Customer experience – the Free Prize Inside!

Seth Godin has been one of the most influential authors in my career. When I started working in an ad agency in the early 2000s, I came across Permission Marketing and it completely changed my opinion of what a marketer could be. I re-read it just a couple of years ago and was amazed at how relevant it still was.

For people who want to learn how to become more valuable in the modern workforce, I regularly recommend Linchpin. But perhaps Godin’s most famous book is Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable. The message of Purple Cow is that the only way to win in business is to become remarkable. But how do you make a purple cow? That’s what the short book, Free Prize Inside! is about.

According to Seth Godin, he had to write this follow-up because business was all wrong in how they were going about their search for a purple cow. They were seeking the big. Big innovations. Big marketing campaigns. But a purple cow is much more likely to be a small, soft innovation that customers love – a Free Prize inside their offering. Writes Godin, “Most free prizes have two essential elements in common. First, they are the thing about your service, your product or your organization that’s worth remarking on. Something worth seeking out and buying…Second, most free prizes are not about what the person needs. Instead, they satisfy our wants. They are fashionable or fun or surprising or delightful or sad. They rarely deliver more of what we were buying in the first place.”

As I was reading this, it became obvious that one of the most obvious free prizes is a great customer experience. It’s not more of the product or service. It’s something unexpected during the delivery of the product or service. Something that’s worth remarking on. And late in the book, Godin gives a fitting example. He tells the story of his interaction with Jose who worked in a taco shop in the Denver airport. What was remarkable about this interaction? Jose chatted with Godin for an extra minute while he ordered, got him a special condiment from the back. Later, he asked Godin how his meal was. In other words, Godin had a great experience with Jose. And as he points out, the cost of that experience was zero, but the value to Godin was “enormous.”

Your customer experience can be a free prize for your guests. It can cost you nothing while delivering enormous value.

Staying calm is a choice

In business lots of things can get us worked up – even when we’re not in the midst of a pandemic quarantine. We frequently don’t get to choose our circumstances – but we always get to choose how we respond to those circumstances.

Me, trying to stay calm

That’s what was going through my head yesterday as I was transferring four frames of honey bees from two nucs to two, ten-frame hives. Why?

As bee keeping experts will tell you, bees pick up on your stress, so it’s important to remain calm while you’re working with them. That’s what I was telling myself as I peeled back the lid to the first nuc and exposed thousands of bees.

And it was easy to remain calm while they sat on the frames in the nuc. But the calm didn’t last long. Once I started removing the frames, those previously calm bees started swarming and buzzing around my head. And if you’ve never experienced that before, I promise you that my first instinct was not one of calm.

Here’s the thing, I had to continually remind myself to stay calm. The first frame won’t easily slide out? Stay calm. The top box is heavier than I remembered and I almost drop it? Stay calm.

I think business is the same way. We know that finding order in chaos is an important attribute of leadership today, according to Justin Menkes in his fantastic book, Better Under Pressure. But it’s usually not our natural response when things don’t go according to plan. That’s okay. Just remind yourself that this is a normal response – but it’s also one that you can change.

What happens if you don’t remain calm? When you’re working with bees, they get stressed and start attacking. And then you get more stressed and the negative feedback loop continues. In business, it’s the same way. It’s often not the negative event that kills a business. It’s our negative response to that event that does it. By responding in a state of stress, we just make the situation worse.

So, how do you stay calm? By constantly reminding yourself. It’s that easy and that hard. You must choose calm, especially when everything swarming around you is pushing you in the opposite direction.

What you do won’t do it

My friend Shareef Mahdavi just released a new book, Beyond Bedside Manner: Insights on Perfecting the Patient Experience. To be precise, the book has 57 insights and any one of them could transform a medical clinic all by itself. If you work in healthcare, you must read this.

One of my favorite insights is Defining Excellence, where Shareef is making the excellent point that what you do as a doctor can’t be a point of differentiation. That’s expected. Here’s the excerpt:

Your outcomes are expected in the same manner that your expertise is assumed (like that of the airplane pilot). While this can be difficult to reckon with for surgeons who have dedicated their career to excellent outcomes, technological innovation in medicine has begun to level the playing field when it comes to outcomes. Software-driven diagnostics as well as surgical tools are designed to reduce surgical variability, meaning there’s usually another doctor out there in your community who can promise similar results to yours.

If you’ve been able to distinguish your practice based on surgical results, that’s great. But as excellent outcomes are expected to begin with, this competitive advantage will only dissipate with time. Unfortunately, outcomes are gradually becoming a hygiene factor, a marketing term describing an element that is noticed only if it’s missing or something goes wrong.

I see this same sentiment in almost every industry we deal with. They will say (or at least think): “Sure, customer experience is important for coffee shops, hotels, restaurants, etc. But people come to me for the thing I do. Customer experience is nice, but what people want from me is a particular outcome.” No, the outcome is expected. The way your differentiate yourself is through the customer experience.

The medical community has been among the slowest to acknowledge this and the ones most in need of it. One of the best examples of this was the Propublica study of Yelp medical reviews a few years ago. Here’s the main takeaway:

Indeed, doctors and health professionals everywhere could learn a valuable lesson from the archives of Yelp: Your officious personality or brusque office staff can sink your reputation even if your professional skills are just fine.

In other words, your medical outcomes aren’t enough to generate a good online review, if the experience isn’t up to the patient’s expectation. This is what our training with Experience Economy authors Joe Pine & Jim Gilmore talks about:

A remarkable experience doesn’t come from what you do, but how you do what you do. Because what you do won’t do it any longer.

That’s just one of 57 insights that you’ll get from Shareef’s book. The other 56 are equally good and worth reading.

What I read in April

Charlie “Tremendous” Jones once said, five years from now, you will be the same person you are today except for two things: “the people you meet and the books you read.” Well, thanks to COVID-19, I didn’t meet too many new people last month. But, also thanks to COVID-19, I had a lot of extra time to read.

And, as promised, I’m sharing the best of what I read last month.

The Invisible Leader

According to author Zach Mercurio, most organizations are not tapping into their most powerful leader. That leader isn’t in the C-suite – in fact, it’s not a person at all. That leader is a compelling, authentic purpose for the organization – an Invisible Leader. The reason that this most powerful leader is untapped is that organizations are primarily focused on results: grades for students, quotas or other KPIs in business, etc. At best, these provide short-term motivational pushes – cramming to get a grade on a test, a flurry of activity at the end of the month to achieve a sales quota – but they don’t last. It’s authentic purpose, which Mercurio defines as “a person or organization’s genuine and unique reason for existence that is useful to others in society,” that acts as the ultimate differentiator and motivator.

Marketing Rebellion

We are in the midst of a third marketing rebellion, where consumers are rebelling (for perhaps the final time) against advertising. The first rebellion – in the early twentieth century – brought an end to the lies of the advertising that sold snake-oil and other dubious products. The second came with the internet, bringing an end to the secrets that advertisers had depended on (think MTV VJ turned podcaster Adam Curry saying, “There are no secrets, only information you don’t yet have”). The third marketing rebellion that we’re in the midst of is bringing an end to control. In this new era, two-thirds of a consumer’s purchasing decision involves “human-driven marketing activities like internet reviews, social media conversations, and word-of-mouth recommendations from friends, family, and online experts.” Author Mark Schaefer points out: two-thirds of your marketing is not your marketing. Then, he asks: So, what do you do? You forge human connections with your customers. Thus the tagline of his book: “the most human company wins.” At FiveFour, we say that your marketing is your customer experience, and most of Schaefer’s examples of human-centered marketing are what we would call customer experience. Consumers can see through lies, there are no secrets and businesses are no longer in control of their marketing. They want a human connection with the companies that want their business. Consumers are demanding remarkable customer experiences. And, as previous rebellions have shown, in the end, the consumer always wins.

Living Life Backward

I can’t remember the first personal development session I sat in that had me write my obituary, but I know I’ve done it several times. The intent of the exercise is to get you – as Stephen Covey has coined it – begin with the end in mind. According to David Gibson, the preacher who wrote the book of Ecclesiastes did that same thing over 2,000 years ago. Life is short – a mere breath. The world is confusing. We have far less control over our circumstances than we would like. The only certainty is our eventual death and the likelihood that none of our accomplishments will survive us. By confronting us with these realities, the Old Testament book asks how we should live in light of them, right now. The answer it provides is to stop trying to escape the limitations of life. Stop treating your life as a problem to be solved. Stop worshiping and depending on stuff. Be content with your circumstances. Be grateful for the rhythms of life, for they are a gift from God. “Gift, not gain, is your new motto.” Be generous with your time and possessions. Pay attention to the world around you rather than the distractions of life. “Eat, drink, and be merry, not because that’s all there is, but because that’s what there is.” What can help us do this? The reality of death. “Preparing to die means thinking about how to live.”

Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Patrick Lencioni has long been one of my favorite business authors and perhaps the best there is on organizational health. His style of writing easily-accessible business fables that teach timeless truths has led to millions of book sales. By far the most famous of those fables is The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable and those dysfunctions are worth listing: The first is an absence of trust among team members. Essentially, this stems from their unwillingness to be vulnerable within the group. A failure to build trust sets the tone for the second dysfunction, which is a fear of conflict. Teams that lack trust are incapable of engaging in unfiltered and passionate debate of ideas. That ensures the third dysfunction of a team: lack of commitment. Without having aired their opinions in the course of passionate and open debate, team members rarely, if ever, buy in and commit to decisions, leading an avoidance of accountability, the fourth dysfunction. Without committing to a clear plan of action, people often hesitate to hold their peers accountable, which creates an environment where the fifth dysfunction can thrive: inattention to results. If none of those dysfunctions sound familiar, you’re either not on a team or you are in a state of blissful ignorance. Every team suffers from at least one of these dysfunctions and could benefit from reading both books. While the fable clearly lays out the impact of these dysfunctions, it’s this Field Guide that shows you how to overcome them. And isn’t that the whole point?

the path between us

There is no shortage of personality and behavioral tests: Myers-Briggs, DISC, Motivators, the Five-Factor Model and an endless number of lesser-known models. In The Path Between Us, Suzanne Stabile introduces the Enneagram, an ancient personality typing system that leads to self-discovery. From the Greek words ennéa, meaning “nine” and grámma, meaning something “written” or “drawn” the nine-pointed Enneagram is a typology of nine interconnected personality types, each with distinct strategies for relating to the self, others and the world. It has become commonly used in the Christian community as an aid to spiritual formation. I first heard about it on the podcast of Donald Miller, read The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery and took the Enneagram test. It was fairly easy to identify myself and it taught me some important lessons about how I engaged with the world. Almost simultaneously, my wife was engaging the Enneagram in a study with her friends, so we decided to listen to The Path Between Us during a weekend getaway and it gave us valuable ways to better interact with each other. In my work, I lead teams through the DISC and the most valuable learning is always through their interactions with each other. The Enneagram is the same. It’s one thing to discover my type and learn more about myself. But the real insight comes from how I interact with others. That’s the insight that comes from The Path Between Us.

What You Do is Who You Are

Ben Horowitz is at pains in this book to explode the myth that you can establish culture simply by writing it down. That’s an important first step. You have to first define what you want. But it’s not enough. It’s not even enough to model the culture you want, even though that’s incredibly important. You must make sure that the values you want in your business are actionable, be crystal clear what those actions are, and constantly reinforce them. Horowitz goes back in history to draw lessons from obscure cultures like Haitian slaves, prison gangs and the samurai to show his main point: “Culturally, what you believe means nearly nothing. What you do is who you are.” A good read for those who need to define the culture of their organizations.

Jack’s Life: The Story of C.S. Lewis

This biography of C.S. Lewis was written by his stepson, Douglas Gresham. The book both benefits and suffers from that fact. The benefit was in the first-person account. The drawback was his tendency to cast Lewis in the best possible light, no matter what the circumstance. For example, the falling out between Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien doesn’t even register. Ultimately, the book would have been improved had it included more first-person narrative and less defense of Lewis. However, given the relationship between the two and the fact that Gresham is no author, it’s understandable and the book is worth reading by fans of Lewis.

More

I also read Nine Lies About Work by Marcus Buckingham. Many of the lies recast familiar learnings from his earlier books, but my favorite of the lies was #3: the best companies cascade goals. Not true, says Buckingham. The best companies cascade meaning. Crushing It! By Gary Vaynerchuck was a good reminder that, no matter how good you or your idea, success requires total commitment. Due to its role in bringing about the fall of the Soviet Union, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn was a compelling read. And I blogged about Finding Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi here and here. Finally, I read Lancelot by Walker Percy, which had some profound points while being profoundly weird.

What are you reading? What should I read this month?

The 4 Components of a Compelling Vision

In his book Visioneering, Andy Stanley identified four components of a compelling vision. Before you go public and start casting your vision, you must be able to articulate these four things:

  1. The problem. Your vision isn’t a problem, but it always addresses a problem (see #2). Without this villain in the story, as Donald Miller puts it, no one is going to find your vision compelling.
  2. The solution. Just identifying a problem doesn’t get anyone excited. They can see problems every day on the news. Your vision is the solution to the problem you identified. It’s a picture of the future with that problem solved.
  3. The reason something must be done. Just because something can be done, doesn’t necessarily mean it should be done. A vision calls people to change something and change is scary. Casting a compelling vision must convince people to act now for a better future.
  4. The reason something must be done now. There are lots of demands on our lives. Why should I help attack your vision right now? Does it rank higher than my other priorities? If I do nothing, will time or someone else solve it? A compelling vision calls people to action now.

What vision are you building? Does it address these four questions from Stanley? If not, you may need to keep working on it.

The Fundamental Attribution Error

I recently finished listening to Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team by one of my favorite authors: Patrick Lencioni. The book is a field guide for implementing the principles from the most famous of his several business fables: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

The first dysfunction that a high-performing team must overcome is an absence of trust. People have a natural fear of being vulnerable with each other, which prevents the development of mutual trust. And trust is the foundation of any team. Without trust, you can’t overcome the other four dysfunctions.

So, how do you develop trust? You start by simply getting to know each other. One method proscribed by Lencioni is something he calls “the personal histories exercise,” where members of the team share something significant about their past, such as their family environment or a challenge they had to overcome.

Getting to know more about each other has the side benefit of overcoming the fundamental attribution error, which Lenioni labels, “one of the great destroyers of teamwork.” This error, that is present in everyone, causes them to attribute the negative behaviors in others to their character, while they attribute their own negative behaviors to their environment. For example, if a co-worker fails to get me the monthly report on time, I assume he’s lazy. But if I’m late with a report, I attribute it to the fact that I’m much busier than usual. His fault is internal. Mine is external.

At FiveFour, we help teams overcome this by using behavioral assessments and having everyone on the team interview someone else and then report back to the group. The final step in the process is to fill out a Guide to Working With Me. I first learned about this guide when reading the book Elephants Before Unicorns and knew I had to make it part of our process.

Want to know what our guide looks like? You can download it at the end of this post. If you like it and start to use it, reach out and let me know or leave a comment below. If you have other ways of building trust among teams, I’d love to hear about those as well.

Paying Attention to the Obvious

Because I consume a lot of content, I frequently read things that overlap with other things I’m reading, podcasts I’m listening to, blogs I’m following, etc. I try to pay extra attention to those things when they happen, believing that those serendipitous moments often happen for a reason.

Recently, that forced me to pay more attention to…attention. At the same time I was reading Finding Flow, which I blogged about here, and learning about the importance of attention to achieving flow, I was also participating in a class at my church called The Journey. In preparation for a recent session, we read Jesus’ Parable of the Sower and the Lamp Under the Jar.

The Parable of the Sower is all about the different ways that people receive the Word of God and what kind of fruit it allows them to bear. And it turns out that the difference boils down to one thing, and it’s Jesus’ instruction from Luke 8:18a: “Pay attention to how you listen!”

The message was the same to each individual. The difference was in how much attention the recipient paid to it. This made me think about the importance of paying attention. It’s so easy to get on auto-pilot in our busy, distracted world and fail to pay attention to everything happening around us.

It reminds me of the famous Kenyon College graduation speech from novelist David Foster Wallace, this is water. Click here for full transcript and audio. But I really like the shorter clip from this video:

Stop and pay attention this week. See how it causes you to order your life differently.