Years ago, in an Economics class I missed a crucial distinction between a shift “of” the demand curve and a shift “along” the demand curve.  I’m sure the professor emphasized the difference, but I missed it nevertheless. 

A similar distinction is being missed in customer experience.  People confuse the difference between improving experience consistency and improving the experience.  Improving consistency can actually make the experience worse – here’s what I mean:

Improving Experience Consistency

The aim of improving experience consistency is to reduce variability.  This seems like a generally good goal.  As I’ve written about earlier, the less variability the more likely customers are to have fewer terrible experiences.  Good, right? Well… not always. The downside of this approach is that customers are also less likely to have positive experiences because reducing variability also reduces the space for individual initiative

Improving the Experience itself

The aim of improving the experience has noble aims as well.  The outcome is enabled by individuals demonstrating timely and accurate diagnostic skills.  What this means is that skilled people listen and understand the unique needs a customer has at a specific point in time to deliver better experiences than less skilled people.  The variance is dependent on the luck of who delivers the experience rather than any improvement of the experience itself.  (For some other thoughts on how to best deliver extraordinary experiences, read this MIT Sloan article.)

Inchworm Improvements

To be ideal, however, companies should strive to combine the two together.  When they do, improvements look like an inchworm moving from place to place. To travel forward, inchworms take it one end at a time.  First, the front anchors and the rear moves forward.  This causes the middle section to arch upwards.  Then the rear provides the anchor as the front moves forward.  Doing this repeatedly enables forward movement.  Such improvements combine the benefits of experience process improvement with the ability of capable individuals to improve the experience one customer at a time.

The pivot point is to take advantage of systemic improvements while permitting space for people to adapt to changing customer needs.  Doing both ensures steady gains and leaves room for people to create emotionally satisfying engagements.  Now if only I could figure out those dang supply/demand curves!

Inchworm Experience Improvements
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