Every year, I force myself out of my day-to-day activities to attend the Future of Storytelling Summit in New York. In a short series of posts, I’m sharing some of the lessons I learned this year. I hope you find them useful.
FOST LESSON 2: TO TELL A STORY, YOU NEED TO LISTEN
Once upon a time, I met a storyteller from Madagascar. She captivated her audience with crocodiles, tribal feuds and virgins discovering love in the jungle. When she climbed on the stage she wore her traditional robe. No shoes. No props. No Powerpoint. As she spun her tale, you could hear a pin drop.
After the event, I had the opportunity to spend some time with her. Knowing we would only have a few moments, I decided to make the most of them. “How" I asked. "do you take such a simple story and use it to silence a group of grown men full of their own importance?”.
Her answer was one of the most important storytelling lessons I ever had in my life. “You need to remember”, she said, “that you are not the one telling the story. The people you speak to tell it to themselves. In their imagination. All you do, is give them the tools, the ideas and the emotions that they can make their own.”
She continued by explaining that, as a storyteller, her most important skill was to listen and understand the picture the audience was painting for themselves. She watched their body language. Their expressions. Their eyes.
Based on what she saw, she adapted her tale. Would the crocodile take a little longer before the attack? Would it swim away? It all depended on the reaction from the audience and her intuition. While the core elements remained the same, she hardly ever told the exact same story twice.
NEW YORK, OCTOBER 2017
I was reminded of the Malagasy’s words at the Future of Storytelling Summit. In their own way, speaker after speaker illustrated that successful storytelling required listening.
Cartoon Network’s approach hinged on design thinking and rapid prototypes. Disney actively involved audiences in making their movies better. Eating designer Marije Vogelzang was more interested in the stories of the people eating her food, than the food itself. Colum McCann from Narrative 4 delivered a passionate plea that listening and empathy lie at the heart of every meaningful story.
To me, this struck an important chord. As a hard-core customer-centrist and empathic individual, I’ve always believed in listening. Sometimes to a fault. But in the world of angano (Malagasy for story), it is the only way.
Stories do not exist unless someone is listening. To make audiences care about your words, you have to start from their reality. This applies if you want to convince people of the business case for your idea or have them embrace your description of the Gash-i-Rah clan on the planet Khalu. You need to give them points of recognition which connect to their beliefs. Their desires. Their fears.
Once you meet them there, you can take them to any point of your story world, as long as you keep listening and continuously adapt your tale to the story they are ready to be told.
LESSON LEARNED: AUDIENCE-CENTRICITY IS KEY TO GREAT STORYTELLING
Bad listening is where many stories fail. Deliberate listening is what makes them succeed.
The good news is that with my customer-centricity training, I know how to do this. Generating insights, observing audiences and taking customers on an emotional journey are all part of the trade.
The bad news is that I remain human. As executives, talkers, writers, makers, we’re so eager to get our point across, that we lose sight of the ideas our audience are ready to accept. We use words that don’t resonate with their beliefs. Warn of threats they do not see. Promise treasures they cannot imagine.
As a result, we may rationally convince them of our point, but forget to win their hearts. They may hear about our crocodiles, feuding clans and virgins in the jungle. But they will never see them in their mind’s eye. I’ve done it more than once, and I’m bound to do it again.
So the lesson I learned, is that for every future story I tell, I will try to apply the audience-centric principle that it is not about the story I want to tell, but all about the story my audience is ready to hear.
This story first appeared on alainthys.com. If you like what you read and would like to get more, subscribe to my newsletter. It's full of articles, tips and other goodies.
Every year, I force myself out of my day-to-day to attend The Future of Storytelling Summit in New York. This is one of one of those rare events that don’t just inform, but challenge - even change - your belief system. After a week of experiential overdose, I'll be sharing some of the lessons I learned this year. I’ll focus on the ones which are relevant for brands and customer professionals. I’ll split them over multiple posts.
FOST LESSON 1: UX as we know it, just died
Every serious conversation about quantum physics has a tendency to melt your brain. It doesn’t make sense, and yet it is. So when my first work session at Fost started looking at the influence of quantum field theory on user interface design, I knew I could be in for a rollercoaster ride (OK, I’m a nerd, sue me 😃).
Jumping straight to the end of the story, the workshop's message was that we should forget everything we know about today's user interfaces.
Ever since the beginning, we have modeled digital interfaces on an industrial age paradigm. If you wanted a machine to do something, you had to press a button. This could be a physical button, a Siri command or a wave of the hand. But metaphorically, it was always “a button”.
Using this new paradigm, these buttons disappear. By installing a wide variety of sensors around us, our machines monitor our every move, micro-expression, heartbeat, temperature, pupil dilation. And just to be clear, our sunglasses, jewellery and clothes can all be machines.
This allows the development of probabilistic models that predict our intentions at the speed of our brain. In other words, the machines watch us and calculate the probability that we want to open a door, open a file or are in the mood for ice-cream. Once the probability is high enough, they automatically provide us with the things we desire. No commands. No instructions. No buttons. Only intent.
This can happen over short distances, but also across larger ones. Even at the other side of the planet. After all, if you think about vectors in a quantised field, space is a very relative concept. All that matters is the expression of intent/probability.
If this sounds like science fiction, it partly is. The technology is available today and all major players are working on it. But it does require 5G, a ton of sensors (IoT anyone?), more advanced AI and - as an AT&T executive observed - “a massive amount of processing power”.
Also, the ethical implications will need sorting out. If my primal brain says I want bacon, but salad is the smarter option, which will the digital restaurant menu show first? If I tell my vendor that I’m satisfied with the service, but my micro-expressions contradict this, is he allowed to know? If I’m depressed and consider killing myself, will the machines help me? Or stop me?
But all these elements will eventually be sorted out. Especially as first user tests indicate that after 20 seconds of usage, people have figured out the new way of working. They also prefer the intuitive nature and nanosecond speed over old-school UX.
So, there is still a number of years mileage in today’s user experience design practices. But the genie is out of the bottle and there’s no way we’ll put it back in. In my mind, UX has we know it, is a dead man walking.
What are your thoughts when you read the above? Good? Bad? Ugly?
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Lately, I've been wondering a lot about the future of CX. Notably about what lies beyond our current pre-occupation with the customer's voice, journey mapping and getting better at what we should be doing anyway.
To many questions, I can't find a quality response. So I summarised the main ones in this article, in the hope that you might have some answers, or at least thoughts that could help us all to solve the puzzle.
If you do, I'd appreciate if you could share them in the comments, or even better by joining the team from Insites Consulting and myself on Customerfest. This is an online experiment where customerati from all over the world try to co-create the future of customer experience. Either way, I'd love to hear your views.
Also if you are of the opinion that I ask too many questions ;-)
I've been asking myself a lot of questions about the future of customer experience. Four, I seem to be unable to answer by myself. So I thought I'd share them in the hope that you could throw in your 2 cents to solve them.
You can do this in the comment section below. Or even better, by joining www.customerfest.eu. This is an online co-creation experiment I've set up with my friends at Insites Consulting. It's free. It’s educational and it promises to be great fun.
Either way, I'd love to hear your views. Also if you are of the opinion that I ask too many questions ;-)
Question 1: How do we pick the right technologies to enhance our customer’s experience?
A tsunami of technologial change is coming our way. Every day, new developments in AI, 3D printing, genetics, IoT and more hit our newsfeeds. But it’s not always clear how these breakthroughs benefit our customer’s experience.
So, without 20:20 foresight, how do we pick the ones that matter? How do we find out of the box use cases and combinations that will - as vendors promise - disrupt our industry?
In theory, it's simple. We need to observe our customers. Go out and experiment. Learn. Prototype. Rebuild. Design thinking and all that jazz.
But the real world doesn’t work that way. On the one hand there is opportunity overload. On the other, resource limitations exist. What's more, not everyone has reinvention skills. So, no matter how dedicated we are to exploring all avenues ahead, we will need to make choices.
But how do we choose? Is there a method? Or will success be a randomised game where the winners are the ones that guessed right?
Question 2: How do we maintain a human touch?
Whether we like it or not, the world is going digital. Supply chains will continue to automate, AI’s will respond to customer requests. Robots already greet us at airports. But, until further notice, humans are still the ones paying the bills. Regardless of machine efficiencies, our flesh & blood type still like a human touch.
So how do we design for emotion in a world of digital assistants, predictive services and robots. Do we need to give our technology a more human face? Do we need hybrid solutions where humans complement machines and vice versa? Or is there a business case to go 100% human and reject technology all together?
How do we marry technology and humanity? And where do we draw the line? Commercially, but perhaps also morally?
Question 3: How do we engage employees as machines start taking their place?
The reports are unanimous. Machines are going to replace as significant amount of humans in the workplace. Some say that this is fine. People will move to new jobs that don’t exist today. Others are more pessimistic. They press us to make work of universal basic income. Either way, we’re heading for a period of transition. This will bring job insecurity and possible employee hostility towards automation.
So, what do we do? Do we play Darwinistic hardball and let the most adaptable survive? Do we start preparing our people for a fuzzy future? And how do we keep these people motivated to deliver the best customer experience they can? Especially if some will realise that it’s only a matter of time before a machine starts gunning for their job.
How do we deal with this? We cannot take a wait and see attitude. Morality aside, today’s employees are still tomorrow’s customers.
Question 4: How do we stay in control of the coming customer experience chaos?
Big data. Personalisation. Fragmenting supply chains. Many factors are making our world a lot more complex. According to some, current developments are only the beginning. Technological change will continue to speed up. Changes in one industry will exponentially influence customer expectations in another.
How will we stay on top of this complexity and acceleration? How will we deal with big data if most companies still struggle with their CRM system? Will we outsource our thinking to AI? Are we heading towards a counter movement with radical simplification and small data?
And as individuals. How will make sure that we keep our own knowledge fresh and relevant? All while doing our regular day job?
When confronted with this barrage of questions, you may raise your hands and say I don't know. Most of the time, I do the same.
But, sooner rather than later, we will need to come up with answers. The world is changing at the speed of light. While there is still time, the customer experiences we work on today, may not exist 5 years from now. Many will definitely be gone in a decade.
So, help myself and 50 other customerati from around the world look for answers. Register for our co-creation project at www.customerfest.eu. It's free, educational and promises to be fun.
Image (cc) Jonathan Simco
With all the talk of multi-channel retail and digital commerce, I sometimes wonder if in five to ten years, there will still be a high-street. Will we still go shopping? Or do we order our goods in virtual reality for delivery-by-drone?
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to interview Cate Trotter. She's the Head of Trends at Insider Trends and helps retailers develop future scenarios for their business. I've compiled the best excerpts of our conversation in the video below.
Not so long ago, customer expectations were fairly siloed. Customers didn’t really compare the way they banked to the way they shopped for cars or were treated in their local hospital. To compete, all you needed to do was keep an eye out for the competitors in your market and be better. While challenging, this was conceptually quite easy.
Today, this has changed. Once customers had a certain experience anywhere, it will become their expectation everywhere. Regardless whether this is fair or realistic. If CitizenM can get me through check-in in 30 seconds, why do I have to stand in line in my medical centre? If Coolblue can tell me EXACTLY when my dishwasher will arrive at home, why can’t my vendor do the same for the widgets that are due in my warehouse?
Customer expectations are increasingly driven by the sum of all customer experiences a person has. Anywhere. Anytime. So if you’re selling B2B widgets, suddenly dishwashers matter.
I’ve been looking into this a bit as part of the upcoming Customerfest. It led me to formulate three areas in which you might want to look at the customer experiences you offer. I’m sure there are more, so if you have idea, do share below!
Shorten the customer journey
The simplest customer journey is the one that doesn’t happen. Places like Amazon or AirBnB have taught us that you can buy things in one click and get all the services to match. The more this happens, the more we start expecting shorter journeys everywhere. Every inefficient step, every address detail re-entered, becomes an irritant.
ACTION: Rather than improving your customer journey, look at eliminating complete steps. Can you do what Warby Parker eyewear did, and let customers take their vision tests at home? Can you create your version of the one-click-buy or Amazon Dash ?
Virtual assistants like Siri or Alexa, combined with the AI that powers them, are teaching customers to think about the ways they interact with brands. As a result we'll grow increasingly irritated when navigating that IVR or working through 3 call-centre agents that can’t seem to get our problem solved. Instead, we want our answers fast, accurate and with as little hassle as possible. Even if we’re not asking the question.
ACTION: Explore ways in which you can make your products and services more intelligent. Solve customer problems before they occur. Take inspiration from examples like the Pirelli Connesso system that proactively manages a car's tires through a mobile app. Or Nudge for Change, which helps consumer’s spend money at establishments which align with their beliefs.
We are living in the on-demand decade. Think Netflix. Same-day delivery. Soon even our cars will appear when we summon them. These developments are rapidly reducing our tolerance for waiting around and committing ourselves when there is no immediate need. We want our solutions instantly, and if we don’t use them, we’d preferably not pay..
ACTION: Think about the places you are making customers wait. Not just for delivery, but for answers. Service. Information. Payment. Take a look at Avvo, which gets you on the phone with a new lawyer within 8 minutes, or Verifly which has just launched drone insurance by the flight. Whether any of these services actually become a business success, is irrelevant. They are changing expectations, one customer at a time. This will eventually affect your business.
So get going, and look at the way other industries are changing your customer’s experiences. But remember. It's not because technology can be used that it should. Empowering the customer doesn’t equal digital force-feeding. Personally, I love gizmos that make my life easier. My wife, on the other hand, just wants to talk to another human that makes her problems go away. If you want to do business with our family, you have to keep both of us happy.
Just to keep your life a challenge :-)
B2B is going digital. Processes get automated. Self-service models introduced. Some firms are reducing the amount of human contact to the point of non-existence.
To a degree, we like this. As professional clients we want to be efficient with our time. We have developed a culture which considers email to be more efficient than calling. In which we prefer to pick up a phone over meeting face-to-face. Especially if the latter requires travel. In short: we achieve more, talk less and we like it that way.
So, whenever a client comes to your head office or showroom a unique opportunities arises. To build relationships. To open your clients' eyes to new avenues of business. To give them stories to tell when they get back home. To create a memorable experience.
Unfortunately, many B2B companies squander this precious moment. On the process front they pursue the latest in digitalisation. But in face-to-face meetings and hospitality, scripts haven't changed since my first job. 30 years ago.
Clients check in at reception. Someone brings them to a clean, but non-descript, meeting room. They get a cup of coffee or tea and a cookie. After some small talk, it’s on to Powerpoint and paperwork. Sometimes, a tour or demo brightens up the day.
It feels like - and probably is - an efficient way to get the practical side of the job done. But as an experience, it’s also very un-memorable. If not boring.
B2B product and service providers need to rethink their (head) office experience.
Offices and showrooms can be more than physical locations to get stuff done. They can be immersive experiences which help your staff strengthen client relationships. Create memorable moments.
This isn’t about buying funky furniture, though may be part of the mix. It is about creating client experience scripts that consider:
Once you get into it, you'll quickly find that many of the office protocols you consider to be normal today, contribute little to the visiting client's experience. You might even find they detract from it.
So, are you ready to turn the place upside down?
Here's another batch of links you may find interesting:
Enjoy the read!
Many CX champions complain that their colleagues "don’t get it" or "don't care" about the customer.
I challenge this mindset. If we cannot convince people to care, this only means we haven't been convincing enough. After all, I've never seen anyone get out of bed with the intent of upsetting customers. Well, there was this one guy. :-)
While I haven't got any magic bullets, I hope you'll find some use in the suggestions below to make your colleagues care about the customer.
1. Show people how they impact the customer experience
In my Reebok days, one of my colleagues ran a programme to create the perfect order for sports retailers. It was a company-wide initiative, also affecting the warehouse.
During one of the many workshops, a breakdown occured. One of the warehouse workers wanted to leave the session, as he felt it was a waste of his time. After all, all this customer b**lsh** didn’t apply to him. He worked with boxes and had no influence on customer satisfaction.
Now luck had it, that on this day the CEO of a major retailer was visiting that particular warehouse. He overheard this employee.
In a friendly way, he joined the conversation and asked the employee about his job at the warehouse. The man explained that he worked on picking and packing. He had to seal the boxes before they went on the truck.
The CEO continued with a rhetorical question. "So you are telling me, that you are the last person to see and touch my product before it comes to my stores? And that you have no influence over my satisfaction as a customer?" The point didn't need labouring further.
ACTION 1: Explain to each employee of the company how they add value to the final customer experience. After all, if they don’t know what it is that they are contributing, it is hard for them to get excited about it.
2. Make the customer voice actionable.
Customer voice programmes can be a great source of honest feedback. They can help you pinpoint what you are getting right and what you are getting wrong. But if you're unfamiliar with the way these programmes work, you may struggle to see their value.
For example, if a customer complains about the price she needs to pay, billing may not be the issue. Sales or marketing may have created the wrong expectation. Service delivery might have been sloppy. The invoice might be unclear.
Yet, if you work in marketing, service delivery or IT, you may not immediately see these aspects. After all, the bill is too high is unrelated to with the job you do.
ACTION 2: Complement your customer voice programme with regular root cause analysis. Translate customer feedback into a language that resonates with the different departments in your business. Once colleagues see how they can contribute, the chances of them doing so vastly increase.
3. Humanise your customers.
Every business and employee wants to look professional. Tools of this trade include PowerPoint presentations, jargon and complex analytical models.
While these are useful, they can dehumanise customers. What used to be people and individuals, becomes units-in-use, policy holders or PAX (does anybody even know what that abbreviation means?).
Unfortunately, once someone becomes a number, our ability to care as humans diminishes. Bringing back the customer as a human can inverse this process.
A few years ago I saw a brilliant example at a global telecom operator I worked for. Like any other operator they had clients that suffered from bill shock. Especially when confronted with their post-holiday roaming charges. Like in every operator, these customers were numbers on a spreadsheet. Until one of their CX champions singled out the story of Johan.
Johan was a single dad who had been on holiday with his two children. Upon returning home late August, he found that his bank account was empty. He had inadvertently blown his data-plan and faced a bill of several thousands of Euros. Through automatic debit, this amount had disappeared from his bank balance. At the start of the school year, he didn't have the money to buy his children the books and materials they needed.
Suddenly, these numbers on a spreadsheet, seemed a lot more actionable.
ACTION 3: Replace your cold customer reports with human accounts. Give people the opportunity to relate to you customers as individuals. Make them care. Once they do, they'll be ready to help. Not because KPI's say so, but because it's in our nature.
As always, the above three actions will not transform your business on their own. It may not even get your people to act. For that you need business cases, process overhauls and the right KPI's. But they can help your colleagues to become more willing to make these changes a reality. That's a start :-)
Image credit: (cc) Mike Wilson
In 1932, rear-admiral Harry E. Yarnell ran a simulation. He demonstrated that he could destroy Pearl Harbor through almost exactly the same tactics as the Japanese would use nine years later. His recommendations were dismissed. No one was considered crazy enough to launch an attack with so much self-inflicted material damage and casualties.
Since then, and especially since 9/11, the American army and government agencies like the CIA have tried to avoid being blindsided by their own prejudice. They do this by deploying Red Teams. These teams of elite soldiers and analysts are tasked to challenge existing strategies or security protocols To explore alternative futures/avenues that are out of scope for regular strategy makers.
Through army contractors, the technique has also become commonplace in the software security business. White-hat hackers strengthen IT systems by trying to gain access to sensitive client data, email communication and a client's innermost secrets.
I think that Red Teams should also become a standard practice in the world of customer experience. For as long as I can remember, CX winners have been the ones that were willing to break the rules. Today, these companies are called Airbnb, Amazon, Tesla. Not so long ago they were named Ikea, Nespresso, or even further back Polaroid.
With all the technological, demographic and environmental changes ahead of us, every industry will have its Amazon moment. The number of disruptors will only increase. The angles taken will only get more creative. While it is impossible to predict the customer experiences of the future, we can safely say that theys will be nothing like the one we know today. Waiting to see what happens, is asking for disintermediation or even obsolescence. Companies need to proactively challenge their customer experience beliefs and make sure they disrupt themselves, before someone else does. In other words, they’ll need a Red Team to go beyond traditional innovation efforts and instead really shake things up.
If you haven’t got a Red Team in your business, here is how you could get started:
Build a team of super-smart mavericks.
Red teaming is not for the average employee. In their hearts, red-teamers love to mess with the system. They love to look at corporate policies, industry habits or technologies and find ways to hack them. So look across your organisation for the wild ones. The mavericks. The rule breakers. The people that regularly come with customer ideas that are too wild or too disruptive to execute, but somehow still sound cool. They can be young recruits, or veterans in your business. They can be internally recruited, or independently contracted. As long as they are fast thinkers, understand teamwork, have a healthy disregard for (corporate) correctness and a penchant for mischief, you’re on the right path.
Give them a bold mission and no rules.
Red Teams perform best if they get big goals. Think about what your Pearl Harbor would look like. Identify the segment, market or core profit driver that would really hurt if it disappeared. Then tell your red team to find a way to steal it from your business. Or even make your whole company obsolete. Their goal should be nothing less than the total annihilation of your business.
If they are the right type of people, they may be slightly daunted by this task. But they will also be unable to resist the challenge. Especially once they understand that they have your permission to disregard any corporate rule, legacy method or industry habit. As long as what they come up with is legal, it's on the table.
Get out of their way.
In an ideal world, you give your Red Team some operating budget and take its members out of the business for 3 to 6 months. While continuing to have full access to all the information and know-how in your business, they are shielded from any operational or even strategic tasks. This keeps their mind clear of bias, and hundred percent focused on their task. It also minimises leaks of their thinking into the mainstream organisation. This avoids the rest of your employees getting too nervous about any wild ideas that bounce around.
In case isolation isn’t practical, or you would like to have multiple Red Teams competing in an effort to wake up your business, it can also work on a part-time basis. As long as it is clear that the moment they put on their Red Team hats, they forget about the rules which they apply in their regular job.
Organise yourself to really listen.
When they are ready to present their case, your Red Team will be in a very different place than you are. They have been looking at the world through different glasses and will have developed a team narrative and logic which may have nothing to do with the way your business works today. Inversely, your employees (you?) will be looking at life as it is supposed to be.
This will cause communication problems. Your Red Team may fail to make itself properly understood. The rest of the business may reject their ideas. Just like the people evaluating Admiral Yarnell’s simulation, they may be inclined to come up with reasons why a certain scenario would never happen. Especially if that scenario might threaten their own existence, or that of their department/business line.
You can safeguard against both traps by pulling in people who are used to considering wild ideas. This can be friendly venture capitalists or serial entrepreneurs that have made a living from breaking the rules. Have your red team pitch their ideas to these external judges, and only let them return to you, once they have them convinced they found the right angle. This will allow them to sharpen the pitch, and prepare for any questions or challenges that may be thrown at them. When they present their case, the story will be sound. Also, having been validated by external experts, will make it harder to dismiss.
Make sure the red team always wins
Red teaming is not a casual game. Toying with the technique as just another simulation may hold risks for both the team members as well as your organisation.
If they fail in their mission, the members of the team risk disappointment, or even public embarrassment. After all they are not just asked to come up with another innovation, but to seek & destroy. Not achieving this goal should therefore not be seen as failure, but actually as proof that with the current business is still robust. This needs celebrating.
Inversely, if they are successful and do come with a way to upend your business, you have to do something with this information. Once humans have seen a better way of doing something, all other methods seem inadequate. This will be the case for your Red Team too. They will have seen the future, and have a clear picture of the vulnerabilities of your business. If they are as smart as they should be, they won’t want to remain on a potentially sinking ship.
To keep them as part of your organisation (which by this time is highly advisable) you need to give them the opportunity to either help transform your existing business into the direction they created, or give them the space to strike out on their own (as a new venture for your business). If you decide to take the latter route, the relationship they have been able to develop with the venture capitalist/serial entrepreneur, may be helpful.
This last bit is probably the most delicate part to manage. But if the Red Team really finds clear vulnerabilities in the customer experience you offer, and inversely provides your business with a next level of growth, it may be one of the smarter investments you make.
In the context of the Customer Council as well as some other work that I’m doing, I am currently working on a Red Team format which members could apply to their business. If you’re interested in piloting the approach in your business, let me know. I promise to give you a sweet deal ;-).
Here are a few reading tips from the past week:
About this blog
Whenever inspiration strikes, I use this space to share my thoughts on customer experience management, storytelling or what ever else crosses my mind.