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Why Managing the Customer Experience is Like Herding Cats

Some of the best television commercials that have ever aired have been debuted during the Super Bowl

Yee Haw

One of my favorites is an advertisement that aired in the year 2000 for Electronic Data Systems (EDS), now part of HP. The ‘Cat Herders’ commercial visually documents the extraordinary courage, effort, and gratification of being a Cat (not cattle) Herder. You can easily see what it was like to live the dream of driving those short hairs into town while not losing a single one…ain’t a feeling like it in the world. Don’t let anybody tell you that it’s easy.

The commercial attempts to convey a message in a funny (belly-laughing) way. The message is that EDS can help to make the complexities of your business easier and will help to move you in the right direction. I am not certain if the message is a memorable as the thought of trying to herd cats. Trying to herd cats is so ridiculous that when we are in a situation where very little is going the way we want, we say that  “I am trying to herd cats”. If someone says this to  you, you know exactly what they mean and can usually feel their pain. They are in a crazy situation that is difficult to control. You can’t control cats which is why dog people naturally hate cats. Cats do what they want. You have to influence a cat’s behavior, not control it. Try to make a cat obey and you get the claw.

In context of the customer experience if you try to ‘manage’ (to control) the customer experience, you just might as well change jobs and become a cat herder. You will have many more successes to celebrate as a cat herder than you will  as someone who attempts to manage (control) the customer experience. Why? It’s mainly because people (agents and customers) do not want to be controlled. You have to influence their experience, not manage it. Try to control them and you’ll get the claw.  

The evidence is very clear: Managers seek to control and Leaders seek to influence. To create an exceptional customer experience, you must think like a Customer Experience Influencer, not Manager. 

In their book, Outside In, authors Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine define customer experience as how your customers perceive their interactions with your company. The key word in this definition is: perceive! In order to have others perceive something, you must influence them into having the perception you want them to have.

What you should manage

What you can control, and therefore what you need to manage, are the tactics and tools that will assist you with influencing customers’ perceptions of your company. With this mindset you can then review three things that you may have analyzed before, but now use a very different lens than you have used in the past. This time review beyond the functional and delve into the finesse aspects of serving customers to drive positive perceptions of your customer interactions.

Apply your new perspective when you review:

Product : Instead of thinking about what it is or what it does, it’s time to infuse how it makes them feel. Even if you sell software, your software may relieve the stressful feeling of trying to get work done in a limited amount of time. It may make them feel confident in doing the job right.

Process : Instead of thinking in the context of steps, think about ease and agility. Giving customers the perception that you are easy to do business with is rapidly becoming a competitive difference and advantage for the influential few.

People : Instead of think about transactions think about interactions. Interactions are when you and your customers have an effect upon one another or when you have an effect on your agents. The concept of effect is essential when you are trying to influence. Managers think with the mindset of transactions, not interactions.

So what!?

You might be saying this is all semantics; that these are just words and that this mindset is included in the way organizations develop their products, processes, and people strategies. If this were true, why did Watermark Investment Consulting report the following:

Over a 6 year period, CX leaders outperformed the S&P 500 index by 28%. Those who had poor CX performance lagged behind the index by almost 20%.

With this differentiated performance these CX leaders must be doing something…well…DIFFERENT!  

So here is your chance to decide. You can either lead or manage. If you want to influence your destiny, there is no better time than ever before to make the shift from thinking transactions to thinking interactions. Think influencing the customer experience, and not managing the customer experience. When you learn how to influence the customer experience you will bring that herd into town. When that happens, ain’t a feeling like it in the world. But, don’t let anybody tell you that it’s easy.