Chuck Jones was the creator and cartoonist for many famous characters—Bugs Bunny, Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote, Daffy Duck, Pepe Le Pew and Porky Pig. When my co-author, the late Oren Harari and I were writing Beep Beep!: Competing in the Age of The Road Runner, we visited with the then eighty-eight year old cartoonist at his studio in Irvine, CA. He was generous with his time; candid with his critique of our treatment of his two beloved characters—Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote. He agreed to do an original cartoon for our book later produced with help from Warner Bros. and published by Warner Books.
The best part of our afternoon with Chuck was getting a lesson on how his mind worked when creating a cartoon. His first Road Runner-Wile E. Coyote cartoon “Fast and Furrious” won an Academy Award. “Animation happens when everything in the frame moves with the character,” he told us as we were watching footage of a cartoon. It was, and is, a profound commentary on the power of innovative service. Service that is value-added is a delightful gesture of generosity; service that is value-unique is styled of ingenuity. While we all enjoy extras, service with imagination is compelling and captivating.
A chief character in the movie we call “customer service” is obviously the customer. But, since service involves the co-creation of an experience, the other chief character is the service provider. A customer without a service provider is just a person in search of a source for meeting a need; a service provider without a customer is a person or entity on the eve of bankruptcy! Animation is the collective spirit that serves as the energy for the service encounter.
A Case Study in Animation
After purchasing a new lakeside home, my wife and I elected to “break the bank” and add a room with a large indoor spa. One compelling reason was our three granddaughters, 6, 8 and 11. At every visit they always enjoy an hour or more in what they call the “hot tub.” With over 50 jets, underwater lights that change colors, and a waterfall, it is like merry-go-round does spa!
My neighbor has a hot tub–a California style redwood large container of hot water. Once when the girls were visiting, he invited them over for a “swim.” When I mentioned he had a “hot tub” they were excited, no doubt thinking of our spa. They were polite but after fifteen minutes were ready to go back to our house.
“What do you think of my hot tub?” he asked as they were toweling off. The bluntly honest but charmingly innocent six-year-old shot back a point blank question, “Where are the bubbles and colored lights?” As we were walking back to our house, they all concurred they liked a “hot tub” that was sparkly.
Customers are changing. They live in a highly stimulating world. Look at what it took for the Super Bowl half-time show to get fans on their feet? Customers don’t want service like a cupcake; they want it with colorful sprinkles on top. Great service is no longer Disneyesque, the standard is becoming more like Cirque du Soleil. Disneyworld delights; Cirque du Soleil stuns. Disneyworld leaves you happy; Cirque du Soleil leaves you awed.
“Everything in the frame”
Conversations about customer experience often turn to a focus on the processes and/or the people. Good service providers focus on taking effort, anxiety and frustration out of the hoops customers go through to get their needs met. Good service providers also put emphasis on positive, helpful and caring interpersonal encounters between the customer and the front line employee. But, the frame of service includes everything that fails to create consonance and harmony with the players and the process. Here are three examples.
The chairs in a Bentley automobile dealership are fashioned from the same leather as the seats in the vehicle; the table on which papers are signed at purchase is constructed of the same burr walnut found in the automobile. “Our clients value a harmonious experience,” says Kirk Frederick, former manager of Bentley Dallas. “We constantly look for subtle ways to give clients congruence between the appointments on our motorcars with the aspects of their showroom experience.”
The Spa at Cap Juluca Resort in Anguilla, BWI not only puts fragrant plant material (like bougainvillea petals) in the bath before a massage, they blend the same scent into the oil used by the masseuse, candles in the meditation room, and even put a sprig in the bottom of the guest’s locker so the special fragrance is “worn” by the guest after they leave the spa. Carl Sewell of Sewell Village Cadillac spent over $250 a roll for bathroom wallpaper at his automobile dealerships. Customers in his service waiting area enjoy freshly brewed designer coffee, delicious pastries, high-end magazines and classical music. The show room is lit by giant glass chandeliers that reflect off a floor that is meticulously polished every evening, all aimed at congruence with the luxury vehicle itself.
A customer experience like a hot tub is one that is very good—meeting a customer’s need with precision and with the warmth of an old friend. When I check into a Marriott, I always get a flawless check-in by a friendly front desk person and my room is very comfortable with all the amenities I would expect…all at a fair price.
Service like a spa is more like what I get at the Hotel Monaco. The bathrobe in the closet is not white; it is leopard or zebra print—plus there is a yoga mat. The turndown service does not leave a chocolate; they leave something unexpected on my pillow—a flower, foreign coin, a lottery ticket. And, the housekeeper brings a goldfish in a colorful basketball sized bowl to stay with me in my room. Marriott sometimes has a wine & cheese reception in the hotel lobby. But, Hotel Monaco’s reception might add someone reading palms or a fortuneteller. You get the point.
Customers love their experiences with “sparkly” as my granddaughters called it. Chuck would label it “animated.” As James Mapes writes, “When you are using your imagination to generate ideas or picturing your path to achieve a goal, you want to avoid allowing reality to stifle possibility.”
My all-time favorite Chuck Jones cartoon character is Michigan J. Frog, star of “One Froggy Evening” (https://vimeo.com/50941741). Jones even co-wrote a song, “The Michigan Rag”, for which the character was named. This cartoon also has customer experience metaphors, except in the opposite direction of your post. The frog would only perform for its ‘master’; and, for anyone else, he’d just sit, croak and rib-it. Pretty much a case of value overpromise and underdelivery, with the frog’s master hoping for exciting customer entertainment (from which he could, greedily, amass great wealth) and getting, well, nothing but a disinterested, no-talent frog. Jones closed out the devilish fable by making the frog’s promise of exhibiting legendary, Al Jolson-like talent, and ability to trick its owner, timeless.
I’ve always felt that Jones’ Michigan J. Frog tale was sheer genius, similar to Robert Louis Stevenson’s short story “The Bottle Imp”. In that story, not unlike “One Froggy Evening”, the protagonist buys a bottle with an imp inside that grants wishes. However, the bottle is cursed; if the owner dies bearing it, his or her soul is forfeited to hell. Feels like a really bad customer experience to me.
So few get what Customer Experience is truly about. And importantly what it takes to call forth the kinds of experiences that create emotional connections and loyalty. Glad that you get it and love the way you have illustrated it. I suspect that you do not go to the process(kaizen, lean, six sigma) school of business nor the technology school of business. There is too much human-ness in you. Great!
What I will take away from that which you have shared is the following:
“Service that is value-added is a delightful gesture of generosity; service that is value-unique is styled of ingenuity. While we all enjoy extras, service with imagination is compelling and captivating.”
So it occurs to me that the challenge of any business that takes on the Customer Experience challenge is:
1. Generosity. Where does one find the space (opening) for generosity to occur in business where time is short, there is much to do, not enough folks to do it, and where ROI (getting more back than one gives) is GOD?
2. Ingenuity. Where is the time-space for ingenuity to show up in a business world which worships at the altar of process? What is process but taking out the diversity of life and replacing it with uniformity? Put differently, when you work here, you leave human ingenuity at home, and follow, strictly, the one script that we have created and measure folks on.
So no surprise, that most organisations suck at Customer Experience excellence.
All the best to you and your loved ones.
Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Michael and Maz. Chip
Hi Chip – your article got me thinking. Because in many markets, customer expectations are on a trajectory toward a “higher bar,” they are also constantly changing – much like the comparison you made to animation where everything in the frame moves with the character. While there has been some debate about the ‘protagonist’ in the customer experience story (is it really employees?; Can some customers be antagonists?), I’ll go with centering the scene on customers and, while I’m at it, prospective customers, too.
What makes customer experience excellence so challenging for many companies is that it’s so ephemeral (I wish ‘ephemerality’ was a word – it would have been so useful here.). If things change (by a lot or by a little depends on your perspective), how do companies make it possible for the ‘frame to move with the customer’ and still provide the constancy of excellence that seems to be so critical?