business) are puffery. Or, at best, aspirational – what folks would like to believe. Yes, technology can make things better. But it rarely does especially not for the people who actually find themselves face to face with technology – the users. 

Take Heathrow Airport, I am sure that folks selling the vision and benefits talked about: reducing costs by replacing many people with one machine, the throughput – how it would take less time for the machine to do the work of the human being, the improvement in the customer experience – easier, quicker, better, the reduction in risk as machines don’t get tired….  Now you compare my experience with the vision/promise.  Notice the gap.

2 – Making technology work (for users) requires a deep connection with our own humanity (our way of being_in_the_world). And with the humanity of our fellow human beings through empathy.  Yet this is THE quality that is lacking in the people who purchase technology (managers) and those implement technology.  Further, neither party really cares for the users of technology.  The users are pawns who are to be ‘change managed’ in order for the benefits of automation to be harvested. What are those benefits?  As I mentioned in the last conversation they are almost always cost reduction.

3 – In service contexts, great experience design requires the right blend of the human beings and technology. Why?  Technology is great where something can be reduced a technique – a logical sequence of invariant steps – and thus automated.  Yet an intrinsic and persuasive feature of human worlds is unpredictability, novelty, variance.  These are characteristics of living and life – especially intelligent life like ours. Technology sucks at dealing with this. But human beings don’t. Human beings have the capacity even an inclination to be flexible in an instant. Humans can get an intuitive grasp of the context (the background) and the user and her situation (the foreground). And we can flex to address the specific needs of this user in this context.

4 – It is easier to design and implement technology badly – from a user experience standpoint – then it is do it well. To turn around this situation requires a substantial investment in service designers and ux designers.  As well as prioritisation of the user experience. For all the talk of Design Thinking there is little of it actually occurring – perhaps a drop in the ocean.  As someone in an important position said to me recently “I don’t care about their feelings. I have a deadline to meet!” Further, most organisations are not willing to really get into Design Thinking – it requires a different mix of people, it involves getting out of the office and entering new worlds, it takes time, it takes effort, it requires experimenting and iteration.  None of this appeals when the focus is implementing technology ‘out of the box’ this month using agile.  Were speed and efficiency is of the essence the ground/soil necessary for human centred design is simply not there.

I thank you for your listening. Until the next time….

What Way Of Being Creates Access To Effectiveness In The Exercise Of Change Leadership?

Looking back, I see that I have been involved in drama of organisational change since the days I did corporate recovery work as a part of Price Waterhouse’s Corporate Recovery division.  That must have been around 1990/91 – some 20+ years ago.  What is it that I have ‘learned’ about this domain: the domain of leading-facilitating organisational change?

After 20+ years, I find myself totally clear on the following: almost every Top and Middle I have come across, in just about every type of organisation, in just about every type of industry, sucks at leading-enabling-facilitating organisational change.  I found myself face to face with this truth, in a recent organisational context, where I find myself acting as  an outside advisor on a Customer project.

If you find yourself in this ‘place’ and are content with this then stop reading and go do something useful with your life.  On the other hand, if you find yourself in that ‘place’ and looking for an access to being effective in the exercise of change leadership then I invite you to listen – really listen and grapple with these words of wisdom:

Position is everything. Everything changes, even when the circumstances remain identical, when you shift your position. Try it sometime with someone who is your adversary. Shift your position. Be that person and the adversary disappears.

Shift positions with whatever barrier you are facing … in your life. Be the barrier, and it is no longer there. It is only there because we pull back, separate ourselves from it. The more we pull back, the bigger and more overwhelming it gets, and the angrier or the more frightened we become. If we really look at the anger that makes us crazy or the fear that stops us cold, we see that it develops step by step from our thought process. And starting point of that thought process is separation ……

When you really acknowledge that it is nothing but yourself, when you realise this fact, you cannot live your life in the old way. You’ve suddenly taken responsibility for it. Before, the problem was outside – your bad luck, what other did to you, the circumstances you could do nothing about… When you realise that the cause is you, you empower yourself. You suddenly become a ten thousand-foot-high buddha……. Nothing is outside of you.

– John Daido Loori, The Great Way, Best Buddhist Writing 2008

Just about every one of us (as a human being) sucks at relationship, at experience design, at calling forth engagement, at change, and at the exercise of leadership due to the neglect of this radical truth. Some of us are not aware of this. Many who us, who are aware of this truth, choose not to give life to this truth in our way of being (showing up and travelling) in life.

Is it then any surprise that just about every organisation sucks at cultivating relationships with customer, at designing-generating appropriate customer experiences, at calling forth the best of their people popularly labelled employee engagement, and the exercise of change leadership?

What hope is their for an organisation to make a shift to a customer-centric way of being-in-the-world and doing business with customers, when the Tops and Middles are not even effective in the exercise of change leadership in the context of designing-implementing a CRM system?

How To Succeed In The Game Of Experience Design? The Six Essentials Courtesy of Amanda Burden

This is a long post. You will only get value out of it if you find yourself genuinely interested in human beings and experience design.

What Comes Before Customer Experience Management?

More and more I come across the term Customer Experience Management. As I sit with this term, this thought occurs to me: “You must have something in place before you are in a position to manage it!”  Put differently, before I am in a position to manage the operation of a building, the building must exist – be in place.

I get there is a different sense of manage as in project management: where one oversees the planning and execution of a project.  Yet, I do not see Customer Experience as a project say like a marketing campaign is distinct project with a start and a finish.  Customer Experience shows up for me as a way of showing up and doing business with customers which emphasises the critical important of the customer’s holistic experience of your business.

For me the word that rightfully occurs after Customer Experience is design. It occurs to me that this is the first and foremost challenge of Customer Experience: designing customer experiences that speak to customers and leave them feeling great at being associated with your business – association includes yet is not limited to buying from your business. Let’s use the analogy of a rocket launch. It occurs to me that Customer Experience Design is the equivalent of doing that which is necessary to actually get the rocket off the ground.  If the rocket does not get off the ground all else is superfluous.

Now I ask you to ponder this, why is there so much talk of voice of the customer and Customer Experience Management and almost nobody talks about Customer Experience Design?  Really dive into this question with an open-inquisitive-questioning mind and you may just see why it is that so many have achieved so little in the domain of Customer Experience.

What Does It Take To Design Great Customer Experiences?

My short answer to this question is that all that you/i need to know is disclosed-shared by Amanda Burden in the TED talk below.  I urge you to watch it, and watch it again. Here is the talk:

I share with you aspects of the talk which resonate most deeply with me and my lived experience of business and in particular the domain of Customer including Customer Experience.

1. Seeing What Really Matters, What It Is All About?

“When people think about cities, they tend to think of certain things. They think of buildings and streets and skyscrapers, noisy cabs. But when I think about cities, I think about people. Cities are fundamentally about people, and where people go and where people meet are at the core of what makes a city work…

My take? The game of life, of business, of performance, of Customer Experience is about people!  In our obsession with strategy, with operations, with processes, with data, with technology (do we love technology!) we are oblivious to fact that these games are fundamentally about people and in particular the human (existential) dimension.

2. Direct Observation Into The details Of Human Behaviour 

” ….. enjoyable public spaces are the key to planning a great city….. But what makes a public space work? ……. One of the first spaces that I studied was this little vest pocket park called Paley Park in midtown Manhattan…. what was it about this space that made it special and drew people to it? Well, I would sit in the park and watch very carefully, and first among other things were the comfortable, movable chairs. People would come in, find their own seat, move it a bit, actually, and then stay a while, and then interestingly, people themselves attracted other people, and ironically, I felt more peaceful if there were other people around. And it was green. This little park provided what New Yorker’s crave: comfort and greenery …”

My take? Great experiences are designed. The design follows detailed observation of human behaviour. Can anyone do this work? No, it takes people like Amanda who are both trained in the field of human behaviour AND are in touch with their own humanity. Notice, Amanda noticed that she felt more peaceful in that park when there were other people around. And being in tune with her own experience (bodily state, feelings, thoughts, mood) she was able to guess that this park met the New Yorker’s craving for comfort and greenery.  Put differently, direct observation AND lived experience led to inductive thinking – the kind of thinking that does not show up when one is process mapping in the office or poring over VoC reports.

3. Designers Who Have The Requisite Grasp Of Human Beings AND Find Themselves Called To Enrich Lives

“…  one of the more wonky things about me is that I am an animal behaviorist, and I use those skills not to study animal behavior but to study how people in cities use city public spaces…  For me, becoming a city planner meant being able to truly change the city that I lived in and loved. I wanted to be able to create places that would give you the feeling that you got in Paley Park, and not allow developers to build bleak plazas like this….. I was determined to create places that would make a difference in people’s lives.

My take? When I see an organisation using the lean-six sigma-process guys to staff their Customer Experience effort, I know it is doomed.  These folks lack that which it takes to craft experiences that speak to customers. What do they lack? Humanity – they are not sufficiently in tune with their humanity so how can they be in tune with the humanity of others?  Process folks are focused on efficiency/throughput. Not comfort, not connection, not beauty… What they are not called to do nor determined to do is to create experiences (and ways of doing business) that make a difference in people’s (customers, frontline personnel) lives.

4. Great Experiences Need To Be Lived-Experienced Before They Are Implemented; Details Make The Difference

“…. just to make sure, I insisted that we build a mock-up in wood, at scale, of the railing and the sea wall. And when I sat down on that test bench with sand still swirling all around me, the railing hit exactly at eye level, blocking my view and ruining my experience at the water’s edge. 

So you see, details really do make a difference. But design is not just how something looks, it’s how your body feels on that seat in that space, and I believe that successful design always depends on that very individual experience. In this photo, everything looks very finished, but that granite edge, those lights, the back on that bench, the trees in planting, and the many different kinds of places to sit were all little battles that turned this project into a place that people wanted to be.

My take? To design customer experience one needs to be clear on what actually constitutes an experience. And in the domain of customer experience one has to experience-live the customer experience (on more than one occasion) in order to grasp the critical importance of the little details – the kind that are not on the minds of those redesigning processes and/or experiences in the comfort of the office.

 5. Cultivating Customer Trust Starts With A Deep ‘Listening’ In The Deepest Sense of Listening

“So how was I going to get this done? By listening. So I began listening, in fact, thousands of hours of listening just to establish trust. You know, communities can tell whether or not you understand their neighborhoods. It’s not something you can just fake. And so I began walking. I can’t tell you how many blocks I walked, in sweltering summers, in freezing winters, year after year, just so I could get to understand the DNA of each neighborhood and know what each street felt like. I became an incredibly geeky zoning expert, finding ways that zoning could address communities’ concerns.”

My Take?  Consider what it takes to generate customer insight (and trust). Consider what listening actually involves: listening to the voice of the customer directly (thousand of hours) and listening by experiencing that which the customer experiences by walking in his/her shoes in “sweltering summers, in freezing winters, year after year…”. Now compare that with what the big brand consultants peddle, and what VoC offers.  As I have stated in a previous post: “There is ALWAYS a price. It is ALWAYS paid. We only get to choose whether we pay the price right up front, during the middle, or at the end.” Notice, Amanda paid the price right up front. Which is why her work turned out to be a success when implemented.

6. To Design Great Customer Experiences Tap Into Your Humanity, Not Your Design Expertise

“So what’s the trick? How do you turn a park into a place that people want to be? Well, it’s up to you, not as a city planner but as a human being. You don’t tap into your design expertise. You tap into your humanity. I mean, would you want to go there? Would you want to stay there? Can you see into it and out of it? Are there other people there? Does it seem green and friendly? Can you find your very own seat?

My take? I do not have any design expertise. Yet, I find myself well fitted to the challenge of experience design. Why? Because I find that all it has taken for me to design customer experiences (and the associated changes in the frontline experience) is the capacity and willingness to tap into my humanity: to put myself in the place of the customer (and the frontline) person – to experience that which they experience and a burning desire-commitment to making a difference in their humanity as lived-experienced.  Which is to say, I find myself in total agreement with Amanda. And, design expertise-tools have their place, can come handy – just as a saw has its place can come handy in the hands of a carpenter who loves working wood to create beauty.

“Oh … milk!”: Is This The Solution To The Customer Interaction Puzzle?

What Occurred and the Experience of What Occurred

In the last post I shared with a customer interaction that took place at Starbucks. If you are to get value out of this conversation it is necessary for you to go and read that last post. Before we proceed, I feel compelled to issue a warning: this post is not for those whose attention span is limited to 30 seconds.

How are we to make sense of what occurred?  Let’s start with how the author (Anna Papachristos) makes sense of the interaction between her mother and the Starbuck’s barista

I’m not sure what was more baffling–the fact that no one in the coffee shop listened, or that they’ve become blissfully unaware of the basics. I understand that Starbucks stands as a status symbol more than anything, but have we really distanced ourselves from the simple things in life that badly? This barista’s mistake may have been the result of a random miscommunication, but her confusion was nothing short of hilarious.

Making Sense of This Customer Interaction: Multiple Perspectives

Two people took up my invitation, in the last post, to put intellect-expertise into action and generate-share an explanation of what occurred.  First, lets listen to Gord Demers:

I can’t help but wonder if this could be an English as a Second Language (ESL) situation were one of the parties didn’t have English as their first language…… Maybe the music was too loud and the customer spoke softly and the employee never truly heard the correct order?

James Lawther shares a different take on what occurred:

My guess, though difficult as I wasn’t there…  The barista was bored out of her mind, waiting for her shift to end and was in a world of her own. How’s that?

Finally, lets just remind ourselves as to how Don Peppers choose to interpret this interaction:

Starbucks, like the roadside diner and any other business, tries to maintain quality and control costs by standardizing processes and operations. Routine tasks, if they can’t be automated, are at least handled in the same way by every employee.

My Take On What Occurred

It occurs to me another way to look at the situation and what occurred is to make use of the insights of two philosophers: Wittgenstein and Heidegger.

Wittgenstein on Language

Let’s start with Wittgenstein and his insight into language.  Wittgenstein starts his book, Philosophical Investigations, by sharing a quotation from St Augustine in order to put on the table our taken for granted understanding of language.  This is what Wittgenstein says about this account of language:

These words, it seems to me, give us a particular picture of the essence of human language.  It is this: the individual words in language name objects—sentences are combinations of such names. In this picture of language we find the roots of the following idea: Every word has a meaning. This meaning is correlated with the word. It is the object for which the word stands.

Wittgenstein does not see language in this way.  Wittgenstein sees words and language as tools.  What kind of tools?  Social tools for social purposes in specific domains of social life:

A common summary of his argument is that meaning is use—words are not defined by reference to the objects they designate, nor by the mental representations one might associate with them, but by how they are used……

He shows how, in each case, the meaning of the word presupposes our ability to use it….

Wittgenstein’s point is not that it is impossible to define “game”, but that we don’t have a definition, and we don’t need one, because even without the definition, we use the word successfully. Everybody understands what we mean when we talk about playing a game……

Wittgenstein argues that definitions emerge from what he termed “forms of life”, roughly the culture and society in which they are used. Wittgenstein stresses the social aspects of cognition; to see how language works for most cases, we have to see how it functions in a specific social situation. It is this emphasis on becoming attentive to the social backdrop against which language is rendered intelligible that explains Wittgenstein’s elliptical comment that “If a lion could talk, we could not understand him.”

Source: Wikipedia/Philosophical Investigations

Heidegger: human being as being-in-the-world

In grappling with the question of being Heidegger chooses to look at the being who has an understanding of being: human being.  In so looking, Heidegger asserts that a human being is a being-in-the-world. It is tempting to interpret this as meaning that the world is a container, say a glass, and the human being is in the world, as water is in a glass. Wrong!  A more accurate representation is to see a tapestry and a human being is one thread in the tapestry. Notice, there is not a thread isolated from the tapestry – the two are one!

Not only is a human being a being-in-the-world, it is also so that a human being is situated within specific worlds. What kind of ‘worlds’?  The world of academia.  The world of business. The world of politics. The world of education-schooling. The world of Christianity.  The world of Islam. The world of the high-tech start up. The VC world. The world of finance …… 

What constitutes a world?  A world consists of human beings, their concerns, roles, interactions between human beings, tasks and equipment (stuff). 

“Oh … milk!”: the solution to the riddle?

In our average everydayness what is closest to us is our environment (Umwelt) in which we are caught up in our concerns and activities.

– Heidegger

Situated in a world, busy with the concerns-activities-equipment, we approach each encounter from a particular understanding. What kind of understanding?  The automatic-default understanding of a particular world.  For example, in the world of dining at restaurants you automatically ask for the bill, pay, leave a tip. Do you do the same after enjoying a delicious meal at a friends house when you have been invited as a guest?  What would happen if you did ask your hostess for a bill? Or insist on paying for the meal?  

It occurs to me that the author (Anna Papachristos) committed the same kind of blunder (asking your host for a bill at the end of the meal) when the authors mother walked into Starbucks and asked for “Milk”.  In the world of Starbucks, the world of coffee and coffee drinkers, one does not walk into a Starbucks, stand in line, get to the barista and ask for milk.

The barista is in the world of coffee and in a dance with customers who show up and ask for a coffee. In this world the request for milk is puzzling. It is nonsensical in the sense that one cannot automatically make sense of it.  How does the barista make sense of it?  Probably by looking for the coffee word that sounds closest to milk: “Mocha?”  Notice, that the barista did not get milk until the authors mother said: “No. Two percent white milk.”. What was the barista’s response? “Oh … milk!” Finally, the barista has made sense of the nonsensical request for “milk”.

What makes me confident of my interpretation?  The author writes (the bolding is my work):

This barista’s mistake may have been the result of a random miscommunication, but her confusion was nothing short of hilarious.

Yes, the barista was confused. She was as confused by the request for milk as a hostess would be by a guest’s request for a bill!

Let’s move on and consider why it is that even when the barista got the demand for milk, Starbucks delivered steamed milk and not cold milk:

Our barista proceeded to ask if we’d like the milk steamed, but we opted for cold. (They steamed it anyway.) Eventually, we managed to get our order straightened out.

Think back to Wittgenstein: the meaning of a word is the use to which it is put within a particular social world.  What is the meaning-use of the word ‘milk’ in Starbucks?  Milk that goes into coffee. What kind of milk is that? Steamed milk.  Put differently, in a game of chess ‘castle’ does not mean a castle as in a castle where a lord lives. Nor does castling in chess mean moving between castles in real life!

Why Have I Made Such An Effort With This Challenge?

Think research: how can you be sure that the question that you asked is the question that the customer answered?

Think Voice of the Customer feedback: how can you be sure that what you took the customer’s feedback to mean is what the customer meant?

Think requirements gathering: how can you be sure that you have understand the requirement that the customer is actual communicating?

Think experience design: how can you be sure that you have gotten the experience of the customer that you talking to, right now?

Lessons: 

To truly understand our fellow human beings we have to immerse ourselves in them. How? By living in their worlds. Which is why it takes a nurse to understand a nurse, a doctor to understand a doctor, a CEO to understand a CEO, a woman to understand a woman, a person with back pain to understand a person with back pain, an immigrant to understand an immigrant.

If you do want to understand another then learn from Undercover Boss.  Get out of your office.  Dive into a particular world by fulfilling a particular role in that world.  Dress for that role, train for that role. Dive into the activities that go with that role by actually doing the activities – not as a simulation but for real. And spend enough time, at least five days, living that role.

It takes a woman to understand a woman, a CEO to understand a CEO, an immigrant to understand an immigrant, a teenager to understand a teenager, a person with back pain to understand another person with back pain …….. How do you know when you have arrived at this level of understanding?  You live-breathe-speak the same language! And it speaks you.  Enough for today ..

Can ‘externalities’ open up an actionable pathway to customer service, customer experience design and customer-centricity?

Are dead concepts limiting what shows up as customer service, customer experience and customer-centricity?

We are prisoners of dead concepts and mostly we are not present to this.

Look closely at what passes for customer services and the metaphor/concept that determine how it shows up is that of a factory (lowest cost factory) for handling/processing calls.  An even stronger metaphor/concept is that of waste processing.  Incoming calls land for enterprises like domestic waste lands for the local authorities – an undesirable obligation which costs money and should be done as cheaply as possible.

Look closely for most of what passes for customer experience design and it is interaction design – either at the point of interaction or across multiple points of interaction between the customer and the enterprise.

Look closely at customer-centricity and you find it is struggling because there is no guiding concept/metaphor that gives shape/substance to it.  Concepts and metaphors matter.  This got me thinking about ‘externalities’.

Let’s get acquainted with the concept of ‘externalities’

Here is the dictionary definition of ‘externality’:

An externality is an effect of a purchase or use decision by one set of parties on others who did not have a choice and whose interests were not taken into account.  Classic example of a negative externality: pollution, generated by some productive enterprise, and affecting others who had no choice and were probably not taken into account.  Example of a positive externality: Purchase a car of a certain model increases demand and thus availability for mechanics who know that kind of car, which improves the situation for others owning that model.”

How can the ‘externality’ concept help us improve the customer experience and cultivate customer-centric organisations?

I can speak about it in general terms or I can help you to see it for yourself through concrete examples:

Amazonhasn’t Amazon done away with many (if not all) of the negative externalities falling on customers though the taken for granted book buying model?  As a book customer you no longer have to pay the costs (time, effort, money) associated with getting to the bookshop, finding the right books, finding out that the book you are looking for is not there, wondering/worrying that the book is not any good, waiting to pay, carrying the books around and finally making your way back home.  Amazon did away with all of those costs falling on the customer.  And even introduced benefits like lower prices!

With ebooks Amazon has done away with the one disadvantage of buying books online – waiting for the booking to arrive.  Now you get the book there and then and you can read it on your PC, your tablet, your smartphone!

Furthermore, Amazon has focussed on operational excellence such that ‘no service is the best service’  – ensuring that the ‘system’ works so that the customer does not have to spend time/money/effort calling the Customer Services team.

Apple: hasn’t Apple done away with negative externalities falling on the customers whilst improving the customer’s lives? In the area of music the customer no longer has to make his way to the store, spend time finding the albums, buy an entire album when he only wanted to listen to two or three songs, queue up to pay, make his way home – all this before he can listen to the music. Apple did away with all that hassle and allow music lovers to buy the exact tracks and listen to them almost immediately.

If you look at the iPhone you will notice that traditional handset makers imposed a big negative externality on customers: their phones were hard to understand, set-up and use – the retail shops and the mobile operators were pretty unhelpful as well.  By taking on that work, upon itself, through great design Apple did away with that externality and at the same time introduced a benefit – a beautiful phone in terms of look and feel.

Salesforce.com:  hasn’t Salesforce.com done away with the negative externalities falling on corporate IT depts?  All the hassle, the work, the effort, the time involved in procuring, installing, configuring, maintaining and managing CRM systems?

Zappos: didn’t Zappos do away with the negative externalities falling  customers who were up for buying shoes from a unknown internet operator?  Next day delivery.  Return the shoes no questions asked.  Easy to get hold of and took with a friendly human being.  Furthermore, Zappos has used its Customer Services team to infuse/delivery happiness into the lives of the people calling its Customer Services team – providing a benefit that is highly appreciated by customers.

Build-A-Bear: the genesis of Build-A-Bear was the founder turning up with a friend and finding that they did not like any of the bears in stock.  Isn’t that a negative externality?  Going to the effort of going to the store and not finding what you want – nobody has what you want because everyone has pretty much the same standard product?  Build-A-Bear turned that negative externality into a positive customer experience – you, the customer, get to experience creating your own bear: the bear itself, the degree of stuffing (soft, firm), the clothes, the name for the bear…..

Easyjet: didn’t Easyjet do away with that negative externality called a ‘high price’ by stripping out all the stuff that ‘economy’ customers did not need and were prepared to ‘sacrifice’ in exchange for a lower price?  Please notice that the customers of low cost airlines such as Easyjet are willing to put in more effort to get the benefit they want a lower price.  So if you think customer-centricity / customer experience design is simply about reducing customer effort then you might want to think again!

A deeper inquiry into ‘externalities’

The hidden design of the ‘business as usual’ is to impose cost on people/depts/organisations that are seen as being ‘outsiders’.  So businesses impose externalities onto customers because, despite the fine sounding talk, business folks see customers as ‘outsiders’.  And one business dept/function imposes externalities on another dept/function in the same business.  Allow me to illustrate this:

  • The product folks make products that are not good enough because the externalities are borne by customers, the marketing function, the sales folks and the customer services function;
  • The marketing folks mislead customers because the externalities of this misleading are borne by customer, the sales folks and the customer services function;
  • The sales folks say and do whatever they need to do to make their sales numbers knowing that the externalities will fall on the customer, the logistics/operations function, the customer services function and the finance function;
  • The logistics folks don’t do their job right knowing that the externalities of not keeping their promise will fall on the customer (who cares if he has taken a day off work to be at home) and the customer services function;
  • The customer services folks don’t have any internal depts to burden with externalities so they burden customers with them by hiding their phone number, understaffing, not having people on staff who can accurately answer even the top 10 frequently asked questions, diverting customers to self-service (IVR, internet)….
  • The IT folks don’t pay sufficient attention to the needs of their internal customers (marketing, sales, service…..) because they know the externalities of their inattention, lack of care, will fall on internal depts and customers.

Summing up

I am convinced that if you grapple with ‘externalities’ that one dept imposes on another and which your business imposes on the customer then you have a powerful (actionable) pathway for making breakthroughs in customer service, customer experience, customer-centricity, customer loyalty and business performance.   On the other hand this might show up as ‘hard work’ so you might just want to stick with the ‘customer-centric’ messaging – it doesn’t do much for the customer yet it sure does sound great!

Customer Experience Design: it’s not about the process it’s about the human being

The problem with Customer Experience is the Designers

Is the engineering / six sigma way of thinking and approaching the business world the right one for designing and orchestrating customer experiences?  Walk into many business, take a look at who is involved in Customer Experience efforts and the way that they are going about it and the answer is YES.  I am not in agreement with this view, this approach.  I wrote a post (The Problem with Customer Experience is the Designers) some time ago.  The one change I would make, today, is to say that the issues is not limited to the designers – it also includes their masters, the people who commission the work of the designers.

Customer Experience design is so much more than process design

In this post I simply want to get us present to the fact that the process lens (and thus process design / redesign) whilst useful can be misleading when it comes to getting a rounded grip on Customer Experience.   Designing great customer experiences means getting to grips with the fullness of our humanity.  I can talk about this (and it will show up as abstract) or I can point you towards what I am thinking by using an example.  Lets take look at my tea drinking experience.

How you can change the Customer Experience without changing the process

This is the mug that I normally use:

Why do I use it?  I use this mug because it is just right.  The main differentiator is the size/design of the handle – I can easily slide three fingers into the handle and the mould into the handle, a good fit.  There is the functional component of ease, the tactical component of fit between the handle and my fingers AND there is the emotional component.  There are two strands to the emotional component.  The first arises out of the tactile – how holding the mug ‘feels’ in my hands.  The second strand arises from memory – this mug was given to me as a Christmas gift, by colleagues, at a previous employer.

Can I change my tea drinking experience without changing any elements of the tea making-serving-drinking experience?   Yes, I can.  I can do it simply by changing the container I use.

Here is another mug that I use:

At a functional and tactile level this mug is poor in comparison to the previous mug.  Yet I do use this mug and I am attached to it.  Why?  This mug was made/decorated by my daughter and presented to me with a big hug and kiss on my right cheek.  It was her gift for Fathers Day and it says “No 1 Cuddly Bear”.  Every time I see and use this mug I am not just drinking tea, I am in fact present to and immersed in the love of my daughter.   So here we have a transformation of my experience simply by changing the mug.

Lets take a look at a different ‘mug’ and what impact this has on me and my tea drinking experience:

Notice that this ‘mug’ is not a mug, it has no handles, it is more accurately described as a bowl.  I first came across this when I married into the French – at breakfast my tea was presented to me in a bowl just like this one.

Drinking tea from a bowl instead of a mug completely alters my tea drinking experience.  When I use this bowl I am totally present to the sensations of holding the bowl, lifting the bowl, drinking/tasting the tea.  Why?  Because, the bowl requires me to hold it with both of my hands.  When I am holding the bowl with both of my hands I cannot be mindlessly drinking tea (not being present to the tea drinking experience) whilst using the computer – it simply does not lend itself to that.   Furthermore, the simple act of holding the bowl with two hands to cusp the bowl creates, for me, a more ‘intimate’ tea drinking experience.  I use this bowl when I want to bring myself back to the real world – to be mindful of my physical experience, to really be present to and appreciate the tea experience in its fullest dimensions.

Finally, lets take a look at this last ‘mug’:

My wife loves pretty stuff and this is the what she uses to serve tea when we have guests with us.  This ‘mug’ is neither a mug nor a cup or a bowl.  Yet, it is a little like all three and as a result it provides with a different experience.  First of all, when I see this ‘mug’ memories of family and friends rush into my mind along with pleasant feelings.  Second, this ‘mug’ is too big for the handle and so a certain presence is required:  it is not possible to drink tea mindlessly – I have to be present to what I am holding.  Third, I like the look of this ‘mug’ – the design, the colours, the simplicity of the pattern.  As a result, I enjoy drinking tea that much more.  Finally, I cannot ever drink tea from this ‘mug’ without thinking of my mother-in-law (who loves pretty objects) and thinking how much my wife is like my mother-in-law and yet does not realise it!   This brings a chuckle to my lips and smile into my heart.

Points to reflect upon when you are looking to improve / design the Customer Experience

I hope that I have shown up that just focussing upon and improving the process is not enough when it comes to designing / orchestrating the customer experience.  You need to look broader and understand how human beings experience stuff.

Human beings see, hear, touch, walk, smell and taste.  What does this mean for your Customer Experience design? How can you use the right sensory cues?  How can you involve customers more so that they are more fully present and thus in the experience?  Or how can you distract your customers so that they are not present to ‘unpleasant’ experiences?

We, human beings, think and they remember – the bring both of these qualities to the experience.  How can you evoke the right thoughts, the right memories so as to elevate the customer experience? What do you need to do to avoid evoking unpleasant memories?

Human beings are social by design and one of main facets of social is speaking and listening.  What implications does that have for your Customer Experience design?  Should people be present or not in the Customer Experience?  If they should be present then how many, what kinds of people?  What kind of social conversations and exchanges are the right ones? And so forth.

Finally:  process mapping and process design are easy in comparison to Customer Experience design.  Incidentally, process mapping disguised as customer experience mapping is still process mapping.  It only becomes customer experience mapping when you get access to the inner domain where experience resides and look at a lot more than the sequence of steps that the customer has to execute.