It’s summer reading season. Today, I will share seven books that are an essential summer read for anyone in business. I hope that these books will make the same impact on you that they did on me.
We shared these books on a recent podcast, chosen because we liked them a lot or, in some instances, because they changed our lives. While we can’t predict they will do the same for you with certainty, we feel that they will be helpful in the pursuit of your career goals for yourself and your Customer Experience management goals for the organizations.
Updated recently by Pine and Gilmore, The Experience Economy will help you understand what the experience economy is all about. It was the foundation for the entire Customer Experience movement. It did as much if not more than any other single book to define this area and this perspective and way of thinking about customers.
This book changed my life. When I read this book in the late 1990s, I was still working in corporate life at British Telecom (BT). It explained to me that people do not buy products or services; they buy experiences. So I began exploring what a Customer Experience was and helped implement a Customer Experience improvement program at BT. Shortly after the BT Customer Experience program was a success, I wrote my first of seven books on Customer Experience, Building Great Customer Experiences(Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), and started my global Customer Experience consultancy, Beyond Philosophy.
The basic idea of The End of Average is taking the concept of what average is and a technical, statistical finding that upsets that idea, and then understanding the critical implications it has for businesses and other entities moving forward. For example, Rose says when we’re dealing with a large enough group of people, say a group of customers, and looking at more than a couple of dimensions of these customers’ preferences, then the “average” of that group of people doesn’t exist. In other words, there is nobody in the middle of the spectrum. So, if your business or life approach aims to make the average customer, student, or employee happy, you are probably serving no one.
Rose has some entertaining examples where he illustrates that point. From designing the cockpit of fighter jets and attempting to define the ideal woman by looking at the measurements of thousands of them, he’s a good storyteller. The second half of the book is the implications of this truth for education, business, and politics, to name a few.
This book is a quick read that you can probably read in an hour or two. It’s the story of two mice who go to a specific place every day to get cheese—until the cheese disappears. Then, after musing about who moved their cheese, one mouse uses the rest of the book to figure out where the cheese moved to, and the other spends it whining about the cheese moving.
I read this around the time I was launching the Customer Experience program at BT. I was very interested in the concept of Customer Experience but also very comfortable in my high-paying corporate gig.
The book asked a question that I couldn’t ignore, comfortable or not: What would you do if you weren’t scared? For me, the answer was to strike out on my own and start my consultancy. Although to be fair, I was scared. I have three kids, and they were all about to go to university at the time. Not only that, if I did start my own company, I would have to leave my comfortable position and start at the beginning again. But, ultimately, I did take the risk, and it turned out fine. I credit this book for giving me a nudge in that direction.
Another critical observation the book made was that it is essential to remember to enjoy the journey you take to reach a goal. The fact is, three months after you achieve your goal, you think, “well, now what?” In my case, my career goal from the beginning was to complete a series of promotions that would end up with me in senior management at BT. When I had achieved that goal, I was surprised to learn that I needed a new purpose. I realized that the fun was getting there, not being there. The same concept has been true of Beyond Philosophy. The pleasure was getting from working on my book alone in my room, talking about Customer Experience, a concept nobody understood yet, to where we are now, where Customer Experience is a vital part of business today. Beyond Philosophy is one of the leading consultancy companies, and I have written several books on the subject. The fun bit isn’t being here, although that’s not bad. The fun bit was the journey to get here.
Manzi ran a consulting firm that would partner with businesses to run field experiments for their ideas about changes to their programs. The result is he has a lot of great war stories and advice about the importance of experimentation and testing your ideas.
Manzi also doesn’t worry about theories before the experiment. Instead, he likes to get right into testing things. He thinks that even if he doesn’t know why one thing works better than another, at least he knows one thing works better, and maybe that is enough to decide about what to do.
Too many organizations don’t experiment, which I find surprising. When they do try something and don’t get the results they expected, or any results, these organizations blame the experimentation process for the failure instead of what they tried to change. Perhaps it is the fear of failure embedded in many corporations that keep them from trying new things. Fear of failure stifles creativity and stops experimentation.
The fact is most of the stuff these skeptical organizations tried before probably didn’t produce the results they were expecting either. Still, without experimentation and the measured results to show it didn’t work, they could pretend it might have. If you don’t know for sure, you can always say you are winning, not failing. Experimentation takes away that wiggle room. However, experimentation also provides you with a better foundation for success moving forward.
My inclusion of this book shows my age because this is an old one. However, I included the book because it had an enormous influence on my life. This book is a self-improvement book, addressing your behavior as a person. Covey’s book has been a bestseller for decades.
Here are the seven habits, as presented in the book, with my quick summary:
⦁ Be proactive. Don’t wait for things to happen. Think through them and go out there and do stuff.
⦁ Begin with the end in mind. Have a strategy to get where you want to go. In Customer Experience terms, consider what you want to deliver and work backward from there.
⦁ Put first things first. Know what the main thing is you want to achieve and do that first. Starting with the most important stuff allows you to get more stuff done.
⦁ Think win-win. Look for ways for both parties to get what they need in a given situation.
⦁ Seek first to understand, then be understood. Before you start telling people everything you can do for them, know what they want to be done.
⦁ Synergy. Look for how other people’s strengths combined are more than they are when used alone. It’s like adding 2 + 2 and getting the answer 5.
⦁ Sharpen the saw. This last habit is to rest to give yourself a chance to recharge.
In my 20s, I implemented these principles. These are still many of the values I have today.
Written by an economics blogger and opinion writer, McArdle has written for The Washington Post, Forbes, and The Atlantic, and The Economist. McArdle has a lot of great insights. In this book, she tells stories about success growing out of failure and how important it is to try things, even if it fails. McArdle says that failure doesn’t have to devastate you but can give you something to learn from, which is vital for people from all walks of life. She talks about the implications of learning from failure for kids in education, new social policies, and the prison system in the US, among others.
McArdle graduated from business school during the Dotcom bust. She had a job offer yanked away from her because the markets were collapsing. McArdle says this failure was vital for her. By recovering from that disappointment and resetting her life, McArdle is in a much better place than she thinks she would have been otherwise.
Many entrepreneurs will tell you that they learn more from businesses that have failed than those that succeeded. Steve Jobs failed a lot before he succeeded. Most successful entrepreneurs failed a fair bit before they became successful, too.
McArdle says the question isn’t whether you will fail one day. We all do. The question is, do you have what it takes to make the best of it?
I would be remiss if I left out this last book, which is one of mine. The Intuitive Customer’s premise is that to move your Customer Experience to the next level, an organization should understand the intuitions that drive customer behavior at an emotional, subconscious, and psychological level. The Intuitive Customer describes where Behavioral Economics meets Customer Experience. To keep it practical and not theoretical, we took academic and scientific studies of Behavioral Economics and Consumer Psychology and applied their discoveries to real-world situations. Whenever possible, we shared strategies from innovative companies that had been successful in their efforts.
We cover concepts you have read about here, including:
⦁ Customers make decisions emotionally.
⦁ Customers don’t always know why they do what they do.
⦁ Every Customer has two ways of thinking.
⦁ Habits drive many of your Customers’ decisions.
⦁ People use mental shortcuts for decision-making.
⦁ Managing your reputation is an essential part of the experience.
⦁ Customer loyalty is a function of memory.
There you have it. Your summer reading list courtesy of many years of “Aha! Moments” found in their pages. May you find one of these in your lap by a beach somewhere with a cold drink in your hands and nothing but time to soak up the learning.
Think reading is for chumps? Try my podcast, The Intuitive Customer instead. We explore the many reasons why customers do what they do—and what you should do about it. Subscribe today right here.