Firm Growth (Not) Guaranteed

This is part nine of 13 in the Experience Design 101 series. For links to all the articles in this series, click here.

In the previous post in this series we discussed how to measure the ROI of Experience Design. I wish I could say that when all the research, planning, and building is done, growth of your business is effortlessly guaranteed.

Growth is measurable, but not guaranteed, because fully implementing Experience Design is not just about finishing construction, printing, a website re-launch, or a major event. Experience Design does not come together without that volatile element, human interaction. Interactions happen every day, whether you design them or not. Planned Interactive Design eases a lot of that volatility, and like other elements of good Experience Design, gives you a roadmap to follow as you go forward with your plans for growth.

Buy-in is crucial

In aiming for Maximum Customer Experience, “buy-in” is whether a stakeholder understands, believes in, and is willing to be a part of getting your message across to others. Are they committed to the same goals you are? Do they identify with who you are? In other words, do they “buy it” or not?

Who is a stakeholder? A short list includes management, staff, and investors (internal stakeholders); suppliers, customers, prospective customers, and as you become well-known, the general public (external stakeholders). Each of these has a chance to affect how well your business runs by their enthusiasm and devotion to your Vision. In a perfect world, your stakeholders can even become fans. All stakeholders are partners in Maximum Customer Experience for better or for worse, and everybody’s a stakeholder.

You read in part 5 about defining your Vision—the message, talents, viewpoints, and values which are your strengths. Do staff understand and contribute to your goals? Your internal stakeholders—management and staff—will make or break your Experience Design. Do you know if you have their buy-in?

America the Ungrateful?

In an October 23 blog article, Seth Godin alerted readers to news about one of my favorite big boys. “In the middle of its biggest growth spurt ever, …Apple fired 800 of its employees for stealing. They were caught grabbing $100 rebates on the iPhones Apple had given them for free.” I was astonished to read that one of my Maximum Customer Experience heroes apparently has a problem with incomplete buy-in. Apple would not tolerate it, however, and firing these employees sends a message to internal stakeholders and external fans that integrity is a major core value at Apple.

Were these people underpaid, overworked, feeling wronged by Apple, or just spoiled? Their company hands them a great new gadget tons of people drool over and stand in line for, but it’s not enough. This sense of resentment and entitlement seems ready to rot our sense of right and wrong in America, the bountiful (and sometimes ungrateful).

Well-done to Apple for having the courage to fire these folks. Slapping their hands would have demoralized the internal stakeholders who would never think of biting the hand that feeds them, and would have nipped away at external stakeholders’ faith in the company. Apple used this crisis to ask for loyalty inside the company and out. Either you buy in to our Vision, or you don’t. It could even be a polarizing statement, but to stand by their Vision they took that chance.

Interactive Design and Purpose

You can not control the human element, in business or in life. In business, however, you do need to be designing and directing the human element. I can walk in to a McDonald’s—the same McDonald’s, mind you—at three different times of day/ days of the week and have three vastly different experiences. If you doubt the truth of this, try these next week:

1) Monday, 8:45 am; 2) Wednesday, 2:15 pm; 3) Saturday, 11:00 pm (or as close to closing as your bedtime allows; this requires a McD’s that is not 24-hour, obviously).

I do not know where you live, but I will nearly guarantee you:

1) Rushed, but efficient; 2) Unhurried, uninterested, probably dirty, likely serving fairly old food; 3) Annoyed, self-interested (loud, gossipy/giggly), unwilling to accommodate special requests, possibly limiting the menu to items they can cook on the apparatus they haven’t cleaned yet.

Is this because McDonald’s, the corporation, does not value Interactive Experience? Not at all. (In fairness, I have run into a few rare exceptions to this rule as I travel. If you live near one, just know that you are lucky.) This is because in Interactive Design, the top advantage you, the small- to medium-business owner have over the big boys, is your size. The smaller you are, the more closely you can tie your company’s Purpose in with your staff’s understanding of Who You Are.

When you work on defining your Vision, discuss Purpose with staff; get their take on your strengths and opportunities; make sure they understand how vital they are to your growth. Staff communicate how much they value the firm in everything from body language to attire to actual verbal clues. You can not control your external stakeholders, except indirectly through messaging. You can insist that your internal stakeholders project the Vision they’ve helped craft, in all their interactions with customers, suppliers, and the public. That messaging is worth thousands in advertising. When you surround yourself with people who understand and believe in your Purpose as fervently as you are, you can expect them to help turn others into fans, too.

Customer Interaction with “Propheteers”

Having the biggest fans of your firm (“propheteers”) on the inside is the best way to keep the message strong. As you grow, find your internal “Propheteers,” and reward them as they continue to instill your Vision in your growing staff. One Jeff Bezos or Steve Jobs is great, but you will need many as you grow. Only then can you avoid the plight of the McDonald’s of a Thousand Faces, where I never know the quality of the service I’ll receive, or the quality of what I’ll be served.

The guarantee

Interactive Design is the key element most smaller firms miss. Improving human-to-human interactions with planning and considered research is a critical factor you can start to take advantage of today. No advertisement can deliver messaging to make your new Experience Design hum like your own internal stakeholders can.

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson


Next up in the series: Part Ten: Uniqueness and innovation: What have you got that I haven’t got?

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