A Magic Lesson

david blaineDavid Blaine is a magician who has done amazing, death-defying things.  He was buried alive in New York City in a coffin for a week living on nothing but water. He froze himself in a block of ice for three days and three nights.  He stood on top of a hundred-foot pillar for 36 hours, and went to London and lived in a glass box for 44 days with nothing but water.  He has done some seriously scary stuff and lived to tell the tale.

Recently, I was listening to a radio show where they were talking about fear and interviewed Blaine.  He said he really doesn’t get scared, he relishes the challenge, he is not afraid of death or injury, a trait inspired by his mother’s fight with terminal illness.  After some talk about his fearlessness and details about how he’s been able to do the things he’s done, he was asked if he had children and he said yes he has a daughter.  They asked if she was also fearless to which Blaine replied that his daughter was beyond fearless.  He said she pets alligators and loves sharks.  Then they asked the really telling question, “Do you ever experience the fear that a parent sometimes fears?”  Before the interviewer could finish, Blaine jumped in to say, “Big time. Enormous.  Even when she just, like, trips or something, I have a heart attack.”

This irony immediately got me to thinking about the selflessness it demonstrated. While doing all of these death-defying stunts and not concerning himself with his own life or safety, Blaine can be worried about the tiniest thing surrounding his daughter.  His mindset is set on what he can do for her and not what he can do for himself.

We live in a world of increasing self-importance where so many want their claim to fame, their Warhol fifteen minutes as it were.  Very telling is some current research on popular song lyrics that shows a dramatic increase in the use of the words I, me, and mine and a decrease in the use of the words we and us.  While some might shrug this off as coincidence, I’m not so sure.  Just look at our President who tweets retorts to anything that remotely attacks his personality.  Look at social media where people constantly post where they are, who they’re with, and what they’re wearing.  Is it a coincidence or is it a sad state?  I’m going with the latter.

But why care about this anyway?  Why do I concern myself with seeming trivialities like this?  Well, I believe it has a lot to do with the state of work and customer experience.  When we are self-focused it becomes hard to serve others, and serving others is what business is for, it’s the sole purpose for business to exist.  Every business is in the business of helping others do things and this narcissistic trend is making it hard to really pursue this purpose.

This difficulty is what lies at the center of how workplaces are full of apathy, tension, and dissatisfaction, and why customers are largely distrusting and dissatisfied as well.  When those who serve, or are supposed to be serving, are self-focused, the experience can only be false or less than satisfying.

So how do we fix it?

It begins with awareness.  It begins by looking around us and searching out opportunities to help the person next to us, to lift them up before lifting up ourselves.  We must see them as humans with needs, goals, and challenges and then adjust what we do to be more helpful.  What’s interesting in my experience is that doing this becomes a virus that infects more and more.  I believe this is where the fix begins, taking time to be aware and then taking action for someone other than ourselves.

We don’t have to be fearless, we just have to be aware, be flexible, and be more helpful.  Start the virus today!



Does your business really want to help people?

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I recently saw an interview with Adam Lowry, who, along with Neil Renninger, founded Ripple Foods, the makers of Ripple plant-based milk.  In the interview, Fowler said they created their product because they wanted to help people.

This simple reason for existing might not seem like a big deal but it really stuck with me.  These two men started their business as a service to others.  They wanted to provide an alternative to dairy milk that was high in protein and low in sugar but still tasted good.  Now I have not tasted this product but I do believe in the purpose, a purpose that all businesses share but most don’t know or profess.

You see, all business is in the service business.  All businesses exist to help people, there’s really no other reason to exist, every business is trying to help people do something. Yet so many businesses don’t make this reality part of their message to the world.  We help people _____.  How much do you really hear that?

Why does this matter?  I think it matters because we customers suffer with mediocre service every day and it’s no wonder.  If you’re an employee, and the messages you regularly get are only about money, revenue, profit margins, beating competitors, etc., how do customers come into play?  What are you to think if your company has a Customer Service Department and you are instructed to direct customers to them because customer service is their job?   When this is your daily diet, customers just don’t factor in as the most necessary part of your job or the business.

Think about how many companies you interact with who regularly set self-interested policies that make things difficult or give you the runaround just to find someone to help you; they place so many other things as first priority.  And to make it worse, many companies never even get customer feedback and satisfaction data on the agenda of top management.  What!?!?!?!?!  Not one bit of this makes any sense when you consider, as I pointed out earlier, that helping customers is really the only reason for being in business in the first place.  If they really understood with head and heart that providing the easiest, friendliest help possible is really the best way to make the business successful, the customer experience would be a joy.  But, alas, the reality is unfortunately business first, customer second, third, or somewhere else in line.

What can we do to remedy this?  First, answer this question, what specifically does your company do to help your customers?  Second, start the conversation in your business and make sure everyone fully understands what the business of your business really is, helping people ____.  Third, become the supporter of your customer experience team; provide influence in whatever way you can to help them get the voice of customers into the C-Suite. Finally, make the voice of the customer part of every meeting you plan.  Make the customers’ voice the most important voice in the room.  Don’t make any decision without asking how it will impact customers.

Take a lesson from the guys at Ripple and get business back to the fundamental reason for existing – helping people.

Getting Your Business Aligned to the Real Business of Business.

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A key to success in business or almost any organizational endeavor is alignment, and by alignment I mean everyone on the team being tuned to one objective, a common goal.  In sports, it is typically winning, and more specifically winning a championship.  I can’t imagine any sports team that wouldn’t list that as their ultimate objective.  Imagine, though, being the fan of a team whose stated objective is to make as much money as they can off of their fans whether they win or not, would you want to root for them?  Well, in the business world, there are innumerable companies who essentially do just that and I believe they are missing the boat entirely.

In business, like sports, I believe there is really only one ultimate objective, but many, many businesses, unlike sports teams, seem to have lost the plot somewhere.  What is this plot you ask?  Well, think about it, why does a business exist in the first place?  There’s only one real reason, to help people (customers) achieve something.  If you’re a customer and you go to any business, you go there for help, whether that help is convenience, or because you don’t know how to do something, or you just want someone else to do something you don’t want to do, or….the list goes on, but I think you see my point.  Business is in the business of helping, or serving, people and that means a “win” in business is whether you helped customers achieve their goals or not.  However, how many businesses do you know of who don’t even register that as their mission?

Take Spirit Airlines for example.  Their mission is clear; here is the first sentence – the rest of the paragraph continues in like vein.

Spirit Airlines is committed to offering the lowest total price to the places we fly, on average much lower than other airlines. 

But buyers beware.  With this mission as their prime objective, helping customers is not a goal in the least, in fact, customers are only a pawn in a nefarious scheme of self-interest.

In commitment to their objective of low price, Spirit has dedicated a lot of effort to confusing customers with a barrage of separate fees. Spirit has mastered the art of marketing what appear to be low prices and then, in sneaky ways, obtaining additional money. Their business model depends on customers getting hit blindly before they can really do anything about it.   For example, the airline boasts about its low fares and charges $45 to check your bag at check-in, which is about $5 less than everybody else except for Southwest who don’t charge at all.   However, if you are unaware and don’t check the bag, a carry-on mind you, when you get your ticket, it costs a mandatory $100 at the gate.  Sneaky, huh?  I got hit with this the one, only, and last time I traveled on Spirit.  Oh, and if you want to complain, Spirit will charge you to call customer service too.

As surprising as these practices may seem to you, how many businesses have you experienced who, while maybe not as boldly self-motivated as Spirit seems to be, make it clear that helping customers is really the furthest thing from their ultimate mission?

Hopefully, your business is not in this boat, but if it is, it is time for an about face.  It is time to put the customer at the center as your ultimate objective.  It is time to make it clear that the only reason for business is to help others, your customers, and to do that, every employee from top to bottom has to understand how they contribute to that objective.

Start by posing and answering these questions.

  • What specifically do customers come to your business for help with?
  • How do you contribute to your business doing that? What is your role in ensuring customers get the help they need?
  • If you’re not customer facing, how can you be more helpful to those around you, all in the ultimate goal of helping customers achieve their goals?

Once you have some answers for yourself, begin the dialog around these things in your workplace.  If you’re a manager, ask these things of your team members.  Try to get them aligned to the goal of helping customers achieve.  From there, talk to others in the organization and get the buzz going everywhere.  Don’t settle for being a nefarious, self-centered organization, go out there and make your organization a game changer, one where a win is a win for customers because customers aren’t auxiliary entities, they’re really the most vital members of your team and making them successful will make you and your business successful.


Embrace the Unnecessary

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One could say that art is, from a survival perspective, unnecessary.  I mean, if you are stuck on a mountain in a blizzard with little food or shelter, you’re probably not thinking about art, yet art is what gives life most of its spice, its wonder, and its inspiration.  In the business world, there is little talk of art, it’s typically all about tasks and results; however, when dealing with humans, art is what creates the beauty. Thus, the unnecessary is what makes one business transaction or interaction stand out from another; it’s what makes one experience magic versus another that is a bore.

Unnecessary actions, like art, are beautiful because they catch us off guard. They create something out of nothing because they didn’t have to be done at all; they just get done because someone wants to do them.  Creating the beautiful, even business beautiful, means rising above what is merely necessary and doing unnecessary things too.

When I was in college, I spent a summer in Germany on an international summer-school trip.  This was during the Cold War and we went to the East German border to get a taste of the “other side” and see the big fences and guard towers.  It was sobering.

As I surveyed the landscape, I could see off in the distance some buildings of an East German town and they were almost all the same and very drab, just big-box apartments or offices with little or no character.  When I turned around to the west, I could see a very different look.  The buildings had distinctions that made them different; some were even artistic with beautiful curves, interesting glass, etc.  What struck me here was that the East German buildings were strictly utilitarian, strictly purposeful with no touches to make them pleasing or remarkable, whereas the West German buildings made an attempt at beauty and uniqueness, they weren’t just a means to an end they were an end unto themselves.

I am sure those East German buildings were perfectly functional and served their purpose of shelter but the West German building did more, they were for shelter I’m sure but they also added to the landscape, they inspired something emotional in the onlooker, all for no other reason than that the architect wanted to create something more than utility.

How does this relate to the workplace or the customer experience or business in general?  How many times have you experienced the unnecessary in the workplace or as a customer?  How about that birthday card on your desk from a co-worker or maybe your boss?  Not necessary but how did it make you feel?  Think of those customer experiences where something magical took place that had nothing to do with why you came to that store or restaurant?  What do you remember, the beautiful unnecessary or the functional necessary?

We have opportunities every day to make art and deliver the unnecessary.  We have the opportunity to inspire with the beautiful while still providing the functional.  Don’t let the relentless pursuit of the uninspiring necessary get in the way of the wonderful unnecessary.  Embrace the power of the unnecessary. Do something today that moves a coworker or a customer, that inspires them to be more, think more, see more, or simply smile more.  The necessary is necessary to function but the unnecessary is necessary to life.