“If you want to change a nation, change its language.”1
I’ve got this idea that if we change the way we speak about the things we build and offer, be it intangible services or tangible products, it changes our intention and it changes how the relationship between us and our customer is manifested. We go into the interaction with a different goal, seeking a different result. We focus on the customers needs and how we can facilitate meeting those needs, instead of our needs to generate sales and profits. It can feel scary to let go of the latter, and it’s not how businesses traditionally see things.
I think it can be different. I believe that focusing on the interests of the customer, of the actual person we’re trying to establish a relationship with, creates a much stronger and successful relationship. And it’s that outcome that results in the revenue’s and profits; they become byproducts, secondary effects. I don’t mean just typical experience and user centered design. That’s a given. What I am proposing is changing the language of how you work; changing the actual intent behind why you are making something and what you want your relationship with the customer to be based on. I’m not diminishing the importance of revenues, profits, and the success of our businesses.
Let’s take a side street for a second and go back about 60 years.
Aaron Beck was a psychologist who worked through the mid 20th century, and is a respectable 92 years old as I write this. He is regarded as the father of cognitive therapy and developed a method of changing thoughts and behavior called “cognitive reframing.”
To be as brief as I can be, Beck’s technique of reframing means that you take a belief, dispute it, and cast it in a different light. You change the language you use. You take a thought or situation, and literally change the words you use and reframe how you perceive it. Counterintuitively, regardless if you believe the new perception, you still change your experience by reframing it. Believing in it right away is irrelevant. It’s the practice and repetition that matters. If you’re goal is to change perception, eventually this will become subconscious and automatic. It changes the intention you ascribe and you are presented with a new way of seeing things. And when you see things differently, you’ve changed your own experience, which changes the intention of your actions.
Beck’s method of reframing is probably the most common cognitive treatment for depression, anxiety, and otherwise toxic cognitive distortion. And it works. There is no dispute. It’s one of the most popular methods of behavior and belief change. It’s easy to do and difficult to master, and once it is ingrained it’s almost impossible to go back. What does this have to do with experience design? It’s about reframing how we think about what we do and the relationship between us and the people we’re trying to do business with. Oops… I mean the people we’re trying to build relationships with and make successful.
Reversing The Intent
Businesses are meant to run. It’s how we all survive. They produce things for customers, and for the people who work in them. The customer gets goods and services, and we get revenue to feed the mouths and keep the lights on, so to speak. A typical way of looking at the business/customer relationship is: We produce things that we hope people want or need, and in return they buy them from us and both parties get what they want.
We are trying to meet our goals by getting something out of them.
Pretty standard. The intent is to make something, something people want, and get them to buy it. For most of us, we put our resources into this model and crank away at it like we have since business has been business. I want to reverse the intent and propose something different. What if the way we looked at it like this: We want our customers to be successful, and we want to help facilitate their continued success. We want to be something that they are drawn to and want to be engaged with.
We provide things to facilitate their wants.
The message is reversed. It’s an oversimplification, but it captures the idea of how you frame what you do. The business outcome is largely the same, but the intent of why we’re in business is shifted. The catch is that the intent you have is reflected in your services and products, imbued inside it. As people within businesses are aligned on each message, that is the approach they take to how the customer relationship is organized. It’s not about having blind faith in a pseudo-utopian message, or magically changing how you think in one tap of a magic wand. It’s about changing your language and how you choose to think about why you do what you do.
Focus on Us
A traditional model of business is to be successful and generate revenue and profit. You want to stay in business not go out of business. And there’s nothing wrong with this. Revenue and profit is what puts food on the table. From 11-digit megacorps to a family fruit market. If we want to keep the lights on and the mouths fed, money has to change hands. We fulfill our goals by generating results and subsequently harvesting those results. Our language reflects this. How we talk about things and view ourselves and the customer is colored by our language. Again – it’s not bad. It’s the nature of the universe. We construct definitions and models for what we do so people can all understand the goal and align.
Revenue and profit isn’t what businesses actually product, they are outcomes. We say we “generate revenues” or “make a profit.” It’s the byproduct spun off of some other service, product, or activity. This model is business centric. The goal is to get them to give us something, money, patronage, their data, etc. We make things with the idea that if it is enticing enough, we will be given what we want. We are at the center of the circle, and trying to pull things into our gravity.
We are at the center, viewing customers as people who give us what we want.
This can be a problem in that it is set up so that the customer is doing something for our purposes, our goals. The problem there is that very few (or no) customers do business with us for us. Our continued success isn’t what makes them want to be customers. They don’t really care about our success, and certainly not for the revenue and profits we harvest. This is what creates turnover and churn. Customers subconsciously (or consciously) see us as a commodity, and select from whoever is presenting the thing that best serves them. “What have you done for me lately?” And those goals are what make up our intent. The intent behind what we’re doing affects how we design things. What we are making, be it a service or product or both, resembles that intent; and resembles the attitude of those who built it. It doesn’t mean that it’s bad, it just means you imbue what you make with who you are. And this is result focused design. Our intent is to get that result.
Focus on Them
The other side of the story is experience design focused on providing and facilitating. This is when our goal is about keeping the customer in the center of the relationship, appealing to their self-interests. We shift our intention, with the purpose being that we concentrate on their needs and satisfying their goals. Our intent isn’t to serve our needs for the business outcomes, those are the results. The reframed intent is the facilitation of the customer needs. The means and methods can still be the same, but the intent behind the goals is shifted. Instead of focusing on an exchange that flows from the external customers to us in the center, the focus is on the customer in the center and all the competing businesses on the outside. The customer is the center of the gravity and we present things that they want to pull in. This is how we chose to frame it.
The customer is the focus, and we provide things they want pulled into their gravity.
People do things for themselves, for what they need and the goals they’re trying to achieve. The core idea is that our intent is to provide something to the customer that facilitates the goal. We’re catalysts. Our purpose is to give things that delight or make our customers more successful. The message we are imbuing is, “We want to provide something for you. Something that enhances your life and supports what you’re trying to do. How can we make you successful?” This appeals to their self-interest. They want something, and we just happen to have it. A shift of the language we use internally shifts the intent, which changes the spirit of what we provide.
This is why delivering delightful experiences is so important today and why so many businesses are gravitating towards that line of thinking. How we talk and frame things changes our purpose and our goal. We set out with a different intent and different ways of measuring success, both for ourselves and our customers. This lets the customer work with us on their terms. They choose us based on an internal preference and emotional response because we provide something they can harvest. “What have you done for me lately” turns into “Look at all you’ve done for me lately.” Look at the phrasing of that; they say “You have done it for me,” and not “I have done it for you.” They don’t do it for us, they do it for themselves.
Here’s the best part: it doesn’t matter if you believe what you’re saying, and it doesn’t matter if you like what you’re saying. The goal isn’t to suddenly wake up one day as the Mother Theresa of experience design. The goal is to change the intent of what you’re doing by shifting the way you frame it and the language you use to describe it. If people stay focused on changing their language in a way that champions providing to the customer, the human, eventually it becomes subconscious, automatic, and a part of what you believe.
That’s the shift that happens. People do things for themselves, for their interests. So we focus on that, appealing to the customer’s self-interests. That’s the beauty. They keep coming back to us because they’re doing something for themselves, and that internal motivation is what makes someone want to stick with a business that provides for them, not asks of them. This is the type of thinking that is letting companies evolve and deliver experiences on a higher level, and form much stronger and lasting relationships with their customers. We become catalysts and facilitators. Do this long enough, commit to it, and maintain those intentions and the results will follow.
Try changing how you frame why you are doing business and the intentions you have when doing so. You’re not putting revenue and profit at risk; quite the opposite. You’re opening up new, broader, deeper ways to engage with customers, delight users, and form human relationships with the people you serve.