Delightful details – 1

Amazing customer experiences rarely come from doing one big-thing. Th1882is is because great experiences are invariably created through a myriad of smaller, yet delightful details.

Prior to seeing a show recently at London’s Royal Festival Hall in the Southbank Centre, we stopped for coffee at Caffè Vergnano 1882. I had one of their signature hot chocolates – that’s my drink you can see in the picture above.

Sprinkling chocolate-powder on the foam of drinks, isn’t new by any means, but the way it was presented by Caffè Vergnano was very well-executed. The 1882 was aligned with the handle, so that as I picked up the cup with my left hand to drink, the 1882 faced me continuously.

It’s the desire of all marketing departments to do the hardest thing possible with a customer – and that’s to change their behaviour. Large companies spend vast sums of money attempting this, and invariably fail.

Usually, I drink my coffee holding it in my right-hand. This little café influenced me, and changed my behaviour to make me drink left-handed, simply by the way they sprinkled their chocolate powder on my drink.

It seems that chocolate-dust is the new gold-dust!

Disturbing details

How graphic do you need to be to get someone’s attention?TubeMap

On London’s tube system, you may (surprisingly frequently) hear the announcement of a delay due to a person under a train. To me, this conjures images of mangled body-parts jamming up the front-wheels of a train. Now, I’m a strong advocate of truthfulness and open-ness in company messaging to customers, but there are times when too much, really is, too much. And I thought this announcement was one of those times.

National Rail use the phrase due to a person being hit by a train. Which is absolutely true – but much less graphic in nature. Feeling inspired to take action – I emailed Transport for London explaining how I thought that they may want to make the announcement a little less-disturbing for young-children and those of a delicate disposition. I didn’t expect much to happen.

Within three working-days, I received a response from TfL. They responded saying they will be changing the announcement to state due to a person on the tracks instead, as a result of my email.

What an excellent response and within a minimal time too. Well done to the team at TfL and London Underground. If only other companies can learn to improve their customer experiences as promptly as TfL do.

Be ingenious, not innovative

Ingenious  or  InnovativeAs a designer, consultant or manager, would you prefer to be personally recognised as being ingenious, or innovative?

The buzz is all around innovation. And it has been for a number of years. If you don’t offer innovation as part of your service offer to clients, then you are missing an opportunity. Because clients love innovation. Don’t they?

The problem is that the terms innovation and innovative have been brought to their knees by a myriad of agencies who declare that everything they do that is new is innovation – and so innovative by default.

This isn’t the case though. Doing new things is a natural part of business. It’s expected. It’s the norm. If you don’t do new things then you are standing still. Or more likely, moving backwards from a relative position to your competitors.

Because being innovative isn’t a badge you should give yourself. It’s a badge of recognition awarded to you by your clients or competitors. Both these groups expect you to be doing new things. But when you are told that what you’ve done is more than just new – it’s better than the normal new things you do – then this is where the innovative badge becomes due to you. It’s not a tattoo you decide to give yourself.

We’ve got to the stage where everyone says they do innovation, yet very few are truly doing it. Innovation has become confused with newness. The term has become muddied, and to some degree, meaningless.

Let’s look at the definitions of innovative and ingenious:

  • Innovative: featuring new methods; advanced and original
  • Ingenious: cleverly inventive or resourceful:

Innovative has a sense of unrestrained openness and newness, possible pushing the boundaries in some way. Whereas Ingenious has a sense of practicality or knowingness of constraints that may exist. Innovation may be a focus on thinking what’s of value outside of the box, while ingenious is more about identifying what’s of value that still remains inside the box.

Anyone can come up with blue-sky, weird-but-wonderful, the-skies-the-limit, think-outside-the-box ideas. But it takes a special skill to recognise the practicalities of the output that need to be considered. Coming up with amazing ideas that are within the constraints and available resources is much harder. This is where thinking inside the box is of greater value. This is where being ingenious delivers the greater rewards over being innovative.

Given big budgets and high resource levels, then business growth is all about innovation. These opportunities are few and far between. The majority of opportunities available for clients have significant resource and business constraints related to them. This is where being ingenious comes to the fore.

Be innovative on those few special occasions, but be ingenious for the rest of the time!


Tier 2 innovation

Tier 2 InnovationIt’s conference season again, and I was browsing some of the leading innovation conferences being touted over the next few months and I was a bit disturbed at what I saw. Here are some of the issues being covered by them:

  • What are the most effective strategies to manage the real risks that a company faces with breakthrough products that will be the next ‘big’ thing?
  • Where are companies finding the funding for the innovation that will ensure their long-term survival and growth?
  • How do leaders create a company-wide culture that rewards innovation?
  • In what ways is public policy limiting innovation and what solutions are available?
  • Is innovation big enough in America and creating the economic opportunities this country needs?
  • How has the state of the global economy impacted companies’ ability to dream and act big?•Is innovation big enough at your company to create the profits you need?
  • Are we focusing on applications and software to the detriment of revolutionary new products?

They missed one out: Giant meteorite set to destroy Earth on Wednesday!

Are we missing the purpose of innovation in the hyperbole we create around the subject? I think we are. The understanding of what innovation is all about has become so blurred that it has created a multi-headed monster out of itself. We’ve seem to have adopted the attitude that the innovation we are looking for is an iPhone, a Tesla car, a Google algorithm or a Facebook type social network. Innovation doesn’t have to be the company-wide, all-encompassing, risk-everything blockbuster that will take a company on to a glorious future.

Innovation comes in all shapes, sizes and levels and is quite simply the act of introducing new methods or ideas that are advanced, original and creative in thinking.

For those familiar with modern portfolio theory, there is the concept of the efficient frontier in a mixed share portfolio. If you have two shares, one with a higher return but at higher risk and one with a lower return at a lower risk, the efficient frontier shows that if you take different ratios of holdings in the two shares you can obtain good returns but at a lower level of risk than even the lowest risk share would give you alone.

Innovation is very similar in this regard. There is the high return, high risk big-new-thing approach at one end while at the other is the lower risk and lower return create-a-culture-of-innovation approach. In the middle there will be an optimum type of innovation that delivers good returns at a substantially lower risk than either of these two extremes of innovation.

This optimum point is what we call Tier 2 innovation. It isn’t about the big ticket items and neither is it about employees coming up with a myriad of small innovations – which incidentally can clog up any corporate innovation system. Tier 2 innovation isn’t about creating the completely new thing, it’s about creating an exciting variation on an existing asset. An asset can be a product, service, customer segment, or any other aspect of the business. It’s something that the company is familiar with and has the knowledge and systems to deliver, where an innovative development has created a newness that will appeal to customers and so generate additional revenues.

While there will always be the need for the Top Tier innovation work on the big new thing, most businesses actually need the less risky Tier 2 approach. Tier 2 innovation is about making your existing assets dance and come to life. It’s about taking areas like product lines and instead of managing them; we find innovative ways to drive big growth by making little changes. It’s finding these levers that’s the skilful part of the innovation process here.

Here’s a thought. Perhaps innovation has become a grossly over-traded word. I heard innovation described as the crack-cocaine for CEOs. Everybody seems to do innovation and every little thing achieved by someone that they haven’t done before is deemed to be innovative. Maybe it’s time to forget innovation and let the term go the way of A-teams, Paradigm Shifts and Giving 110% effort!

But what would we replace it with? Mmmm, there’s a good question…

Know your mind

Know your mindRecently in Japan, a team of German and Japanese scientists used the world’s fourth most powerful supercomputer to map how the mind works – see here. They modeled what happens in just one percent of the brain over a period of just one second. It took the supercomputer 40 minutes to undertake this task!

This computer has over 700,000 processor cores, 1.4 million Gigabytes of RAM and consumes 9,900,000 watts of power.

As the human brain manages all of its activity and runs in real time too, it is effectively 40 x 60 = 2,400 times faster and 100 times bigger than the supercomputer (which only did 1% of the brain’s activity).

The human brain only consumes around 20 watts of power to achieve this far superior performance. So that thing inside your head is 240,000 times more powerful than a supercomputer and uses just 1/5,000th of the power.

The Japanese supercomputer was designed by a large team of highly skilled engineers using complex equipment and systems and needs a significant infrastructure to operate correctly. Your brain is just a series of freak accidents in nature caused by repeated and random mutation of cells from generation to generation. And we all get one for free when we are born.

Makes you think doesn’t it?

Innovation and your first kiss

First kissSome friends of mine recently went out to dinner to celebrate the anniversary of their first kiss – which, I think, is quite cute. Naturally, a first kiss is always something special and as business tends to parody life in its own (often perverse) way, I started thinking about the equivalent of a first kiss when it comes to business innovation.

The first kiss isn’t the end goal in a relationship. It might be the end goal of a first date with someone you fancy – but perhaps it’s actually a transitional point. It’s an indicator that this first date isn’t the end of the relationship but the start of the next stage of the relationship. It’s the I-want-to-see-you-again-and-I-want-more moment.

I’ll let you into a secret here. Nobody ever taught me how to kiss. It wasn’t a part of my school curriculum and neither was it a natural topic of conversation between my parents and I. So to my very first girlfriend (whose name I have embarrassingly forgotten), I apologise profusely for messing it up.

To me, the equivalent of a first kiss in business is when you ask a question that has never been asked before but which is actually a damn good question to ask. A question that won’t be easy to answer, but if answered well, has the potential to deliver huge value for the business. However, asking questions like this isn’t a part of human nature – and neither is it a natural part of business either.

The unfortunate thing is that when it comes to questions, we are actually taught to take the easy option. In an exam where you have a choice of questions, it’s always the best thing to choose the easier ones or the ones that you know how to answer. And this makes sense because when a lot is at stake, who is going to choose the harder options?

In the work environment we are generally expected to know the answers to any questions that arise as part of work. Let me give you an example here. If you went to your superior with a powerful question that you had no idea how to answer, which of these three responses are you most likely to receive:

  1. Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions
  2. You are expected to know the answers – this is what we pay you for
  3. I thought this was your area of expertise

Hardly the sort of incentive to be asking powerful questions is it?

If a business wants to do something innovative, it should be something that has a degree of difficulty to it. Why? Because when you successfully answer a hard question, it makes it harder for the competition to copy it. It also stops you doing the same-old, same-old stuff as well.

In the business environment, time is short. So it’s the easy option to ask questions that we know we can answer. Why make things hard for ourselves? We default to taking the easy option like in the exam at school. Yes, a lot is at stake, but is taking the easy option the best thing to do?

No, it isn’t! There comes a time when you have to do the hard thing if you want to move forward.

Remember the first kiss? I don’t know what it’s like for a girl, but for a boy it takes a lot of guts and nerve to go for the first kiss. Getting the right moment, the mood, the position – it’s actually a terrifying experience, especially as a smack in the face often isn’t too far away. But when it works, it’s really worth it!

So to trigger some innovative opportunities for growth, simply start by asking a bold, new question. Don’t worry about the answers at this stage. All you want to do is to get a good question and to get a few people to be interested in supporting that question as one that is well worth asking.

In the next post I’ll identify what makes a good first question for you, but in the meantime, pucker up and be ready to make your move…

Four types of problems – so which one is yours?

Four problem typesIf we didn’t have problems to solve then we wouldn’t have any work to do, or so some might say. It’s true that we all face problems every day, but do you know what type of problem you face?

There are four types of problems and it’s so much easier to address a problem when you understand the type of problem you face. Here’s a classification to help define the type of problem and some different approaches to solving each one:

The Puzzle: This type of problem always has a solution which in hindsight is very clear, obvious, and frequently factual in nature. It’s the easiest type of problem to solve as it’s caused by a lack of specific knowledge on your part.

The Uncertainty: It’s an unfortunate deficiency mankind has in that we cannot predict the future – which means we have to live in a perpetual world of partial uncertainty. As an example, when we have a need to take some pre-emptive action to shape the future (such as launching a new product) then we have a degree of control based on the nature of the action we are undertaking. If we are simply waiting to see the effect of a competitor’s new product on our customers, then we do not know whether our customers will love or hate it.

The Never-ending: This is a problem that you know will never be completely answered for as soon as you move to a new level there will be another problem to solve. An example is trying to meet customers’ needs. As a customer focused business, even if you find a brilliant solution to an issue, you have an obligation to identify the next new thing to delight your customers with.

The Complex: These are issues where it’s impossible to find the core cause of the issue. They may be broad-ranging in nature and all-encompassing in context – and there isn’t just one solution, as there could be any number of approaches that may start to move the situation forward in some way. The solutions themselves may be complex in nature as they involve the interaction of many different parties, sometimes with conflicting views and needs.

This is how I would try to answer these different types of problem.

The Puzzle: All that you need is to uncover the relevant knowledge or expertise. If you know where to find it then great – just go and get it. Sometimes the required expertise can come in the form of an inspired guess, or by some research you do. The best way is to ask someone else because if you lack knowledge in this area, you may not fully understand the situation and perhaps this isn’t a puzzle after all, it may be something more complicated. And you won’t know this unless you talk it through with someone else. Once you have the necessary expertise you’ll know the answer for sure.

The uncertainty: As you have no control over what will happen, all you can do is to make contingency plans to address different scenarios of outcome, which can be either offensive or defensive in nature.

The Never-ending: This type of problem may seem like there is no solution, but while there is no final solution, there are many intermediate solutions which actually help you advance the frontier of the problem. Find the pragmatic solutions that give you time before you need to reconsider this issue. Lesser solutions will need immediate follow-up while more significant solutions allow you to wait before needing to respond to the issue again.

The Complex: These are the devils of all problems. All we can aim to do is to move the system to a slightly more beneficial state and reconsider the issue again for the next move forward. Avoid trying to find the uber-solution that will eliminate this type of problem as it doesn’t exist. And the more complex the solution you aim for the more difficult it will be to execute, so keep it simple and aim for a number of lesser solutions that at least have a chance of being effective on some discreet aspect of the problem.

What about a dilemma?

If you are wondering why I haven’t included the dilemma on this list of problem types, it’s because you should never give yourself a dilemma to address. If you find yourself having to make a choice between two alternatives, then consider the fact that you have either posed the wrong question or that there are more than two alternatives to be considered. Good thinkers never end up with a dilemma!

Make your customers cry this Christmas

Cry this ChristmasWe only cry emotional tears for two reasons. Either we feel over-joyed, or we feel extremely sadness. What kind of tears will your customers cry this Christmas?

The joy:  Here’s one amazing example of Canadian airline WestJet providing a Christmas surprise for some of their customers. When you watch this video remember that WestJet is a budget carrier, so what they do is way beyond the expected. Even if this only happened to one planeload of passengers, the video on YouTube has over 30 million views.

The sadness:  There is no video for sadness, only some sadly big numbers:

  • 96% of customers don’t bother to give feedback when they have a complaint.
  • 80% of large companies describe themselves as delivering superior service, yet only 8% of their customers actually agree with this.
  • 79% of customers who complained about poor service online had their complaints ignored.
  • 78% of bank executives say their customer experience has improved over the last year, yet only 28% of their customers agree with this.

And sadly, the numbers that should be big are very small:

  • Only 5% of companies actually bother to tell their customers what they have done with the customer feedback they collect.
  • A mere 2% of customers feel that their expectations are always met.

How will your business be making your customers cry this Christmas? With a glorious video or with some sad numbers? In 2014, if you need some innovative ways to make your customers cry with joy, then speak with us. Success is guaranteed!

For the source of these statistics check out The good, the bad and the ugly post by Rod Butcher.

The shock and awe of Killer Questions

Killer QuestionsA Killer Question really gets people’s attention. Often, more so than the answers do.

The reason is that Killer Questions either shock people by their remarkable focus, or amaze them due to their awesomeness. Let’s take two extreme examples.

In the 2005, Nicolas Cage film Lord of War, Cage plays an arms dealer who makes the statement “There are over 550 million firearms in worldwide circulation. That’s one firearm for every twelve people on the planet”. He then asks the Killer Question “So how do we arm the other eleven?”

This is a question designed to shock due entirely to its profoundly focussed (though extremely negative) nature.

Another killer question was posed by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg recently. His Killer Question was “How can we make the Internet 100 times more affordable?” The reasoning behind this is that two-thirds of the world’s population does not have access to the Internet, and Zuckerberg and a coalition of mobile technology companies want to change this. They want to bring the Internet to every single person on Earth who has a mobile phone.

The consortium that hopes to achieve this is called and exactly how and when will achieve this is yet to be finalised. However, the vision of reducing the cost 100 fold is an awesomely bold question.

It isn’t just Zuckerberg and arms dealers that can ask Killer Questions.

Anyone can. Organisations or individuals. You just need to have big cojones to do it.

As it’s getting to New Year resolution time once again, now is the time for you as an individual to ask a Killer Question – but one with a difference! All it will take is for you to have the cojones to set up a meeting.

Pick up the phone right now and make an appointment to see your company’s CEO on the first day back at work in 2014. Your Killer Question will be to ask them “What is our business Killer Question going to be for 2014?”

And that’s it! Two birds with one stone. Now that’s a different ending to the 12 Days of Christmas song!

The future of Customer Experience design

SatisfactionA lot has happened in the last ten years of customer experience design. Especially as ten years ago customer experience design didn’t exist.

Back then, we thought user experience was enough, and before that, we thought user interaction design was the big thing. And before that, well, that long ago we just turned the damn thing on and used it.

Recently, we’ve been designing services that are more integrated through. Customer experience design has evolved surprisingly quickly over the last few years, and today embraces multi-channel and cross-channel activities, the integrated life-cycle of the customer and the design of different journeys for the many different customer segments. These aspects of design are now considered to be the norm, and not incorporating them can be seen as lagging behind industry best practice.

However, the term customer experience as we regard it today is holding us back to a degree, as it is very transaction and interaction orientated. Let me give you an example.

Think of sex.

I knew you’d like that. But if you analyse the experience of having sex by breaking it down into the various stages, each being part of a process with different interactions involved throughout, it tends to lose some of its mystique. We want to enjoy the intimate moments during our loving journey but we are really looking for the feeling of bliss at the end. This is actually what customers want too.

We need to design enhanced, overall experiences for our customers. Experiences which take into account a broader range of influencers which will help drive growth for the business and satisfaction for the customer. This next wave of experience evolution is beginning to break and here are five guiding principles to designing enhanced experiences for the customer:

Only SuperOrdinate Propositions can deliver enhanced experiences

SuperOrdinate Propositions acknowledge the richness of the ecosystem surrounding each and every commercial proposition that a business offers to its customers. The SuperOrdinate Proposition has to be the vehicle to drive and deliver a great experience for the customer.

The ultimate goal of every transaction is advocacy

You need to be talked about because this is the new marketing. As company messages begin to fall on increasingly sceptical ears, a reference by someone a potential customer knows is worth its weight in gold. Especially when people want to be talking in so many social network sites that they need to have something interesting to say.

Employees deliver experiences – nothing else!

This is a variation on the caveat that all employees are there for one purpose – and one purpose only – to serve the customer. We need to serve the customer amazingly well – and in a way that they will remember too. This is the employee’s sole purpose.

For success, your experiences should be designed for colleagues and customers alike

Going hand in glove with the previous guideline, if employees aren’t enabled and empowered to deliver great service, then it isn’t going to happen. Customers often have better technology that your own staff and they have access to wide information around their specific issue too.

Ideal experiences are branded, and so differentiated to you

The key area where you can differentiate yourself is in the service you provide and the experiences you deliver. Especially when they are done in your own special way and aligned to your brand values, because your competitors can’t copy these.

Incorporating these five principles in the behaviours, people, infrastructure and systems of your business will enable you to design and offer the kind of experiences that will leave your customers in relative bliss compared to your competitors. You want to make love to your customers – you don’t want to screw them!