classical music, grief, memory, regret, leadership, and the long view

Classical music. Just the idea of sitting through two hours of symphonic music puts many to sleep. It expects a lot of us, for sure, but with someone like Zander, it can be transformative. Not because it's classical music, but because it speaks to something universal in us. 

Shining eyes, people.


pentatonic scale, bobby mcferrin, customer collaboration, and brand overextension

Check this out. Then review the points/questions below the vid. I love Bobby. 

1. How much info did Bobby have to communicate to set the pattern?

2. If he had used words instead of his body, would the pattern have been as clear, or the audience as engaged?

3. What was the audience's visceral reaction to their "discovery" of the first note that Bobby did NOT explicitly teach them?

4. When Bobby split his legs across two notes, what was their visceral reaction? Could he have divided the audience to handle that situation? 

5. How much is a "split signal" likely to confuse and disturb an audience, or customer? What does this have to do with brand extensions?

6. When did Bobby cease to be a leader and turn over the reigns to the audience? Or did he?

7. Why did the audience like this experience?

8. Why is this experience intrinsically time-based?

9. Why is this experience intrinsically incremental? What is built incrementally? Roles? Trust? Empowerment?

10. The topic that inspired this moment was "expectations". We talk about expectations in CEM all the time, as related to satisfaction. But is this what inspired Bobby to do this demonstration? What does he mean by expectations here? 

11. How much is Bobby leveraging deep cultural knowledge? If he had asked anyone BEFORE this demonstration to sing a pentatonic scale, what do you think would have happened? How would the experience have been different?

12. How is this like the Apple Store? Like Twitter? Like the Facebook feed? 

13. What is Bobby's brand? Where was it shown? Where was it created? 

14. What makes this memorable? Valuable? Repeatable? Universal? 

15. Once you've done this as an audience member, would you enjoy it as much the second time? If not, how does Bobby (the brand) reinvent/transform the experience into something that delivers a similar "wow" to the first event? What are the deep brand values in play with a company that are separate from its brand "tactics"?


experience management and the uncanny valley

James Cameron, in previewing scenes from his new movie Avatar during preproduction, was looking at a digitally-rendered version is his lead actor, who in the story had been transformed from a paralyzed human into a tall, strapping, blue-skinned alien. Above all else, James needed for this scene to feel real. 

It didn't. 

And so he found himself in what is called the uncanny valley, in the world of artificial intelligence and robotics. This is the place where things seem almost right, almost true - almost believable - but there's something weirdly wrong. And so the effect is ruined.

Sound familiar? 

It should, if you're in business trying really hard to create personalized, personal, interactions with your customers. There's a limit on how authentic your love for your customer will feel to the customer. And that's the standard, isn't it? You can fake love (most companies do), or you can really feel it (some companies do), but neither of those matter as much as what the customer him/herself believes.

How do you get customers to believe your passion for them is authentic?

I'd be happy if you joined the CEM Professionals Group (that's the exact name, not to be confused with the other Customer Experience Management Professionals Group) on LinkedIn, and tell me what you think.

Here is a hint of my point of view: mimicking "love" or "humanity" has the wrong goal. The goal should not be to mimic (copy), because the result will always be compared to what we know is authentic (consciously or unconsciously), and any consistent difference will be noted as a failure. The goal is not to copy "love" or "humanity", but to create a learning relationship where subsequent interactions combine relevance and surprise ... [Surprise? Well, that's a surprising addition.]

More about the uncanny valley here and here.


culture: a cem "five force" member

I've done a fair amount of consulting, teaching, and even experience management design for my own bosses, focusing on the concept of "mythos". Mythos is a way of looking at the world as playing out a story that defines what is sacred and profane, and looking for where energy exists (or can be created) in people's perceptions. I know, sounds abstract, but I've got a framework that makes it really easy to be creative in this realm.

Another area I work in is "global experience management". You might think this is just experience design and management in locations connected by airports, itineraries and generic hotels. Ah, but no. The reason is that cultures vary in the ways they (explicitly and implicitly):

- interpret signs (red=lucky in China, red=danger in the US)

- define and empower symbols (cute little girls are favored in Japan, sexy girls in the US)

- value events and interactions (service failure generates a "face" issue in Asia, a money issue in the West)

All of which means, of course, that the content of experiences designed by a CEM professional needs to be culturally specific.

Ah, yes ... but.

A key observation made by my heroes, Durkheim, Eliade, and Lévi-Strauss (who just passed away) relates to the similarities in the formal structures myth takes on across cultures. Think Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces. This issue of mythos similarity in the context of cultural differences is a source of power in this force of customer experience management. (Keep an eye out for my video series on my framework for the five forces of CEM.)

What that means for high-level experience management and branding is that the cultural variability in the items I bulleted above may nevertheless rest with a formal structure that serves a common purpose. I mention this merely as an introduction to the example of the Barbie Doll that launches this fantastic TED talk. (I love TED.)



Complexity on the backend, variability on the front

Great article about Average Handle Time (a call center metric, often linked to customer service representative incentives) here, from Tripp Babbitt, a bright guy posting on the Customer Management IQ site (a must-visit). (In the ever-spaghettifying nature of the Internet, Tripp is commenting on a blog posting from Blake Landau. And now, my comment on that comment on a comment.)

I have two sayings. (Well, I have more. But for right now ...) They are really rules of the road for any and every company, consulting firm, pundit, non-profit. It doesn't matter who you are, these are the rules.

First, a company's job is to create greater perceived value than their competitors. 

Second, a company should do this by managing complexity on the backend while handling variability on the front.

The AHT metric is a perfect storm where using it as an incentive violates both rules.

rule one: greater perceived value than competitors

Perceived value is essentially a scorecard. In the old days, it was a utility function (Bradley Gale's original approach, since modified by him, his firm and many others to be broader). My approach is really to break apart the number of things you measure into three groups: product, service, and experience. These are fairly arbitrary at times (is a McDonald's hamburger a product, a service, or an experience? Yes.) But with some discipline and an up-front clarity about who "owns" which key performance indicators, you can create a scorecard. It may be articulated into your systems by hooking it up into Balanced Scorecard (BSC) - or not. The key thing is to measure how customers perceive your value along those three dimensions, and to give people responsibility for fixing what's broken. 


  • Make sure the scorecard is relevant to the customer, and revealing about their true wants and needs. 
  • Then, compare your performance with the performance of your competition.
  • Subtract your score from your competitors' score. (I'm oversimplifying - but stay with me.)
  • Pray that the difference puts you on top.

And if you need to improve your scores, look at the next section. 

But look here first at average hold time (AHT). If your CSRs are handling customer problems - moments of truth where total lifetime customer value can be created or destroyed - the last thing you want is to disrespect them by having CSRs hurry the call along, or even (gasp) hang up on the customer. Yes, that shameful activity happens all the time. 

Instead, you want to make sure you create greater perceived value in your call centers than your customers have come to expect. Ideally, you'd do this "on brand" as well, so that you don't overspend trying to make every little thing about that customer call perfect. Just make it effective and memorable - and better than they would expect from competitors. 

AHT at worst works against this goal by not giving the CSR the time needed to deal with the customer's moment of truth in an emotionally effective, memorable way.

Even at its best, AHT reduction misses the point. The problem is that it includes the word average. The real gold in data mining your call centers is to determine the causes of call time variability. Averages squash out any of that corporate value. 

Why do you care about the causes of variance in call times? See the next section.

rule two: manage complexity on the backend and variability on the front

So, let's focus on variability on the front end. What causes such variability? 

  1. You cannot execute consistently on the same challenges.
  2. Challenges you thought you needed to address are wrong, and so tools and training are non-existent.
  3. There exists at least one challenge you never thought of.
  4. The same customer has a variety of needs at different times.
  5. You have a variety in your customers and stakeholders you have not yet modeled or dealt with.

You are looking at the following "stable objects" in your management world in these circumstances: process variability, challenge variability, and customer variability. 

What you want is to be able to handle these variances from the "norm" well. And Six Sigma/Lean is not necessarily the only tool - nor even the best tool, particularly when you really want to address customer challenges and variations. After all, a customer changes in their needs over their lifetime; if you want customers for life, you must provide a combination of variable service and branded experience. You want variation in your output!

So, what kind of variations should you address? How complex are your customers' challenges? Where are they within their lifecycle as they define the relationship with you? 

If you only had that information.

But you can get it, can't you? From your call center. Because where also are you going to look first for the hard realities facing your own customers at moments of truth ... where your longterm profitability is at stake? 

The call center should not necessarily be a customer therapy opportunity, although empathy does help. Instead, it should be an opportunity for managers (call center management and others) to determine the root causes of the variability in phone call durations, and without judgment ask what the consequence of these insights are to product, service and customer experience. 

And then, go back to rule one.





perceived customer value: a great ted talk that starts with a visionary point

I'm a perceived customer value guy (PCV-G?) since perceived value is really the only thing that ultimately matters. This is not to say that quality means nothing, merely that perceptions influence our assessment of a product, service, and experience, and even how we define "quality". Good PCV scorecards also allow you to compare your performance in these dimensions with competitors (what Bradley Gale called "customer value added") - and with some good econometrics, you can determine the impact of an improvement in your PCV on your profitability and/or marketshare improvements. Magical stuff.

What I really like about this TED presentation by the powerhouse Rory Sutherland: it's vastly entertaining, right on all the facts, and frames perceived value as a potential solution to the problem of the world's impending poverty: even first world countries will be unable to consume at past rates because of the high costs of commodities trickling throughout our economy. The suggestion here is: don't think of the future as one featuring greater poverty.

The details are here:




integrated enterprise excellence: not just an idea, but a system and a series of books

Don't believe me, believe your own eyes. Check out parts of Volume II on colleague and business process reengineering go-to guy, Forrest Breyfogle III, is offering for a limited time deep discounts on several of the books that have made him famous as a master black belt/lean guru. I have them all and endorse them. In fact, his approach goes way beyond these popular methods, while incorporating their strengths. 

To get a flavor of why Forrest's approach creates business value (a hint is in the term integrated), consider this metaphor Forrest shared with me in a recent conversation: Too many businesses are like a big piece of beautiful furniture being sanded, stained, and finished by multiple teams each in their own way.

The result is a piece of junk that you'd never want to buy. You don't want all your best intentions at making a leaner organization to actually drive you out of business. 

Here's the pitch from Forrest. I strongly urge you to pick up one or more copies of his books if you are interested at all in improving and aligning your business processes.

Many who have gone through our Master Black Belt training are assisting organizations with process improvement coaching and/or training.  Having a book handy to reference and/or explain a concept to another can be very beneficial. Because of this, I am sending you the following information about a deep discount on my 2008 published book series, The "Integrated Enterprise Excellence System."  Provided in this series of books are project execution and business system roadmaps for going beyond Lean Six Sigma and the Balanced Scorecard.   

The following individual-book-title-quantity discounts are now being offered: 

Quantity   Discount
up to 23    40% off 
24 to 47    50% off 
48 to 95    60% off
96 to __    65% off

For every 24 copies of Volume III purchased, we will provide, at no additional cost, a Vol. III Solutions Manual with data sets. 

For your reference, the list prices for the books are:
- The Integrated Enterprise Excellence System: $16.95
- Volume I: $27.95
- Volume II: $54.95
- Volume III: $124.95

Prices do not include shipping. 

If you are interested, send me an email to place your order. 

Forrest W. Breyfogle III
LinkedIn Profile:
ASQ Fellow
CEO and President
Smarter Solutions, Inc.


i lost something on a united airlines flight: goodie, a case study

I just traveled to Paris on United Airlines, and enjoyed the flight very much. (The return flight was also nice, although the food was embarrassingly bad.)

I left a book under my seat that was well-marked up (even though it was a new book, I had put a lot of time into analyzing it) and very expensive (about $150). Now that I'm back, I wanted to track it down.

So I contact the lost and found number I tracked down at Called it, got a call center, and gave the fellow a lot of information about me (cell phone, mailing address, etc.). At the end, he said he could not help me, and that I would have to call the airport's lost and found number, which he gave me. I asked him if there was a case number for this incident that I should know. "No sir, there is no case number." (This was my first hint that I've got a case study on my hands. You cannot have closed loop processes if the process never gets on the company's radar. Interactions have to be trackable as a baseline requirement.) "The airport's lost and found will help you."

Fine. He could have told me all this before he took my name and number. Anyway, I called the number. Turns out it was for the lost and found (objets trouvés) at Terminal 1 and CDG. 

A fax was attached to the line. After querying me with an annoying buzz, and waiting a few moments, the call hung up. 

So, I looked on the Airports of Paris site for the phone numbers for lost and found services. Found it. Dialed. Got a recording, saying look on our site for information on how to report a lost item. 

I went back to the site - and for items left on the plane, they recommend I call the airline.

You might think I had just been sent back to the first step in the process to be repeated ad infinitum, but I am much too clever for that. 

I called United's FRENCH number. See, I can beat the system. 

And that system has an outgoing IVR system that gives me no option to deal with lost and found items. So I punched the number for another menu item (purchase a ticket) so I could get a human being. (Pressing zero brought me back to the same useless main menu.)

Got someone at a call center. I explained my problem and she said, "From which country will you be buying your airplane ticket?" Ah, I needed to explain my problem again. Which I did. And she was very nice, giving me the phone number to the lost and found service at Terminal 1.

Which of course is answered by a fax machine.

Great book. I hope someone in Paris is enjoying it.All this said, I have indeed sent an email to United via their website to alert them to my problem via their lost baggage service (which in some places is positioning as a lost items service, but on the website only as a lost baggage service). So, I initiated the service request through a non-phone channel, too.

Problem is, they sent me an email apologizing for having lost my baggage and asking me to fill out and MAIL a form. 

Welcome to the 20th century, I guess. I need to print out some dead tree flakes, use up a stamp, and send in a lost baggage form. Can't wait to see just how irrelevant that form will be to finding a book left under a seat on Introductory Econometrics. I am not hopeful at this point.


make it fun

People need fun. It lightens them. It can be a source of "grace" - release from the burdens of time, obligation, duty. 

And, if you spread some fun, you can get a little engagement around your brand. For example, it takes some engineering to turn a staircase into a piano. And if your engineers get a call to meet that challenge, what will people feel about them after they've walked up and down that staircase?



"what kind of pie?": the power of implied meaning in business

Most of the brain's activities are not concerned with rational thought, they're about emotion. Most of what we see and say is scratching the surface of what's really going on, and often is at odds with what we really want.

So, how is a company supposed to deal with that? 

Figure out what it takes to get a customer to say, "What kind of pie?" 

Of course, the first step is to forget the customer is a customer. They're a person. Karl Marx would be nodding his head in agreement here, since "customer" is a term that embeds a person in a transactional relationship, in which non-transactional elements of the person get rubbed out, obscured, misinterpreted, and ignored. 


If you want to get your customer to ask about the pie (see link above), you need new systems for finding out who they are as people, and then creating an ecosystem of trust, alignment, values and value. 

OK, that's the prescription. What's behind this voodoo medicine that will cure companies of their transaction-focused lens on the world?

Dr. Sandy Pentland developed a sociometer that tracks non-verbal communication. (Check out this link, and this one, too.) This is important within an organization because most communication inside a company is face-to-face, and so just isn't trackable. But it's the most critical to establishing culture, power relationships, and a common vision (see the section called "Organisation as a network of commitments" here). According to the MIT article I linked to above:

... the non-linguistic channels of communication that are measured by the sociometers may have started among our ancestors long before the evolution of language itself, forming a deeper, more primal way of understanding intentions, coordinating activities and establishing power relationships within the group.

"Half of our decision-making seems to be predicted by this unconscious channel," says Pentland, the Toshiba Professor of Media Arts and Sciences... The data gathered from the devices can be used not only to predict the outcomes of specific interactions between people, but even the relative productivity of different teams within a company. "This information is not in the organizational charts," Pentland says. "This human side is missing from all traditional measures" of how groups of people work together.

The strong correlations between unconscious forms of communication and the decisions that result strongly undermines people's perception that they are making choices based on rational, conscious factors, Pentland says.

 But it's not simply non-verbal communication that creates a meaningful exchange between people. It is implied meaning. In the "What kind of pie?" comment in the first link, the implied meaning is not strictly non-verbal communication, but everything is communicated in that one question.

England and Irelend. So close - and yet so far away.Implied meaning is one of the most challenging aspects of learning a new language. (See how this is discussed in a fascinating PDF targeting Japanese speakers learning English as a second language.) Even when the common language is English, the implied meaning delivered by one speaker can be lost on another if they come from different cultures (Northerners or Southerners in the US, Americans vs Brits, a Londoner talking with an Irishman, a subcontinental Indian speaking with a Native American Indian).

The fact is that our internal landscape is only poorly expressed through words, and most of the gap between our true intention and our words or actions can be huge. Hence, the voice of the customer (VOC) programs of many companies can yield unactionable or wrong results. Customer driven innovation can lead to products no one will buy. And customer service representatives can inadvertently upset a customer by misunderstanding the customer's true intentions.

But to return to our original query: How do you get the customer to ask, "What kind of pie?" Simple: understand that their true objective is often driven by feelings, desires, aspirations, hopes, affirmations. Yes, customers may have other objectives: features and price do matter to an extent.

Example time. I just bought something very cool: a new camcorder. The context for purchase was so much larger than features and price. The feeling that washes over me blends two sides of the same coin: I feel like I'm going to be a filmmaker/storyteller, and that I didn't foolishly buy the wrong product. (This may be rationalization, I admit.)

The implied meaning for me? As I was tooling up for doing some vodcasting, I was really on a hero's journey. But instead of asking "What kind of pie?", I ended up asking, "What kind of carrying case do I need?" It's really the same question, because I had already made up my mind to love the camcorder.

Yes, the hero's journey, properly understood, results in upselling. But don't make my relationship with Canon about sales. After all, I'm not a customer. I'm a hero on a perilous journey. This time the destination was a camera with a soft case. 

Tomorrow, it could be pie.





"one and done": in service recovery, you don't get a second chance (harvard business review article)

Just spotted this article, with a nice-looking graph for the reading- or time-impaired, that coins a phrase I'm going to swipe: "one and done". It has to do with customer expectations about how their moment of truth should be handled. It goes to the issue of empowering your front-line staff through good training and tools. 

On the other hand, if the stated expectation is "I hope they resolve this problem right now, so I don't have to call back," is that actually the emotional expectation? Remember, emotions develop much faster than thoughts. Is the emotion attached to such moments of truth about "first-call resolution"? Or perhaps about feeling hurt, insulted, taken advantage of, followed by a desire for justice? (And, importantly, "justice" is defined in different ways by different cultures.)

Ping An and insuring customer loyalty

How would you explain, given this excellent article, the results of our study of Ping An Insurance's customer complaint process that showed a marked improvement in customer satisfaction simply by have the customer service representatives listen longer? No additional measures were taken to resolve the customers' complaints. 

This disparity between customers' stated expectations and their actual satisfaction (which is a function of expectations and what really happens) can indeed be explained ... if you have an emotionally intelligent organization that really understands what makes customers tick. And if you think such emotional intelligence doesn't have a payoff, read this entire article again and ask: what cost did Ping An incur in improving that customer sat? And what would it have cost Ping An to replace a lost customer with a new one?

Yes, there is a business case for emotional intelligence within an organization - indeed, as a part of its entire operational design. 

Want to know more about this? Check out this interview with Keith Fiveson, CEO of ITESA, on Blake Landau's great podcast.


make customers happier by showing your back end: process visibility and customer engagement

I read academic studies all the time. Dozens a month, hundreds each year, and I still have a hard drive full of them - most of which I have paid for either individually or through membership in various organizations (a special shout-out to the Academy for International Business, whose JIBS journal is terrific.)

I am researching perception management for a book and a series of podcasts, and ran across this free study I thought you'd find interesting. It's a doctoral dissertation for a PhD candidate from Brazil that looks at how transparency in business processes affect customer perceptions. (Here the customers are university students, as is often the case in such studies.)

This study reinforces the strategy that back-end systems contain data that can create value for customers. FedEx started a trend when they made it possible to track your own packages. Somehow knowing where the package is, and seeing all the activities related to it, sets a customer's mind at ease - and probably their heart, too, since the package usually has value (otherwise the customer wouldn't be looking it up online) and so losing it would incur frustration, pain - even a bit of outrage. UPS followed suit. Now, the US Postal Service does it, and they handle far more packages than any specialized courier service.

What back-end data do you have, or could develop, that would create efficiencies internally while also creating an effective customer experience? In fact, with the goal of "effective" customer experience in mind, is there something more that FedEx, UPS and the US Postal Service could do? 

Yes, indeed. I have three ideas right off the top of my head that flow instantly from two areas: My five forces of customer experience framework, and sensual strategies. (The latter isn't naughty; it's about leveraging how senses create memories.)