in the Kaluga region of Russia,  a monument to the ancient Chinese philosopher Laozi (Lao Tzu, Lao-Tze). A woman stands to the left of the statue.
PHOTO: PhotoChur

According to Forrester, improving customer experience (CX) by one point can drive more than a billion dollars in revenue (at least if you’re in one of the 15 industries in the report, "How Customer Experience Drives Business Growth"). Even if you aren’t, the value of customer experience is clear. After all, according to IDC, the total spending on CX technologies is projected to reach $641 billion by the end of 2022.

CX has become a key differentiator. We can all name occasions where we’ve paid more for a high-touch experience, or stayed with a vendor when another offered us a better deal due to a long-standing relationship — or even left a previously-beloved vendor due to a bad experience.

But while it’s easy to point to technology, there’s something else we can look at: the harmony between customers and the organizations with which they’re working.

Why 'Tao of Pooh' Connects to Customer Experience

In the book "The Tao of Pooh," Benjamin Hoff uses the characters and stories from the Winnie-the-Pooh stories to explain basic concepts of Taoism, a Chinese religious philosophy connected to the philosopher Lao Tzu. Taoism teaches that all living creatures should live in harmony with the universe, and the energy within it.

“The basic Taoism that we are concerned with here is simply a particular way of appreciating, learning from, and working with whatever happens in everyday life. From the Taoist point of view, the natural result of this harmonious way of living is happiness,” writes Hoff.

You may be wondering why we’re discussing a 40-year-old book, and, for that matter, what it has to do with driving efficiency and improving customer relationships. Well, besides the fact that we could all use a reminder to stay happy and calm these days, Hoff’s words have a big impact when we think about CX — especially if we’re looking at any type of digital transformation initiative. 

Related Article: Be a 'Method Customer' to Improve Customer Experience

Take the Path of Least Resistance

In "The Tao of Pooh," Hoff writes extensively of the need to capitalize and play to one’s strengths. Pooh sings a song called Cottleston Pie. One of the lines is, “A fly can’t bird, but a bird can fly.” Hoff interprets this to mean that you shouldn’t try to force a square peg in a round hole as that would ignore the reality that “things are as they are.” 

PWC research shows that nearly half of companies surveyed say that improving CX and customer satisfaction were the leading influences to start a digital transformation. When we embark on a CX initiative, it’s easy to see things as you want them to be, not as they are — to imagine perfectly integrated systems with a 360-degree view of the customer, perfectly trained staff, even an organization that is united around the importance of the customer.

Yet most of us know that’s not the circumstances with which we work. We’re faced with disjointed back-end and customer-facing systems, an organization running from the idea of change, and staff — many in the C-Suite — who think things are fine as they are.

So how do we change? Take Pooh’s advice to heart and see things as they are. Perhaps you do have an entire suite of siloed and homegrown systems, and the idea of omnichannel data is a dream. Maybe you are working with an organization resisting change. That doesn’t mean you can’t find the bright spots. Focus on your change champions who will lead grassroots change. Listen for ideas already percolating throughout the organization.

But be realistic. You won’t go from zero to 80 overnight. What you can do is build on small wins to harness excitement about improving the CX throughout the organization. And maybe eventually that bird won’t just fly — the fly will bird.

Follow Your Heart to Winning Customer Experience

Lao Tzu wrote, “To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.” How does this relate to Winnie-the-Pooh (or CX, for that matter)? According to Hoff, Winnie-the-Pooh is a Bear of Very Little Brain. He doesn’t overcomplicate things, but instead, follows his emotions.

When we’re building a CX plan, it’s easier to look at data and revenue and push emotions to the side. While both have their place, it’s important not to lose sight of what matters: your customer.

But how?

  • The joy is in the journey. Journey mapping is crucial to understanding your customer’s emotions as they interact with you. You may think the process works perfectly, then when you map out the process from the customer’s perspective, you find out they’re re-entering the same information in three different systems or calling someone to give them information that should be available in your CRM. Making the customer journey as simple as possible is crucial to improving metrics that matter, and, more importantly, creating happy customers.
  • Measure what matters. Are you looking at product usage and adoption metrics? Do you know how easy it is for customers to get up and running with your product? More importantly — how is that correlated with your customer satisfaction metrics? Focusing on customer health is vital, and a great way to ensure you’re simplifying the experience to make sure customers are as happy as possible.
  • Remember surprise and delight. Customers aren’t just metrics — they’re people with emotions, feelings, and likes and dislikes. Empowering your staff to have moments where they surprise and delight your customers engages a key emotion — happiness. Whether it’s sending a handwritten thank you note, surprising a customer with flowers on their birthday, or even just remembering the date of a big meeting and sending a “good luck” email, building personal relationships goes a long way. After all, people buy from people they like. So as much as you’re measuring, be sure you have the flexibility to engage your customers’ emotions.

According to McKinsey, digital transformation and a focus on CX can generate a 20%-30% increase in customer satisfaction and economic gains of 20%-50%. When you’re trying to drive those results, it’s easy to break out five-year strategy plans designed to impress your board, but instead, you should focus on your customer. You won’t go wrong.

Related Article: What It Takes to Build a Standout Digital Customer Experience

Be Appreciative of Where You Are

If you’ve ever attended a yoga class, you’ve likely heard your teacher say, “Arrive exactly where you are.” In other words, don’t try to be someone you aren’t — appreciate who you are, in all its imperfections.

Hoff agrees, explaining the principle of the Uncarved Block, meaning appreciating things in their natural state. “From the state of the Uncarved Block comes the ability to enjoy the simple and the quiet, the natural and the plain,” he writes. “When you discard arrogance, complexity, and a few other things that get in the way, sooner or later you will discover that simple, childlike, and mysterious secret known to those of the Uncarved Block: Life is Fun.”

Although it may not seem to be so at first glance, CX shares the same need for simplicity and authenticity. Salesforce research shows that 84% of customers say being treated like a person, not a number, is very important to winning their business.

Treat Your Customers Authentically

Data is valuable, but what’s even more important is hiring employees who care about customers. When you’re focused on digital transformation, it’s easy to set up policies and processes to simplify infrastructure and reporting — forgetting that you’re dealing with people. What happens when a customer has a less-than-optimal experience? Is your staff empowered to deal with them in the manner they know best, or are they hamstrung by technology, all in the name of progress?

There’s a reason customers love Costco, Trader Joe’s, and Chick-fil-A. These companies — and their staff — treat customers authentically. Their systems are designed in a way that feels true to the company, from recycled boxes at Costco to free stickers at Trader Joe’s, and their employees are empowered to surprise and delight customers in a way that feels authentic, and, yes, fun.

Gartner reports that more than two-thirds of marketers responsible for CX say their companies compete mostly on the basis of CX. CX is a competitive advantage that brings in customers and increases loyalty. It’s not just about product and price anymore — it’s about the overall experience.

When you’re building your digital transformation initiative, keep the Tao of CX in mind. Simplicity, playing to your strengths, being appreciative — all these ideas help create a CX that is authentic to your organization and stands out from the crowd.