Lou Carbone has been one of the business world’s foremost advocates for the value of managing experiences. He was coauthor of the seminal 1994 article that introduced the marketing world to the idea of customer experience management. Through his consulting firm, Experience Engineering, he advises companies on how to deliver value to customers through experience.
His book on customer experience management is entitled Clued In: How to Keep Customers Coming Back Again and Again. Lou Carbone will be delivering the keynote address on day one of MX East, Adaptive Path’s conference on management experience through creative leadership, being held October 21-23, 2007 in Philadelphia.
Jesse James Garrett: How did you get into this area of customer experience management?
Lou Carbone: It’s really very fascinating. I began to observe companies. I’d come out of an advertising background originally, and observing companies as they managed value and the experiences that they created, and I was amazed at the lack of rigor, discipline and methodologies around the lining of clues in the experiences that people have, and ended up believing that managers in companies basically left experiences very, very haphazard and that they weren’t very well managed or purposefully designed and executed. I became fascinated by the opportunity to really manage the clues and align the clues in an experience that an individual has.
JJG: Explain what you mean by clues. This is a core concept in your book, I know.
LC: Yes, it is. In all of the experiences that we have, we are doing what we refer to as “clue math.” Unconsciously and consciously, we are processing all of those things that we perceive in physical experiences. Those include humanics, which are the human elements in an experience that are emitted by humans in the experience, and then there are clues that we refer to as “mechanics,” which are all of those physical signals that we take in through our senses.
The other area is what we refer to as “functional” clues. Those are the goods or services that actually function and do what they are supposed to do. And so in any experience, we are simultaneously — consciously and unconsciously — processing all of these clues, which creates a feeling that we have that emotional connection, which is built on how the experience makes us feel. Therefore, all of those clues become very powerful when they’re aligned and working toward creating this emotional connection with customers.
JJG: What sorts of projects do you work on? What kind of experiences do you do this clue math for?
LC: We do this clue math on everything ranging from physical experiences, experiences someone might have in a call center, to online experiences. Actually, some of our most powerful work [revolves around] the alignment of the experiences that come across multiple methods, [and] aligning all of those clues so that they’re consistent.
JJG: That’s very similar to something that we’ve seen in our work at Adaptive Path. We’re frequently working on software digital products, but we often find that in order to really fully address the customer psychology, we have to look at the design of the total experience beyond just the digital product.
LC: Precisely. It’s so crucial because the world has become very make-and-sell, [an approach] that was built in an industrial age, when we really looked at product and product development. And most businesses were very silo’ed [into separate] perspectives: Marketing functions, advertising, communications functions, operational functions.
Today we live in a world [that] really requires the ability to sense and respond, and the idea of businesses being much more adaptive really requires understanding the total experience, versus the segmented views of an experience that we’ve had in the past, [which we’ve] tried to build processes and rigor around. The difficulty is that most of what’s being taught and most of the management disciplines are still based on old thinking around making and selling versus sensing and responding.
JJG: This has been a real stumbling block for us as well: The fact that these organizations simply aren’t set up to be able to see, never mind manage, the experience across these different touch points or channels. You’ll have a product group in one area, and then the group that designs the package for the product might be in another office on the other side of the planet, and the two never have any interaction with one another, for example.
LC: Exactly. In fact, one of the things that I think is interesting is we’ll actually see organizations and companies appointing what they refer to as a CEO or Chief Experience Officer. And that Chief Experience Officer is supposed to have a view across all of those experiences. What we’ve found is many organizations don’t really have a clear understanding of how to structure the interaction with the Chief Experience Officer, and often [the roles is reduced to] almost a customer service function versus a true Customer Experience Officer.
We’ve had organizations where the CEO, this Chief Experience Officer, has [asked us] to help structure what can be done inside an organization to actually utilize and fully take advantage of a Customer Experience Officer, to help them to find what their role is and align the various pieces in the company in terms of how to really get cross-functional collaboration, and so on. And it’s a very big challenge for many companies because so many managers are so deeply rooted in the paradigms of make and sell versus sensing and responding.
JJG: Well, I think also there’s this tension between centralized control and decentralization because many of these areas in which experience is being delivered to customers require a deep knowledge, a deep expertise. There’s tremendous depth of expertise, for example, in marketing organizations about how to communicate effectively to customers, whereas there’s a different kind of deep expertise in product development organizations, the kind of organizations we’re typically collaborating with. And those two different kinds of organizations, as an example, come at the problem from different perspectives, and just getting them speaking the same language about the customer experience can be a challenge.
LC: Very much so. When you look at the organizations of the past, [they were like] bus drivers driving buses along the prescribed route, [with a] certain number of stops to make and doing the same routine over and over again. And the customer really came along for the ride. Today, [when it comes to] doing business, the model is considerably more like taxis. We’re not even sure what the customer needs until the customer communicates [it to us] and we can anticipate what they want. Then what we end up doing is snapping together a set of capabilities to deliver the experience that they want. And that’s very, very different.
What experience engineering is all about is understanding what those desires are, [desires] that customers aren’t even aware of that they’re aware of, [and then] building sets of capabilities, clues and signals, and snapping those together as we begin to understand, and the client begins to interact, with an organization.
JJG: So it seems as if customer experience management really requires a re-thinking of not only the experiences that you’re delivering, and maybe the capabilities that you bring to bear to do that, but the very organizational structures that you use to gather that input, and then turn that into an effective experience.
LC: Yes, I think that what we will see over the next five to ten years is dramatic changes in the way that businesses are structured in terms of how centralized or decentralized they are, what the role of centralization is, which is accountability versus control. And I think that when we look at what’s going to be happening, it is absolutely huge. It’s almost like the adaptation of technology: The first thing we do is automate and try to do what we’ve always done, and I think that’s what businesses have done as this has evolved over the last ten years; we’re just trying to deal with it with what we know. But what we’re beginning to see is more and more organizations realizing that they need a much more dynamic structure, dynamic approaches, new tools and resources that really get at the unconscious needs of customers, versus those conscious opinions that customers can give us to gain deeper insights into customers’ desires and needs. And I think we’re going to see some very, very exciting times for those companies that learn to adapt and develop these new skill sets and approaches.
JJG: So tell us a little bit about the talk you’ll be giving at MX.
LC: I’ll be talking at the conference about a couple of things. First of all, I think the one thing that is huge is the role of designers and design as it relates to the total experience. Again, it’s not about thinking about what you did, but to start thinking about what you can do in this new world, this new order, and what the role of brand management versus experience [is going to be]. How do we really begin to understand the crucial aspects of what we need to be doing to really leverage customer experience, and the total experience, as we go forward and understand that there are several paramount aspects to customer experience?
One is dealing with the unconscious mind and the role of the unconscious; secondly, dealing with the management of clues. And lastly, the need for some rigorous systems that [help us get] our arms around the total customer experience, [versus] interpreting the experience as “customer service” and “bricks and mortar.” [Instead we need to start] thinking about how the experience [makes people] feel, and what value they associate with that experience.
JJG: Well, it sounds really terrific. Lou, thank you for talking with us, and we look forward to your presentation at MX East in Philadelphia on October 22.
LC: Jesse, I am too. Thank you so much.