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Finding Inspiration To Design Customer Experience: An Interview With Carla Johnson

We recently sat down with Carla Johnson, Founder of Type A Communications in Denver, CO. We appreciate Carla taking the time to speak with us and lending her insights to the Customer Experience Blog.

Carla is a world-renowned storyteller, an entertaining speaker, and a prolific author. Over the last two decades, Carla has helped architects and actuaries, executives and volunteers, innovators and visionaries leverage the art of storytelling to inspire action through amazing experiences.

Her work with Fortune 500 brands set the stage for the latest of her seven books. Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing sets the benchmark for a powerful new way for marketing to create value for businesses. Named one of the top 50 women in marketing and the chair of the ANA’s Business Marketing Association board of directors, Carla regularly challenges conventional thinking.

VisumCx: You are focused now on “Innovation by Design”; can you explain what you mean by that phrase and how organizations will benefit from adopting this approach?

Johnson: Innovation by Design is a framework for how the world’s innovative teams surface the best ideas and then use them to deliver exponential outcomes for their business.

Let’s face it; we live in an age that requires a constant supply of new ideas. When it comes to customer experience, companies work on major initiatives that deliver a difference every few years at best.

What companies need to do instead is to be relentless about innovating how they look at the customer experience so they don’t get sideswiped by the competition or industry disruptions. Innovation has to become part of the DNA of customer experience.

VisumCx: You recently wrote an article on LinkedIn called “Customer Experience By Design.” In the article you state, “To create better experiences, we have to better understand the experiences we’re trying to create and then think differently about how we design them”. Where does an organization start in thinking about “the experience they want to create?”

Johnson: Most organization look at what they’re already doing and think about how to improve it. At best that delivers incremental improvement. It holds companies back because they’re starting with constraints that are already in place and in nearly every case, these are legacy roadblock that people have learned how to work around. If you’re always trying to work around roadblocks, then you never truly look at an experience from the customer’s point of view.

To start from the perspective of designing the experiences we want to create, we have to start with the experiences, ideas and brands that inspire us. What’s the last thing that you couldn’t wait to tell someone about? Was it an interaction with a brand? Or was it an idea you read about or a conversation you had with someone else.

Inspiration for great experiences is all around us, but we discount the relevancy because we think that what we sell is different or unique. We’re not able to decipher the brilliance behind provocative work and transplant that dynamic into what we do.

For example, a mining company can look at the experiences that LEGO creates and say nothing relates to them because one sells squares of plastic and the other extracts minerals from the earth. Or, they can look at LEGO and use it as inspiration for creating an omnichannel experience, for thinking broader than their industry and for delivering experiences that disrupt expectations for how a brand behaves. They could ask themselves, “If LEGO built a mining company, what would that look like?” Flipping the model what companies like Amazon, Uber and GE already understand and do so successfully.

VisumCx: Many B2B organizations are placing a high priority on customer experience, but according to a report by Accenture, only 25% are claiming success. In your experience, what are some of the challenges companies are facing with customer experience?

Johnson: The biggest challenge I see is that B2B companies interpret customer experience as something that happens within a limited range of interactions, usually the sales funnel. They look at it from the time someone becomes aware of the brand until they are converted as a customer. While it seems like a big range, that’s not enough.

The best experience-driven companies understand that the experience is bigger than customers. It’s about audiences. We see this with Nike and their fitness app. They have delivered an incredible experience for people who aren’t necessarily customers and may never be. But people use the app, love it and rave to their friends. And maybe their friends want to buy Nike products. Schnedier Electric does the same with its Energy University and Emerson with #IloveSTEM. Their experiences are driven by purpose, not products. They are creating tremendous opportunity to expand who they serve at an exponential level that ultimately impacts the performance of the business – and revenues – in ways they never could have imagined if they kept it about the products they sell.

The second thing is a B2B company’s ability to deliver a consistent experience at every touchpoint. They operate in deeply engrained silos and employees don’t have a sense of how their actions affect the whole. It’s why a customer gets 6 different invoices from the same company or why there are 4 different emails in their inbox a day. There’s no sensitivity to the fact that operational efficiency on the brand side doesn’t equal a great experience for the customer. Sure, it takes effort and investment, but so does trying to replace millions of dollars of revenue from customer who buy from a competitor.

VisumCx: Forrester reports that 66% of CMOs are being charged with their organizations customer experience strategy. Given all that is on the plate of today’s CMO, should ownership of this initiative lie with them or be elsewhere?

Johnson: It’s not that I don’t believe it should fall within the CMO role, but I think that title limits expectations of what customer experience is and can be for a company. When customer experience rolls up to the CMO, often it’s about the content and technology that’s used throughout the customer journey. That’s not customer experience.

Customer experience is about the total sum of the experiences someone has with a brand. That means more than marketing and sales – it’s about product development, finance, IT and even the business model of the company. You will never become a mature CX brand if customer experience means low-quality marketing materials.

VisumCx: You have done a lot of writing and delivered many talks on content marketing. What role does content marketing play in delivering customer experience?

Johnson: It’s the content that creates the experience. But the majority of marketers see content marketing as something that drives sales, rather than an opportunity to create a connected experience.

We need to broaden our perspective of the power and influence that content has in customer experience and who’s involved. I work with companies that have started to use content marketing to create engagement with employees and educate them on the purpose of the company. You can’t have a purpose-driven company deliver on the promise if employees aren’t involved. And you can’t have engaged employees unless you become a serial storyteller as an employer. Once employees are engaged, then you have an army of people who bring that brand purpose to life through the experience they deliver every day. Marketing and sales teams are the promise makers, but it’s employees who determine whether or not you keep the promise you’ve made as a brand.

Then take it outside, the walls of your company. Of course, content marketing is a big part of generating demand and closing sales. But when it comes to the overall experience, there’s a tremendous opportunity to use content marketing in customer retention, education, service/support and HR, especially recruiting.

People say they don’t have the time or money to connect all of these dots, but that’s ridiculously short-sighted. It means they’re caught up in the momentum of status quo. Efficient doesn’t mean effective and it certainly doesn’t mean a great experience. We have to be willing to change how we look at the work that we do or else we’ll be that company or industry that’s been sideswiped.

You learn to drive the car because you want to go somewhere. And you learn how all the gas, brakes, steering wheel and mirrors all work in harmony so you have a better experience. It’s the same thing with content’s role in the customer experience. If all you do is look at it in one area, your company on the whole will never go anywhere.

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