Experience Culture and Mindset

You can’t maintain the same formation and expect to perform.  Imagine a soccer team defending a free kick.

If they maintain the same formation for every free kick and don’t adapt spontaneously to the situation unfolding on the field they are bound to concede.

Likewise a company offering the same services and responding in the same way to a continually changing environment will concede market share.  Organisations need to have a culture of spontaneity and adjust as they see fit.  Most organisations’ ways of working are set in stone.  They won’t/can’t adjust to respond to new environments in order to make new offers.  This is insane.  Organisations can no longer rely on routinely fulfilling a set number of requests with a small number of stock responses read off a crib sheet.

Good companies that provide great service have recognised that there’s been a shift from passive consumption to active participation.  Companies know they can no longer treat people as passive consumers.  So where does this culture of spontaneity come from? Let’s look at two companies renowned for excellent customer service, Zappos, and Four Seasons.

Zappos is a shoe company that place its confidence in Autonomy over Technique.  Zappos doesn’t monitor its customer service employees’ call times or require them to use scripts.  The reps handle calls the way they want to.  Their job is to serve the customer, and how they do that is up to them.  The turnover at Zappos is minimal and although it’s still a young company Zappos consistently ranks as one of the best companies for customer service in the US ahead of better known names like Cadillac, BMW, and Apple, and roughly equal to brands like Jaguar and Ritz Carlton.  What Zappos is doing is part of a small but growing move to restore some measure of individual freedom in jobs usually known for the lack of it. This leads to a culture of spontaneity.

Four Seasons Hotels are famous for their quality of service as much as for the luxury of their properties.  They are also recognised within the industry for having a staff-training system in which staff members learn how to anticipate the needs of their customers and build on the ideas of their colleagues.  Creating an experience culture requires going beyond the generic to design experiences perceived as uniquely tailored to each customer.  Unlike a manufactured product or a standardised service, an experience comes to life when it feels personalised and customised.  The designers in head office set the stage for the experience, but they cannot anticipate every opportunity.  This is why the training programme at Four Seasons includes improvisation rather than drilling the staff with prepared scripts.  A real experience culture is a culture of spontaneity.

The big lesson here is that whether you (the CEO or Marketing Director) like it or not the “best experiences are not scripted at corporate HQ but delivered on the spot by front line service providers.”


Many of these frontline service providers are Generation Y, a group who have “high expectations of their employers, seek out new challenges, are not afraid to question authority, value teamwork, seek the affirmation of others, crave attention and want to be included and involved.”  Softly, softly educative and inclusive methods work much better with Generation Y employees than the traditional “this is the way that things are done around here” training and coaching method.

Carol Dweck is a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University.  Over a number of decades Professor Dweck’s research has led her to the following conclusion: “It’s not our abilities and talent that bring us success, but whether we approach our goals with a fixed or growth mind-set.”  People with a fixed mind-set believe that “either you have it or you don’t.”  In this mind-set having to work hard is a sign of weakness.  Their goal is to prove that they’re smart and not to lose face, which leads to an unwillingness to experiment and take risks.

People with a growth mind-set hold the view that ability is malleable, and that real success comes from working hard and experimenting.  If they hit a bump in the road they are not discouraged but view it as a learning experience and move on.  It’s similar to building physical strength.  If you want to get stronger you have to pump iron, whereas those with a fixed mind-set view it more in terms of height.  If you want to get taller, well you’re out of luck.

If you believe that intelligence is a fixed quantity then every challenging situation will be a chance to prove how good you are, or a chance to lose face.  If you believe that intelligence can be developed, then every challenging situation will be a chance to grow and find new ways of solving problems.

It goes without saying that the fixed mind-set is prevalent in most organisations today but it seems that the growth mind-set is the one required in order to come up with new and innovative ways of delivering service experiences.


Most organisations’ measurement systems and KPIs are set up to favour those with a fixed mind-set.  Your local call centre will more than likely have a number of big plasma screens scattered about prattling on about productivity measures such as “Average Call Handling Time” or “Average Call Waiting Time.”  These may be important in terms of dealing with volume but they are not in any way indicative of whether or not customer assistants are dealing with their callers’ real concerns.  In fact the drive to “get the caller off the line “in order to deal with the next call within the time allocated may lead to behaviour which is not in a customer’s interest.  Zappos realised this when they decided to allow their employees to deal with calls as they saw fit.   According to Carol Dweck “people [with fixed mind-sets] … choose easy targets that, when hit, affirm their existing abilities but do little to expand them … it’s a system that requires a diet of easy successes”

Performance goals serve to focus the mind.  This is fine when dealing with routine situations but leads to dull and uninspiring solutions for more complex problems.

 “For complex or conceptual tasks, offering a reward can blinker the wide-ranging thinking necessary to come up with an innovative solution.”

–          Daniel Pink (Drive)

One of the biggest problems with corporate metrics is that because of the extrinsic, usually monetary, rewards on offer people will do what they have to in order to hit their targets.  This often leads to people gaming the system (it’s easy to update a CRM to make it look as though you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing) and indulging in unethical behaviour to hit their targets.  How many corporate executives manipulate quarterly earnings so that they can net themselves a quarterly bonus?  This is fixed thinking aimed at hitting a short term goal at the expense of a growth approach that is more focused on the long term welfare of the organisation.  It goes without saying that a lot if not all of the financial devastation wrought by bankers globally is due to a fixed short term focus aimed at hitting ridiculous targets that net a juicy bonus.

The task then is to reset goals and metrics that promote a mind-set focused on coming up with the most innovative solution that adequately addresses a customer’s needs.


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