CX Learnings from the LA Marathon

I run. Very. Very. Slowly. This past weekend I ran the LA Marathon with about 25,000 of my best friends from Dodger Stadium to the Pier in Santa Monica. It was grueling but fantastic. I even had the honor of being the second Arkansan finisher (there were only 7 others, two of whom were ex SoCal folks who came with me).

While running this race my mind started to stray toward one of my other passions; customer experience. Somewhere in the fog of mile 20 chugging up La Cienega Boulevard on an annoying hill devoid of spectators, I started thinking about the parallels between distance running and changes organization must undergo to become more customer centric. Here’s my 5 tips for running the CX marathon.

  1. Training

You can improvise a 5k or 10k with little training. You might even be able to phone in a half marathon if you are young and fit enough. Full marathons are not something one can typically ‘wing’. The same can be said for Customer Experience initiatives. You cannot simply turn an organization from a product or sales centric organization into one that suddenly embraces the customer as the end –all-be-all. It just doesn’t work that way. It takes work. In what I call Agile CXTM, it requires organizations to engage in a series of successive small attempts and initiatives that build on one another. This iterative building approach is the key to building a successful and sustainable customer experience focus. You got to train to get results.

  1. Find a Buddy

Training for marathons are long and lonely enterprises. Three to five hour outings on cold and rainy Saturday mornings are not uncommon. Having a running group or buddy is almost a requirement to keep you accountable and maintain your sanity. The same is true for organizations trying to be more customer focused. You need help. It’s ok. Find others out there who are running faster or slower than your organization. You need the support. You need the accountability. Organizations like CXPA or forums like Customerthink can certainly help you meet like-minded others who on their own journeys.

  1. Discipline

It goes without saying you must have to discipline to stay training and not give up. Discipline includes staying with it and knowing when to change course. It also means forgiving yourself if you have an off week and couldn’t get your miles in. Your organization needs to have the discipline to stay the course for the highs and lows. You will experience setbacks and failures in creating a CX focus. You will screw up. Expect it. Plan for it. Successful organizations push through and keep going.

  1. Celebrate Successes

Whether you are an elite runner or a 15 minute miler, the point is, you are getting it done. Take the time to congratulate yourself. Take time to make sure your organization celebrates and focuses on its successes. Find that sales rep and recognize her. If accounts payable went out of their way to help a customer; give them a shout out. So much of the time we focus on what’s wrong; take some time to focus on what went right too. We know from human development that positive reinforcement is much more powerful force than punishment.

  1. Maniacal Perseverance

Distance runners are a curious bunch. They are unrepentant masochists. After the blisters have started to heal and they can ambulate not looking like a cast member from the Walking Dead, most distance runners start asking themselves “which one will I run next?” as their loved ones look down and shake their heads.

For organizations the CX race never ends. Sure we have some breathers in between races, but the race never ends. Why? Because others are always racing. They want to beat you. Stay still, you get left behind. Get left behind, and your racing days are over.

Anyone Can Do It

Distance running is really very simple. You put the right foot in front of the left, and then left in front of the right, and repeat about 90,000 times. Almost anyone can do it. You just need to be determined and train a bit (a helpful guide from Sport Fitness Advisor can be found here).

The same is true with organizations. Any organization can change provided they have the discipline, patience, and commitment to do so…and perhaps some help from some running buddies. If you need a CX buddy to help you train.   Let me know. You got this.

Journey Mapping for Disruptive Innovation

A blank stare.

That’s what I got from my 8 year old daughter after I asked her to roll up the window in our car. Her lack of comprehension made sense from her perspective. She’s never had to manually “roll up” the window per se. It was never part of her reality of automotive window raising.


Phrases like “turn off” the radio and “hang up” the phone are meaningless to those who never experienced doing those things…ever. They are curious anachronisms for a time…not so long ago…but now archaic and without context.

Humans and Tools

There is a curious recursive relationship between tools and humans. We create tools to better our lives in so doing those very tools shape how we view the world. This is not just a figure of speech; recent neuroscience studies show that tool usage physically changes our neural pathways in a process known neuroplasticity.


This has profound implications for how we plan for the future. In a recent presentation at the Emerging Trends in Retailing Conference, speaker and futurist Brian Solis challenged the audience to rethink their assumptions about the future by suspending their understanding of the present.

He pointed out that the modern website is now more than 20 years old and after years of iterative innovation, is ripe for…wait for it…disruptive innovation. It is technology that is widely accepted. Our lives would be almost unthinkable without it…in much the way we viewed the land line telephone 20 years before.

Engage with customers in real-time across every channel, no matter the medium. Use visitor tracking and email analytics to know what your customers are seeing.

It is an interesting point. The very architecture of websites makes us think about digital using that frame work. It brackets off the reality of what is possible, what it can look like, and most problematic; what is not possible. Why is based on a desktop view of the world when the world is clearly mobile? Why does website architecture have to be hierarchical? Why is it limited to only two dimensional? Why can we usually only look at one page at time? Why are we calling them pages!

Framing the problem

The tools we use not only shape how we solve problems, but how we frame and find the problems in the first place. The anecdote of the sick patient going to an internist, a surgeon, and a therapist and getting corresponding recommendations for drugs, surgery and therapy is not based on physician greed, it is based on how those professionals view the world. The law of the hammer is a powerful temptress.


The issue of framing is especially relevant in the area of CX Design.

One of the first steps in CX design involves understanding the customer journey. Customer Journey Mapping is very important in understanding today’s journey. Those firms progressive enough to take this step understand the barriers and enablers along the customer journey from awareness to disposal and are far head of those who have not undertaken this step.

While there are many approaches to journey mapping, most approaches[1] start by understanding the existing journey from the customers’ perspective and then look for opportunities for improvement. We find the areas of pain and opportunity and incrementally change the experience to improve it. This approach is fine for iterative innovation. But what about creating a disruptive customer experience design?

Disruptive CX Design

Tesla did not try to incrementally improve the auto buying experience, they blew it up and started from scratch with the wisdom of what people hate about the current experience. I am doubtful that Etsy, AirBnB, and Spotify looked at the existing experience and used that at the basis for incremental improvement. For example, according to their website Uber got started based on a very simple idea:

“On a snowy Paris evening in 2008, Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp had trouble hailing a cab. So they came up with a simple idea—tap a button, get a ride.”

Experience Anchors

So perhaps those frames of “what is today” is getting in the way of “what could be” in architecting great CX solutions. When we are looking to build a truly innovative new experience perhaps we should first start ideating the ideal and work backwards to today. Should we find that blue ocean space?

The first step in this revised process would be to first clearly understand the customer underlying needs and values not their surface attitudes. Second is the truly start with a blank sheet of paper and map it out. Sure, today’s reality may set it, but try not to let it drive your thinking. Keep an open mind.

Finally, when you are ideating the revised journey, diversity of opinion is not a nice to have…it is a must have in order to mitigate those experiential frame blinders. Invite people from all walks of life, from different functions, and different ages and world views…maybe even a few of your customers. Deep experience can be an asset but also can be an anchor to today’s reality. Sometimes a children’s naiveté has great wisdom. Listen to it carefully.

I listen to my childrens’ wisdom everyday. Sometimes it can be embarrassingly on-point. Perhaps we should apply some of child like wonder and clarity of thought to our work in CX.

[1]For examples,,,


Death Sticks and Starbucks

Almost every Saturday morning my family rolls into the Starbucks drive thru on our way to the farmers’ market. It is a chaotic and noisy scene in the car. I am always astonished at the amount of noise 4- and 6-year-old children can make, especially if I forget to bring along something for them to do. I roll up to the drive thru to get my kids their hot cocoa, my wife’s drink (which would rival in length the average Welsh place name), and my simple black coffee.

StarbucksguyOne Saturday I thought I would spice things up by adding nonchalantly to the end of my order “…and an order of death sticks,” just to see what would happen. Now, to those not nerdy or old enough to get this reference, it was an homage to the bar scene in Star Wars: Attack of Clones.

“That’s $8.23. Please pull around,” said the barrista/cashier/drive-thru guy cheerily.

I figured he either didn’t hear me or ignored me as he did not ask to clarify further my death-stick addendum. So we pull around, I get my litany of hot cocoas, pink donut lollipops, and multisyllabic latte-mocha-whatever. As he returned my debit card, he looked me straight in the eyes and said:

“You don’t want to buy death sticks, you want to go home and rethink your life,” and promptly closed his window.

I was stunned. That was very funny . He quoted verbatim what Obi-wan the Jedi master told the purveyor of death sticks from the Star Wars movie. He turned what could have been perceived as an irritating non sequitur into something fun to interact with a customer. It was memorable.

Right then and there he created an emotional experience through the use of humor. While we usually think about creating emotional experiences through delighting customers, humor can be just as powerful. The most famous for this is the antics of Southwest Airline flight attendants. They turn a boring process review into something fun and engaging for passengers. Delta Airlines later picked up this practice in their pre-flight safety demonstration, starring their flight-attendant-turned-temporary-actress Deltalina (their latest ones are quite good).

Automotive has recently taken a more humorous approach in their advertising with the ubiquitous and quirky Kia Soul Hamsters. Retail juggernaut Amazon lets its customer service representatives have a little fun, too. Even normally conservative Toyota has gotten into the act with the Jungle Wakudoki. Most people like to laugh. It sets people at ease in tense situations. It helps us connect more intimately with one another. Smiling and laughing are universally translated the same. It’s a low-cost investment in getting both your employees and customers engaged with the brand.

Have you had any fun service or product experiences lately? I’d love to hear.