Think about your last experience that you couldn’t wait to share with a friend. Why was it special? It might have just been ‘cool’ or better yet, it might have been that each of your needs was perfectly anticipated and met at every turn.

The way people experience products and services, today more than ever, is central to growing a business. And this is true across nearly all industry verticals, from free apps to heavily regulated products, thanks to how easy the internet has made it to search, switch or dump products that ‘just don’t work’.

Combine this with the speed and intensity at which products are being released and marketed using online channels, particularly on mobile, and a fine-tuned human behaviour is activated. Malcolm Gladwell explains this phenomenon in Blink where people have an instinct that almost instantly helps them decide that an experience (and by default a product or service) is worthwhile or not. The second someone decides an experience is not worthwhile, they disengage. These instant judgements can happen at any stage of an experience, during someone’s first impression or a lot further down the road when someone is fully invested.

Over time, metrics begin to show the effects of disengagement and their impacts to revenue and profitability. A typical reflex when met with declining engagement is to deep dive into existing metrics and interrogate which business levers can be used to do more with what you’ve already got. Each of these steps creates an echo chamber effect which results in internal debate between people with the long held beliefs about the strength of a product or platform or a previously witnessed trend that featured disengagement. The actions that come from these discussions are usually opaque as leaders struggle to resolve the reasons that lead to disengagement in the first place. Examining the experience(s) that the organisation thinks they are providing rarely makes the list of action items.

This issue has come up with a number of my mentees and in most cases the issue is either:

1) that despite their best efforts, the company offering the product or service has actually gotten in the way of creating a seamless and memorable experience; or

2) the company has never invested in mapping the experience of their prospective customers and built product(s) based on their perceived understanding of needs.

The remedy begins with understanding the experiences of the people your company serves and then obsessing over every step in their journey with you. There are a myriad of iconic companies like Slack, Uber and Apple who do this as a muscle memory. There are also organisations which we have a daily relationship with, who don’t enjoy the brand presence of big tech. The best train operators in the world, including Sydney, rally around experience. For them, the best journey is a forgettable journey.

Here are five actions that founders and company executives can take to nail experience:

1. Film one customer responding to “How do you use our product?”

This is a powerful exercise in observation. It should be done low budget, using a smartphone or GoPro, and capture how a person uses, comments and acts when using the product. With the permission of the customer, the video should be replayed internally to your team. It will reveal a mix of expected and (more often than not) unexpected behaviours. This technique has been used to great effect in companies of all sizes where the connection between customers and product has been lost or is considered ‘something we need to get to’.

2. Map the experience

Invest the relatively short amount of time needed to understand how people’s lives intersect with your product and when the first version of the experience is clear, make it highly visible, like mural-covering-a-big-wall visible. This becomes the centrepiece and reminder to all team members that their life’s work is dedicated in some way to making this experience as brilliant as possible. And when the experience evolves, and it will, up goes another mural.

3. Remove ‘users’ from your vocabulary

I’ve written about this before in the context of professional reinvention. When it comes to obsessing over experience, avoid the word ‘user’ if you’re building a tech product, it de-humanises who you and your team are there to serve. Generic language like ‘user’ also has the effect of decreasing the empathy each team member needs to feel in order to design and deliver a great experience. And if possible, try going beyond ‘customer’ for the same reason. This is important in all business contexts but even more so when creating marketplaces that involve multiple actors, they might all pay you but their experience to get to the point of payment is almost guaranteed to be different.

4. Create individual obsession about experience

Every team member needs to understand how their role contributes to the experience of the people your company serves. Visualising the intersection of each team member’s expertise with customer experience (as per step two, above) is also important but it doesn’t stop there. Make it a priority to regularly discuss hunches and evidence-based ideas that could lead to enhanced experiences. To make this a quick win, jump onto Slack and create a channel called #BetterExperience and invite your team to add their thinking here which can be discussed and actioned at each team meeting. For those not using Slack…wait, you’re not using Slack?!

5. Take the experience conversation public

Every product and service requires improvement. Many companies have adopted an approach which involves customers and prospective customers nominating and voting for new product enhancements online. At AirShr we use UserVoice to help with this (Zendesk has similar functionality). We have found UserVoice, which also integrates seamlessly with our iOS and Android apps, as an invaluable tool in having a continuous product development dialogue with our listeners and broadcasters.

Closing thoughts

If customers are disengaging, seek to understand how their experiences map to your product as your first port of call. It will expose opportunity. Secondly, experiences evolve. Use these five steps to start an obsession that evolves in-line with your customer’s experience.