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Your Answer Informs How To Align the 5 Key Priorities of Leading an Organization

If you want to create and sustain an exceptional organization, one that stands out from the rest, the most important question you can ask is “What is the experience we create?

In a previous article I outlined the 5 key priorities for leading an organization - direction, performance, innovation, structure, and culture. The key to aligning these priorities is to ensure they all are focused on creating a specific customer experience.

Why is “customer experience” the critical driver for successful enterprises? Technology, globalization, and a relentless 24/7 pace have pushed productivity, lowered prices, and turned many products and services into commodities. These same factors have also stimulated an increased desire to find expressions of individuality and meaning. Much of the world has moved into a post-service economy where value is created by knowledge and creating experiences. In today’s marketplace, you need right-priced quality products and services along with great customer service just to be in the game. The businesses that win our attention are those that meet our higher-level needs – personal attention, belonging, identification, meaning, and image.

Melinda Davis, in her thought-provoking book The New Culture of Desire makes a case that seeking ‘bliss’ will be the new driver for consumer buying decisions. Increasingly in today’s marketplace, people seek experiences, not simply products or services. Valued experiences may include:
  • Belonging to an identified group or community;
    • Symbols of status;
    • Representations of a desired lifestyle;
    • Affirmations of self-image or personal values;
    • Personal relationships with the people with whom we conduct business.

An “experience” can be defined as the sum of interactions that people have with your business combined to form a coherent and meaningful whole in the mind of the customer. Case example: Starbucks makes excellent coffee, with friendly and expedient service – but where the company really cashed in was in marketing the experience of a daily dose of luxury accessible to the common soul. The growth of Starbucks is now legendary, and their stores are ubiquitous. As Starbucks grew into a powerful national brand, independent shops everywhere sought success by contrasting themselves as the authentic local coffee shop. In this writer’s local environment, Cup-A-Joe, Weaver Street Market and Caffe Driade have become fabulous coffee spots where people gather. Meanwhile Starbucks continues to sustain its brand via focus on customer experience, a few years ago through an emphasis on music, and more recently through a concentrated effort of engaging customers both within stores and via one of the most extensive social media communities on the planet. The lesson here is that for both national and local businesses, attention to the customer experience plays a role in establishing value far beyond simple price, quality, or service considerations.

Customer experience is relevant to organizations from all sectors - business, public and non-profit. Much of the success of Habitat for Humanity can be attributed to their strategy of creating a hands-on experience of building a home - an experience shared by the recipient home owners, individual volunteers, and corporate donors alike.

Fully answering the question, “what is the experience we create?” requires thinking honestly and deeply about both your organization and your customers. It requires meaningfully connecting multi-faceted associations that customers make with your industry, product, or service to important aspects of customers’ emotions, thoughts, and values. Important: answer the question from the customer’s point of view, otherwise your thinking won’t go beyond simply listing what your organization does for customer service and quality.

Organizations that are intentional in how they create customer experiences are relentless in shaping their behaviors, communications, marketing materials, and surroundings in order to evoke a personal experience in the mind of the customer. Leadership lesson - if you simply think of what you offer your customers as a mix of price, quality, or service, you probably are missing out on real success. When you are intentional about delivering your products and services packaged in a creative and coherent experience, you give yourself a powerful edge to maximize the value you offer – and therefore the value that comes back to you.

by Tom Stevens (c)2012
Tom Stevens helps leaders create and sustain exceptional organizations. To contact Tom, visit or call 800 727-9788

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