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Customer experience thinking: The Thinkers 50 list

CX thinkers 50

The Thinkers 50 list is produced every 2 years and has been described by the FT as the “Oscars of Management Thinking”. The list features thinkers who are deemed to have had a tangible impact on the business world. The 50 “Thinkers” cover a multitude of areas in their research.

We were interested in who (on the 2016 list) was engaged in customer experience thinking. We thought you might be too.

Customer experience, and customer service, are becoming mainstream differentiators in an increasingly commoditized world.

As Coco Chanel once mused,

“in order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different”.

Service is a clear path to that differentiation. And some commentators have gone so far as to suggest that CX is the next competitive battleground.

So we did some more in depth reading around the Thinkers 50 list. We uncovered the 7 thinkers on the list that we think have direct relevance to CX and customer service, so that you can read their thoughts and follow their work.

Customer experience is moving fast. It’s central to our businesses and it’s tough to keep up with best thinkers. So we’re delighted to find and share any resources we can to help the community succeed.

Customer experience thinking.
The CX guide to the Thinkers 50 list

1. W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne

Kim and Mauborgne were the original authors of the now world-famous Blue Ocean Strategy. Their work centers on the view that the “greatest opportunities for business today lie with business model innovation – i.e. finding new ways to create, deliver and capture value.” 

They seek, through their Blue Ocean Strategy framework, to help companies alter the boundaries of an existing industry, rather than simply competing within them.

They show in their book that to create meaningful competitive advantage, you need to develop organizational capabilities that enable the company to “design and to deliver unique and distinctive customer experiences, and through this capability, to create value that is distinctive in the market”. They urge us all to identify and satisfy real customer needs that deal not only with an appropriate, relevant and unique product or service, but also addresses the experiential and emotional elements that the customer needs. (There’s an echo here in their work with that of John Kotter, below).

I love their stance, which pushes companies to create and then operate customer-centric businesses that really make companies fly. Great reading.

How to learn more about Kim and Mauborgne’s customer experience thinking? It’s fairly easy to get to grips with their framework and bring their thinking into your team or company. We’d suggest:

Customer experience thinking Jeffery Gitomer quote

2. Don Tapscott

Don Tapscott’s management theory describes how the digital economy is changing our world. He describes how the most recent generations have been “bathed” in connecting technology since they were born. As a result, he claims, the world is transforming into something much more open and transparent than anything we’ve seen before. Humanity is building a machine he says, and this enables us to collaborate in new ways.

Don is optimistic about this world, and lays out the 4 principles he believes are making it a better place. A great place to start on Don’s work is the TED video where he gives a really entertaining talk about the power of networked knowledge and networked intelligence. If you want to understand how the world’s going to work in a  few years, and get a headstart on planning for the kind of customers that will live in it – you can’t do much better than this.

Want to learn more about Don Tapscott’s work? We’d suggest:

  • watch Don’s TED talk – the 4 principles of the open world – brilliant
  • visit his website for videos, blog posts and downloads galore
  • Read one of Don’s books – we’d suggest Grown Up Digital as a starting point

3. John Kotter

John works on how to effect change. His philosophies are important to those of us whose jobs involve getting customer or employee behaviors to change.

Kotter states that when he has studied change processes of any kind, what he finds is that only small percentage were particularly effective. What those cases all have in common is that they focused not just on trying to get people to think differently but to get people to feel differently. When people feel differently about something, that is what changes their behaviour. So in any change process, including changing your staff’s attitude to customers, or changing customers’ experiences, you need to work on changing how they feel. Changing the emotional piece of the puzzle is more important than the cerebral side.

We loved John’s no-nonsense approach and can see it would be of benefit to people managing teams, and people effecting change in CX arenas. Find out more here:

  • Watch John’s short YouTube video The Heart of Change, highlighting how to bring people with you when you’re changing a company/department/plan.
  • Read the Kotter 8-step process for making change happen. There are some useful insights in here for marketers and customer experience professionals. It’s a very different way of coming at the customer experience planning process.
  • Check out the Harvard profile on John Kotter.

Customer experience thinking Jake Poore, Disney quote4. Seth Godin

“Seth” is one of those people that, like the other single-monikered Madonna, Prince and Britney, needs no introduction. One of the leading marketers of our generation, Seth’s “otaku” approach to customer communication and customer intimacy was spellbinding when it was released. His customer experience thinking has had a significant impact on the birth of Customer Thermometer and has certainly shaped the way we’ve thought about what value we bring and what we’re like to do business with.

Seth loves value, care, attention and focus. He pushes us all to ask what value we are creating in the world for our customers (and for ourselves).

Want to know how to get people to engage with your ideas? Want to know how to get customers to rave about your company or service? Want to know how to make people love and embrace your communications rather than delete them? Seth’s your man.

Read more about Seth Godin’s customer experience thinking here:

5. Amy Edmonson

Delivering an awesome customer experience is impossible without a super awesome team at your back. Amy Edmonson’s philosophy is all about teaming.

She has shown through her research that organizations thrive, or fail to thrive, based on how well the small groups within those organizations work. In most companies, the work that produces value for customers is carried out by teams, and increasingly, by flexible team-like entities. Amy says that the pace of change and the fluidity of most modern working structures means that our focus shouldn’t be on creating effective teams any more. Instead we need to work out how to lead effective teaming.

Amy is clear that organizations progress and compete better when teams are led to learn. But there are a wealth of things holding teams back from learning (many of them psychological) and her work seeks to help leaders overcome these. Read more on Edmonson’s work here:

Customer experience thinking Donald Porter quote6. Osterwalder and Pigneur

Osterwalder and Pigneur’s work on how to create products and services customers want is great reading for CX professionals.

Their Value Proposition Design framework,was created with those of us who have been “frustrated by business meetings based on endless conversations, hunches and intuitions, expensive new product launches that blew up, or simply disappointed by the failure of a good idea”.

Their work seeks to uncover the patterns of great value propositions, to help you get closer to customers, and avoid wasting time with ideas that are not going to work. Their focus then moves into the design and testing of value propositions, with the central aim of taking the guesswork out of creating products and services that perfectly match customers’ needs and desires.

Find out more on O&P’s customer experience thinking here:

7. Steve Blank

Steve is credited with launching the lean startup movement with his customer development methodology. Even if you’re not in a startup, there’s a lot to be said for going to back to the customer drawing board with Steve. His major focus is the fine balance, and symbiotic relationship, between developing a product and understanding the customer.

Blank’s work urges us to embrace facts about customers, not just hypothesis. This is something I think all CX professionals can embrace more – we all have a great deal of data, but what are the facts that data presents to us?

Read more of Steve’s work and customer experience thinking here:

About the author: Lindsay Willott is the CEO of Customer Thermometer – 1-click feedback from any email you send. Here are a few more posts on customer experience thinking she’s written you might want to check out:

Best Customer Retention TED Talks

How to give customer support that feels like magic

50 resources to help you improve customer loyalty