October 2016
« Sep    

Joseph's Blog

The Kindness Gap: Differentiation by Practicing Civility in Uncivil Times {Infographic}


The Kindness GAP: Differentiation by Practicing Civility in Uncivil Times

In addition to highly conflictual political discourse (which may have sunk to an all-time low in the US), I’ve recently observed a number of people making obscene gestures at one another, swearing, and ranting in stores as well as during miscellaneous business transactions.

American activist Rachel Corrie once noted, “We should be inspired by people…who show that human beings can be kind, brave, generous, beautiful, strong – even in the most difficult circumstances”. I am convinced that there is a kindness gap in business today and that leaders who understand the gap can inspire their people to create differentiated human experiences.

I work with a wide swath of leaders, most of whom have achieved success through kindness. They consider the wants, needs, and desires of their people and work to help their teams grow and develop.  They lead with positivity and a warm and compassionate tone. Their criticisms are constructive and they practice humility. They also expect their people to treat one another accordingly and to extend that treatment to the customers they serve.

Conversely, in the course of my career, I have also encountered leaders who are selfish, surly, and condescending. They “rule” as opposed to “lead” and advance their own agenda irrespective of the impact they have on others. They produce fear-based cultures where team members cower at the prospect of being chastised. Accordingly, they produce interactions with customers that are frequently caustic and tension-filled.

One of my favorite people of all time, Johnny Yokoyama, is the owner of the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle, Washington. He transformed himself from a “ruler” to a “leader”. Johnny and I wrote a book together titled When Fish Fly about the Pike Place Fish Market and his cataclysmic transition. In short, there was a time in history when Johnny was far from kind. He came upon his anger and cynicism honestly. He had the emotional scars of having watched his father lose their family business when Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, which, among other things, led to the internment of Johnny’s family along with scores of other Japanese Americans. Not only was the family business lost during the years that Johnny and his siblings lived behind barbed wire in tar paper huts but so too was the Yokoyama home in Seattle.

After their release from internment, Johnny worked his way out of government housing projects and purchased the Pike Place Fish Market. However, he had not worked his way out of anger, resentment, bitterness or a “controlling” leadership style. Johnny was even proud of his ability to reduce a new hire to tears by yelling at him, “If he can’t do the job and can’t take the heat, I’m better without him.” With some intense introspection, Johnny closed the kindness gap at the Pike Place Fish Market. He noted, “Fish smell from the head. As head of this organization, I needed to change who I was being.”

Today, Johnny aspires to be a peacemaker. He has experienced the ravages of distrust during his encampment. He has expressed distrust as a leader. He also knows the power of being kind and expecting kindness from his people. The meteoric success of a tiny fish market in Seattle speaks to what can happen when leaders heed the advice of Swiss philosopher Henri Frederic Amiel, “Life is short and we have never too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are traveling the dark journey with us. Oh, be swift to love, make haste to be kind.”

Will it Fly? How to Leverage Quantitative and Qualitative Customer Listening

I’ve been doing customer experience design for a long, long time. In the old days, I would have read about some intriguing customer innovation and assumed that the attempted breakthrough was crafted on a firm foundation of customer listening and data analysis.

For example, had I read about something like Indian airline, IndiGo’s, recent effort to create a “quiet zone” (no children under age 12 in rows 1-4 or 11-14), I would have assumed a well thought out process. I would have imagined that leaders at IndiGo might have started hearing mounting customer complaints about noisy children on their airline and then conducted survey’s, focus groups, and even initiated beta testing for possible solutions.

Here is the truth from the trenches… 

Often I walk into well-intention design efforts (like IndiGo’s) that have little more than an assumption underpinning the design. 

In the case of IndiGo, I have no personal knowledge of how the “quiet zone” concept came to be, but frequently (even in large companies), customer understanding is limited prior to launching such a wide-sweeping and potentially controversial initiative.

For example, what is the core demographic for IndiGo (business travelers, leisure, families, or mixed)? What is the positive impact relative to the unintended consequences (removing a pain point for some business travelers while making parents feel less welcome)? Is the business benefit monetizable (will people pay more to sit in those rows)? How effectively can you deploy your solution (if I am sitting in row 14 and a parent with a screaming child is in row 15 – does the “quiet zone” offer sufficient benefit)? Is there a less dramatic solution (a simpler design if you will) that will achieve similar results? As someone who travels a lot, I find noise cancelling headphones a wonderful solution, plus I love to see parents with children on the plane – remembering those days when my children were young.

Ultimately, the marketplace will determine if “quiet zones” are a positive innovation for the airline traveler or if they are a flop. Rather than debating that issue here, let’s simply review some of the key steps needed in solid customer experience innovation:

1) Teach your entire staff to be spotters of opportunities to remove a customer pain point, make a transaction more efficient, or increase the pleasurableness of the customer journey.

2) Track customer comments (social and direct) mining for opportunities to make the lives of customers better.

3) Form hypotheses about what customers want and assess the magnitude of those wants by surveys segmented by higher value customer types.

4) Follow-up your quantitive survey findings, with focus groups/ethnographic studies/customer journals, or other qualitative approaches that get at the nuances of customer needs.

5) Prototype solutions based on maximum customer and economic value.

6) Revise trial solutions based on continued quantitative and qualitative customer listening.

7) Watch for desired effects of improved customer experiences on your key performance indicators.

Customer experience innovation is a design discipline, not simply the best guess. 

The difference between “world class” customer experience brands and lesser competitors is the degree to which they develop and sustain their discipline to leverage both quantitative and qualitative components of customer intelligence.



Will It Fly? How To Leverage Quantitative and Qualitative Customer Listening {Infographic}


Stepping To The Curb – Go Faster…Make It Easier {Infographic}


Stepping To The Curb – Go Faster…Make It Easier

It will come as no surprise that consumers today demand effortless and expedited service!

Online retailers like Amazon have made shopping easier (24-hours a day, purchasing from the comfort of our home, with no lines at checkout) but they make customers wait for delivery (typically relying on UPS).

By contrast, brick-and-mortar businesses have products available for immediate purchase but often aggravate customers with slow or inefficient processes for completing transactions (e.g. lines at the cash register or slow point-of-sale systems).

Leaders at physical and virtual stores do have one thing in common. They all seek to leverage their respective competitive advantages while also enhancing customer ease and speed of purchase/product delivery.

From a virtual perspective, brands like Amazon are constantly innovating. For example, earlier this year Amazon began experimenting with ways to provide “on demand” delivery services. According to Reuters, Amazon, “is quietly inviting drivers…to handle its standard packages, as the online retailer…looks to speed up delivery times and tamp down its growing multi-billion dollar logistics bill.”

The move is the latest sign that the world’s biggest eCommerce company wants to control more of its own deliveries. Media reports have said the company plans to lease its own fleet of jets and CEO Jeff Bezos eventually wants to use drones to get packages to customers.

By contrast, many businesses with actual storefronts are looking to expedite their sales process and improve shopping ease. According to Business Insider, CVS Pharmacy launched, “CVS Express”, a mobile ordering and pickup program, in partnership with tech startup Curbside. With CVS Express, customers can pick up products ordered using the CVS App from outside the stores about an hour after placing their orders. Thanks to Curbside’s arrival detection technology, customers never even have to leave their cars.

At Starbucks, speed of delivery has been enhanced by drive-thru lanes and “mobile order and pay” (where you can use your app to order and pay for your drink in advance so your beverage is waiting for you when you arrive). In addition, Starbucks leadership is currently conducting a trial deploying curbside delivery.

It is estimated that 10% of business at Starbucks’ busiest stores is already being done through mobile ordering and payment and efforts like “curbside delivery” are being explored to make pre-purchase/expedited delivery even easier.

While the jury may not be in for Amazon’s “on demand” efforts or “curbside pick-up” at brands like CVS or Starbucks, one thing is clear – as long as you accurately deliver what the customer wants there is no way you can make that delivery too fast or too easy.

What are you doing to improve the speed and ease of the experience you are providing to your customers?

We Are All In The Perception Business!

Recently, I’ve been suggesting that “perceptions” are a key economic driver.

In the course of my work as an experience designer and consultant, I have been defining customer experience strategy as a disciplined approach to brand differentiation achieved by elevating the perception of those you serve based on their interactions with you. Obviously, in today’s world, interactions are both physical and virtual and they involve our products, our people, and our technology.

I’m convinced that perception drives behavior for our people and the people they serve. For employees, perception drives emotional engagement, discretionary effort, and retentionSummary metrics like the eNPS (the employee version of the net promoter score) ask staff how likely they are to recommend their employer to a friend or acquaintance? Similarly, the customer NPS asks how likely customers are to recommend your business to their friends or acquaintances? These two NPS metrics are highly correlated – meaning when staff members “perceive” their company as worthy of being referred customers share that perception.

So, why is it that some companies don’t focus on “perception” management in the pursuit of business success? I suspect “perception management” sounds like a rather superficial pursuit for leaders that are focused on key performance indicators (KPIs) or other financial metrics. However, in truth “perceptions’ offer insights on “how” to make changes that drive important financial outcomes.

Let’s assume you open a brick and mortar retail business. The KPIs you would want to drive might include customer traffic (getting people to come in), conversion rates (so those who come in also leave with your products) and average ticket sales (proof you are selling a lot of your product or at least a substantial amount of your higher priced items).

In order to achieve these KPIs, you’d have to produce the desired perceptions for prospective customers during the consideration and purchase phase. To retain them you would similarly have to achieve certain perceptions after the sale and at all relevant future points along the customer’s journey and their lifecycle with your brand.

Influencing perceptions starts with caring about perceptions (the perceptions of your people and your customers). It also involves a disciplined approach to seeking feedback and utilizes what you learn to further improve the experience – perceptions if you will – for those you serve.

In the end, we are all in the perception business.

It is perceptions that drive employee retention, customer engagement, loyalty, and even brand advocacy!

What perceptions are you trying to affect in pursuit of your key performance indicators?

We Are All In The Perception Business {Infographic}


The Art of Resolving Human Need

Our friends at Hippo Roller have asked me to mention a campaign to raise funds to purchase 200 Hippo Rollers for Haiti. In case you missed my original blog about the Hippo Roller…you can find it below. By the way, thanks in advance for considering to support this cause…


For me…

Invention is the creation of something new


Innovation is creating a new solution that addresses a human need

If I were so inclined, I could go into my garage cobble together some random materials and produce a “one of a kind” object. I could call it Joseph’s garage invention. While I might amuse myself in the process, the invention would be nothing more than an expression of my creative process.

Innovation, by contrast, requires an effort to solve a problem.

As a customer experience consultant, I am often tasked with helping businesses identify the high-value human needs for which people, process, or technology innovations can be crafted.

One of my favorite examples of a high-value innovation is the Hippo Water Roller.

My enthusiasm for this innovation is reflected in my financial support for the non-profit project which enables distribution of the Hippo (that is my not so subtle hint that you may wish to consider making a contribution of your own).

In case you haven’t heard about the Hippo, this is straight from the Hippo’s mouth or should I say the Hippo Roller’s website concerning the human need:

“750 million people in Africa and Asia struggle daily to access water. Water collection points are often located far away from their homes: 1-6 miles. This is typically done with heavy 5 gallon buckets balanced on their head.”

And as to the solution:

“The Hippo Roller enables women, children and the elderly to collect up to 5x more water than a single bucket. Users simply roll the Hippo Roller along the ground. It improves water access, food security and income generation.”

To see the hippo roller in action (click the picture below or visit


While most of us will not innovate a solution that will have as broad a social impact as the Hippo Roller, we can dedicate our efforts to remove pain points, improve capacity, and decrease effort (all aspects of the Hippo innovation).

To the degree we make our customer’s lives easier and enable them to live in a more fulfilled and productive way, we are and can be innovators.

Take a moment to reflect on your customer’s journey and think of where you can lighten their load or ease their path…that is the beginning point for all great innovation.

Make a Mouse: The Power of a Culture of Customer Experience Excellence

I’ve often said anyone can create a mouse. All you have to do is put a copious quantity of food and cloth scraps on your floor and, over time, a mouse will appear. The same can be said for great service cultures. Leaders are responsible for “creating the right environment” for world-class customer experiences to occur. Take Starbucks as an example. 
This week in the aftermath of bombings in the Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea, a passerby’s cellphone captured video of a Starbucks barista, Jermaine, as he offered a complimentary bag of pastries and water to a New York City Police officer in gratitude for first responders who were working the crime scene. That video, which has now gone viral, and the actions of Jermaine certainly need to be credited to Jermaine’s family who inculcated the importance of being grateful to those who protect and serve him. However, those actions are also likely influenced by the environment created by his team at Starbucks.
Within the context of the Starbucks culture, leaders and frontline service providers (all of whom are referred to as partners) are consistently encouraged to live the company’s mission:
“To inspire and nurture the human spirit one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” 
Starbucks leaders built the expectation that Jermaine should inspire and nurture the human spirit and the video speaks for itself.
Lest you think, I see Starbucks in flawless ways I should note a similar missed example, which I chronicled in my first book about the company (The Starbucks Experience) written in 2006. On September 11, 2001, Midwood Ambulance Service employees responded to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. Shortly afterward, an e-mail surfaced, which reported, “My family owns an ambulance service in Brooklyn, NY… My uncles were at ‘Ground Zero’ during the attack, to help the victims. They donated their time to help with this crisis, as many New Yorkers did. A great number of people were in shock from the devastation. As many of you know, shock victims are supposed to drink a lot of water. My uncle went to the Starbucks down the street to get bottles of water for the victims he was treating. Can you believe they actually charged him for it! He paid the $130 for 3 cases of bottled water out of his own pocket. Now, I would think that in a crisis such as this, vendors in the area would be more than happy to lend a little help by donating water…” 
The email continued, “I love Frappuccinos as much as anyone, but any company that would try to make a profit off of a crisis like this doesn’t deserve the … public’s hard-earned money. Please forward this e-mail to anyone you know and encourage them to do the same.”  
Unfortunately, that e-mail was accurate. A Starbucks partner chose to charge full price and not give away $130 worth of water during the September 11, 2001, tragedy. In addition, several efforts to get the matter resolved were mishandled. When the e-mail surfaced, Starbucks leadership did the right thing. Then-president and CEO, Orin Smith, not only had a $130 check delivered to the ambulance company but, called a representative of the business personally to apologize. Independently, Starbucks stores at Ground Zero were operating around the clock and providing free beverages and pastries to rescue workers and volunteers.  
At a corporate level, Starbucks was making contributions in excess of a million dollars to the national relief fund. But the bad news of the water sale certainly made a big splash in the pool of public consciousness. Starbucks leadership, fortunately, understood that most people are willing to forgive human error. What they won’t tolerate is a failure to take responsibility for mistakes or an unwillingness to resolve the shortcoming.  
With the grace of competent leadership, Starbucks did not seek to scapegoat or place blame on that store partner back in 2001 who made the errant decision in an unimaginably stressful situation. Instead, Orin Smith understood something most great leaders appreciate—when you are wrong, admit it, fix the problem, and stay the course in areas where you are making a positive difference.
Fast forward from the World Trade Center attacks to the bombings in the streets of Chelsea and you will see a longstanding effort on the part of Starbucks leadership to build their mouse – “a culture of customer experience excellence.” Small efforts from people like Jermaine suggest that the “mouse” has arrived.  
What cultures are you trying to create in your workplace? How do you know if it is taking hold?