A man's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.
- Oliver Wendell Holmes
I remember watching the first lunar landing on television. After that event, watching Saturday morning TV was a totally different experience. All of a sudden, Fireball XL5 and The Thunderbirds were more like documentaries than puppet shows. I remember refusing to watch the second lunar landing, telling my mother, "What's the big deal - we will be going to the moon all the time from now on."
Think about a time when you were really moved by something or someone - or when you had a sudden leap in understanding. In the instant that you had that experience, you probably noticed a distinct shift in how you felt. It might have seemed that the "camera you were looking through" was placed in a different corner of the room. You listened differently. The questions you asked immediately had different assumptions behind them.
Valeria Maltoni describes her own experience of really "getting" the difference between good and great:
It suddenly hit me in the gut. Sure, I have known it all along, intellectually. Yet I wasn't prepared for the impact that this sudden realization had on the way my world changed in that exact moment. I will never be able to see things the same way again. I finally really "got" what it means to be great -- and what a huge distance there is from good to it.
Scientists explain this phenomenon as both perceptual and physical. Adrenaline-like and dopamine-like substances are released in our bodies. A burst of gamma band activity reflects real changes in our internal circuitry. New connections form. (Perhaps not surprisingly, this experience can be addictive.)
For customers, this reaction may be in play the moment they experience a leap in value, in their ability to do work, in convenience or simplicity. There is a sudden, permanent shift in the standards they use to evaluate choices. Solutions that were once considered options never appear on the short list again.
For example, McDonald's is not likely to be revered for elegant food presentation or high quality. However, when the McD business model of fast service and consistently decent food arrived, it led people to begin to ask, "Gee, if I can get fast food, what else . . "
In hospitality, higher incomes and cheaper air travel during the last decade or two made luxury hotels more accessible, leading to a revolution in bathroom decor. If I can have a spa experience in a hotel, why not enjoy that experience every day? Advertising says I deserve it! This led to a higher standard for full service hotels as well as huge growth for Kohler and others.
Once the connection is made, stories and metaphors help remind us of the original experience. Since 1969, we have all heard questions begin with, "If we can send a man to the moon, surely we can . . . " Landing on the moon has become a metaphor of all things technological, and sometimes all things dreamable. While there may be no connection between available NASA technology and the problem at hand, the metaphor has us look at the problem differently.
Our experiences can also shift our standards in work and play. If you have ever won a sporting event, a major deal or overcome a significant obstacle, you often see challenges through a new lens. Certain challenges are somehow easier to overcome. In other cases, you set your sights on new targets. Just as the substances that accompany the shift are addictive, winning, excellence and forward movement become addictive.
If we are going to be on the proactive side of change, we need to be thinking about how we can create positive shifts in customer experience and put those ideas to work. For starters:
- Look at your customer's decision or consumption chain. What stages are most important? How do you engage potential customers earlier in their decision process? How do you make links in the chain smarter?
- Look across the network of buyers, users and influencers. Who is most or least important? What value are they looking for? How is that changing?
- Tweak your product and service attributes. Which aspects of your product or service enrage or annoy your customers? What can you simplify? What do customers love that you can dial up even further? How can you heighten the level of authenticity and emotional connection with the customer?
The common pattern? We have to look externally for the answer.
What do you think:
- What are some fundamental shifts that forever changed your point of view? What were the experiences that triggered them?
- How do you know when your customers have been stretched by a new idea - whether yours or a competitors? How do you take advantage of these signals?
- If you were to create a leap in value for your customers, where would you start?