Posts Tagged ‘customer experience’

A business SOS

Saturday, May 7th, 2011

Everywhere I look, corporate people are stressed. It’s true at the top, the middle, and the bottom of the pyramid. Being hired by a successful business used to contribute to personal well-being. I can still remember how giddy I was when a large US multinational hired me out of school and how much it contributed to my early enthusiasm about life. This, in all evidence, is no longer the case. Everywhere I go, I collect stories of rising managerial expectations and reduced access to resources, resulting in a productivity squeeze that destroys the fun of business life and in some cases increases suicide rates. France, for example, is beginning to raise the issue of “work health.” In inimitable fashion, the French want to legislate on the topic, which creates a new class of stressed people: managers afraid of being accused of having induced suicides among their direct reports.

Has business lost its way? How did we get to the point where companies destroy the lives of their people instead of making them better? Like anybody else, I can point to the forces that drive the endless quest for productivity in business: the rise of shareholder expectations, the development of global competition, and the do-or-die nature of the modern labor market. But where in this equation are the ethical braces that prevent humans from oppressing other humans? Have we become collectively insensitive to the point where we’re lost the ability to remember why we’re engaging in business in the first place? And if corporations have become the new gulag, why hasn’t there been a management revolution?

Our conceptualization of business as a company-centric science rather than a human-centric creative network may have something to do with it. Conceptually, we have it all wrong. We should start from the viewpoint that employees and managers have an experience of business, and this experience is as important as the experience that customers have of the business. The latter is much talked about, analyzed, and continuously worked on. There is a rising caste called Chief Experience Officers whose job it is to worry about customer experience. Yet there is no equivalent for employee or manager experience. As long as their frustration stays below suicide range, we are content to take their temperature once or twice a year in the form of an employee survey. The employee survey is usually managed by HR people whose role is to delineate for business managers how far the corporation can push in the name of productivity. This is a frustration containment strategy, a far cry from the experience co-creation strategy it should be. When HR people venture to advocate for the employee experience, they rapidly become accused of being a part of the problem, an obstacle on the road to productivity. Understandably, few of them choose this path.

We should view business as the coming together of a set of individuals, from employees to customers and other stakeholders, in order to invent worthwhile personal experiences through the development of a common economic model. Employees should matter as much as customers. The role of business managers should be to help employees figure out the work experience they want to have for themselves, allow customers and other stakeholders to do the same, and give all of them the tools that will allow them to interact as efficiently as possible. The self-interested pursuit of greater well-being by employees and customers is what will produce the most efficient corporation and create the highest shareholder return. The obnoxious expert opinion of a few top managers on what processes those employees and managers should follow will at best represent a mediocre approximation of what humans with passion and an intimate knowledge of what needs to be done would have devised for themselves. At worst, it will become an oppressive machine with a mediocre economic engine.

Engaging employees in the co-creation of their work experience is job 1 for business. But it’s getting dangerously late. Business, it is time to save your soul.


Guest blogging for Harvard Business Review and Front End of Innovation

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

I’m pleased to be a contributor to two blogs, and

As part of’s new series on “Creating a Customer-Centered Organization,” I wrote about the need for companies to design new and better customer interactions.

Experience Co-Creation

Many companies now have senior officers in charge of customer experience. The executives’ role is to define the attributes of the customer experience in partnership with their operational colleagues, organize the customer-satisfaction-measurement process against those attributes, and encourage remedial action wherever warranted. What they hardly ever have, though, is an approach to evolve the design of the customer experience, let alone create a new experience.

To develop a new customer experience, companies need a real-time engagement process that encourages customers and employees to devise new interactions between them and facilitates the emergence of innovative customer experiences.

Yes, this co-creation takes time, but there is no alternative. Each customer designs her own experience in the unique context of each interaction she has with the company. So when companies rely solely on market research to design the customer experience, the result is a manager-biased lowest common denominator of customers’ expectations.     More


On the Front End of Innovation Blog, linked to the FEI 2011 Conference, where I will be a keynote speaker on May 17, I listed seven words I’d like to see banned from the lingo of product development (with apologies to George Carlin).

Seven Words We Should Ban From the Product Development Language

The American stand-up comedian George Carlin had a routine entitled “Seven Dirty Words You Can’t Say on TV.”

Here are seven dirty words I’d like to ban from the product development language:

1. process,
2. customer,
3. needs,
4. market research,
5. engineering,
6. product specifications and
7. idea management.

1. Process: the appearance of rigor conveyed by a flow chart representing product development on a wall, disguising a cesspool of messy interactions as a neatly flowing river.

In the classic company-centric view of business, product development people follow a process. In reality, there is no such thing as a product development process. Product development is a series of interactions. To state the obvious, the difference between a process and an interaction is that the latter flows in (at least) two directions. One should therefore not design product development processes, but product development engagement platforms inviting multiple constituencies to participate in the design, with the product development people acting as facilitators of those interactions.


Animating the Disney experience

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

Disney is a bit like root beer or green jello. You have to be born on American soil to like it.

The most annoying thing about Disney people is how revered they are for the “experience” they provide in their theme parks.  But the Disney experience is entirely staged by them. Not an ounce of customer co-creation there. If I’m a customer puppet whose strings are drawn by Disney designers, am I much more than Pinocchio longing to become human?

If you ever attend a class from the Disney Institute – yes, they have an Institute – they’ll teach you all about their view of experience. I’ve now been there three times, invited by companies who think the Disney Institute will teach the basics of experience in the morning and I’ll show them the future of experience as co-creation in the afternoon.  And then my agony starts. A Hollywood executive once described the role of the producer on a movie project as watching a director make love to the girl of your dreams and having to pretend you like it. This is the way I feel listening to Disney teach about experience.

The class itself is offered by a teacher who only asks questions with ‘right” or wrong” answers. When you answer “right”, he gives you a small Disney character to take home. The last time in Orlando, my neighbor collected four of them. He reminded me of the dolphin being fed after every trick I had seen the day before at Seaworld. You’ll learn everything at Disney has been studied for you. The sidewalks of the theme park are red because they look good on pictures. The alley veering to the right is one or two feet larger than the one veering to the left because more people naturally go right than go left. Responding to a question during a tour of the underground premises, our guide volunteered that the characters don’t talk because “Disney would lose the ability to control the quality of the customer experience in an improvised dialogue”. Imagine the risk of it all, if Mickey could respond to the little girl in pink with her balloon (by the way, Mickey is a teamster, and his union contract may not include talking).

The intensity with which Disney focuses on experience – the manufactured kind – creates the very obstacle that prevents the company from moving to co-creation of that experience. Having been anointed as experience experts by pundits, why would Disney exhibit the humility to let customers design their own experience? By and large, this phenomenon extends to the entire fast-moving consumer goods industry, where companies such as Procter & Gamble and L’Oreal have blazed the experience trail, but have become laggards on the co-creation of the consumer experience.

Well, before I write Disney’s co-creative abilities off completely, let me point to two developments that show Disney may be coming off the experience ice age after all. Last Wednesday, the Epcot Center at Walt Disney’s Disney World opened a new attraction called Sum of All Thrills which lets kids design on a computer their own roller-coaster, bobsled track or plane ride, then actually experience that ride through virtual reality. Two other attractions in other theme parks – Toy Story Mania and Cyberspace Mountain – also exhibit personalization features of the same type.

Even more importantly, Disney is revamping its stores, coached by Steve Jobs who now sits on the Disney board through the Pixar relationship. The main idea behind the renovation is not particularly co-creative in that it involves making the stores into mini-theme parks providing kids with “an experience”, as opposed to the dolls warehouse that they are today. The co-creation comes in the process of developing the new store concept. As Apple did it in the development of its own store format, Jobs has talked the management of Disney Stores into opening a pilot store in a warehouse to figure out the right interactivity between customers, store personnel and the physical merchandise and store. He’s also coached them to consider community activities in the store, rather than focus on one-on-one sale.

The European cynic in me will probably never convince himself that going on a ride of It’s a Small World After All provides an authentic global experience, but Disney’s willingness to let customers participate in its value chain is encouraging. Slowly, Sleeping Beauty may be awakening after all.

Does Apple do co-creation?

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

Perhaps the most frequently asked question when it comes to co-creation is whether Apple is the best or the worst example of co-creation. The answer, of course, is yes.

If we think of co-creation as the process of involving customers and employees in the design of the next generation product, the co-definition of any customer-facing process, or God forbid, the opening of the firm’s governance to outside stakeholders, Apple is the worst student in the class. “More secretive than Apple, you die”, a French trade journalist once wrote, frustrated by the KGB-like approach of the firm. Give them an “F” in the “Co-Creation as a Process class”! (Dear Steve Jobs, you may be devastated reading this evaluation, but don’t despair; I have encouraging words for you later on).

If we define co-creation as the extent through which the customer experience that is delivered day in, day out by Apple allows a two-way contextualization of that experience, Apple fares better. The play list on my iPod or iPhone is uniquely mine. I may not have designed iTunes (Steve Jobs and his team did that), but iTunes sure allows me to create a personalized play list, so much so that my two sisters emphatically acknowledge this play list is “uniquely me” (this opinion came with a recommendation not to publish it on iTunes, but rather to keep it “exclusive to the family”; my sisters can be over-possessive sometimes). My ability to browse through products at the Apple Store on my own terms, or to dialogue with the repair folks at the Genius Bar, are also quite co-creative. Of course, many elements remain ferociously controlled by Apple, including price and distribution access. In the Allowing Customers to Co-Create their Experience class, Apple might get something like a “B-“ or a “B.” (Told you, Steve, it would get better).

With the advent of the App store, Apple has decidedly crossed the co-creation Rubicon. Being old enough to remember the early insistence of Apple on keeping software proprietary, it is nothing short of remarkable that Apple would allow independent software writers to sell their products on the iPhone platform today. They now even advertise the App store as the key feature for the iPhone, for goodness’ sake! In the “Getting Partners to Co-Create with the Firm class”, Apple may well come close to an “A.”

O.K., Steve, you’ve been improving steadily. Now, work on that Co-Creation as a Process thing. You have all the makings of a good businessman. I believe in you.