Think a bit outside of the box and consider the type of corporate culture that can consistently create and support world-class customer experiences. Try to imagine a mindful approach to customer experience. We're serious.
"Mindful" is not a word typically associated with business or industry. Let's take a minute to explain how we are using it.
There are a few different meanings of this word, and we like them all. There's "bearing in mind" and "attentive."
An example from the Merriam-Webster dictionary uses the word this way: a truly considerate person, always mindful of the needs of others. If you think of others as customers, this is a simple and direct way of thinking about the mindset of a smart company.
Then there's mindfulness, which has to do with being aware of the present moment, free from the sort of blinders we described above. Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote that mindfulness means "paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally."
For example, a person in this state would do one thing at a time. He would not only observe carefully, but also notice small details. He could observe reality for what it is, rather than being blinded by his own opinions and preconceptions.
Before sharing some thoughts on how an entire company might operate in a mindful manner, let's set some boundaries. We are not suggesting that your firm drape beads around your office, or that you can be more successful by sitting around doing nothing (and simply wishing for success.) But it is extremely difficult to see through your customer's eyes. Your "vision" is clouded by your job description, your compensation system, your budget, the opinion of your superiors and the input of your subordinates.
To generalize a bit, the people free of such blinders are most often those who already have immense power and wealth and those who have few if any obligations or income.
Both of these groups have immense advantages over your firm. That's why you didn't invent the iPhone, or Facebook.
Both have a much easier time not only seeing what customers see, but also following that vision wherever it takes them. You have to worry about whether a radical innovation would threaten your installed customer base, alter your job description, or inconvenience your life.
In other words, it takes quite a bit of courage and initiative for the folks in the middle—which encompasses most companies—to really, truly see what customers see.
That's where developing a mindful corporate culture starts to make sense.
Your company can't possibly keep up with the flood of new technologies simply by running as fast as it can. If the individuals in your firm incessantly use email, text messaging, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, tablets, smartphones and the web to communicate willy-nilly, the result will be chaos.
Most companies have inadvertently created a culture that more closely resembles the behavior of a ten-year-old with ADD than it does a smart and disciplined organization.
We're confident that a few highly successful firms will transform their corporate culture around a considered, mindful approach—and that such firms will enjoy success in the decades ahead.
A mindful corporate culture will value substance over style. It will stress single-minded focus over superficial multi-tasking. It will reward those who are objective and honest.
Most importantly, every single day it will focus on sensing and responding to what customers are doing right now.
How does a firm start to shift its culture to be more mindful? Here a few principles to get you started...
- Avoid blinders: Please don't be bound by any set of principles, including these. Otherwise, you risk blinding yourselves to the truth of your customers, organization, and industry. Instead, view principles as a starting point and as a way to share an approach that may have merit.
- Focus on now: Create a culture that values and rewards focus on what is happening right here, right now. Whatever the task, your firm should help employees focus 100% of their attention and energies on it. This principle has many implications. It may lead to shorter meetings, and more frequent breaks, so that employees can attend to other obligations—also with 100% of their focus. It will likely demand a higher quality of work, and a more rigorous thought process. If you go into a meeting with a stack of reports you barely understand, that won't cut it in a mindful corporate culture; such behavior reveals 10% of your energy, not 100%. And if you're in the room physically, you need to be in the room mentally.
- Be accurate: Toss corporate bluster out the window. Be brutally precise when considering how your firm treats customers versus the manner in which they could and should be treated. Accuracy means confronting the truth, being determined to obtain the actual facts, and being able to accept even information that threatens the very foundations of what you are trying to achieve.
- Be tolerant: Don't force others, even your employees or subordinates, to adopt your views. Respect the right of others to be different and to choose what to believe and how to decide. If you fear this might lead to chaos and disorganization, think again. By fostering a diverse set of opinions and including a diverse set of skills, you are likely to far better identify and satisfy customer needs.
- Minimize suffering: Make life easier for customers, employees, partners and other people your organization touches. Doing so leads others to make a stronger commitment to the relationship they have with your organization, and that increases the chances that your efforts will prove both sustainable and profitable.
- Communicate openly and truthfully: Remember, the truth will come out. In a 24/7 interconnected world, any attempts to obscure or distort the truth will come back to bite you. Instead, be a leader in the practice of open, honest and clear communications.
In other words, mind your customers.
Michael Hinshaw and Bruce Kasanoff are authors of Smart Customers, Stupid Companies: Why Only Intelligent Companies Thrive, And How To Be One Of Them, (Business Strategy Press, 2012).
[Image: Flickr user Diego Diaz]