Get Some Healin'!

I sat in on a Webinar by a well-known experience evangelist yesterday. We reviewed case studies from some popular companies pioneering in customer experience, including REI, Dell, ING, Coke, Nike and others. It was a solid, compelling, albiet simple presentation, and the author's parent recommendations were straight forward.

I've read this Evangelist's book, and it's great. I think he's got a solid grasp of the fundamentals of good customer experience. In departing this webinar, however, I couldn't shake these nagging thoughts:

Evangelizing customer experience is easy. In fact, it's almost impossible to argue against! Preaching sermons on how to improve customer experience is also relatively easy. Engaging in case studies and brainstorming with clients about future possibilities is often a charismatic experience.

However, as we've discussed on this blog before, the biggest challenge for companies today is making innovative, integrated customer experience a reality. Companies today are simply mired in operational ailments, technology integration issues and other disorders that impair their ability to craft and deliver optimal experiences.

The deal is, today's corporations need more than Evangelism. They need Healing.

--> Healers understand that an individual's quality of internal function will drive external function: Companies (in effect, the patients) must therefore become more operationally efficient and customer-centric to effectively create and support the delivery, management and measurement of positive customer experience.

--> Healers realize that customer centric change requires an intense "laying on of hands" on a company's operations, process, policies, metrics, strategy, technology and culture.

--> Healers remind us that healing is rarely a miraculous incident, but a process: It begins with a firm dedication from a company to commit to healing and treatment; it takes time; it often requires several rounds of treatment.

--> Healers remain dedicated to addressing disorders, rather than treating symptoms -- and prescribe treatment that addresses core issues.

--> Healers focus on the best interest of the company, rather than to serving the interests of an individual, department, agency, software provider or other party.

--> Healers insist on testing as a critical method to evaluate treatment efficacy: They may be encouraged to see improvement in key areas, or a clearing up of symptoms, but evaluating results against pre-established benchmarks is key.

Companies today need Evangelists to inspire vision, creativity and motivation. Without Healers, however, today's corporations run the risk of becoming customer experience backsliders who are "all talk and no action." The message? Find yourself some Healers and apply some good medicine to your organization.

Fast Company Jam

I participated in Fast Company's Annual BlogJam, on August 8 - 9. The BlogJam is a consortium of thought leaders who collaborate over a two-day period to discuss new directions in business, operations and marketing leadership. Here's a list of a few of the articles I posted there:

How Innovative Leadership Impacts Customer Experience II

How Innovative Leadership Impacts Customer Experience I

Differentiation that Works?

Get Smart About Managing Marketing Burnout

Innovative Leadership - A Definition and Roll Call

GREAT Harvest

Every time I go to the Great Harvest Bread Company, I am greeted by the smell of freshly baked bread, an earthy, calming environment and a sign on the door that says “No shirt, no shoes, no problem!” No matter what city I’m in, I am welcomed by cheerful, helpful staff with strong knowledge of the quality ingredients that go into their products. The positive helpful attitude they exhibit is refreshing. To add to the joy, they also give out generous, free slices and samples of fresh baked breads, cookies and scones. While not so good for my waistline, it’s great for goodwill!

But what happened today at the Great Harvest in Herndon Virginia took the cake -- or shall I say bread -- for me!

The door swung shut behind me and I entered the bakery. The heat index in DC today is 102 degrees (gasp!). I immediately noticed the distinct lack of temperature difference from the outside to the inside. The air was terribly warm, and fans were whirred in the background. "Boy! It is really WARM in here!" I remarked.

A bright-eyed Asian girl in a blue tank top popped around the bread rack. With a twinkle in her eye she cheerfully spouted, "Yes! We know! Our air conditioner is broken!" I looked around the room. The three young hipsters attending the counter were, surprisingly, smiling and cheerful despite the heat. “What can I help you with?” she offered.

They were out of what I wanted - Bonnie's Low Carb Bread. However, Traci (as I later came to know her) quickly showed me a great healthly substitute. She also offered to reserve low-carb loaves (baked Wednesday) for me for pick it up on Fridays, and then taunted me with a fresh slice of Tomato, Herb and Cheese bread (not low carb!).

The happy team jokingly apologized about the lack of butter, explaining that it had become "drawn butter" the sweltering heat. Great for lobster or crab, Traci said, but not so great with bread.

I was amazed at the good mood that pervaded the sweltering room: After just a few minutes, I was "gaschvitzing” and uncomfortable in my jeans and t-shirt. “I hope you guys are getting a bonus pay for putting up with this heat!" I remarked. Traci winked and grinned, "Oh, it's okay! Management has been really nice about it! They keep bringing us ice cream and popsicles!” She seemed completely unfazed.

I paid for my loaf and thanked the gang - wishing them all a great day and a quick AC repair. Exiting the store I was smiling, too. What a cool, refreshing experience on a terribly hot day!

I was so impressed with this experience, I called Great Harvest a few hours later, and spoke to Traci. I explained that I was customer experience architect, and that I wanted to thank them for offering me such a great experience. I also asked her a few questions.

While it's just a glimpse into one store - and one person, I thought It'd be good to share the insider perspective given to me by Traci Brooks, a bread maker extraordinaire and student at NOVA. I asked her what it's like to work at Great Harvest and how that impacts the customers. Here's what she had to say:

About the work environment:
"I have been here for two years. This is the most fun job, EVER. I love it. We have so much fun. Management is very generous, we all have a good time, they let us play our music and everyone is really positive. They tell us if we're happy it shows to the customers, and I guess it does!"

About generosity:
"The way they gave us money for Dairy Queen and brought us ice cream when the air conditioning went out is a great example. They just do stuff like that. With the job, of course, we get free bread, which we like! Also, I love the people I work with - they hire really great people. I guess you could say they pay pretty well, too. In high school, you might start around $7 per hour [well above minimum wage] and they give raises. It's especially good considering that it's like being paid to hang out with your friends. It's a job but it doesn't feel like one."

About management style:
"A lot of us start working here in high school and continue until we leave for college, which is kind of cool. It works for us - especially on afternoon shifts when we get busy. The managers really encourage us to make it [the bakery] our own, and have a good time. They treat us well and they're fair. They're not just in the back office telling us what to do, they're involved, and actually doing the work, too.

About customer service:
I gotta say, working here is a LOT better than working in a "Do you want fries with that" kind of atmosphere." Our managers really encourage us to be ourselves and to connect personally with each other and our customers. At first, this can take you out of your comfort zone; but it helps you in other areas, by making you more comfortable asking questions and getting involved in discussion. I have learned that I really like getting to know people and hearing about their lives and getting into real conversations. I really enjoy working with the customers.

The experience created for me by Traci and her team is a great reflection of the Great Harvest Philosophy, which can be found on their web site:

--> Be loose and have fun,
--> Bake phenomenal bread,
--> Run fast to help customers,
--> Create strong, exciting bakeries,
--> And give generously to others.

Sometimes executing the simple things well can make all the difference in the world.

Get Smart About Marketing Burnout

According to the UK Recruitment firm, the Hudson Group, 44% of all marketers are facing burnout. I haven't seen any US figures on this yet, but this week's article in Brand Republic reinforces one of my hypotheses: Today's marketers are being stretched beyond their limits. The UK is feeling the backlash in the form of increasing absenteeism, job changes, poor morale and declines in productivity and quality of output. Do a quick poll of the marketers you know. It doesn't take rocket science to know this is present in the US, as well.

Wanted: Marketer.

Just a decade or so ago, typical marketing job descriptions stressed writing, communication, project management, agency management, advertising/promotions, collateral development, segmentation, modeling and quantitative skills. Media buying, PR, partner and events management may have been critical to the job, as well - along with industry-related experience. As an adjunct competency, it was also common to see "proficiency with word processing software, including Microsoft Office required.”

Superhuman skill required. Cape optional.

In addition to the skills required ten years ago, today’s marketer must possess more sophisticated marketing skills and a slew of other core competencies. Along with a keen understanding of the creative development process, marketers today must demonstrate capability with business case development and project management. Quantitative analysis skills and the ability to evaluate and interpret customer data and behavior is now an essential skill. Marketing departments are also seeking individuals who are familiar with database marketing, integrated marketing and various aspects of CRM.

Marketers today also require a much stronger level of comfort and proficiency in the use and application of technology, which extends far beyond basic computer skills. Widespread use of the web, email and wireless communications drive the need for marketers who possess an intimate understanding of technology-based channel dynamics, best practices and metrics. Expanding use and adoption of CRM and marketing automation technologies also drive the need for marketers who understand, at a basic or advanced levels, how to use new toolsets to drive campaign development, execution, reporting and analysis.

It's a superhuman expectation for any individual to master skills in all areas. However, the fact remains that well-rounded, highly capable marketers possess an incredibly diverse combination of skill sets. In today’s marketplace, it is common to underestimate or undervalue these skill sets. It's also easy to forget that it's in our own corporate interest to invest in marketers to build critical skills.

Available Any Time – In Any Channel.

In the past, the cadence of marketing was dictated by the response times necessary for traditional offline channels and the telephone. Today’s marketer must contend with the needs of a 24/7 competitive global marketplace. While agility and speed to market are essential, the hitch is this: today's integrated, multi-channel marketing demands actually complicate the marketing process, and slow time to market.

Increasingly sophisticated (demographic, psychographic, behavioral) segmentation and “mass customization” practices are creating more personal, relevant messages. They’re also creating more work for marketers: Instead of two versions of a welcome kit, there might now be five; instead of three versions of a newsletter, there might be fourteen. The increase in the number of customer messages being developed within marketing has driven an exponential increase in the number of development cycles being managed by marketing today. To complicate matters, mounting legal and privacy issues mandate more approval time, and can extend the length of development cycles.

The sheer proliferation of online and offline channels creates a unique set of challenges for marketers today. Customers now switch dynamically between online and offline channels, and expect appropriate recognition and response at every turn. To create "seamless" customer dialog across channels, marketers must proactively anticipate customer choice, create a framework for messaging and response, and ensure messages are delivered and response is measured effectively across channels. In the quest to provide this seamless experience, they can encounter significant operational and technical barriers, which impact development cycles.

Able to Leap Tall Silos in a Single Bound.

Yesterday's marketing department often behaved as “an island unto itself," interfacing largely with a few internal departments and external agencies. Today's marketing departments coordinate and interface on a frequent basis with a mounting number of internal and external constituencies. These include IT, Finance, Analytics, Research, Product Development, Customer Service, Corporate Communications, Legal/Privacy, etc. – in addition to channel staff, agencies and other external partners.

To make matters worse, in today’s business climate, the lines of demarcation, roles and responsibilities that exist in marketing groups and other departments have become cloudy. Yet, it is often the marketer’s responsibility to sort through the chaos, leap over the confusion, and drive through to meet deadlines. Very often, they succeed, but the mental, physical and business acrobatics necessary to produce every-day outcomes often result in exhaustion, frustration and poor morale.

Apply Here?

Do marketers have a reason for burnout? Without question. It seems to be a natural outcome of an era of marketing transformation. Today, the organizational role, scope and power of the marketing department is being redefined. Areas of control and influence are being expanded. New areas of specialization and job focus are being created. Corporate infrastructures are being realigned. Systems are being modified and integrated. Old paradigms are being broken - new paradigms are being created. We’re pioneering in new frontiers.

In midst of this change, however, marketers have to find ways to produce and survive! Beyond individual coping tactics, we must ask ourselves how corporations can help minimize the casualties in this brave new world. In my opinion, success hinges on good, smart leadership:

 Smart leaders understand the impact market evolution is having, both on the marketer and the role and scope of marketing within the organization. They understand that, to drive customer delight over the next decade, the entire organization must be rallied. They recognize that marketing is likely to lead this charge, and seek to position the department and individuals accordingly.

 Smart leaders know how to translate the plight of the marketer and the marketing organization to senior executives. They engage other leaders to break bottlenecks and improve the operational environment and business culture. They are advocates for accountability; effective process; standards and methodologies that help things run smoothly.

 Smart leaders don’t treat talent like a commodity. They recognize the skill sets of each individual and put them to work accordingly. They appreciate the contribution of creative, visionary, strategic thinkers and balance this vision with analytic thinkers who bring fact-based analysis to the table. They know when to stretch individuals beyond comfort zones - and when to acquire new talent. They appreciate the power of outsourcing, and use it effectively to speed results, increase manpower, and augment skill sets as necessary.

 Smart leaders know the value of investing to retain good people. They work actively to attract, engage and retain people with the skills to get things done. They allocate dollars and time to ensure training, education and knowledge sharing occur to expand team competencies and keep minds sharp. They implement performance-based incentive programs to ensure that results are rewarded and effort is recognized. They recognize the difference between every day accomplishments and super-human feats of strength. They use real and emotional capital to reward performers individually in the ways that matter most.

 Smart leaders understand that working smarter is more important than working harder. They understand that marketers must work with their heads more than they work with their bodies (going to meetings, taking notes, pushing reports). They know the difference between an effective work day and a long work day, and engrain within each employee a focus on working efficiently and accountably.

 Smart leaders listen. They tune in to what people say, and what remains unsaid. They consider individual, team and general morale. They know how to tap into an undercurrent of pessimism and infuse it with hope, relief, advocacy and understanding. They understand that the majority of problems that impact marketing come from outside the marketing department, and respond as sympathetic and fierce advocates.

In summary, smart leaders serve as an important first line defense for burnout, by helping protect organizations from the backlash of overwork and exhaustion. Over the next decade, attracting smart, capable leaders who can successfully drive improvement and change – while maintaining productivity within the marketing enterprise – will be critical to success. In the mean time, we're in for a lot of turmoil, and more than our share of work!

Ice Cream You Scream...

This may sound like the beginning of a bad joke: What do you get when you combine:

  • A nuclear engineer
  • A rap artist
  • An FBI agent
  • An AOL / Time Warner executive
  • A professional stand-up comedian

    How about a church leadership team? As an experience architect, I've been exploring ways that innovative leadership is imprinted on customer experience. New Life Christian Church is a great case study. It's one of those unique places where the customer experience definitely reflects the drive and innovation of its leaders... and there's something to be learned for all.

    Whether you're watching one of the church produced videos, like Baby Got Book; sucking down a free bomb pop from the church's green and orange ice cream truck; or attending one of a myriad of action-filled community events, it's easy to see that there's something different about New Life...

    The church's three "mobile campuses" are set up each week at local schools by groups of wacky and enthusiastic volunteers. Church pastors "tour" each campus with their own worship bands which play everything from modern worship to Dave Matthews tunes. Sermons are relatively short, thought provoking, and supported with entertaining videos, multimedia and improvisational props that add meaning.

    The church congregation is a casual mix of urban hipsters and families, who mill about sipping coffee and munching home baked goodies. For children, New Life's innovative Kidzone, and teen programs leverage cool music, videos, and interactive learning. For adults, the church offers a myriad of unconventional classes and support groups that help individuals with issues like Divorce, Recovery and English as a Second Language.

    In the off-hours, New Life's passion for community is reflected in the more than 50 local small groups that meet on a weekly basis. The church also sponsors five national ministries, including a church marketing institute and church planting ministry, which help other churches grow, reach new audiences and apply innovation. New Life has invested in property for a new facility. It also revealed plans to create churches in the future that serve as community centers which offer childcare, workout facilities, sporting fields, and meeting rooms.

    I spoke with Todd Wilson "Executive Guy" at New Life, to ask him about innovation. Wilson acknowledges that his leadership team strives to create a culture driven by people who are energized by innovation. "We're not a business," Wilson says, "One thing lies at the core of our innovation: our passion for finding new ways to connect people with God." According to Wilson, the leadership also strives to plug people in to each other. "We all need community and human connection." says Wilson, "Businesses like Starbucks and eBay have figured this out and the church isn't any different. We need to be active and visible in the community, and that's what we strive for."

    New Lifers whole heartedly agree. Collectively, they feel a sense that they're a part of something bigger. Church involvement is extremely high and the church's congregation is growing. "With three campuses, hundreds of volunteers, five national ministries and a host of community outreaches, we have so much going on it's hard to manage." Says Wilson, "It's a blessing and sometimes it's a burden, but I think this is a hallmark of any truly innovative enterprise."

    Wilson and his team manage innovative ideas working hard to filter them against a central goal and set of objectives. "In a staff like ours, innovative ideas and opportunity come easily." he says, "It's the execution that is harder. We are stewards of these ideas -- as well as of the people on our staff and the people who attend New Life. Like any other innovative organization, we're now struggling to find ways to prioritize and execute the most high-value ideas with discipline, organization and integrity."

    What will they think of next? There"s more good stuff, according to Wilson. "We're overwhelmed and excited about the incredible opportunities available to us -- but the most important thing for us will be achieving our main goal: focusing on serving God by serving people well -- without this, innovation is useless."
  • Press Worthy?

    Just got word that heard that my post, "Compromising Experience" will be a featured Viewpoints article in CRM Magazine this October, along with an article I composed with some co-authors on "Defining Interactive Marketing." This issue will be the magazine's 2005 CRM Leaders Issue. I'm jazzed that the leaders at CRM Magazine feel I have something worthwhile to say, and looking forward to producing more articles in the near future.





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    I’m Leigh Durst, a 20 year veteran in business, operations, customer strategy, ecommerce, digital & social media and marketing. Simply put, I’m a strategist that helps companies (start-up to blue chip) achieve business shift, create more compelling online and offline experiences. I also write, speak and teach about experience design and next-generation business. I’m a futurist, visionary, strategist, doer and connector with a passion for people and helping others. When I’m not on the road, you’ll find me in the San Francisco bay area, working, beaching it and hanging out with my family and dog.


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