Great Customer Experiences are Music to My Ears…

Listening to music is one of the most meaningful experiences in our lives.  I’ve been spending some time thinking about how great customer experiences have a lot in common with the great music that makes a difference for people.  Here are some initial thoughts:

  • It Moves You. Great music is about the transfer of emotion not just the delivery of any kind of rational value.  If you’re like most people, music has a strong impact on how you feel; it gets you up, it makes you cry, it turns you on in other ways I won’t go into here.  Both of my kids are musicians and we are always discussing the difference between music that is expressive (influences how people feel) versus music that is impressive (well executed but sort of cold).  Similarly, great customer experiences are expressive; they have an effect on the way customers feel.  It’s most important to realize that what the customer feels about the company is secondary! Of primary importance is how the company makes customers feel about themselves.  If the experience makes customers feel great about themselves, then by association, the customer will feel great about the company.   You can be effective at executing customers transactions or efficiently and effectively answering their questions… but how you make customers feel about themselves is critical.  (See: Cognitive Ergonomics: Customer Experience and Our Search for Meaning)
  • It has a Melody. Most great music has a melody.  Even the most complex, improvised jazz has a “head” or theme that ties the whole piece together.  Not only does music have a melody, but it’s kind of important that everyone in the band actually knows what that melody is.   Great customer experiences have a melody too.  It’s intentional.  Everyone in the band (organization) actually knows what it is and plays it together.  However in the large majority of organizations, the customer experience just defaults from the bunch of stuff that people do.  There’s no deliberate Customer Experience Specification and, as a result, each individual just plays their own tune… and it sounds like crap.  (See: I Got a Song it Ain’t Got No Melody… I’m Gonna Sing it to My Friends).
  • It has Memorable Hooks. Think about your favorite songs.  You remember the hooks.  Sometimes you have a hard time getting them out of your head.  Do you think the songwriter left those hooks to chance?  No way!  Effective songwriters are very deliberate about the “signature” hooks they build into their songs.  Songs without those hooks may be pleasant enough to listen to but listeners will find them difficult to remember and will be significantly less likely to want to hear them again.  The same is true with great customer experiences; they have “signature” hooks.  These are the things that you do that get the customer’s attention and help them understand how your experience is different than all the other experiences they’ve had.  Think about the best experiences you’ve had as a customer.  In most cases, you remember a small set of signature hooks that got your attention and influenced your memory of the experience.  What are the signature elements of your customer experience?  (See:  Novelty Seeking and the Design of Differentiated Customer Experiences)
  • It Balances Predictability and Surprise. Listening to music resonates with the way our brains continuously predict what will happen, are comforted when things are largely predictable and are stimulated by the occasional surprises.   This is one of the reasons why music is so important to us.  How often are you listening to a song and anticipating the lyrics and melodic phrases just before they happen.   The songs that people are most drawn to (in addition to the factors above) are the ones they’ve come to know well enough to be largely able to predict what will happen next… but have not heard so often that the song becomes totally predictable.  Great customer experiences also resonate with the way people continuously predict what will happen, are easy to engage with since things are largely predictable, and are occasionally stimulated by surprises.  (See: Customer Experience and the “Element of Surprise”)
  • It is Naturally a Social Activity. This is the thing that’s most interesting to me at the moment.  For the overwhelmingly large majority of human history, music was a communal, social activity.  People gathered around the cave or campfire and made music together.  Everyone participated.  Something strange happened as we emerged from the dark ages.  For some reasons, the world divided into the musicians and the listeners.  Musicians were often trained “professionals” that would entertain groups of passive listeners.  Occasionally, the listeners would sing along but, unfortunately, this division started to make some people feel embarrassed about their inability to carry a tune.  During the same era, the business enterprises that emerged reflected a similar divide.  There were professional producers and passive consumers.  Today, we’re seeing a significant return to both music and enterprise as a social activity.  This is being driven by the emergence of prosumers and the enabling power of social media.  The music industry is in the midst of a major shakeup now that just about any reasonably capable person or group of people has the tools to create and distribute music.  In many cases, these people can create or just mash up music in a virtual environment… often incorporating publicly available loop or even pirated samples.   Similarly, prosumers are taking control of creating or personalizing the customer experiences they want to have… not just passively consuming the experiences that companies want to give them.   The emergence of these Next Generation Experiences is one of the most profound developments I’ll cover more in future posts.

So… there are a few initial thoughts.  I’d love to hear what you think particularly any suggestions regarding how great customers experiences are like music.  Cheers, Frank

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2 responses to “Great Customer Experiences are Music to My Ears…

  1. I love the way you built the correlation. I recently read a post by Seth Godin that stated that companies can produce these qualities for no or little cost, but gain great benefits. To achieve your descriptions, I’m wondering if it wouldn’t take much more effort to reach it.

    http://roihunters.wordpress.com/2008/09/23/customer-experience-investment-opportunities/

  2. Frank, great comparison. Very intriguing! Here’s another one to throw in the mix. A bad song, like a bad experience, is something you recognize pretty quickly – and you only have to hear it once and then you probably never go back to listen to that song again. A great song is one that you’ll go back to again and again because you know just how it makes you feel whenever you listen to it. Hmmm… so far the comparison holds strongly!

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