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Organizations Need to Cultivate Poets, Not Mushrooms

Thumbnail image for the crow.pngA while back, I delivered a presentation originally titled “writing customer experiences.” Writing because I think of a customer experience as an emotional journey and of the process of designing for customer experience as similar to the process of structuring an evocative story.

But maybe the individual moments in the customer experience are opportunities for poetry.

Stepping out of my car at a casino hotel I am met with the sweet strands of a song being sung by James Taylor, 'Shower the People you Love with Love.' The valet takes my key and another young man directs me to the front desk where I check in with no hassles. The smiling clerk hands me a coupon for three dollars off the buffet, calls me by my name and assures me that no matter what my concern might be, tell them and they will make sure my stay is a pleasant one. My bags are in my room when I get there and a mint is on the pillow. I am made to wonder if there will be subliminal messages piped into my room telling me to be sure to gamble away my life savings. I realize I am in the hands of smooth operators… The way I had been treated was poetry in motion. Culture gives off signals piecemeal, and combined they create a type of poetry." ~The Poetry of Organizational Culture, P. Michael McCullough

Employees give off signals piecemeal, and combined they create a type of poetry.

Merriam-Webster defines poetry as “writing that formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience in language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound and rhythm.”

By swapping out a few words I could easily turn this into a definition of a magic moment.

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Image Source: http://collectivenext.com/blog/human-element

So might we think of a magic moment as a beautiful poem?

Machines Don’t Write Poetry. People Do.

Machines (technologies) don’t write poetry. Machines lack emotions, dreams and values. They lack heart. Machines are merchants of logic and efficiency.

To deliver a customer experience that’s “poetry in motion” we need a multitude of organizational poets. For, as Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz so elegantly said “[Employees] are the true ambassadors of our brand, the real merchants of romance and theater, and as such the primary catalysts for delighting customers.”

The problem, as Seth Godin so bluntly puts it, is that “If you treat your employees like mushrooms (keep them in the dark and regularly throw crap on them), it's entirely likely you will get precisely the work you deserve in return.”

Are you treating your employees like mushrooms?

Or poets?

Most organizations have limited self-awareness. They think they know how their employees and their customers perceive them. They do surveys after all. So many surveys that we’re starting to suffer from survey fatigue. But surveys are poor tools for understanding people. They try to excavate facts from the rational brain. And then compile the results into Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint slides aimed at shifting beliefs in the rational brain.

Ninety percent of people believe they’re above average. This is a well-known cognitive bias. And it explains the service delivery gap — 90 percent of organizations believe they deliver a superior customer experience, but only 10 percent of customers agree.

Despite these facts, if you ask a specific organization how they’re doing, they’ll argue they’re one of the exceptions. Ninety percent of them in fact will argue that they’re in the 10 percent that deliver above average service. People aren’t rational. Which means that organizations aren’t rational.

A similar study hasn’t been done on the service delivery gap within organizations, but I suspect based on employee engagement data the results would be similar.

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