Colin O'Neill
Colin O'NeillVice President of Experience Design

Posted on: November 5, 2014

In: Strategy


As some of the Delight Conference attendees experienced, airlines continue to focus on maximizing revenue rather than delivering a great customer experience. Most airlines today choose to scale back service and pack planes so tightly that using the traditional four inches of seat reclining space has become a battle between customers for personal space. If we’re seeing an arms race brewing over how two adults come to an agreement over how to share four inches of space, it’s clear that for many organizations, customer experience is all marketing and not part of the business strategy.

Delight isn’t marketing. It’s not frosting or sprinkles. It’s part of a business strategy rooted in a commitment to putting the needs of customers first.

And that’s not easy. It requires dedicated investment, discipline and an organization-wide focus on quality.

Seth Godin calls this these types of organizations Servant companies. But for airlines, cable providers, and other large enterprises, it can be an unnatural state. The motivations and incentives at large organizations are rarely aligned in the right way to deliver on this strategy. That’s why so much disruption is coming through digital start-ups. They may be competing in the same space, but they are playing a different game with different rules and incentives that get them closer to creating new value for the customer.

Power in positive deviance

Even within large organizations there is room to make progress. In Dave Gray’s keynote at the Delight Conference, he mentioned the concept of positive deviance. The idea is that the people on the ground have the best chance of solving problems if they choose to look at their capabilities in the right way. One of the principles of positive deviance is that it’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than thinking your way into a new way of acting. It’s not about breaking the rules, but defying the expected application of those rules through simple, everyday actions.

When individuals at large companies get to do this, something really interesting happens. Rather than an exhausting race toward bottom-line growth at any cost, companies can identify, understand, and conserve the resources that create energy across their organization and in their customers.

In our over-scheduled time, that energy can be a business’s most valuable resource. It’s how a Zappos customer service associate can stay on the line for 10 hours. And maybe that’s why the few large organizations that understand how to do this end up not just beating their competition, but as Watermark’s 2014 CX ROIstudy shows, they beat the market. For USAA, it helped them become a $20 Billion company in 2011 while other banks teetered on the edge of collapse.

An organization that is aligned around creating new areas of value for its customers is charged with a sense of purpose and pride. Employees are engaged and can work with their heads and hearts, not just their hands. That’s the ultimate value of focusing on understanding and serving your customer today, and it’s how your organization can grow into serving unmet and unknown needs, too.

Sorry, it’s you

Delight is unique to each company and its relationship with its customers. And getting there through positive deviance means each employee needs a clear understanding of the organization’s values.

So whose job is this? The pat answer is that it’s everyone’s, and while that’s true, it’s not helpful. The harder, better answer is: it’s you. If you’re reading this, if you’ve attended Delight or similar conferences, or if you just get inspired by understanding what other people in your organization do everyday, you’re probably one of the people who can get the train rolling.

The overlap between what the customer needs and the business wants should be the territory your organization wants you to explore. Take a few steps around this space and see who’ll join you in small acts of positive deviance. You just might be able to make a meaningful shift in your organization.

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