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Customer Obsession: Looking for elephants and we found goldfish

Time to read: Five minutes to gain a different perspective

My family and I recently embarked upon a tour of the Indian sub-continent—a continent that I am reasonably familiar with through my back-packing days and business trips. Over 20 years on from my youthful adventures, and with over two decades of life-learning behind me, I set out upon a journey of discovery with my family.

A journey that would hopefully expose our young children (both under the age of 10) to a different world and the opportunity to embrace new experiences and reinforce value based learning. The overall objective of the tour was centred on some simple pillars:

# Recharge as a family;

# Learn along the way through experiences; and moreover,

# Have fun.

We jointly agreed upon the itinerary and planned for a maximum amount of flexibility. When combining children and travel, one thing is for certain—one must be flexible and expect the unexpected (this is also true of business, of course!).

Each member of the family was looking forward to a different part of the tour. Not surprisingly, our expectations of the experiences that lay before us were varied. The tour would introduce us to mega cities, villages and parks, as well as expose us to unfamiliar sights, scents, customs and flora.

// Expectations Are Funny Things

Expectations are difficult to truly meet. They are macro belief systems—a belief that something will happen in a certain way. Expectations change with time and may be subject to constant revision based upon a multitude of factors. Though the objectives of our tour were noble, my wife and I had a number of broad and preconceived expectations of how our children would react and what they would learn. As we discovered through the course of our journey, our expectations and those of our children’s, differed. 

Whether in a social or professional setting, expectation management and the experience factor are of paramount importance. Having spent my career understanding and managing stakeholder expectations to ensure that outcomes and experiences align with expectations and fully underpin objectives; I am acutely aware that sub-optimal experiences have a negative amplification impact and are typically difficult positions from which to recover.

We operate in an age of hyper-personalisation, digital journeys, customer experience, touch-points, met and unmet needs. All are hugely relevant and valid; however, a failure to truly understand stakeholders, anticipate their expectations, and deliver the experience factor across stakeholder groups can often lead to sub-optimal outcomes. This was definitely the case with my family when we set about looking for elephants.

// We Were Looking For Elephants and Found Goldfish

“The farther one travels, the less one knows.” – The Beatles, The Inner Light (1968)

As part of the tour, we were collectively thrilled at the prospect of observing elephants—natures’ land giants. The children were super excited at the thought of seeing baby elephants playing in the mud and clowning around. After a short journey we came upon a clearing. There they were: a family of elephants! Majestic in their appearance, the pachyderm family was busy eating and completely indifferent to our presence (which is a good thing, by the way).

We observed the family until they eventually moved on, disappearing from view. Our children were enthused and disappointed in equal measure. The calf was not playing in the mud or being a nuisance, as expected. The calf was simply grazing. My wife and I, however, were overjoyed at the experience. 

We drove on, stopping at a lodge for some refreshments. As my wife and I settled in, we could hear jubilant cries of, 

“fish! Nemo! fish!” from the corner of the room.

Much to the delight of our children, there were three goldfish swimming around a water feature in a large tank. We did not expect to see goldfish. We also did not expect goldfish to engender such a positive and joyful reaction. 

We spent a few hours at the lodge (more than expected), and in that time we named all three fish: George, Liam and Harry–after the members of the Beatles and One Direction. Refuelled and recharged we departed to continue our adventure. As we drove, I reflected upon the fact that though we went looking for elephants, it was the goldfish that generated the greatest reaction. 

We all see the world differently, don’t we? This applies to stakeholders as much as it does to family members.

// Same Journey, Different Experience

We all took something different away from our journey. Each of us responded to the environment and experience based upon a multitude of factors. Such insight can be applied professionally when developing products and services.

Customer experience and satisfaction are impacted by the expectations and personal experiences that the customer has with a product or service. In my family’s case, the elephants, whilst majestic, were actually inaccessible, distant and behaving in a manner that was not in accordance with the envisaged explicit expectations of our children. The goldfish, on the other hand, were the children’s 'Goldilocks'—they were just right in that they were both accessible and situationally perfect. One could state that the fish met a wider range of expectation drivers (e.g., explicit, implicit, situational and interpersonal). Upon reflection, my wife and I unintentionally fell into a common trap of assuming that a shared journey will result in a shared experience and reaction. 

In my professional career, I have on occasion needed to reset and remediate transformation programmes that have either failed to fulfill basic expectations at the outset or overtime. In the majority of the cases, there was an absence of the why, strategic coherence, insights, real thought and a creditable view expectations measurement, whether customer, colleague and or commercial. Through experience, I find it is of paramount importance to reset one’s mind-set constantly, and in particular, when embarking upon Transformations. Our journey was no different.

// My Takeaways

Reflecting upon our tour, I took away the following leanings:

# Expect the unexpected. No matter how well you think you know your stakeholders, obtaining continual insights and challenging preconceived notions is of paramount importance.

# Ensure that the product and service connection is timely, accessible, authentic and can be measured.

# The same journey will not engender identical experiences, therefore spend time to truly tailor experiences to all different stakeholder groups, and segments, and fully consider the differing expectation drivers, (e.g., explicit, implicit, situational and interpersonal).

# Keep journeys simple. Build upon the journeys based upon proof points over time.

# And an “elephant” experience makes it easy to fall into the trap of thinking that all customer experiences and goals are the same. This is not the case.

Have you had any “goldfish” moments that have surprised you?

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