@Nordstrom to the Rescue: Reacting Quickly to Negative Feedback Rules!

Yesterday I wrote about an “Epic Shoe Fail” that went down when I purchased shoes from Nordstrom.  I wrote the blog in part to share what I feel was a real service/experience let-down.  It was.  What I didn’t expect, however, was the immediately proactive response from Nordstrom: via Twitter.

Within an hour of posting the blog on Twitter and tagging @Nordstrom in the tweet I received the following reply:

@MattPlughoff We are sorry to have disappointed you.  Can you please DM us what happened?  We would like to help!”

I was impressed with the speed of the response, the offer for help, and the opportunity to take the conversation “off line” (which makes sense for privacy reasons–no need to engage in character assassination).  I responded:

“Your salesman: uninformative,poorly prepared,unenthusiastic,coercive threw your Acct program under the bus. Details:https://thethankyounote.wordpress.com”

At that point @Nordstrom and I began a series of DMs.  @Nordstrom’s representative was courteous, empathetic, apologetic, and assured me that my remarks would be passed to the appropriate manager for follow up:

 “Reading about your experience, I can understand your frustration.  We apologize for not meeting your expectations. Can you please let us know what store this happened at and your contact information?  We would like to get you in contact with the store manager. – Darnell” (these are two tweets connected together as the first exceeded 140 characters)

I have heard these promises before.  Not to sound overly skeptical, but I wondered if I’d actually hear from a Nordstrom manager.  I wrote:

“I’m grateful for the personalized follow-up. Results pending… Thank you very much.”

I DM’d @Nordstrom my contact information and waited to see the results…which happened very quickly.  Within an hour of finishing our DM conversation my phone rang.  It was the store manager.  She opened with an introduction and an apology.  She continued to say that she was “humbled” by the post, confirming that the employee did a poor job in both his role as a salesperson and as a Nordstrom brand ambassador.  She continued to express appreciation for the critique, citing the blog content.  She’d actually read the post and was prepared to speak to specific details.  She again apologized and said she hoped the singular experience wasn’t going to deter my decision to shop at Nordstrom (it won’t anymore).  The call was brief–maybe 10 minutes long.  But the manager was gracious, apologetic without being an ass-kisser, and firm in her conviction that my comments would be used to help the store improve total service.  It was great.  Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, it was fast.  Proactive problem solving on the most personal level will cure almost all service failures.

We thanked each other at the end of the call.  The manager thanked me for the critique and I thanked her for the awesomely fast response.  We’re in an Experience Economy.  And retail work is hard work.  But when someone drops the ball the choice is instantaneously simple: Ignore the customer and destroy your business’ brand OR engage them on a personal level and ask them to help co-create your business brand.  Norsdstrom nailed it yesterday.  Their brand is, in my mind, in much better shape than it was the week before.  


Epic Nordstrom Shoe Fail: A Tragedy in Three Parts

I was in a hurry.  Headed to a wedding.  And needed shoes.  I had a pair in mind–something I’d seen in a magazine or a Tumblr.  Wingtips.  Suede.  Preferably blue.  Preferably not too much money.  I was counting on Nordstrom to have something along these lines.  They’ve positioned themselves as that mostly-upscale place that keeps tabs on current trends. And they’ve earned a reputation for delivering pretty good service.  Nothing remarkable, but better than average.  

With that in mind I hit the Men’s Shoe department and found the pair I was looking for.  The exact pair, turns out.  Navy suede with a nice rubber sole.  Khaki stitching.  And only $64.95.  Brilliant.  The salesman was giving me a respectable amount of space–not crowding but certainly letting me know that he was there to help.  “I’ll take these in a 10” I said.  He hustled back to find the shoes.  I stood still.  He was out of his shoe cave in five minutes.  And then the Epic Shoe Fail began…

Fail #1: He had boxes.  Not one box but seven.  Teetering over his head, tipping to the left, then the right.  He craned around the box tower and apologized, “We don’t have your size in those shoes.”  The obvious implication being that he found at least seven viable alternatives and that, surely, he had something I’d like.  Most likely untrue as I’m very specific about these things.  It was one of those “If you throw enough crap at a wall something will stick” sales moments.  He set the seven boxes on the ground.  I explained that I really only wanted that pair and that style before going back to the drawing board.

Lesson #1: Don’t try and hard sell or bombard your customer with irrelevant choices.  Own the fact that you don’t have the right solution at that very moment and then collaborate on the next-best option.  But let the customer control the direction.

Fail #2: I found a pair of shoes that worked.  Very well.  Same style, same price, different color.  “I’ll take ’em” I said enthusiastically.  “Great” he replied and hurried off to secure them from the shoe cave.  He had the size.  Things were looking up.  As he started the purchase process he paused, looked at the shoes, looked at me, and said without apology “I’m sorry, I can’t sell you these shoes–they’re part of our Members Preview Sale.”  Bizarre.  Really, really bizarre.  There were were–I had the cash, he had the shoes, the deal was done.  He had failed to mention that Nordstrom had a secret Men’s Shoe Club that allowed special, privileged access to select items.  He COULD have explained that to me before I started shopping.  He saw EXACTLY which shoes I was interested in purchasing.  However, instead of communicating this in an up-front manner he waited until the “close.”  “So I can’t buy these shoes?  I’m here to buy shoes and you’re telling me I can’t buy THESE shoes?”  Pause.  Stare.  “That’s right” he replied, “Not unless you have a Nordstrom account.”

Lesson #2: Scarcity sells.  I get that.  But if you’re going to create scarcity then you have to communicate it as a value-add rather than a punishment.  You have to leverage scarcity to generate desire from the beginning of the sales cycle rather than at the end–where it’s just as likely to be perceived as punitive non-sense.  And, frankly, pisses off the customer with its absurdity.

Fail #3: “You can open a Nordstrom account and have these shoes” the man said, “It’ll only take five minutes.”  I don’t want or need a Nordstrom account.  I don’t want or need a loyalty club.  I’m not that kind of shopper.  “No thanks,” I said.  We stared at each other.  “You could simply sell me the shoes at the promotion price, which you overlooked earlier, ” I said.  No can do.  He’d “get in trouble.”  These things are, well, “tracked” or something along these lines.  The salesman leaned in to me a bit.  “You can open the account, buy the shoes, and close the account down five minutes later…”  Faustian.  Slimy.  Sad.  In one sentence he betrayed his employer–a reputable store.  He betrayed the program he was being paid to promote.  And he betrayed any confidence that I may have had in his integrity.  Ugly.  Desperate.  Dumb.  I declined.  Paid cash for the shoes and left.  Thankfully he gave me his business card for all the return business we’ll do together…

Lesson #3: Want to build loyalty?  Start with trust and transparency and honesty and service.  Don’t throw your employer under the bus.  Do the right thing for the customer if, in fact, you’re responsible for poor communication.  And never, ever, put your own needs ahead of the customer.  

It was a three-part Epic Shoe Fail that could have been prevented from the on-set.  The good news is I had a nice pair of kicks for a wedding.  The bad news?  I happened to bump in to a Nordstrom executive later that day.  He was appreciative of the feedback, as were the four other people with whom I shared the story…

A 10 Step Program for Insane Mediocrity!

“History is not was.  It is.” — William Faulkner

We’re in revolutionary times.  So much so that it’s ridiculous to use terms like ‘dynamic change’ or ‘accelerated growth’ any longer.  The static serenity of yesteryear has been shattered, forcing us to be intimately comfortable with insecurity on a personal, economic, and global level.  And that’s ok.  It happens.  It’s happening.  It’s time for all of us to realize that where we come from has nothing to do with where we’re going and that ‘safe’ is a four letter word.  

Nonetheless there are folks that just aren’t comfortable with change.  I get it.  It’s not easy to let go of what you know or what’s always worked.  The past feels like a warm Snuggie on a chilly winter night.  It’s quaint and cozy to reminisce on those rosy by-gone days.  So, if you’re risk averse and really hating the idea that the world is ‘forcing’ you to change,  here’s a little anti-change check list of things you can do to stay as insulated as possible and avoid any nasty discomfort:

1.  Play it safe.  Stick to what you know and earn a reputation for being completely predictable.

2.  Understand your limits.  Tackling tasks that are beyond your current capabilities is a surefire path to…well…your limits.

3.  Treat your job like a job.  Punch that clock, expense that lunch.  It’s cool.  

4.   Be the expert.  You got it all figured out?  Awesome for you!  Now what?

5.  Get Hardcore.  NEVER try anything that can’t be validated without a massive set of spreadsheets and business cases.

6.  Respect history.  Your company has been ‘doing it this way’ for 100 years?  Thankfully it’s still 1912!

7.  Ignore inspiration.  The world just isn’t ready for your next big idea.  Put it in your diary.

8.  Trust experience.  That uber-veteran surely has all the answers.  After all, he has a 25 Years of Service award on his desk

9.  Keep your eyes shut.  Bad stuff will go away when you do.

10. Don’t worry, be happy!  After all, the economy is the real enemy and you’re really doing your very best.

Punk your business.


“Don’t just accept the old order.  Get rid of it.” — Johnny Rotten

Monday.  In offices and cubicles, meeting rooms and sales offices across the country people are filling up on coffee and water cooler gossip before tackling another five long days.  Our world has blindly accepted ‘the grind’ as the normalcy of doing one’s job.  But is that is?  Is that what this Life is about?  I don’t think so. There’s another way to think about this week–about every week–every day–every minute of your life.  And it’s rooted in the revolutionary energy and attitude that punk embodied years ago (and still does, thank goodness).  

Ultimately, our choice is between a radical overturning of the status quo or another weekly belly crawl.  Another uninspired attempt to create incremental ‘wins’ while avoiding any form of failure.  It’s a choice being determined and acted upon by insurgents such as Kickstarter, Kiva, the Khan Academy, and Project M.  It’s a choice that has more to do with a deep redefinition of inputs and outputs, profit and service, accomplishment and quality.  It’s a choice that freely admits that A) we don’t know the future but that B) clinging on to the crusty old standards of ‘strategy’ or ‘success’ does little more than entrench ourselves in a psychosis that is, at best, capturing the smallest temporary gains while, at worst, ignoring an urgent mandate for new, bright, fearless thinking in terms of what it means to ‘do business.’  It’s an unrestricted approach to thinking beyond the limits of ‘customer satisfaction’ and ‘market share.’  Exploding these zombie paradigms, the Punks are asking questions about the meaning of their work, the total impact of their projects, and previously ignored dimensions of performance in order to re-calibrate value and production systems for the 21st century.  And they’re doing it with a passion and intensity that creates a magnetism all its own.

So It’s time to set down that book of inspirational quotes and write our own.  It’s time to stop pretending that what worked in the past will work in the future.  It won’t.  It’s time to assess the true, deeper value of how we spend our time.  It’s the scarcest commodity we have.  Yes, We can lumber toward someone else’s finish line.  Or we can create our own definition of success, leaping over institutional head stones in to a brighter, bigger, better future.  We’re not going to do it without a little bit of fury and a little bit of dissent.  We’re going to have to plug in, crank it up, get loud, and stake our claim…

Meaning first, money later!  You’re welcome to chase a few bucks all day long.  Hell, it worked for LIBOR right?  And at the end of the day you can head home to your McMansion and order that jumbo cheese crust pizza and cinnamon twisty bread.  But is that really it?  Does that feed your soul?  Does that give you a higher sense of purpose?  Have others been improved?  This is your life after all, with a capital ‘L.’  Find the meaning in your work and burn as hot as possible to make that happen above everything else.  It might not happen overnight.  But it will happen.  Meaning makes money.  Not the other way around.

Lose control!  There’s no game plan for the future.  Never has been.  But rather than strangle the life out of possibility, imagine a future (cloudy though it may be) in which your business is defined by a set of previously un-imagined standards.  Denmark’s decision to create a ‘Green GDP’ is an example of what I’m talking about.  And on a smaller scale there are companies that are redefining success based on a Customer Happiness Index (nod to Bhutan) in order to re-think the nature of profitability.  Taking a quantum leap towards betterness begins with an admission that our current set of ‘market strategies’ has given us endless varieties of toothpaste and taco shells made from Dorito chips.  

Get loud!  Business can oftentimes feel like a graveyard for fresh thinking.  How many inspired ideas are strangled and die somewhere between power point slide #3 and #100 at that weekly sales meeting?  So reach out.  Find your own tribe of troublemakers and leverage the collective fist-raising in order to thrust, violently if necessary, your ideas and passion in to the world.  Shout loud and long enough and you’ll find your people.  Pie Lab did it.  So did Alabamboo.  So can you.  

Think wrong!  You can memorize Drucker and Welch all you want.  But they’re not going to get you anything more than a knowing nod from the other Drucker-Welch memorizers out there.  Forget what we’ve been taught about how to ‘win’ or ‘manage.’  The paradigms are rooted in different times and different economies.  In the process of letting the decrepit idols perish we will be forced to think wrong about our lives and our businesses.  We will be forced to reassess the true value of the ash pile and ask ourselves “Who are we NOW?  What do WE want US to be?”  There’s nothing wrong with standing on the shoulders of giants as long as we view them as a rung in a ladder rather than an inescapable foundation.

Stay angry!  If you feel like a cog in a wheel then you probably are.  And that’s a personal choice.  You can change it.  You’re more than a function, more than a silo.  You’re more powerful than you realize…once you realize it.  You can stay angry with the world for as long as you want.  But get angry with yourself first.  The moment you relinquish control is the moment someone takes it from you.  Fight for yourself and what you want for your life.

Punk rock your business with the same furious anti-authoritarian guts that shattered feel-good, groovy music.  Let the rest of the world waste away in Margaritaville with the Grateful Dead.  Your move.

Why Charging for Time Makes Sense.

One of the fundamental principles of The Experience Economy is that a truly Experience-based business charges its customers for time rather than services.  As Jay Ehret summarizes in his blog:

“If, and only if, you charge for the time your customers spend with you, are you in the experience business.”

This may be the single most challenging concept in The Experience Economy, but it contains the greatest lesson in terms of actual market differentiation.  The challenge, obviously, is to understand how one can charge for time when competing in a market that is largely driven by goods and services and ‘stuff.’  It makes sense to charge for a cup of coffee.  But how does it make sense to charge for the time needed to pull the shot of espresso?  The answer has a lot more to do with scarcity than coffee.

Time is inelastic. It’s the truest commodity we have.  Never enough of it and it’s always shrinking.  Such is life’s brutal hourglass.  As such it has immeasurable value.  

The first step towards charging for time is a gut-level understanding and urgency to make time actually matter.  It’s not about filling an appointment with catch-phrases and pitch statements.  It’s about filling that time, that limited resource, with authenticity and meaning.  You can only charge for your time if the time itself is perceived as significantly more meaningful.  It has to matter.  And it has to matter to your customers.

Beyond that, if you’re going to charge for your time then the content of the time has to exemplify an unmatched level of customer-centric quality.  There has to be some real substance to the engagement.  Problems have to be solved.  Solutions have to relevant.   Recommendations have to built from the ground up–from the customer’s perspective.  Objections have to be collaboratively resolved.  People have to work together as People.  And it all has to be couched in very human, real terms.  No jargon.  No spiel.  Just a sincere and significant interaction.

I’d be remiss to say that there’s a simple solution to this.  The answer doesn’t lie in equipping a sales team with fancy tablets and gadgets.  These trappings aren’t a substitute for elevating value.  I’d be equally incorrect in saying that a paint-by-numbers playbook for customer service will get the job done.  It helps, but it doesn’t replace two people sitting down together–listening, asking questions, understanding, solving problems together.

In order to charge for time the message has to resonate from the very first phone call: “Sir, we understand that your time is valuable.  In fact, you’ll never get any of it back.  We get it.  Our goal is to give you the best information possible in the limited time we have together.  We’re not going to play games with your day.  We’re not going to squander a second of your time during our appointment.  And we’re not going to manufacture a situation that you feel is coerced or manipulated.  That would be wrong.  Instead, we will fill the time with relevant content.  We will respond to your questions in a way that is substantial and real.  We know you may have concerns.  We will work with you, not against you, to find the very best answers so you feel completely at ease with the decision.  And we feel that this level of quality, contained in a brief period of time, sets us apart in the market.”

If a business is going to charge for time then it needs to set a far higher standard for not only understanding the value of time but also what it means to extract the most meaning from it.  

Sticky or Schticky? How an attempt to impress goes down in flames…and how to fix it.

Hotel wars are comically brutal attempts to (somehow) earn a visitor’s loyalty, or at least impress her with a novel convenience.  I’ve seen hotels leave small rubber ducks in the bathrooms, chocolate on the pillows (still?  really?), bottles of iced water on warm days, gourmet coffee on cold winter mornings.  Bath robes, eye masks, beauty kits, complimentary laundry and dry cleaning services, free breakfasts, and, my personal favorite, a washcloth folded into an origami flower.  Hotels…you have to love ’em.  But it was this sticky note, attached to my headboard, that highlights one of the basic challenges of capturing a customer’s emotional dedication: Great theater includes surprise and delight.

Surprising your customers with an emotionally positive experience on any scale is a surefire way to elevate their connection and response to your service.  That my duvet and sheets are “clean” is neither a surprise nor a delight.  To the contrary, I’m left wondering about the alternative.  What are the implications?  Is it unusual to clean the sheets?  Are they typically left stained or dirty?  You can see where I’m going.  Drawing one’s attention to something that would otherwise be considered a standard cleanliness policy does nothing to advance an Experience-positive agenda.  

Surprise is best suited for public consumption.  People want to participate in the surprise, or at least witness it.  Especially in terms of amazing service.  Clean sheets just don’t cut it.  However, were a person to visit the room, conduct a visual inspection, perhaps spray a nice scent above the bed or in the room, maybe light an aromatherapy candle…THAT would be a surprise.  THAT would mean something more than a pre-printed sticky note.  Best of all it would be participatory!  

The Experience Economy is causing smart businesses to evaluate the ways in which they can create a highly personalized emotional connection with their clients.  The opportunity for authenticity is tremendous.  The pitfalls of inadvertent corner-cutting are equally obvious.  Smart leaders will capitalize on the surprise and delight that occurs when a member of their audience participates in the drama, laughs out loud, nods approvingly, and says to herself “I can’t wait to see what happens next.”


The Experience Economy Revisited Part 6: 10 Years Later

“There’s no ‘I’ in ‘Team.’  How many time have you heard this?  From coaches, mentors, managers—it’s a motivational snowflake.  It’s one of those feel-good clichés that’s been passed around for too many years as away to reinforce the notion that individual performance or identity doesn’t have a place in a well-functioning team.  Or, that you win or lose together.  But there’s a dangerous fallacy to the claim.  Great teams are, after all, comprised of committed individuals that aspire toward a common goal: profitability, job security, benefits, advancement, happiness.  And they feel these wins in an intimate manner in as much as they feel the losses.  Try telling someone who just lost her job that there’s no ‘I’ in ‘Team.’  Just stand a few feet back when you do.  The first fallacy of the claim is that the individual effort is lesser than the collective when in fact they are inextricably married together.

The second fallacy of the ‘Team’ claim lies in the implication that, simply by virtue of being a team, that shared success will occur. In an Experience Economy a business expresses itself as a ‘play.’  Actors, roles, stories and arcs.  And it ALL has to work well in order to captivate the audience.  In its worst expression “There’s no ‘I’ in ‘Team’ may go so far as to imply that an individual can give slightly less that his or her best effort.  After all, there’s a Team–a safety net(work)–around the individual that will help buffer the players against the reality of their individual contribution.  But this, too, is a lie.  The audience ALWAYS knows when there’s a weak player on stage.  The connection deteriorates.  The story stagnates in their hands.  Their role has to be buoyed up by a stronger actor.  It’s like casting Nicholas Cage in a DeNiro film (all due respect).

Weak individual efforts will destroy an Experience.  Plain and simple.  I spent the last weekend with a client discussing this topic.  90% of his staff attended the meeting on a Saturday.  Is that commitment?  Absolutely.  Were they being paid?  No.  But they were there.  And they understood one thing: Their Experience was broken.  All they seemed to hear were customer complaints.  The office team said they felt like their jobs had been reduced to ‘putting out fires.’  The Operations Manager said he’d never felt less effective at actually managing operations.  The field teams were bolstered only by the fact that whatever catastrophes were occurring resulted in overtime pay.  The Owner understood that all of this meant that profitability was eroded.  We listed the factors that were contributing to this decay: Material lists were inaccurate or incomplete; Customer expectations were not clearly communicated; Time frame promises were overstated; Problem resolution policies were not shared; ‘Loose ends’ were everywhere.  All of this despite the groups belief that a well-functioning ‘Team’ that delivered an amazing Experience was the goal.  We continued to disassemble the problems further–examining existing processes and procedures, people involved, accountability mechanisms.  100% of the problems that were happening began from the time of sale to the time of field execution.  The sales team was not playing its role in helping the administrative, operations, management, and field teams succeed.  And now everyone was suffering.  Perhaps it was a timely coincidence that the 10% of the employees who did not attend included 100% of the sales staff.  They were sending a pretty clear message to everyone else that day: We just don’t care.

The outward expression of a business is a total Experience.  But the inward expression of a business does rest on connected individuals playing very important roles.  There is an ‘I’ in ‘Team.’  In fact, there are lots of them that all have to do their best to ensure that their specific role is simultaneously exemplary on a smaller scale while helping the next player on stage to seem equally brilliant.  In other words, coordinated individual efforts around a shared purpose create the win.  And when the curtain falls at the end of the performance the actors themselves know they succeeded against the roar and clapping of the audience.

The Experience Economy Revisited Part 5: 10 Years Later

Silo: A tall cylindrical structure, usually beside a barn, in which fodder is stored.

At what point does structure prohibit innovation?  At what does does hyper-specific task definition prevent and an enhanced customer Experience?  And at what point do silos begin to develop sub-silos within themselves that drive great ideas deeper underground?

I understand the functional purpose of a silo.  They ensure some level of accountability.  They provide focus and, for lack of a better phrase, a ‘job description.’  They give something for managers to oversee and shape towards something better.  All good and necessary things.  However, I’m increasingly convinced that, in almost every company I’ve worked with, that silos have their limitations in terms of enhancing the total customer Experience.  In other words, silos foster vertical communication rather than horizontal idea sharing.  When things go right it’s easy to target Silo X as the source of greatness.  When things go poorly it’s equally easy to lay blame on Silo Y as the culprit.  But in the customer’s eyes the differences between X and Y are irrelevant.  They simply know they had a sub-standard Experience that is reflective of the entire organization.  And everything crumbles.

Recently a client brought me in to help conduct a sales planning and training seminar.  The entire administration team, management, owners, and sales staff participated.  It was a ‘first’ for this company.  But they had expanded into two states and felt it was time to reassess their market strategy in order to improve consistency and results.  Moreover, the client was (and is) facing intense competition from similar organizations.  It was time to determine the ways to differentiate and capitalize on lost opportunity.

Over the course of the first day we learned the following:

1.  People felt as though they worked largely in isolation and felt they had to make independent decisions

2.  Basic communication mechanisms were broken at many points

3.  There was gross disparity in basic customer/sales materials and messages

4.  Problem solving processes were ‘word of mouth’ at best and did not include detailed follow through

5.  The sales team’s blended close ratio had slipped below 20%

6..  Everyone thought they were ‘doing their part’ just fine

It was important that the owners hear this.  Their managers had been assigned the important task of managing silos.  And they did.  But in the practical application of a sales and market strategy the lack of communication, idea sharing, and process development between the silos had withered.  Their customers were experiencing a series of fragmented touch-points in which communication, sales tactics, customer management and problem resolution seemed to exist in a fragmented bizarro-business.  And they were voting with their wallet.

It wasn’t all bleak.  There were people that were experiencing success.  A salesman had devised and developed a very effective tool for communicating product benefits.  An administrator had built her own micro-network within the existing follow up process to smartly move information.  Yet another had taken to the habit of sending e-cards to customers as a way of saying ‘thanks.’  All great ideas.  But what we all realized is that sub-silos had been created.  These pockets of brilliance were successful on an individual level but had no impact of the broader customer Experience.  There was no sharing mechanism to help others become equally successful.  The Hero Factor had supplanted the Heroes Factor.

An Experience does not exist in isolation.  It is the product of a series of positive, interconnected ‘acts’ that draw the customer deeper in to the business.  There is cohesion and continuity.  The customer doesn’t fall through the cracks once the curtain rises.  With that realization–that the customer was being short changed at the expense of preserving “functional” silos (and that the bottom line was being severely punished along the way) we began asking some simple questions in order to repair the problem:

1.  What information MUST the entire team know about the purpose and practice of each other’s role in       the company as it pertained to improving the customer Experience?

2.  How could one silo improve the likelihood of success of the next silo?

3.  When customer service problems arose how could each function contribute to better, faster resolution?

4.  Was there a regular and open forum for sharing best practices and fresh ideas?

5.  What role did management play in encouraging cross-silo sharing and total team improvement?

6.  Did ownership set a clear vision for the quality of customer Experience they wanted to create?

7.  Were customers invited to participate in service improvement initiatives?

8.  Was each ‘act’ of the customer Experience clearly defined?

9.  What materials were required to make this happen?

10. What measurements would we use to track improvement?

I’d love to say that this was an easy discussion.  It wasn’t.  There were people who were defensive.  There were people who raised their eyebrows with that “Sounds great–we’ve had enough ‘flash in the pan’ feel-good talks before.”  And there were people that, at a gut level, knew that the company’s future growth was never going to happen unless something changed and people actually with each other to create a better Experience.  Regardless of the reaction the point was clear: Maintaining rigid silos had done little to create a vibrant, creative, enthusiastic Experience culture.

We spent the next three days addressing the pertinent questions.  Almost everyone had an opinion about the best ways to move forward.  Managers started to let their guards down.  Administrators spoke with lucid intelligence about sales improvement.  Sales people provided exciting, practical suggestions for problem solving.  Owners talked about ‘big picture’ visions of a first-class Experience that would create the market differentiation they hoped for.  Finally, plans were made and measurements were put in place.  We’d taken the early steps toward a defined Experience.

It’s been three months since that meeting.  Some of the participants are no longer with this company, believing that the direction is wrongheaded.  However, their weekly ‘fishbowl’ meeting at which everyone is invited to assess the program’s evolution, have sparked a renewed commitment execution.  Cross-silo idea sharing has become terrifically common.  Managers are working closely with one another as well.  Their blended close ratio has increased to 26% and Owners have set a clear 40% minimum target–believing that the value of the total Experience creates the differentiation needed to push back against competitors.  

Silos serve a practical function.  I’m not discounting that.  But amazing things can happen when the contents are viewed less as “fodder” and more as the future.

10. Who else needed to be involved?

The Experience Economy Revisited Part 4: 10 Years Later

Nobody likes a pitch.  Not anymore.  I’m sure there were times when it was effective. I’m also sure that there are people who watched Alec Baldwin’s stunning performance in Glengarry Glen Ross and thought to themselves: “Bad ass.  He’s right.  Coffee IS for closers!”  But not anymore.  Not in an era of such transparency and parity.  Not in an era of deeply empowered, networked consumerism.  Customers don’t have to tolerate a pitch any longer–they can do most of the research and leg work themselves.

The pitch fails because it is, at it’s core, a threat with a smile.  It is a threat to one’s normalcy–be it financial, time, schedule, lifestyle, comfort, safety.  As such the pitch man is reduced to little more than The Great Persuader–sprinkling dust and debris on the carpet before vaccuuming it all up.  He’s equipped with a quiver of tactics that, in today’s world, are scant more than manipulative devices.  Which people are hip to and easily side step with a ‘No thanks’ or ‘I need to think about it.’  Thus, the pitch fails.  It fails because it assumes and outside-in perspective toward customer alignment rather than the opposite.  It fails because the balance of power is misconceived as being in the hands of the Pitch Man rather than the other way around.  And, finally, it fails because it assumes that if the Pitch Man talks long and hard enough about enough (hopefully) relevant topics that the customer will finally relent and place an order.  The experience?  Non-existent.  A simple pitch will never create an experience.  True to it’s name, a pitch is sort of like saying “If I throw enough mud on the wall eventually some of it will stick.”

Many of my clients are B2C Owners and salespeople.  They spend countless hours in strangers’ homes, explaining products and services.  Listening, evaluating, proposing.  It’s a very difficult job if you’ve never tried it.  It’s also highly competitive and opportunities for a win are hard earned.  But as such, these same clients are taking the first nascent steps towards a re-shaping an Experience based proposition.  They’re dumping The Pitch and replacing it with things that are far more meaningful to a customer.

To begin, they’re moving radically away from a product-centric proposition.  This is not to say that they’re not integrating product into their discussion.  But their customers are both increasingly well researched and increasingly uninfluenced by product brand and traditional talking points.  Instead, these clients are beginning to recognize that, in order to charge a customer for your time, you have to create a proposition that has real value and significance aside from the nuts-and-bolts product discussion.  For example, in a recent planning session I sat with a group of Owners, managers, and salespeople and asked them a simple question: If you consider yourself NOT as a member of your current industry but as a father, a mother, a member of the community, or church, or neighbor…than WHAT are the topics that you’re keenly interested in?  And why?  It was challenging at first, but also illustrated how deeply entrenched we all are in our jobs–to the point that we eventually wear our own set of blinders.  The answers were along these lines:

1.  I want to be safe, and I want my family to be safe.

2.  I want to feel secure, financially and personally

3.  I don’t want to feel remorse when I make a major purchase

4.  I want to live in a thriving community

5.  I enjoy technology and the ways it’s (mostly) improved my life

6.  I want to have control and choice when it comes to spending money

7.  I need to trust the people in my outer-to-inner circles

It was a fascinating exercise.  It also had nothing (at least at first blush) to do with buying a product or service.  The next question was simple: “If we assume that we’re very much like our customers in terms of needs and wants, how much time do you actually spend connecting with the customer on THAT level and with topics like these?”  And it got a little quiet.  For us, the group, it was an important realization that the things we care about as people and consumers are highly emotional and equally personal.  A widget is a widget.  But in order to create an Experience people were going to have to let go of their widget-pitch and speak to customers in a way that was new and highly unfamiliar. 

In the end we agreed that the best thing to say to a customer was something along the lines of “We are a reflection of the people we serve.”  We agreed that to elevate the Experience and to truly charge for our time we were going to have to abandon the old talking points and build everything around the only perspective that matters: The customers.  

In the months since this initial planning meeting there have been stellar examples of small business Owners that have moved in an Experience direction.  

Project Ripple is one shining example.  Ripple is a community based services and sharing program started by a small business Owner outside of Toronto.  Recognizing that, like herself, many of her customers were increasingly committed to supporting local business, service, and support, this particular Owner uses Ripple as a way to invite customers in to the community support network.  Obviously it creates real differentiation as well.  Her business is slowly earning a reputation as a community-based change agent in as much as a place to purchase a product.  The financial reward is there to match, as top and bottom line profits have never been stronger in the company’s seven year history.  It’s a small example.  But it effectively illustrates how a small business Owner who builds her sales model around the customers’ priorities (in this case community support) can surprise and connect a customer on a more meaningful level.  End game: Project Ripple will be spotlighted on the Oprah Network.  I’m sure that will help their business more than a little.

There are many, many other examples of small business’ that are recognizing that The Pitch is a dead horse these days.  Instead, they’re asking better questions about what really matters to people in a personal, emotional level.  And they’re radically revising their market strategies accordingly.  As these business’ continue to move forward I believe we’ll see an Experienced-based era of kitchen table sales in which ‘the first person who talks loses’ feels like some sort of bad joke.