To business futurist Brian Solis, capturing an audience’s heart, mind, and spirit is mandatory.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Brian Solis, principal analyst at the Altimeter Group, who has written a book that’s not really a book. X: Where Business Meets Design looks more like a sexy app than a business how-do, but it still does a great job explaining why customer experience, more than any other business priority, defines a company's brand and determines its outlook for the future. Here’s what Brian had to say during our recent phone conversation:
Your definition of customer experience is a little different, and how does X provide a new experience from what business book readers may be used to?
Brian: Depending on who you talk to, you’ll get a different interpretation of what customer experience means. It is sometimes thought of transactionally, and related to CRM, support, or journey mapping. In general, customer experience is misunderstood and underappreciated. My feeling is that customer experience is the sum of all engagements. It’s not about customer experience, but all experience. In this business world, we need to think more holistically because everything is connected.
Of course, it would be ironic to tell people this in a traditional book format, and I think that authors who write about disruption should disrupt themselves. For X, I considered what a high school student would take delight in learning from. I wrote tweetable sentences with lots of visuals and white space, and the result was a cross between an app and a beautiful coffee table book.
You say that having a great product is no longer enough. What happens to great products (and their companies) that don’t have creative marketing and stellar customer service behind them?
It seems obvious to make a great product backed by great marketing and service, but without a conducive culture, it doesn’t always happen. Many incumbent businesses are built on 60-year-old models and are slow to change and in danger of being left behind. Startups are taking over because they get to reimagine everything. When culture, product, and service are aligned, the result is immersive and empowering. You’ll create a living community around your brand that becomes bigger than any one product.
Let’s talk about a few of your UX recommendations. What’s human-centered design? Can you give an example of how Hollywood storytelling might influence product experience?
Human-centered design is a philosophy that explores who people are and who they want to be. In your design, you create value and a desire to change behavior based on people’s deep-seeded motivations. In terms of Hollywood storytelling, Disney was the first to use storyboarding for Snow White. It really brought the story and the characters to life, allowing Disney to test if the movie was believable and brought out the right emotions in the audience.
What’s your favorite example of a company doing UX extremely well?
Apple has analyzed why people love the brand so much and use the story arc in everything it does. There is even a story arc for the iPad’s box. I also like what AirBnB is doing. When CEO Brian Chesky was reading a biography of Walt Disney, he brought in Nick Sung from Pixar to storyboard the process of people who host and rent properties. Nick brought AirBnB’s customer to life through animation character personas. For instance, he portrayed the journey of the casual traveler: how did she get to the property? Did she drive or fly? What could the host do to make her feel welcome? The company used the storyboarding to create a lifestyle brand around a different sort of travel experience.
If you’re part of an old school company, what’s the best way to bring senior leaders around to this way of thinking?
First, get a handle of the experience you are providing now. Find what’s broken and how that will negatively impact your business over time. Create a sense of urgency around the friction. You can leverage research and success stories around transformation to sell your ideas about how things could be better. If you get out of your silo and champion your company’s overall experience, you will see greatness.
But this is easier said than done, no?
Of course. People are looking for an easy fix, or a list of the 10 things they should do. However, when you begin to peel back layers, you see that experience is a complex issue. Instead of trying to copy what other people do, start with a blank canvas. Do your research, put in the work, and you’ll get results. The exciting news is that this is a time of full reinvention. We have the opportunity to write what our future looks like.
For an upside-down experience like nothing you’ve read before, check out X.
Image courtesy of Brian Solis.com