My commute with a leader who creates magical experiences.

The last few days, my drive to work and back has been a journey into what makes the most magical place on earth give its visitors an experience of a lifetime. The morning and evening commutes have been filled with Lee Cockerell telling me about the 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies From A Life At Disney, through his audio-book, “Creating Magic”.

You see, Lee is the former Executive Vice President of Operations for the Walt Disney World Resort. To many it is truly the happiest place on earth, filled with fantasies, dreams, and of course, magical experiences. Not to mention, one of the most efficiently managed customer service operations on the planet. 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, 20 resort hotels, a shopping & entertainment village and a sports and recreation complex and a host of ancillary operations. 40,000 employees and 7,000 leaders. Together, earning the well-deserved title of “the number one vacation destination in the world”. Listening to this man explain what it takes for a leader to give his customers an experience of a lifetime and yet strive to overachieve that standard is an amazing learning experience in and of itself. Personally, it’s a culmination of everything creative and corporate I strive to achieve.

I’m still not through with his book but I’m beginning to realize that chapter after chapter Lee focuses on the leadership qualities that put employees at the same level as customers. He swears by the concept of leading a well cared-for and empowered workforce results in a fantastic customer experience and robust financial returns. The four expectations that Disney leaders have to meet for their “cast members” (employees) are exactly the ones that apply to their “guests” (customers).

  1. Make Me Feel Special
  2. Treat Me as an Individual
  3. Respect Me
  4. Make Me Knowledgeable, Develop Me, Know My Role

What makes his book compelling is that it is packed with actual examples, business cases, anecdotes and draws on his own missteps and learnings in life. It’s also one of his more powerful messages to leaders. Share your weaknesses, challenges and your efforts to overcome them with your employees and you will earn their trust and loyalty like nothing else. What’s most intriguing to me is that, so far (I’m on CD 5 of 6), never once has he mentioned the advantage of the huge creative content at his disposal to ensure a great customer experience. That truly is a sign of a great teacher who demonstrates how to successfully lead, regardless of your business, industry, product or service.

As with most audio-books, I’m never done with one hearing. New concepts and applications to my work and life jump out at me every time I listen. Most leadership concepts Lee talks about are nothing new. However, their application in real-life situations is what drives it home for me. With his unmistakable southern drawl, Lee has made my commute a great experience.

This blog and everything it represents could not have had a better book to rave about. Lee Cockerell’s “Creating Magic – 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies From A Life At Disney”.

Story telling at it’s best. Wait! Is it the movie or the critic?

Take a tragedy and weave a story around it. You cannot see many examples as notable as “Titanic”. James Cameron told a story with a cinematic experience arguably unseen before and after. The accuracy in the depiction of elements in the story was a priority of Cameron. Except, he missed one tiny detail of cosmic proportions. 

Enter, another master story-teller, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, a renowned astrophysicist. He takes another ‘tragedy’ and weaves an amazing story around it. The tragedy being Cameron’s blasphemous depiction of the wrong sky in the movie. As I watched Dr. Tyson narration and triumphant end about Cameron’s titanic oversight I could not but join in the applause. You’ve got to experience Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson – Titanic 3D and Cameron “Wrong Sky”.

Move over Hollywood Special Effects. The Terminator and Minority Report drones are real.

Little did I expect to be blown away by seeing the future today. I couldn’t believe my eyes watching the tiny drones in science-fiction movies actually buzz around in real life.  Must see, jaw-dropping video of Vijay Kumar: Robots that fly … and cooperate. What really jerked me out of my chair was the eerie resemblance these tiny robots had in certain camera angles with the X-wing fighters from Star Wars. I had goose bumps when one of the shots showed the robot fly through a narrow window frame. The camera angle and the manuever resembled that of Luke Skywalker’s banking dive before making the trench-run on the Death Star. Absolutely brilliant flight control that’ll make any Top Gun instructor proud.

Equally facinating was the flight dynamics 101 and Physics 101 where Vijay reminds us about. “Position, it’s derivative velocity, accelaration, then (who knew there are two more?), jerk and snap.” I have always been facinated with robotics. How many of you out there remember experimenting with tiny stepper and servo motors and debating endlessly the merits of each as we fastened them with rubber bands and soldered the ends to home made circuit boards?

It’s amazing what minaturization of circuitry and chip design can do when combined with creative and innovative minds. Kudos to Prof. Vijay Kumar and his team. I can’t wait yet dread it’s applications.

Who, me?

Sri Alathur. No, I’m Peter Pan. Ok, not really. He got away without growing up at all, while I think I’m the kid who reluctantly grew up.

I love magic. Story-telling.  Being creative. Creating experiences. Love art, theater, movies. Again, magic. I moderately practice some of it. Thoroughly enjoy the wonder in the eyes of children being entertained.

Life is beautiful. Ever thankful for my family, people I’ve met, opportunities given, life’s experiences and lessons learnt.

Electronics Engineer with an MBA in Business Strategy, my entire career has been in and around digital media. Creating visual and interactive experiences starting with computer graphics, animation, TV and movie special effects, multimedia, and for more than 10 years now creating and managing online experiences at AT&T. Along the way, I honed skills in project management, operations, analytics, strategy and leadership. View full profile.

My goals? Near and far term alike, is to always appreciate life and create magic. Anything that makes happiness the center point of life. For me and everyone else. That, which I took for granted as a kid. Hence, still reluctant to grow up. Peter Pan, Aladdin’s Genie ~:} and I.

What I learnt at the Forrester CX Measurement workshop.

Interesting takeaways from the Forrester Workshop on Customer Experience Measurement. Held on March 14, 2012 in New York City, Megan Burns the Principal Analyst at Forrester skillful guided us through the fundamentals and measuring CX quality. Where it really helped hone my skills was understanding the construct of what makes for a good CX metrics, and that includes making it actionable and creating dashboards that spur action.

Megan’s research, that validates what I always belived, shows that it’s lost on a lot of managers that the customer’s perception ‘is’ their experience. What that means is that it doesn’t matter as much what the customer actually DID. It’s what they THINK they did and what they THINK was the company’s interaction with them. Note that I am not talking about what the company’s records show that the experience was in terms of actual transactions.  Nor is it what the company’s intentions were when it designed the interface. The customer’s future actions (loyalty, attrition, willingness to recommend, etc.) can based on their assessment, subjective as it may be, of their last interaction. Measure the qualitative results of that last interaction and you get an experience metrics of that touch point. Factor in the qualitative measures of all touch points over time and you get a relationship metrics. The ultimate relationship metric being the willingness to recommend from which we get the ubiquitous Net Promoter Score.

Being a visual thinker it made total sense to me when Megan suggested that we can get a holistic view using Journey maps and CX eco-system maps. A visual layout of cross-touch point customer flows interlaid with people, processes, policies, and technologies that influence those customer interactions. We’d know where the bright spots are to replicate and the areas of opportunities to fix. An awesome concept indeed.

Totally in line with my belief that one must always look at CX in 3D, Forrester insists that mining of unstructured feedback is vital to conduct a reliable root-cause analysis. Megan admits that “it’s a hunt”, but well worth it. Some more interesting takeaways for me were the engagement of customers in co-creation and validation of new/improved experiences. Not much is left to chance when that happens. You’re pretty much on the road to creating a best-in-class customer experience, and dashboards to show for it.  

Peppered with wonderful analogies and exercises, my perception is that the workshop was extremely useful and effective. Hey, that ‘is’ my experience and I’m more than willing to recommend Forrester’s workshops. :)

Does it help to view your customer experience in 3D?

It’s very easy for managers to measure their successes and make decisions based on just one source of customer experience data. The most common being the record of actions taken by the customer on visiting a certain customer touchpoint, such as store, website, call center. Sometimes referred to as Transaction Analytics it usually includes orders, traffic, churn, resolution rate, etc. Some managers factor in a second, very valuable data source – Satisfaction Surveys. These provide us with the perception of the customer, their satisfaction, loyalty, willingness to recommend and propensity to repurchase.  Not many look at their customer experience in three dimensions. The third dimension being Usability Studies. This source reveals the most critical component of the customer experience – ‘intent’. Without ‘intent’ we can never know for sure what exactly the user had in mind when they tried  to perform a transaction or gave us a certain satisfaction score.

As we begin to add each dimension to our analysis, it tends to get resource intensive and coordinating inputs between them appears to be a daunting research operation. However, position these three dimensions along with competitive intelligence and you have the making of a truly comprehensive view of your customer experience and its competitive advantages, or lack thereof. By triangulating the information from three sources you can map entire user-flows, originating with the intent, followed by the actions performed and the resultant satisfaction (See Figure). This model appears to be scalable. You could apply it to a specific niche area of customer transaction or to entire journey maps (a favorite topic of mine) across customer touchpoints, channels or platforms. I believe this makes the beginnings of a robust competitive customer experience strategy. More on that at another time.

Experience is everything

Life is an experience. Everything we see, touch, hear, feel, taste, smell, do, learn, speak is an experience. Appreciating the magic behind each experience makes life worth living.

 I quote Deepak Chopra from his book “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success”. “True success is therefore the experience of the miraculous. It is the unfolding of the divinity within us. It is the perception of divinity wherever we go, in whatever we perceive — in the eyes of a child, in the beauty of a flower, in the flight of a bird. When we begin to experience our life as the miraculous expression of divinity — not occasionally, but all the time — then we will know the true meaning of success.”

Thanks to my dear friend Avis, who gave me this book a year and half ago. And miraculously, while looking for something to read on this gorgeous Sunday morning, I chanced upon the very essence this blog is about.