The Invisible Gift

I have a question for you. It’s a question that will require some deep thinking on your behalf. What is the “Invisible Gift” you give each customer with each interaction or transaction? It’s not a thank you gift, or a discount for shopping or even a promotional item, its something that you can’t touch, but can impact your business more than you realize.

The “Invisible Gift” is given with every interaction your business has with a customer. Many times we overlook it or don’t even realize we give it, but it happens. And when that Invisible Gift is given, it will determine if the memory of the experience lasts. The gift is part of the experience a customer has with you and it is the one thing most businesses don’t even acknowledge they give it, especially if you stage an experience.

Designing and then staging an effective and memorable experience requires changes on many levels of design and performance. It will also require a shift in the value proposition because the product changes.

In the Experience Economy, the shift from buying things to doing things is the fundamental shift in the value offering. This shift also provides a change in the product. No longer is the product the thing you buy, rather the customer themselves. The thing that is acquired becomes a token of memorabilia in one form or another. It is the trigger to the memory of the experience.

The trigger is merely a tool to revisit the experience through our memories. We recall images, sounds, scents, textures and even various tastes. Yet there is one element of our memories that is so pronounced that it determines if the experience is even worthy of remembering.

So, if the shift of the product in the Experience Economy is the customer and the item acquire is the memorabilia, then should there not be a shift in the design mechanism for designing and staging of an experience? The answer is simply, yes. Designing an experience requires a different approach beyond the thing to sell or the environment where the selling happens.

We hear and read so much about Experiences and designing experiences. Different methods, processes and even so called standards of design. It can get quite confusing and convoluted at times that some designers might tend to skip over key elements or forget to incorporate a holistic approach.

Is there a better way? My answer is again, yes. The method that changes how designers develop an experience is sourced directly to the “invisible Gift”.

The Invisible gift is an emotion.

Each customer leaves with it even if the business is unaware its been given. The invisible gift of an emotion is forever tied to the experience and how the customer perceives the value of the interaction. Because customers are human and humans are emotional beings, it only makes sense, as designers and stager of experiences, that emotion is the key design element and target customer outcome. As stated, the customer is the product and customers are emotional beings.

So, what emotion do you want to sell? This is the question that can help define the outcome intent of the experience. It will shape the interaction, the roles of the staff and dictate how the environment will be staged. By knowing what emotion you want to be tied to the experience, every aspect of the experience will be shaped by that emotion.

As an example of emotion as a overreaching design theme, Disney World leveraged this idea from the very beginning when they promoted the park as being “the happiest place on Earth.” They are selling happiness. Their selling an emotion. With that emotion, everything they do, everything the design and every interaction is framed by that one emotion of happiness.

Using emotion as a design principle can help determine what elements need to be added, removed or enhanced to achieve the emotional outcome. Are you staging an experience to make customers happy, sad, loved, envied or even tranquil. Any emotion can be used, but focus on only one. Trying to have multiple emotional outcomes can become tricky if not confusing for designers, performers and customers. Be like Disney and go for one even if others ride along.

Now that you know the “Invisible Gift” every business gives its customers is emotion, what emotion are you giving your customers today and what emotion do you want them to have after the next interaction? Design your business around a single emotion, because the things they buy are not as important as the memory of how they acquired it.

Business of Emotion

What business are you in? What are you selling?

A Little History:

For the past 15 years, I have been actively involved in the Experience Economy and its principles originally expressed by Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore from their book, ‘The Experience Economy.’ Over the course of time, I have met some incredible business leaders and fascinating ambassadors of the Experience Economy. Each one has expanded my ideas of what an experience is and can be for customers and patients. I have seen the frameworks of the Experience Economy at work first hand and can share with you that they are time tested. Yet, I have always felt that there was something more, just out of range of the traditional thinking around experiences and experience design.

It wasn’t until recently have I begun to focus on another aspect of experience design. A path slightly different than my fellow experience designers and stagers. An approach for business that could create a new design principle. My approach would take me to see experiences from a whole new perspective. My method would be to stop looking for the traditional answers and solutions solely about the Experience Economy and begin searching for the questions that defined Experiences and Experience Design on a personalized level.

This idea of seeking the right questions was sparked by Hal Gregersen’s book, ‘Questions are the Answer‘. He asked the reader to use the idea of the right question to discover new opportunities and solutions rather than seeking an existing answers. A process he calls Catalytic Questioning.

This reverse thinking helped me to create a series of questions that could help others understand the economic value offering they provided based upon the initial questions they ask their customers. Where they stood in the economic progression could be defined by the initial answers sought by the frontline from the customer.

  • Commodities – ‘How much do you need?’
  • Goods – “What do you want to buy?”
  • Services – “What can we do for you?”
  • Experiences – “What would you like to do?”
  • Transformations – “What do you want to become?”

This very idea was shared in a recent book by Shareef Mahdavi called, “Beyond Bedside Manner” to help his readers understand what type of business they were in around healthcare.

There is a line that Shareef wrote in his book that would anchor the idea of a different design direction. It is a line about the one thing that most every doctor wants their patient to feel about them after a visit. The line reads, ‘If you could boil down to a single word what patients want to feel after meeting with their doctor, that word is Confidence.’ In that line were two key words that were at the very core to my thinking process.; ‘feel’ and ‘Confidence’. In these two words lies the intention and desired outcome.

Experience and Emotions:

“The happiest place on earth.”, is one of Disney’s most iconic emotional tag-lines. It communicates that you will be happy within this place, because it the happiest place in the world. That’s the outcome they are selling, happiness. Everything they do at their parks is designed around the customer/visitor being happy so they can create positive memories to share. Look at BMW’s slogan, ‘Designed for driving pleasure.’ Both of these statements promote an single emotion.

In the Experience Economy, value is created when it is customized and personalized for the customer. Each experience is unique to each person because it is internalized. This is the biggest shift from the previous economic stages. The idea of custom and personal is what makes an experience memorable.

So, my question to myself was ‘what is the most personal thing a customer can experience?’ The answer… Emotions.

Wheel of Emotions:

No, its not a game show or an app for your phone or even a new ride at your favorite theme park. The Wheel of Emotion was diagramed by Robert Plutchik in 1980 to illustrated the primary emotions of humans. The emotions that we all experience and different times.

No alt text provided for this image
Wheel of Emotion

Plutchik defined in his diagram, the eight core emotions and the associated emotions that radiated out as the intensity diminished. (To avoid any confusion made by me, I’ll let you explore his thinking and his philosophy.) It is this idea of charting emotions that struck me as a possible tool for experience design. Could you design an experience based on a single or set of emotions? Design the engagement of customers around any emotion or feeling?

The answers to this question is not that simple. Emotions are very complex and the triggers to those emotions can be endless. It would require extensive knowledge of psychology to be able to even begin map and design with any type of certainty. Something any regular business would not spend the time or financial resources to create. Maybe.

What if the design criteria was not so exact or not so extensive. What if it is not about the engagement or interaction of a given emotion, rather the possible direction of outcome for the customer? As I shared about the line in Shareef Mahdavi’s book about confidence, what if you could use the emotion diagram in a another way?

Buying Tires, A Tale of Emotion:

On a particular weekend I planned to get some new tires put onto my car. The front were a bit worn further than I was comfortable with and one of the rear tires had a very slow leak. So, I scheduled a Saturday morning visit to my favorite tire shop to replace all four.

While at the shop waiting, I spent passing the time reading a new business book. Four tires would take about an hour given the number of people waiting. While reading, a young woman interrupted me to ask me what I was reading as I seemed really into the book. I shared that the book was about creating experiences for patients and customers and adding value over the competition. (my canned response.)

As with most people I meet, she looked confused. She asked, “You mean better customer experience?”

I began explaining by example. I shared with her why I drove across the city to get my tires at this particular shop. It wasn’t because they were cheaper, they weren’t. It wasn’t because they were the fastest either. It was because I trusted them like no other tire shop. The atmosphere was always friendly, the staff communicated with the customers throughout the whole process and even made suggestions of additional work that may be needed even if they didn’t do that type of work. The key reason is they made me feel safe when driving.

In that brief moment I found the key I was looking for. The question that could to be asked when designing an experience. Define the outcomes emotion you understand your customers seek. If the tire shop really wanted to elevate its offering to become an experience, it would need to leverage that feeling of safety for the driver.

The Experience Design Question:

By reflecting on experiences I have had in the past and those I am familiar with, I identified the possible right question to ask when designing an experience. That question is…

What Emotion Are You Selling?

Disney sells ‘Happiness’, Starbucks sells delight and Harley Davidson sells freedom. But what are you selling? What emotion do you want your customers to remember after they exit your place of business? What emotion dictates your designs, brand and culture with that emotional target?

This basic question of what emotion you want to sell comes with a lot of design thinking behind it. Knowing the emotion you are targeting before, during and after the engagement sets up many other variables around the need of staging, the correct props to use and even the proper employee training that goes into the ability to engage with a customer in order to achieve the emotional goal of the experience. One question can define the experience if you let it.

If you’re familiar with or use Simon Sineck’s framework of ‘Start with Why’ that he shared during a TedTalk and in publication, then focusing on the emotion draws you closer to the ‘Why’ purpose statement. Once you know the ‘Why’ of your experience, you can then begin defining the ‘How’ of the actions needed to be achieved, and eventually define the ‘What’ of tools and props will be used during the interaction.

By asking ‘What emotion do you sell?’, you frame the entirety of the experience. In this manner, I am not seeking which emotion to frame the engagement of the customer, but what emotional outcome do I want them leaving with after the interaction. It will take using other emotions to achieve the eventual outcome.

By looking at your business as selling an emotion, the goods, services and knowledge you provide are all merely the tools to a reach that emotional state. I don’t buy tires from my favorite shop because of price or the time saved, I take my car there because they know how to make me feel safe. I trust them because of their engagement with me as more than just a customer. They honestly treat me as if they truly care about my safety on the road. Everything they do and share is all about one emotion.

So ask yourself this question…

What emotion do we sell?

Can you identify a single emotion that your business embraces? Do your marketing messages reflect this emotion and does your brand promise this emotion to the customer? My suggestion, pick one and embrace what it means and how to engage customers

In addition, once you identify that single emotion, then you will begin to understand all the negative triggers and obstacles to overcome with the customer to build a deeper relationship. You will identify the spaces that are needed and the roles you employees will perform to fill so the customer can achieve that single goal. Designing with an emotion as the outcome, will change your how and what your business is in the eyes of the customer. You can take your business from a Goods or Service level to that of an Experience and add value.

There is a lot more to this thinking of an emotion as a design tool for experiences. The frameworks of the Experience Economy, Design Thinking, Behavior Science and so many others all come into play.

Let’s chat more…

#ExperienceEconomy #Designthinking #Change #Emotion #Design

Enticing Customer Engagement

Okay, you’ve read, heard and shared enough about the “crisis”, so stop for a moment and switch your mindset. Let’s talk about you, your future customers and your business.

Today is the first day of the rest of your business life to paraphrase. The past is unchangeable and what will be may never be the same as it was. So let’s move forward. Time to elevate your offering and stage enticing customer engagements. Yes, I am talking about staging an experience for your customers to add value to your offering or as one person I know would say, ‘Wrap your offering with an experience.”

Easy enough said, but harder to do, less you understand what is the ‘secret’ sauce of staging the right experience for customers and not just delivering a great customer experience. And yes, there is a huge difference between these two. To begin staging an experience you’ll need to shift your thinking in two key areas; the audience and the offering.

The audience, a.k.a. your future customers, first need to be identified better. You’ll need to think about attracting or enticing your new audience by knowing them better and what would attract them to your offering. In the Experience Economy, this is done by shifting from tracking population numbers and census data to attracting people, real people. (see diagram below)

the progression of economic value diagram with a comparison to the types of customer identification.

As you can see in the diagram above of the Progression of Economic Value by Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore, economic models use varying levels of data to identify and locate possible customers. In Commodities, the identification is simple, its a geographic methodology. As the progression continues, the level of detail refines and narrows to better match what it is a given provider offers. This type of identification works fairly well up through Services. Much of what we see in today’s economy.

When you decide to elevate your business to an experience, the rules change. It is no longer about tracking population sets and segmentation of population. No more stereotyping customers into constraint ideas that customers with similar data act and purchase the same. No more playing with acquiring a percentage of a percent of the population. The methodology needs to be flip from data mining to focusing on human behavior patterns.

A methodology that moves from information of population groups to knowledge of people. This methodology of seeing people through the lens of human behavior is called Persona Profiling. A mapping of human behaviors that then can be the framework for designing and staging experiences that are wanted and desired. A method of creating enticing engagements that relate to a type of personality and the desires and needs they have that are similar.

Experiences are personal and happen inside each person not to or for a person. We must understand people more deeply in order to stage unique experiences that add greater value to a business and to the customer. We need to map these behaviors that we want to entice and engage. True persona profiling looks only at the human factors. As I stated before, it is no longer about tracking population numbers and pushing out marketing messages, it is about understanding our customers better and staging something that is engaging and personal by pulling them into an experience that offers greater value and is unique.

No alt text provided for this image

Persona Profiling is about attracting a type of person. By using personae versus informational population data, we can design experiences and product offerings that speak to a particular individual or a mix of individuals. This creates a stronger connection and engagement. The messaging becomes more focused and the language used that is more familiar to a given persona about the experience. In fact, the need for advertising and external messaging decreases. Starbuck’s originally was created the coffee drinker’s experience and used little to no external marketing except word-of-mouth between true coffee drinkers. The environment and the customer coffee creation experience was the marketing. It eventually drew the outliers in and grew. Who knew a $5 dollar cup of coffee would be so appealing?

With the shift to Experiences, a shift must be made across the board of the business. The staff must now have roles to play, understand the language their audience uses and focus on customizing the offering to the individual. The product, whatever that maybe, must be tailored to the persona in such a way to make it memorable for them.

All of this personalization, customization and human behavior focusing is what the experience economy is all about. It’s about knowing the ‘Who’ of your customer base versus the ‘What’. Once we know who we are staging for, then the value increases and the offering shifts slightly with each persona. And for those personae that aren’t being enticed to experience, don’t worry, it’s not for them anyway and they would not see the greater value in your offering, today. Deepen the relationship with a type of person rather than trying to gain the attention of a percentage of a segment.

To learn more about the Experience Economy, check out the latest edition of “The Experience Economy”.

I leave you wit this quote by Earl Wilson, Journalist.

“Ever notice that the whisper of temptation can be heard farther than the loudest call to duty.”

I hope I have be helpful and at least inspired you enough to want to know more about looking forward and not backwards.

Stargazing in a Crisis

What can astronomy teach us about this crisis?

In the vastness of empty space in the night sky, there are many points of light. Small and undefined. Yet, if you focus on a single point of light with the right tool, an amazing new world emerges. Clarity and focus reveal something wonderful.

We are all looking staring into the blackness of these times, yet there are great opportunities if we focus on a single point. For companies learning to adapt to remote workers and incorporating virtual platforms, the world becomes more accessible. Craftsman and Crafters are creating wonderfully inspired works and sharing their knowledge with the world.

My suggestion today, stop seeing the crisis and focus on the opportunity. It will be tough and you may need that special tool to help you, but if you scan the darkness, you will find a bit of light that can reveal something you have overlooked amongst all the noise and distractions.

Be safe, stay healthy and remain wise in these times.

Living on the Grid: Experience Focus

Hello, thanks for reading “Living on the Grid” series This is the fourth in a series of 2×2 grids to help explain or demonstrate concepts from the world of business..

In this edition, I wanted to look at emotional memory. Recently, I have been doing some research on emotional triggers and memory. I began exploring how emotions can focus an experience being created. Can you shape a staged experience on the idea of a single emotion. I was surprised at some of the possibilities.

In the diagram below, I wanted to explore the the various possibilities between an emotion as a key design element and the focus of the timeframe for the memory. I realize this is a simple mix, and the possibilities of other emotions is expansive, yet this simple 2×2 was the start of an idea of which I will expand on later.

In the vertical axis, I identify time tense as on key attribute. The range of time is from past to future given the experience is in the present. Along the horizontal axis the focus is on two polar emotions being Sadness and Happiness. Happiness is the easier of the two emotions, but sadness does have its examples and can create some very dynamic experiences.

Looking to happiness first, across the time bar, we can determine if the emotion being staged if drawn from the past or is creating one for the future. Sort of the idea of made versus make on the memory scale. In the idea of past happiness, we look to revivals of better times. Disney designed its entrance places around the look of olde time town square. A memory of wholesomeness and innocence.

In the same emotion, a designer can stage an experience where the idea of making happy memories is the key design element. Take maker labs as an example. Groups come together to create or make both something to show, but also memories. National Parks are also places to create happy memories that can be shared through photos.

Okay, now sadness. Who would ever design something that evokes sadness intentionally. Well, in reflection of past tragedies or hardship we create memorials . Look at the lights of the twin towers in New York, or the Holocaust Museum in DC. These were experiences that leveraged the past emotion of sadness and sorrow to stage a commemorative experience in the Esthetic realm of experiences.

Okay, but what about the future? How does sadness play in the future for experience design. Imagine a Science Fiction based-themed apocalyptic world were zombies where you must escape or be eaten alive. Laser tag sport arenas and online gaming thrive in this combination of future sadness. Sure the outcome may be that of happiness, but the initial premise is Future sadness.

I hope this sparks some thinking on your next experience design project and I would enjoy hearing how you mixed time and emotion as part of your experience.

If you enjoy this article or this series concept, please leave me a comment. I’d love to hear your feedback and possible ideas for upcoming 2×2 grids.

Until next we chat, this is Living on the Grid.

Living on the Grid: Spending Time

Hello, thanks for reading “Living on the Grid” series This is the third in a series of 2×2 grids to help explain or demonstrate concepts from the world of business..

In this edition, I wanted to look at time spent and the perceived value. In numerous conversations around value or an experience with various experience stagers and business consultants, a common idea kept emerging from these discussion. The idea of price versus value from the time a customer spends with a business.

In the diagram below, I wanted to explore the the various possibilities between the time a customer spends engaged with a a business and the price that is paid for that interaction to better visualize the difference from a good value versus a commoditized offering.

In the vertical axis, I identify price as on key attribute. The range of pricing is low to high. Let me be clear, its not underpriced or overpriced, merely the lever of pricing a customer pays. Along the horizontal axis lies time. How long is the interaction or engagement with a customer, but not how long a customer must wait to engage, only the time during engagement is being viewed.

As you may noticed, time/price can help establish the possible value being created in the eyes of the customer. If the offering is about convenience and time well saved, then it is possible that your offering is commoditized and battles for price. In comparison, if the time spent is of good quality and the value equals the price, then you’ve created a good value.

Caution arises when you believe your offering is worth more than what the customer perceives. Maybe the time is to short or not impactful enough, thus creating an offering that is seen as being over-priced. On the other hand, a business may find it can’t keep up with the demands and that there are not enough resources to maintain the level of expectations or the business actually provides greater value then priced and thus becomes under-priced in the market.

You must find a balance between price and time in order to be seen as a value worthy of the time and price paid. Be aware that time is as important resource and money when it comes to an experience offering.

If you enjoy this article or this series concept, please leave me a comment. I’d love to hear your feedback and possible ideas for upcoming 2×2 grids.

Until next we chat, this is Living on the Grid.

Living on the Grid: Type of Experience

Hello, thanks for reading “Living on the Grid” series This is the second in a series of 2×2 grids to help explain or demonstrate concepts from the world of business..

In this edition, I wanted to look at the type of experience companies stage for their customers. This is a direct adaptation from B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore’s book The Experience Economy: Work is theatre & Every Business a Stage. On this 2×2 grid, we will look at the various types of experiences a company can stage.

As you will see in the diagram below, Joe and Jim use two axises to define the various realms of an experience. Across the horizontal plane they ask about the type of engagement the customer will be involved with. Will it be a passive experience with little interaction from the customer or will it be an active participation by the customer?

In the vertical axis, they ask about the proximity of the customer to the experience. Is the customer immersed deep into the experience as if it is happening around them and they are part of the experience? Or is it more about absorbing the experience from a distance much like the movie goer who sit and watches a film.

Like most things in life, there are no hard this or that determinations, many of you may find you ride the line between two quadrants. In their book, Joe and Jim also identify these happy connections or the blending of two types. And yes, you can fall to the center where your staged experience blends all four realms. In this case, they refer to this as hitting the sweet spot. Staging an experience or experiences that engage the customer at various levels of engagement and action.

If you enjoy this article or this series concept, please leave me a comment. I’d love to hear your feedback and possible ideas for upcoming 2×2 grids.

Until next we chat, this is Living on the Grid.

Living on the Grid: Economic Value

So, recently, I had developed a set of conversation starter cards for business adapted from a diagnostic program I created in 2005 called WayPoint. The deck was a simple 2×2 formatted exercise that any business could perform. While developing the cards I created numerous adaptations until one was finally selected.

In the process of development, many of the concept were sourced from my experience working with B. Joseph Pine II and his co-authored book the Experience Economy. Some of these grids actual were very revealing about business direction and economic values, so I decided to create a series aI am calling “Living on the Grid.”

The first of the series addresses whether you are a goods provider, service delivery or an Experience stager. Follow the direction and plot your results.

I would love to hear or see what you discovered about yourself and your company.

Until then, keep striving to be a memorable engagement because all experience have impact on your customer’s lives and are inherently transformative.