Automotive innovator and entrepreneur Henry Ford is often credited with the following statement: “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
In the world of Experience Management (XM), going well beyond business as usual and instituting transformative change in the way an organization serves its customers includes the process of experience visioning. It’s not an evolution of what is taking place today, but a revolution in the way your business operates.
Yes, an organization must continue to “put out the daily fires” and execute the short-term adjustments that are required. But if that same organization wants to be best-in-class five or 10 years down the road, it must look beyond tomorrow – or next month, or next year – to which technological and societal changes will influence the way the world will work in the future.
At one point, leaders of Apple were striving to try and understand how people would utilize their computer products 23 years later. That might be an extreme form of experience visioning. More recently Uber and other rideshare services decimated the taxi industry with a whole new concept. Likewise, Airbnb took on hotels with a total revision of the short-term stay experience.
Airbnb is also worthy of mention for another reason – the development of its 11-star experience framework. While customers could rate their stays and overall encounters with the company on the typical five-star scale, Airbnb internally asked the questions: What would a six-star experience look like? How about seven stars? It continued all the way up to 11. Then the company could back down, if necessary, from the “dream state” to what would be achievable – but still dramatic – changes in its way of doing business.
Starting the process
The first stage in this process is to decide which customer you’re envisioning this future experience for. Businesses have a number of different customer types or segments… but not all are created equal. Some bring in higher revenue amounts, others possess greater growth potential or are strategic targets.
After determining which customers are your top priority, you must get to know them intimately. What makes them tick? What do they care about? What do they think about? What do they feel? What do they want to feel?
That is not accomplished through surveys and other traditional methods. In-depth qualitative interviews, ethnographic observation, and empathy mapping are some of the tools you can utilize. Do what it takes to fully understand their emotional needs.
And, in the tradition of Henry Ford, you must do more than simply ask. You must identify explicit needs but also unmet essentials that are maybe not being voiced.
A vision statement outlining the ultimate goals of the experience visioning may be in place at the start of the work in this stage, and/or it could emerge as the process plays out. No matter, it will almost assuredly evolve based on the research, brainstorming, and other informative steps. In the end, that vision statement may look entirely different than it did in the early stages.
As always, it is also important to get leadership recognition and buy-in at this early stage. Make sure there is acknowledgement that this is the proper path to follow. Help them accept the reality that doing things the way they’ve always been done – even if successful today – won’t work when everyone else is upping the ante on what the customer experience includes. Leverage stories of brands that died because they didn’t innovate – Blockbuster and Kodak – and brands that continue to evolve – Apple and Tesla. And remember this: New, unique experiences are hard for your competitors to replicate – much harder than replicating a company’s products or matching a price. When the vision is right and brought to life, companies see rapid revenue growth and market share gains. This gives them more time to ride that success tidal wave while also resourcing to fuel continued innovations.
Need more fuel? Not only can experience visioning provide the competitive edge for the future, but it can energize your employees. Stamping out those daily fires can be frustrating, stressful, and even demoralizing. Developing and delivering new and innovative customer experiences can not only be amazing for the organization’s customers but also for its own employees. And as CXers, we know that happier employees provide better customer experiences.
On a more practical level, a new experience will include building processes that are more desirable, efficient, and scalable. Employees, managers, departments, and the company itself are all beneficiaries.
Who to include
It is essential, of course, to have the proper people around the table to execute experience visioning. While everyone in the company is responsible for delivering the ultimate customer experience, all cannot be a direct part of this effort.
Determine early on which people need to be made aware of what is going on, which should be consulted about what is going on, and which are part of the decision-making process. The customer you prioritized earlier on will heavily influence these decisions. A few questions to ask yourself as you pull together your team:
- Should all functional areas be represented? Regions? BUs? Product lines?
- · Can you include frontline associates? These folks often have the best intimate understanding of current customer experiences and can serve as a proxy.
- · Are any existing initiatives underway related to this? Should those stakeholders be informed, included, and/or consulted?
As it relates to your organization’s CX team, it’s not uncommon for this initiative to be led by a team that is separate from the ongoing CX measurement team. They must communicate and cooperate, but the understanding of emotional needs and reimagining the workplace of the future – through creativity, pushing boundaries, and thinking way outside the box – require a special approach.
Taking the lead
The challenge is enticing more companies to adopt and embrace experience visioning. It can be invaluable in any industry and for any customer experience that is getting stale. Today, many of those experiences are becoming outdated more quickly than ever.
We began this post with the importance of one phrase. We close with another – “innovate or die” – that is primarily connected to business consultant Peter Drucker. Innovation is never a one-and-done proposition. An organization must continue to do so or risk the consequences. Don’t be the next Blockbuster.
A part of innovation is disruption. If your organization can disrupt and be the first entrant in executing something new and innovative, it is most difficult for others to catch up, replicate, and achieve your level of success.