Comfort Spaces and CX: Lessons from the Bathroom Blogfest.

After reading my humor-driven posts on Bathroom Usability and Cottonelle on Crack, friends Becky Carroll and CBWhittemore asked me to participate in the “bathroom blogfest.”  This year’s theme is “Mad Men: Bathrooms of the 1960’s”.  You can read all it here, and access the Blogfests 30+ participants, as well! In short, it’s all about bathrooms and customer experience.

So I admit -- I'm the straggler.  It's 11:30 pm on Saturday night, I'm just getting this post in under the wire. I’ve been on-site at a client for six days and have penned this first draft at an airport... However, I did ponder over this topic sporadically during the week.  Here's the insight I drew from the writing challenge:

The architects and designers of the 1960’s knew how to use space, color and texture to create comfortable, luxurious spaces for relaxation and conversation. They used form, shape, color, pattern, texture and rich materials to create depth and warmth. They accessorized with over the top details and accessories. These trends are clearly seen in the bathrooms of that era – bathrooms that became more than just functional – but in escape from the frenzy of a pressure-filled decade.

Consider these images I found on Flickr last week (click to view the slideshow):

From chandeliers to mirrors, wood paneling to textural wall paper, granite to marble, luxury abounds in the bathrooms of the 60’s. Space was used creatively to establish zones for personal care, pampering and relaxation. Lounge seating was often installed. Traditional vanities and credenzas became more “furniture like.” Fixtures like chandeliers add a touch of glamour. Floor coverings like carpet and flokati rugs were brought in warm, luxurious comfort.

Perhaps this extra attention to luxury and comfort are why the bathrooms of the Mad Men Era were commonly called “Lounges.” Perhaps these reflect the needs of an unsettled generation, looking escape the realities of a pressure filled decade if only for a minute.  At home, and in public places, restrooms became luxurious personal “comfort spaces” where people felt at ease, secure and free to relax and even converse. 

These rooms were less focused on the perfunctory and became more about the emotional and physical needs of the people that used them. I think this is where there's a take away lesson for all of us managing Customer Experience today.

We live again, in an era of distress and turmoil. We also live in an age where we are bombarded by stimulus. We cannot count the messages we have to process, the things we have to do, learn, know and understand. We are overwhelmed by information, stimulus and the pressure to make decisions, and we must do so quickly as we attempt to manage the onslaught. As a result, the brands that make us feel even more overwhelmed, pressured, “sold” and pushed are more at risk of earning our ire, rather than our affinity.

Instead, creating “comfort spaces” where the people we serve can interact with our brands can be instrumental in capturing affinity and attention today. This principle transcends the physical environment, extending into the virtual environments in which we connect with and serve others. When we focus on the experiences people have, rather than how we will “push” our messages to the masses, we focus less on blasting people with selfishly-driven messages (which creates discomfort) to meeting people in a more natural, organic way. Here are just a few modern day types of comfort spaces:
  • Starbucks is perhaps the king of the Comfort Space, as a huge public proponent of the “Third Place” theory creates comfort zones online, too. “My Starbucks Idea” lets customers share ideas and desires in a way that helps them impact the business. It has resulted in many new product ideas and has measurably changed the way Starbucks listens and responds to customers.
  • The Choppe Shoppe and other men’s grooming lounges make male grooming and pampering a macho thing. Smiling stylists in chic wear hand patrons a beer while football broadcasts on the big screen, and copies of GQ and Car and Driver grace the chrome coffee table. Suddenly, "manscaping" isn’t so scary.
  • Home Depot and Lowe's both offer classes to help customers complete “do-it-yourself” projects without totally screwing up. These classes drive loyalty and can result in increased product sales.
  • Best Buy’s Twelpforce helps people of all walks of life make decisions about new technology purchases with a no-pressure sales approach. This comfort zone is driving sales and reinforcing Best Buy’s thought leadership.
  • (while not the best site from a usability perspective) offers several configuration applications that help users select everything from replacement tires and wiper blades to new wheels and preview the items on a schematic of their own car. It makes purchasing really easy.
  • Caribou Coffee – My husband and I often take our 3 year old to Caribou in the morning. We can enjoy a coffee and catch the news on our Droids while our little one munches on breakfast and plays with high quality educational toys in the play area near the fireplace. They offer leather lounge seating and even a quiet meeting space that can be used as needed, or reserved in advance by work shifters (like me) and other groups. 
From lounges for frequent flyers to clubs for frequent buyers.... there is no end to the types of Comfort Spaces we can create to serve the needs of our customers.  From bricks to clicks, just what kind of comfort spaces are best to create depends on the unique needs of the audience, juxtaposed with the core competencies of the business. Keep yourself grounded in reality, combine the two, and opportunities can become very clear. Comfort Zones can be useful in helping people with:
  • Discovery
  • Learning
  • Product Selection
  • Transaction
  • Co-Creation
  • Service
  • Sharing
… and when Comfort Spaces are designed effectively, they are very useful in merging your brand with the lifestyles, rituals and habits of your target audience. Comfort spaces can enhance and support the customer experience at key points in the adoption continuum. And of course, they can also be instrumental in driving positive business outcomes.

Business has shifted, and business people must find ways to ease into the cramped headspace of others in a manner that feels less invasive and more natural, comfortable, and even personal across channels. From the traditional mediums of communication to new channels that can help us extend our businesses strategically into the lives of those we serve.  Here's one example of that strategic extention at work in a bathroom.  I took this today, just prior to my flight in a very clean, well designed bathroom at Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport....

Perhaps not a true "comfort space" but I loved the use of mobile here....

So, using thatbrooms of the 1960's as a muse -- name your favorite brand-driven comfort space.  What does it do for you -- and how does it motivate you to do what's good for the brand?   Are there any aspects of it that don't work? (E.g. the equivilant of the "flokati rug" in the space)?

Water: The Gift of Life & Blog Action Day

I wrote about Blog Action Day yesterday to get things flowing as we come together to take action on a single topic: water.  Our goal is to get clean water, safe water, enough water to under served people across the globe.  Since it's Blog Action Day and not just blog "write about it for a day" or blog "make someone else do something day" I wanted to write about two things I am doing to take action.

1. Charity:Water

As I mentioned yesterday, my co-authors and I are donating 100% of the proceeds from the sale of Age of Conversation 3: Time to Get Busy to charity:water.  This is a smart business book, great for your library or as a gift for business associates, clients, partners and friends.  Because all proceeds are donated, purchasing it is a bit like giving two gifts in one!
I purchased my copy, and a few extras for friends. You can get yours in hardcoverpaperback or for the Kindle. (Note - these are affiliate links and the affiliate proceeds are also donated!  Image above courtesy of Charity:water)

2. GFA's Water Program

My family and I are long-time supporters of Gospel for Asia, which has a tremendous water program that is bringing life and hope to many across Asia.  It's no secret that many villages do not have ready access to water, and people must walk miles to gather precious rations to sustain them each day.

While lack of water may be an availability issue -  very often gaining access to available water sources is a larger one. Tribal, caste, feudal or even faith issues prohibit "unclean" individuals from gaining access to drinking water - whether they are men, women or innocent children.  As a result, people suffer. GFA's Jesus Wells are established in the Spirit of their namesake. They are open to everyone - without discrimination. They often found near churches and become a center of communal life, and outreach, building bridges between peoples, supporting a better way of life, promoting economic growth and bringing hope to all who thirst.  Here's some field video from a GFA photographer in Ragasthan, India that will tell you more (This is pretty long - from a conference, I think)

GFA's well program is one of the most efficiently run water programs around.  Donate a well to a village for $1000 .  Send a BioSand filter for $30 to a family, and help them purify polluted water. All of your money will go to the cause you select.  There is no money subtracted for overhead, administration, marketing (etc.) because every GFA staff member raises his/her own support.  GFA also employs native workers and uses native resources for its work, creating employment and economic growth in each country. Supporting GFA has been some the best money we ever spent. They even call to ask how we are doing, periodically!

Purchasing Age of Conversation 3: Time to Get Busy, supporting charity:water and GFA are just three places to take action today.   If these don't line up with your vision, passion, faith or conviction, there are many other terrific charities on the Blog Action Day website.  Take action today!

Blog Action Day - What Are You Thirsty For?

Tomorrow, on October 15th, it's Blog Action Day - and thousands of bloggers are uniting to discuss one thing: Water. Our goal? To rally people to the cause, in a single day, to raise awareness, action and funds to help get safe water to the underprivileged and under served people.

Nearly 1 Billion people do not have safe water to drink? In fact, every day 42,000 people die for lack of safe drinking water - and 38,000 of those are children. In many countries, the scarcity and quality of water is a life or death issue. Water is a vital resource that is the cause of wars, strife and conflict that take many lives.

That might seem foreign to us here in the USA, where for the most part, we seem to have plenty of clean water. In the name of "healthy" and "convenient" we consume, on average, 200 bottles of water per year, per person. 86% of those bottles are never recycled. The 14% that are, require the consumption of 17 million barrels of oil per year to re-purpose. Imagine the funds spent on bottled water alone could do to support clean water projects all over the globe!

My point is this: It's time to get thirsty for the right things.   Every one of us can afford to take some kind of action in the name of responsible stewardship. At a minimum, we can all make a difference in the areas of water conservation and follow the conscience we all to often ignore. We can do so much more together to support the delivery of clean drinking water to people around the globe.

I am happy to say I've teamed with my co-authors on the book Age of Conversation 3 to donate 100% of the proceeds from our book to Charity: Water. The Age of Conversation examines how the global marketing landscape is changing. The book features articles from over 300 of the world’s leading marketers, writers, thinkers and creative innovators and is rich with information on a variety of complex topics faced by business people in all walks of life.  We're proud of the book, and delighted to supporting charity: water and the great work they do.  Here's more about it:

Together with and the community of bloggers participating in Blog Action Day, we are encourage you to ask what you can do to make a difference, today. Here are a few ideas:
  1. Spread the word at home, work, school & online.
  2. Visit the Blog Action Day site help with fund raising and even sign or start new positions to support a charity supporting water related projects.
  3. Tell your friends about Age of Conversation and help get the word out.
  4. Purchase "Age of Conversation 3" knowing your funds are going directly to charity. It's available in hard cover, paper back and for the Kindle.
  5. Participate in our "BUM RUSH" for Age of Conversation( Valeria Maltoni explains that here) to drive book sales and $$$ to charity: water
  6. Donate to a water related charity of your own
Finally, if you're a blogger, participating in blog action day is easy. All you have to do is register on the Blog Action Day website and write a related blog post on the 15th. The site includes a list of helpful facts and water related topics you can write about, to get those juices flowing.   Whatever you write -- do it from the heart! And if you're a fan of AOC3, consider mentioning it!

Beautiful things happen when beautiful people come together. Please join me and make your mark, as you feel led.  I'll share more of my family's personal involvement with water charities tomorrow. ;-)

Engage or Strategically Extend?

In the words of a former mentor, "Words mean things."  This is really simple but profound if you consider how seldom we really weigh what we say.  I think it's important not to take things at face value, which is why I previously tackled the charge to "Be Transparent" in a two-part post dealing with new levels of transparency in the  business cycle.  Last week, I responded to the lemming call to "Be Authentic!" addressing our need to instead embrace "authentic goodness." Now, I'm responding to another call I see regularly.... and the call is this:


Raise the sword from the high horse and shout it loud as you lead the charge of businesses everywhere! This is the magic formula for success. It's not like it costs anything, right?  Wrong. This statement has zero context. Engage in what, with whom, and for what reason?

I often see this blanket charge is issued by people (including someone recently) who employ formulas and follow schemes to garner a massive audience.  They leverage follower numbers as a platform to try and establish "authority" or "influence" and broadcast messages out to a faceless sea of names in a manner that largely mirrors traditional one-way marketing.  They engage in a largely unfocused dialog that leads to little and usually to demonstrate their own knowledge, self-promote or attempt to game some influence.  They follow far more people than follow them back.  They rarely respond to DMs, (although they spam people with them) and haven't had meaningful discourse with 80% of their network. Beware of these people -  they don't understand business shift.

Any fool can employ a follow scheme and garner a massive audience overnight using bots and apps online - but without a plan, and decisive focus, it's a waste of energy. 


Engagement is one part art and one part science and it must be driven by a larger picture for how it engagement will drive measurable outcomes.  Perhaps this is why brainiac Brian Solis dedicated an entire book to the topic of engagement.  That's right, an entire book.  In fact, a number of smart people have written about this.  Whether your focus is broad and expansive or narrow and deep - - there's got to be a a plan in place clear goal, a set of measurable objectives in place guiding engagement.

A number of people have complained about Guy Kawasaki, accusing him for a lack of focus and taking him on for his methods on Twitter.  Guy has garnered a tremendous following through his own reputation and effort, and by employing the use of follow bots, auto responders and not-so-ghostly support staff to manage communications to his network and manage tweets around the clock.  I don't personally love his approach -- but I really do respect Guy - because he does have focus. His entire goal is to target (in his own words) "anyone who can click"  - largely to drive traffic from all walks of live to Alltop   -- although this network is also instrumental in promoting his books and other efforts.  He's got massive focus.. and massive followers. He works in a direct-to-mass capacity --> and it works for him.  My only caution for those watching is this: Guy's approach may work for a huge persona, or a mega brand -- but it's not likely to work well for the the majority of us in business today.

We can all challenge ourselves to employ better focus. Identify the audience(s) that matter(s), understand the needs of each audience, approach engagement with a plan, use the tools that help you communicate better and engage in a manner that emphasizes testing, learning and improvement. Most importantly, establish your reasons for engaging. Here are a few broad ones:


If you want to build a network that will serve as a valuable resource, attempt to build a following of smart folks who will readily engage with you to answer questions and solve problems.  They should dare to challenge what you say, probe with you, debate with you, give you ideas and promote you when you say smart things.  This is true whether you are an individual learning from others, or a person representing a company whose goal is to harness the input of the masses to better inform your brand's customer.  As you learn from them, celebrate their savvy and contribution to further bolster your network.

Engaging to learn means you'll be thinking, listening, probing, dialoging and debating as you fish for wisdom and insight within your interaction streams.  It also means you won't be fishing merely within your own stream.  Smart learners also mine available wisdom from other streams (related, competitor, etc.) using available technology and tools (disclaimer: both Clarabridge and RightNow are clients).  After all, there's a focus group happening online every day -- and smart people can readily use the knowledge exchange to create, innovate, capitalize, grow, reach and extend more strategically. 


Business is all about people:  People serving people.  If you are not engaging in social channels to serve, you're not doing business well.  Whether you're providing helpful knowledge, directing people to channels for resolution, or solving people's problems -- you will be called upon to serve others in social channels.  Some of what your assistance may not even be your jobSome of what you do may not lead to a sale  - but it should lead to affinity.  When you behave in a stupid, insensitive manner, you may be called on the carpet, with ruthless public exchange on Facebook, Twitter or one of the thousands of websites, communities, networks or customer service portals out there.  . Take a page from the winners or the losers: Serve first, or die!


This is placed intentionally at the center of these admonitions - because this aligns with the objectives you must have in mind as you focus.  When I sale - think of it this way.  Everyone is selling something. You might be selling your post, an ebook, a product demo, the menu of the day, or a product directly. That's why all of us should be able to drive measurable and meaningful transactions - from clicks to comments, cvisits to conversions, calls to foot traffic, leads to sales.You must master the art of the sale by presenting the right message, to the right person, at the right time - and that takes finesse and practice.  It also takes trust.  So, outside of NOT assuming everyone wants what you have to offer, there's no magic formula, here.  Leverage what has worked in the past but think outside the box. Experiment, measure and improve - and as you do, make this your mantra:


Whether you are large or small, the goal of engagement is to endear the right audience, by providing value in a thoughtful manner.  Contrary to popular thought -- this doesn't mean everyone will always like you, or that you should please everyone.  In fact, if we're being honest, for most brands - and even people - there's an aspect of acceptable loss in all relationship building efforts. However, in the shakeout, you must manage all relationships in a manner that leaves you with a pretty loyal group of followers who support you for what you bring to the table.  If you play your cards right with your end-to-end experience, you may just find yourself emerging with a raving group of fans who will take a bullet for you - or at least brave the wait to buy your product.


By all means, it's okay to look at the qualitative and esoteric benefits of engagement, such as the friendships you have built, and their contribution and enrichment to your existence, how they make you feel.   However, it's essential to go full circle to and measure your performance against your plan and objectives using real data Are you moving the needle, driving desired results?  What trends do you see, and how can you boost results?  What have you learned, about yourself, your competitors and your audience?  What did it cost you?  What did it take to manage it and, forecasting ahead -- what's it going to take to better what you've done in the future? How can this and how should this grow or change over time?


In the end, our engagement must be about adding value and improving the experiences we offer. If we are not engaging in a focused and intentional manner:  to learn, to serve, to sell, to endear, to measure... we may just be engaging for nothing. What do you say?  Please Add your thoughts... links, etc.    

Be Authentically Good

You've seen it in conference presentations, tweets, facebook posts. You've heard it in discussions, webinars and conference calls:  It's the new mantra -- the new admonishment - the key to success for all of us developing the next great brand or the next great customer experience -- especially in social media circles:


Say it with confetti, fanfare... raise the pom poms high -- as I gag audibly ... Perhaps it's my mood, or the fact that I don't have time to write an overly sensitive post, but I have to call "foul!" here.  The truth is this:


When I have a bad experience, it's authentically bad.  Perhaps the whole thing sucked.... or maybe a chain of experiences sucked.   I was disappionted.  It was sucky ....and authentically ugly:  None of it was "inauthentic" at all.


If the experiences we offer our prospects and customers fail to authentically aligned to the values we claim to have, they've gotta be fixed.  If you are on twitter auto following everyone, DM spamming people, and merely tweeting your press releases, you are making some authentically bad decisions.  If you have a broken communications infrastructure where various departments aren't talking to each other -- you've got some authentically bad issues to deal with.  If your customer service is flawed and you are breaking promises and creating ill will - it's authentically ugly to deal with.  The good news is this -- you can choose to...


Authentically good people and brands understand ethics, boundaries, and how to build relationships based on open exchange, giving and reciprocity.  Authentically good people and brands know that they won't always be perfect, but they can admit fault and fix things.  Authentically good people and brands don't rip off the competition -- they learn from the competition, and do things better.  In fact, authentically good people and brands are working hard to "create better" every day.


Dump the "lemming speak" and focus your energy -- regardless of where you are in the pecking order of your company -- on being authentically good and doing authentically great work.  Speak the truth with love, produce your best, serve others well, think outside your box (and your comfort zone) and strive to make things better.  The best brands alive are defined by the outstanding experiences they deliver.  Make this your focus and you'll feel the difference. Your customers will feel it, too!





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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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