In any industry or business, both your company’s image and customer’s experience are critical factors to being successful. How your employees serve customers can either make or break your business. The owner of Strategic Horizons LLP and co-author of The Experience Economy, James Gilmore talks the different ways experience can be seen and applied in business. He explains the effects of refining your customers experience with real life examples and how simple it can be, going deep into where excellent customer service and experience all begins. In this episode, learn how you can improve your employee’s behavior and keep your customers and business refreshed.
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The Experience Economy With James Gilmore
Our guest is Jim Gilmore. He wrote the book on customer experience. He and his co-author Joseph Pine changed the game twenty years ago when they first wrote The Experience Economy. In December 2019, they released a new edition after working with hundreds of companies over the past two decades. His philosophies have inspired me and our team and millions more. Jim, I am thrilled to welcome you to the show.
Thanks for having me.
We were able to chat a couple of months ago and many similar ties that we have in looking at business as theater and every business as a stage. I didn’t get much your background on how did you get into this mindset? Few people, especially many years ago, were thinking about work as a theater and a show business.
I’ll do a brief resume to get you to the point. I began my career with Procter & Gamble in all things that would now be called logistics. I, for six years, went into consulting. I was contacted by a small boutique supply chain consultancy called Cleveland Consulting Associates. They were acquired by CSC Consulting. I became head of the Process Innovation Practice. It’s not an innovation in physical things. I’d never had small motor skills or capabilities in that regard, but more on how can you be innovative about how work is done. In the process of doing that, I came across the term mass customization and started using that term.
One day I was at Barnes & Noble bookstore, I’ll never forget, in Mayfield Road in Mayfield Heights, there’s this book called Mass Customization, written by B. Joseph Pine II. I wrote him a quick three-sentence letter. I enclosed my first ever speakers’ demo tape, which was on-air in the shoeshine man and what every business can learn from one man’s shoeshine stand. Joe called me one day and we got together. We hit it off. I retained him to work for my practice. Eventually, our collaboration was going well. We decided to start our firm. The Experience Economy grew out of Mass Customization before years is fond of saying, “If you customize a good, you automatically turn that good into a service.”
Dell computers, before they lost their way anyway, would not make computers in place of an inventory and wait for somebody to buy it at CompUSA. Instead, they would only make computers in response to actual orders. They were a computer-making service. We advocated customizing service in one day and an executive education session, fielded the question, what happens if you customize a service? To which Joe responded to this like, “We turn it into an experience.” He called me and said, “Guess what I said to them?” The big idea is the notion of experiences are a distinct form of economic output. What do I mean for that?
The idea is that business does not just charge for a physical good. Savannah Bananas’ t-shirt or a pack of baseball cards, not just charged for the service, the food concessions making hamburgers and fries for you. We also charge for the experience to enter and spend time in a place or event. We thought of Disney and theme parks and movies, but once we got this idea that you stage an experience, that the time that people spend is different than the activities that the business performs. That was a big idea. That’s how it originated.
It’s fascinating because as we’ve seen in working with companies, every company is in the experience business. Every company I believe is in the entertainment business. The shoeshiner and you referenced it a little bit in The Experience Economy, but you never had a whole book on it. You’ve got to share the story of the shoeshiner because I’m fascinated by how it all came about what he was doing.
You’re a careful reader of the book because he’s mentioned in the short passage. Aaron Davis is a former heavyweight boxer. For years I was flying from Cleveland to Kalamazoo doing work with Whirlpool Corporation and Kellogg’s in the Benton Harbor and Battle Creek by way of Kalamazoo. Every week, I fly on Monday and come back on Friday. Every week I was coming back to the airport. There’s a shoeshine stand. I got to know Aaron and get our shoeshine every week. One week we were running late. There’s a late departure from the client. We ran by him and said, “We have no time here. We’ve got to catch our flight.” We zoom by, go through some security, and catch a flight home.Service is what you do. Experience is how you do it. Click To Tweet
The next week, I’m getting a shoeshine from Aaron again. Peering around the corner was this young man. He’s maybe college-age and he’s looking over. Aaron was like, “Can I help you?” He’s like, “How much for the shine?” Aaron says, “$3.” I would always tip Aaron $2 and get $5 out of it. It’s a different price point back then. I can see this kid is playing it over like, “Should I do it, should I not do it?” I leaned forward and said, “Young man, it’s the best $3 you’ll ever spend.” He hangs around. I get down and he gets up. I reached to my wallet to pay Aaron. He puts his hand out and he goes, “This one’s on me.” I had sold his next customer. Therefore “This one is on me.” It’s almost like a pay it forward thing.
The notion is he was good at everything he did. You tell them, “I didn’t tip my project team.” I tell everybody, “You got to get your shoeshine with Aaron.” He read Zig Ziglar and he had business wisdom. Interestingly shoeshine is ancient foot washing. Every executive and every company that goes to that airport knows Aaron as a shoeshiner. He’s a hub of intelligence. I would ask him, “Who’s the last person to pull up your socks?” At the end of the shoeshine, he would pull up your socks intimately. When you’ve got a loose thread on a stitch, out came this BIC lighter and he’d burn it off. The repertoire of these different bits and routines he would do. It wasn’t just the service of getting your shoe shine, the time with him was unlike the experience I’ve had with any other shoeshine stand.
You described him as a showman in the book, bringing the fire out.
The snap of the cloth, the BICs coming out of his pocket as quickly and it’s over, stamps the cloth, the way he taps your shoes. You’ll have a way about him that he knew. We write in the book that anytime you perform work before the eyes of someone else, you’re on stage. It’s a theater. Whether you recognize it or not, whether you do anything about it, if people watch you work, it’s an act of theater. He had an awareness of it. He wasn’t just watching the shoes, but other people were watching him shine the shoes. The experience was marketing. Seeing the way you went about it was eye candy. You go check it out. It’s wonderful and more than a metaphor, an example of understanding that the experience is a natural extension of service. The service is the shoeshine and all the things that Aaron does, but the experience is the time that people spent with Aaron. Your readers, the experience is not yours. The experience is your customer’s time. You may do various activities and you may have a sense of showmanship, but recognize that their time is different than your activity and what they value is their time.
It’s good, Jim, because you’re talking about it’s all theater and performance. We look at turning every work in your performance in our games. It’s intentional why we have our players go into the crowd and do the conga line or why they all deliver roses to little girls or when I’m in there throwing bananas in people’s pants. We know it’s not for the people that are in the act or the people that are getting the flowers. It’s everyone else watching and seeing like, “These guys care much about the experience and they feel a part of it.” That’s such a great point. When you’re putting on a performance and you’re taking care of one person, it’s being aware that you’re not just impacting that one person.
What it demonstrates is you have awareness. I often tell people to do five things that you’re aware of how you’re doing it. Service is what you do. The experience is how you do it. How do you do the conga line, give out a hot dog? It’s how do you do the Bananas. Bananas are what I am now. It demonstrates not just going through the motion. I like to point people to the scene in Walk The Line. Joaquin Phoenix was playing Johnny Cash, where he finally gets time in the studio and he sings a little gospel. Sam Phillips cuts some off the studio. He says, “Enough.” He goes, “You didn’t bring it home.” He’s like, “Johnny Cash, what do you mean I didn’t bring it home?” “It’s the same old song I’ve heard 100 times before, just like how you say it.” Doing the same old thing over and over again is refreshing than you doing things differently in someplace else. It creates the desire to tell the thing to other people about it, “You need to go see the Bananas.”
I love the examples you give a lot in the book. You’re turning this work into a performance. You talk about Pike’s Fish Market, which I talked about in my book and they are making their performance, even tossing pizza dough at a pizza restaurant. What are the other examples? Many people have those frontline employees. What are those things that you’ve seen where companies can turn it into a little bit of a performance where it’s not the same old same old?
It is a theater. Often, it’s not done consciously and well. I don’t even know if you needed even to tell employees it’s performance or theater. Sometimes I’ll find some people off. You’re very much a public mass event. There are other situations like a bank teller or a convenience store person where you don’t necessarily have to be as flamboyant about it. Sometimes I say, “Don’t focus on what you do. Here’s how you do it.” How do you greet people if you’re a store retail sales associate? “Can I help you?” The automatic response is, “No, I’m just looking.” It happened over and over again. Think about your first line. How do you greet people?
I remember a concession stand at a Cedar Lee Theater. They do the artsy movies here in Cleveland, Ohio, where I live. The person in the refreshment stand had a big sign read, “Refreshments.” I liked the place because they serve beer at the cinema. At one time, he spun around me and his opening line was, “Who’s next to be refreshed?” That’s refreshment. It’s his little shtick because he had an employer that didn’t say, “Here’s the one thing you say all the time.” He gave him some license to say different things. Other examples, it starts with even bringing employees onboard. I say, “Don’t interview people. That’s a conversation about past performance. Rather, could you audition for people? Could you give them some activity to perform this much more insightful about how they behave?”
On a large scale, MGM Grand out in Vegas auditioned all their workers, cocktail waitresses, bell staff, etc. They bring them in 30 at a time, 3 groups of 10. Within each group of ten, they’re paired up in twos and they say, “First, we’re going to teach you a dance move.” They put on the boombox. They then say, “Either of you get one person and we want you to introduce each other.” They introduced and these are 2×2. They could care less how well you introduce the other person because they’re hiring people for non-speaking roles. What they care about is, were you listening to all the other introductions?
Were you enthusiastic or hesitant to make the dance move? They’ve identified particular behaviors. That’s auditioning. I like to call it a uniform. It’s a costume. We recognize that what people wear is not only seen by customers. People wear influences how they behave. Robert Stephens says, “It’s not the gimmick.” It’s our costuming and winks toward law enforcement, but it’s a serious business. We’re fixing computers. When you output and put that Geek Squad, white shirt, black shoes, black clip-on tie, you’re getting into your role.
I think about our ticket takers. All of our ticket takers are in banana costumes and right when the gates are open, they all go peel up. All of a sudden, they pull their peel up over their head and that means for them it’s showtime. It gets soaked in the element.
That’s a line within themselves. There are all kinds of team-building exercises like short little improv things that can make the group be an ensemble. In the book, we use the words of it. You don’t necessarily have to use those same words. The key is, do you have some exercise for your team to do ahead of time? Something that gets them to be a group to have some sense of cohesion, not just, “Go to your stations.”
Let’s dive into that. We have an improv background and we’ve started thinking about this. We have pep rallies before our games, where we get everyone together. It’s not necessarily these exercises. I’d love to know, are there certain exercises? The MGM one is a great example, but that’s more in the hiring. Are there any other exercises?
Here’s an everyday thing. I’ve got a client that is in meeting management business. They run large conferences or Salesforce meetings. They’ll take care of everything. They’ll send a team to handle all the hotel registrations, the transportation, the room drops and registration, all these things. The team goes in. I told them about this simple improv technique. Peter Brook wrote a book called The Empty Space. Here’s the number one improv technique he thinks everybody should do first. Get your small group together, 4 to 6 people. Go around in a circle and say the line, “To be or not to be,” one word at a time in a circle. You say, “To,” I say “Be,” the next person, “Or.” It makes you go around and makes you listen and then they try to go faster and faster. You then bring an intention say, “To be or not to be, to express rage in the universe.” Now you will say the line differently. The key is going around in a circle and saying some sentences one word at a time. That’s enough. You can do that for 3 or 4 minutes. That alone creates a sense of an ensemble of a team versus, “Go to your station.” I suggested this to my client and before the conference begins, they do that.
I bet you it feels cheesy at first, but when people start owning it, what it does is it creates laughter. Laughter as I’ve seen with a lot of improvs, we did a little of this before we had our pilgrim game. Where we had our fans play a whole pilgrim game on Thanksgiving, it’s a whole other story. They were doing it. Everyone felt uncomfortable in the beginning and then they started laughing. When you get laughing, then you start getting into it. I’m sure a lot of these exercises, people on the outside maybe go, “Should we do this?” Once you get doing it, you get more comfortable.
Recognize work is theater. There’s a difference between theater and being theatrical. Some theaters weren’t there. Some of them can be serious, how a bellman takes their luggage to the store. How you read people when they get to the counter. How you do certain things matter. I read an article in the Wall Street Journal to talk about how bad impressions count much more than good impressions. It taints the entire interaction the rest of the way. Did you get to think about how you are starting this thing? What are the first things you say? Is it one thing all the time or a variety of things? Are you observing behaviors and responding to the behavior? In your business, people wear things coming in. Are they wearing yellow or not? You can come and what are people’s attire?
That’s the easy one, if they’re wearing gear, ready to go, have tattoos going, whatever it is.What you wear is not only seen by customers. What you wear influences the way you behave. Click To Tweet
Get the banter going. There are different ways but get the bigger pictures. Be aware of how the experience is beginning. How are you welcoming people? I usually pick on hospitals. They welcome people by having a waiting room. It was awful. You have to wait as step one. What? It should be a welcoming experience for some health thing in your life. You got it like, “Here’s a clipboard, fill out the information and wait.”
It’s a bad first impression. You call it setting the stage a lot. Talking about language, the Rainforest Cafe, “Your adventure is about to begin.” I love that. I know Moe’s Cafe is known for, “Welcome to Moe’s.” They’re saying, “Welcome to your establishment,” but it’s the way they say it. What other openings have you seen or heard that’s unique and maybe carry on? It gets contagious.
There’s a little opening as well. We have a mutual friend, John DiJulius, who tells the story about JoAnn Fabrics. It’s a craft store. People walk in and they aren’t familiar. Instead of saying, “Can I help you?” They say, “What are you working on? What’s your project?” Everybody who shows up has got a project and they want to talk. “Can I help you?” “No, I’m just looking.” “What are you working on? What’s your project?” They’re going to tell you. Apple Store does a good job as well, “Why’d you come in?” It strikes up some conversations. It’s not just what you say. It’s what you do. I know Chick-fil-A, who I work with. They have certain categories of people that when they see coming in like people with wheelchairs, moms with young children, the elderly. Any employee is free to go open that door and have your way to help them. It’s not so much what you say, in that case, it’s what you do. Somebody needs assistance. Do you get up and help them? Marianna has a thing they call 60, 30, 10 that you try to make eye contact at 60 feet. If the person resists, you try to make eye contact at 30 feet. If they resist, try to make eye contact at 10 feet. If they resist, you don’t say anything. They don’t want to talk to you. That’s a welcoming thing. That’s a particular technique. You don’t necessarily call it theater but you can tell workers, “Here’s something that might work for you.” I told retailers, “Had any people have green eyes today?”
It’s obvious and John DiJulius is a good friend of ours. We both had been in his conference. He talks about beating the greet. Can you be the first one to greet them instead of wait to be greeted? Many people don’t even get to, “Can I help you?” Someone’s already trying to get help. There’s so much here and it can be daunting to a lot. We’ve been in it for a while and constantly trying to get better and learn every day. Where do you start with companies? If you’re working with a company and you get with them, what’s the starting point? Where can they make this happen?
This is not just working as a theater, but we also talked about the theme in the book. We have our four realms of an engaging experience. A good place to start is with your employees. Before you do something with customer-facing where more is on the line, you got to get it right. I do go to my theme methodology, which is a 1 or 2-day workshop. I followed up with clients who I said, “What are you applying this to?” They don’t do the whole business to a place within the place. They go, “We decided to do the break rooms for employees.” A lot of times, the back of the house is crummy space.
Do you mean they theme them out?
Yeah, they theme it. It doesn’t have to be over the top. Let’s have an organizing principle for the lunchroom, for the break room, interview employees. What would they want in here? You make a better experience for your employees. Not only will they in turn, probably have better interactions with customers, but you can practice different techniques that you do with customers. Practice your internal operations is a laboratory. It’s a dress rehearsal to learn things you might do elsewhere. I also encourage people, don’t pick non-critical things first. Take some part of the business, someplace inside the place, some process, something seemingly mundane, it doesn’t matter. It probably doesn’t matter. You make something like that distinctive. I’ve got a couple of clients that themed they’re parking lots like, “What?”
Yeah, retail stores. They’ve got phrases on the lines. They’ve got signs up for this spot’s reserved for them. It’s got a little bit of humor, as you say. Apply some of the principles that are in The Experience Economy to your parking lot or people’s parking lot. It’s a low cost, low risk, those things. I’m about learning tools. Learn the tool first, equip your employees with different tools, 60, 30, 10 or different theme methodologies. That’s more powerful and the employees will identify the areas of your business. In that way, you get buy-in, “From on high, this is how we’re going to do things.” Anytime you can get participation in developing a better experience with your employees, you’re better off.
Turn the mundane to memorable. Turn the required to remarkable. Turn the boring to fun. We have all these sayings and you can look at all those elements.
I like talking about neglected spaces. I teach a design innovation course. The area under the sink in a home is a neglected space, elevators in hotels and space. We haven’t thought intentionally about how can we turn this place? Conrad Hilton, the Founder of Hilton, talked about that every square inch of the hotel should be revenue-generating. It should be thought about intentionally about what happens here. That’s a good aspiration.
You can always continue to evolve on those. For instance, we call and thank our fans who buy tickets or when they buy merchandise. We had an intern and I go, “What ideas would you have?” He’s like, “I love the thank you call but could we make it more fun?” I go, “What do you mean?” He goes, “What if we do a rap? Could we do a rap?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Okay, cool.” I go, “By the end of the day, you’ll do a rap.” He goes, “What?” I go, “It’s your idea. Do you like it?” He said, “Yeah.” By the end of the day, he’s planning to do a rap, call a few fans and rap it. It doesn’t have to be unbelievable rap but it’s a different way. It’s taking a thank-you call and turning a different way. It’s empowering your people to be okay with it. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I’m sure that’s a big thing working with the companies that you do. It’s like, “We don’t need to nail it. Start treating it as theater, fun and different.”
Talking in terms of any new employee reminds me of Joel Barker, who popularized The Business of Paradigms video decades ago. He always used to say, “Get the top ten problems you have no idea how to solve.” Get ten areas you’d like to be a better experience. Give your new employees as if they’re like this routine orientation and training and see what they come up with. They don’t know your rules yet, your paradigms. They’ll come up with something. I love that exercise. You ask them what time in a workshop this thing called, “Ing the thing,” which is thinking in terms of ing words. In English, the words we use for experiences end in ing. The group I was with at the first break, I had gone through the, “Ing the thing,” technique and so forth. The meeting organizer said, “Jim, we forgot to do introductions. I wouldn’t do an introduction now. It’s a little anticlimactic. We’ve already started.” I said, “Leave it to me. Trust me.”
I had five people at every table. I said, “We got this, ‘Ing the thing,’ experientializing anything or time. Let’s ing the introductions.” We’ve done that technique, “Let’s go around the table. I’m going to give you 3 minutes to come up with the name.” One table came up with the cheer. Another table went around one word at a time. Another group introduced to each other in pairs. They came up with the ideas. To your point, there’s no necessarily one way to do any tasks. You’re doing a great thing thanking people. You would ask, “How should we think people on that call?” The how are the performance, the theater, and the experience. What people will remember most is how you do it.
How is everything? I love that. They ing the intros. What does that mean exactly?
We were writing the book and I came across this book by Peter Guttman. He’s now a friend, a world-class photojournalist. I came across his book called Adventures to Imagine: Thrilling Escapes in North America. I opened up the table of contents and every single word ends with ing. Hot air ballooning, race car driving, climbing, spelunking, well kissing, llama trekking, civil war re-enacting, those are all ing words. It dawned on me that in English, it’s the word we use for experiences. We call it the First Principle of Experienced Thinking, which is to think in terms of ing words. It’s not the ticket that’s the thing, it’s ticketing. It’s not baseball, it’s baseballing or throwing or catching. Think about your business and all your activities in ing word. Is it waiting or is it welcoming? What are your sets of ing words? Those collections of ing words will be your experiences like skiing, hiking, and camping. All experiences ended in ing, the gerunds. That’s the first person. If you make wastebaskets, think about wastebasketing. Even throwing garbage or throwing in a trap.
One technique is to think about all the ing words that are already associated with the thing or your business, then make up some new ones. I’ll give you two examples, one already existing, Steinway & Sons piano. The obvious ing word that already exists for a piano is piano-playing. It’s co-existing words, no big deal. It’s not a breakthrough word but a recognition that, “There is a keyword associated with the piano. How can we have a piano playing experience?” During promotional periods, what they’ve done in the past is you buy their high-end piano like a six-figure piano. You’ll get with that piano purchase a piano playing experience. You could have twelve couples come to your home for a piano-playing experience. They send out the invitations. They take care of the valet parking. They do the catering and the welcoming. The person told me that because of the piano-playing experience at his home, which came bundled with buying the piano, two other couples decided to buy a piano. It took the obvious but neglected ing word and made it an experience that grew their business.
For making up new words, I like to use the gumball machines where the gumballs spiral iconically. It’s not just dispensing the gumball, it’s gumball spiraling, watching it go around and around. It’s not about a better delivery service. It’s about a spiraling gumball experience. It’s the technique. One technique for, “Ing the thing,” is identifying the ing words that are already in your vocabulary and your business. Ask yourself which 1 or 2 of them is being neglected that you want to think more intentionally about. Conversely, can you make up new words? I’ll give you an example of making up a new one. You could even maybe apply this in your business for people who buy a full season for example.
I did the, “Ing the thing,” in a workshop for Association Forum of Chicagoland. It’s all the associations in Chicago. They were based in Oak Brook. I got a phone call from some staff person from one organization to say, “Jim, I want to tell you what I do with, ‘Ing the thing.’” I’m like, “Tell me.” She goes, “While I’m in charge of the annual membership campaign, we know all the organizations that haven’t joined for many years. We’ve sent a letter, ‘Will you join? Here are the benefits, bullet points, etc.’ Three people sign up. Obviously, it doesn’t work. I decided to turn a new experience.” She got the executive director to go out and made 100 bobbleheads. She placed them on landmarks in Chicago like Soldier Field, Water Tower Place, and so forth. They did photo shoots of the bobblehead and then she made care and nurturing kit, bobblehead application forms, sent out postcards and photographs to raving fans, to their best members. Instead of giving these away this year, you meet people. She called it Bobblebuzzing. Look at the things you’re doing. Can you turn them into an experience?How you do something is important because that’s what most people will remember you by. Click To Tweet
I immediately start thinking about how we throw out the trash at the ballpark and how we serve. The key and I’m hearing this working with frontline employees and team members. We talked about this briefly before. We have 200 game-day staff members. A lot of companies have a certain amount of part-time. How do you get the buy-in? It can’t be like, “I want you to dance when you do this. I want you to sing when you do this.” How do you get them to feel like it’s your idea and they can own it? Have you any examples of companies that have done that?
Make sure you practice what you preach to make the experience for them. It’s hard to get people to do anything if you do not have a good employee experience. This is the idea of directing. Even though I teach a management course, I liked the word directing more than managing. It’s more of a theater term. A director’s chair is iconic for directing. That’s why it’s called a director’s chair. That’s why it’s designed the way it is. It’s both elevated. It’s authoritative and yet it’s seated, which is conversational. A good director knows when to say, “Do it this way,” and knows when to say, “I don’t think it’s working. How do you think we do this?” With employees, there are times where you say, “Do it this way.” Hopefully, you’ve gained the trust and the right to do that. On other occasions, you said, “This is not working. What are your ideas? How can we do this?” Participate in how things are done. Let’s go back to the opening line, “Here’s your opening line. This is what we want you to say.”
That could work. You could also do, “Let’s come up together with a set of lines we could say. Let’s come up with a new line every day. Try different things. Tell us what works.” Get people to participate in. You’ll know that you have buy-in if they participate. There’s one I call the false consensus. You have a meeting and all the employees nod their heads, “Yes, we’ll do it.” As soon as they get out of the room, they say, “There’s no way I’m doing that.” Get the buy-in early by having them participate. Also, know your employees don’t make them wear something they don’t want to wear. The Geek Squad works because Robert Stephens himself is a geek. He loves computers. He knows that geeks don’t care about what they wear, “Give me the shirt and pants. I want to go. I wear the same thing every day. I love it.” Other jobs, that’s not the thing to do.
It feels uncomfortable for them.
You only turn costuming into the equivalent of Office Space, the movie, of like 100 pieces of flair where it’s forced on people. You’re not wearing up flair. If it’s employee-owned, what does your ensemble want to do? There are times when you say, “Do it this way,” but that’s usually earned by having collaboration with workers on other things.
We did this with our ushertainers. We said, “You guys can come up with whatever you feel is a good fit. We want fun.” We had one that dressed up in a yellow leotard tutu. Another one had big yellow gloves and earmuffs. It was their decision. Maybe a little bit more guidance says, “Your position is fun to do greet and you put that entertaining into it.” They took ownership. Do they have all the same costumes? No, but they own who they wear. It was fun.
That comes back to onboarding and even auditioning, “Tell me about a time you wore some funny clothes.” If you’re looking for the ushertainer, “We want you to wear something,” or go dress this mannequin. Check for willingness there because some people will never do it. Part of that are the talents and the mindset of who you’re hiring. The onboarding process and the experience of how people join your organization can assist because you’re walking into your culture. Probably, there’s a role for traditional training. Chick-fil-A has a wonderful video. It’s up on YouTube called Every Life Has a Story.
They have a camera behind the counter pointed at the front door. Different people walk in and every time a person walks, some texts roll up on the screen, “Have a son in Afghanistan, lost his wife to cancer.” Everybody has a story. It’s simple. It tells people, “We’re not just serving chicken sandwiches. We’re serving people.” You can feel it in a Chick-fil-A versus most fast food. It can be done through traditional means as well. That director’s always important. That first level of, “Management.” Do they know? Do they gain enough rapport to direct? “Time is of the essence. We’re doing it this way” or you have plenty of times, they’re like, “That didn’t work out. Do you have some suggestions on how we do this?”
I think we’re going to get some director chairs. We need to get them out here. That makes sense.
What colors should they be? You can think of yellow. Director’s chair is cheap by the way.
It’s a good prop, we’ll get it. A question I got asked a lot after any speech is, “How do you come up with all your ideas?” I love to know what you’re seeing. How do you advise companies? What are you hearing about how they’re coming up with these ideas? Is there a starting point for it?
A documentary about our book, The Experience Economy, is an observation called Look: A Practical Guide For Improving Your Observational Skills. I’m fine with saying that all ideation begins with observation. Everyday life creates opportunities. Get less eyeball time on the screen. Smartphones are wonderful advice. There are amazing things you can access, but anything you access on that smartphone is derivative, not direct. What is happening in your everyday life? I got this from Edward de Bono, my favorite creativity guru, “Treat everything that occurs in your life as an arising provocation, as stimuli.”
Here’s step one to be more creative. This is all Edward de Bono. I teach on this too. What are your top ten things you want a new idea is about? You got to know what you want the idea about. Step one, and I turned that into my number one rule in creativity. The easiest way to come up with a new idea is to think about something no one has ever thought about before. Simple thing. Everything you come across in life every day is a chance to use or suggest something to me that I could do for my number three thing I want ideas about.
I’m going to tell you about a real-world application. Robert Stephens, Geek Squad Founder. He was on vacation, not working. He woke up in the balcony overlooking the beach. He saw a tractor with a little ruler driving down the beach early in the morning, smoothing it out. He noticed that they have a reversed out image of the Coppertone logo on the rower, so that every ten feet or so, the Coppertone logo would be imprinted in the sand. It’s arising provocation. He’s always looking for new ideas on the costume.
He goes, “I will have my company, Geek Squad, issue some special agent shoes. My agents take about 10,000 feet a day. If they step in snow or mud, they’ll leave the Geek Squad logo on the ground. No one’s talking about what is the bottom of my worker’s shoes looks like.” In my book on observations, my hero Edward de Bono has a tool called six thinking hats. It’s a metaphor for six different ways to think. I’ve got a tool called six looking glasses. It’s six different metaphorical glasses to put on, so you can see things more richly in your everyday life.
You could also be more intentional. Take your team and do what I call a looking excursion. I had a retailer that I said, “Let’s get some ideas about ceilings.” Few stores do ceilings well. In Las Vegas, all we looked at were ceilings because Vegas gets ceilings. We look at innovation. You can do a little excursion and get ideas from other people. I liked to tour SoHo in New York because there are ball boutique stores and see million different ways people have decorated their stores, what thought they use. It’s there every day. De Bono has other techniques like these random words. You need to have stimuli or provocations for your mind against specific things you want idea is about. A lot of companies don’t even know what they want the idea about.
They have no idea what they’re trying to do.
You know what your idea is about. Your ushers, you’re calling them ushertainers. You know what your idea is about in between innings. You know what your idea is about by how you welcome people in the ballpark. Once you have your list of things or your targets, then it’s easier to come up with ideas.All ideation begins with observation. Click To Tweet
The College of Extraordinary Experiences, you mentioned it briefly. I dove in a little bit. It’s an amazing name. You talk about how people become active. I want to switch gears a little bit on The College of Extraordinary Experiences. Can you share a little bit about what they’re doing that’s useful?
People go to websites. I believe that’s a business platform, B2B experiences done in different ways. The theme is it’s not a conference, it’s a college. It’s got more of the educational emphasis. One of the things it prefaces, we rattle off all kinds of examples. There’s the Ice Cream Museum. It’s not a museum. Go Google Meow Wolf down in New Mexico and then also go into California, if I don’t even know what to call it. The other thing is to try to experience the whole genre. I like to tell people to look at what’s happening with rooms like escape rooms, rage rooms where you smash things, salt rooms which are mindfulness things, boardgame rooms. There are all kinds of innovation of people using space differently. In the case of The College of Extraordinary Experiences, they’re saying, “We can have the portfolio of events that we put on. First of all, we’re going to call them extraordinary experiences, so we have to make them so.” The way we put on the show if you will is different than just rounding up usual suspects.
I love the space. That’s a huge takeaway. Look at the spaces as a place to ing something, to add a unique area. One of the big things there is its resources. A lot of challenges that the companies we talked to, it’s like, “What about the resources to put this on?” There are ways to create these amazing experiences without resources.
That’s the human aspect. Number one, an idea is free to start things off. We’ll figure out the environment design and the set. That’s going to happen. That’s why the human side is important, having your workers behave different memorable experiences, that cost you nothing incrementally. Give some training days, maybe some off time, but that does your work differently and makes it memorable. You don’t even have to change the chairs and the seating and the posters or whatever. You got to do the math. If you make investments and things, make sure there’s a return. That’s one of the things we do in the new preface is talk about time is the currency of experience. Start measuring how much time you’re capturing out of people’s days. Are they spending more time with you and are you increasingly charging for that time?
There are many companies that offer great experiences time with them. They don’t charge for it, but they hope that experience helps themselves with the goods and services. When you’re in baseball, when you’re a sporting event, you have an established mechanism for charging time and admission fee with a ticket. Here’s the most provocative question that we asked in the book. What would you do differently if you charge admission? I’m talking about being creative. You will come up with ideas that you would not otherwise come up with. You assume that people spend time for free. Even if you don’t charge, you’ll come up with stuff. You might add more value for the same price. You use that question. You might come up with stuff and say, “We could charge for that.”
“You’re walking in our door right now. If you had to pay a cover charge, what would it be?”
You have to do something worth paying for the customers.
It’s not the product. It’s the experience.
That covered charge to be good off of any merchandise, by the way. Stores like The Sharper Image. They’re all online business. You’d walk in and I love playing with all this stuff. I never bought anything. I pay $5 to get in and it was a good $5 off on any merchandise. I would maybe experiment in one location. You do some other things experientially. These stores are not playing the toys, the games. “Let’s have a contest.” I went to a toy store once. I bought hundreds of dollars’ worth of toys because I was using them at an event. I said to the worker, “I bet this is the most toys you sold this week.” He said, “This is the most toys I sold to one person ever.” That got me thinking. There’s one game that’s, I said, “What’s this about?” He goes, “I’m good at it. Nobody can beat me.” I’m like, “Where’s the, ‘If you can beat Chad, you get the game for free?’” You got to devote some time and some intentionality. I also told them, “Change five things. Don’t do everything. Talk about how you start.” Sometimes you can change something as few as five things. That makes a world of difference.
Would that be a quick win? A quick win to say, “Change five things.” What would be the way where they could say, “This is going to be my quick win. I’m listening to this and I’m going to go back and start the experience.”
I like people coming with their criteria, but I’ll think out loud. How about easy to low-hanging fruit, easy to implement. Things that we think we get buy-in for. Things we’re neglecting. These are all props. Things that we know customers don’t like the way we’re doing it. How about this one? Things that are costly. Maybe we can do them differently to be both a better experience and not do something, that raises money. Maybe the experience can replace something we’re giving everybody that costs us money. Don’t be afraid of the obvious. I liked the neglected. Get a list of the physical things that are in your business. Get a list of the different activities you do. Identify them and say, “Which of these would be easy to do? What are we treating mundanely?” Sometimes reviewing the list alone will trigger ideas like, “I know what we could do with that. We could do that one differently.”
This is applicable and I’ll tell you what keeps me up at night, though it is the paranoia of staying relevant. You talk about this in the book. You talk about the wear-out factor, the Planet Hollywood’s, the Rainforest Cafes. Whether it’s a sports team like us, Topgolf, which is popular, some companies that are thriving. What would you tell them how they get over the wear-out factor?
You have to refresh it. There are places where people go where they want to be the same every time. A good British pub, don’t change a thing or I’ll hate it. Beachland Ballroom where I go for my alternative music, don’t change a thing. I’m going for the crack not the Hyde stools. Generally, you have to refresh. You can get there both ways. A lot of times, people are spending time with you. You’re not worrying about their uniqueness. Wait and refresh as the customers. Recognize that every time you interact with a customer, both parties have an opportunity to learn. Eventually, somebody changes their behavior. Most often, the customer realizes you don’t offer X. They’re going to stop asking for X. If you can sense and respond with three-plus chapters in The Experience Economy on customization, this thing I’m speaking about is what we call sacrifice. Customers are not getting what they want exactly.
If every time or every many interactions, you’re able to do something uniquely different for a particular customer, then it’s automatically refreshed. Does your place tell a story over time? One of the nice things about baseball is no two games in the history of baseball have ever been the same. It’s an inherently refreshable refresh. Other businesses got to think about, let’s do things differently. Which might be let’s ask people if they have a dog. What’s the reason for that? Why are we talking about dog names here?. It’s different. Sometimes random and different alone is enough to be different from the humdrum, same old way everybody does it. If you can think more richly and not rely upon random things and different for the sake of different, all the better.
You’re speaking much my language right out. The show is Business Done Differently. That’s everything we believe in.
Every day is different. There’s the video by Steve Jobs, Every Day Is The First Day. That alone would be refreshing if you come in and not doing the same way you did yesterday. By the way, customers will feel that, “I’m going to meet some new people in the store and I’m looking forward to that.”
I’ve been grilling you. I’m going to flip the script a little bit. You are now the host of Business Done Differently. You can ask me one question.
What is the one thing in your business that you do, a particular technique thing that you think is most relatable to any business? Not just baseball, not just a sports franchise, but what key technique do you think is immediately your readers could do? What’s the number one thing on your hit parade? I know you have a lot of amazing things.The easiest way to come up with a new idea is to think about something no one has ever thought about before. Click To Tweet
We mapped the whole experience and we look at every piece from the videos we send to the thank you calls.
Here’s the question. What do you think your signature moment is?
Here’s the one thing, it all started with the dancing players. When we started 10, 15 years ago with our first team, you’d come and see our players do a fully-choreographed dance. That turned into our break dancing first base, then our Banana Nanas senior citizen dance team, to our Man-Nanas male cheerleading team. It started with the player dancing because no one’s ever seen that before and now it’s turned into a whole theatrical act.
It reminds me of a prison ministry called Kairos, where they’d go in and get the most hardened prisoners to buy into the program, the entire culture, the entire prison. You go to the players, that’s the toughest sell you possibly ever had. At any other work, the players are doing it. You’re probably not even going to come the Bananas to work. You’ll get self-selection of who even bothers to come to you.
You started with them and that was tough. Many people know and my readers. It was a challenge. It started with them and now they started doing music videos and lip-syncing and doing all the crazy things. It started with the whole staff with the players in it. That’s a great observation in you’re apart, but that’s where it started.
That’s starting with the kingpin, the linchpin. Tackle one of your hardest buy-ins first and the rest will follow. It might be the lesson we take away from that. I love that.
One thing too, and this is what goes both ways. We all say, “What’s your starting point?” For us, it’s our PFT. What is your Perfect Fan Testimonial? If your company could have only one Google review, what would you want people to say about it?
What do you want it to say? That’s like what do you want on your tombstone? It’s having some aspiration, some purpose.
We will reverse engineer from there. For us, that’s the most fun I’ve ever had at a baseball game. It was like a circus in a baseball game broke out. We’ve reverse engineer the experience based on that. People say that in the reviews. Those are the two points there. I want to finish here a quick rapid-fire. What are the best questions you’re asking these days? If you want better answers in business, you got to ask better questions. What are some good questions that you’re asking that are getting good inside?
What’s the last thing you read? Also, what are you surprised people don’t ask you?
What’s the most tool time? What’s the most important tool in your business toolbox?
The Lateral Thinking techniques of Edward De Bono, go on and check out de Bono. Get his book, Lateral Thinking. Everybody talks about being creative, but his Lateral Thinking techniques, cognitive, serious things. It’s an alternative to brainstorming.
What’s one thing that you’ve done that’s different to stand out in business?
It’s the neglected things like handwritten thank you note. The handwritten thank you note took me for a recurring client where I had to write another thank you note. Each year, I tried to enclose a gift for the whole year for this one client. I do think every year for them. For a whole year I’m thinking, what can I buy that’s not extravagant but thoughtful? Thank you note itself is inherently thoughtful, to take the time to write by hand, but then to have an enclosure. I had to learn that. I didn’t use to write thank you notes. My co-author, Joe Pine, taught me how to do it. I used to get reminded every month to write a thank you note to people until I developed it as a habit.
How do you want to be remembered?
I might go Jeffersonian and buy three words, Christian, thinker, giving. It’s those three words.
It’s keeping it simple. Jim, I cannot thank you enough for this. It is important what you’re providing. That’s why for many years it’s resonated with many people. I’m thrilled to get to know you and I’m excited to have you down here in Savannah hopefully. Thank you for everything that you shared. Where can people find out more about you and the work that you’re putting out?
The Experience Economy is where they ought to start. Hop on their favorite online bookseller. What is it there? Start there. If you’ve already read it. I like to talk about the new preface is a great new window if you wish to revisit what is enduring content. If you’re a new reader, get the book. I guarantee every single chapter you’ll pick up something that will help your business.
Jim, thank you for being on the show.
You’re most welcome. Thanks for having me.
- The Experience Economy
- Mass Customization
- The Empty Space
- Adventures to Imagine: Thrilling Escapes in North America
- Association Forum of Chicagoland
- Every Life Has a Story
- Look: A Practical Guide For Improving Your Observational Skills
- The College of Extraordinary Experiences
- Lateral Thinking
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