The magic ratio for awesome customer experiences

I just finished reading Forester’s 2019 US customer index – How Brands Build Loyalty - how leading brands build loyalty with the quality of their customer experience.

Forrester highlighted the lack of improvement in the customer experience of “elite brands”. I found this curious as it assumes there are open-ended growth opportunities. That “growth at all cost” mindset could lead to decisions at the expense of other important factors. It ignores the concept that at some point, enough might be enough.  Personally, if my company “stagnated” at awesome I think I’d be ok with that. 

So how do you figure out where on the spectrum of awful to awesome your customer experience lies? Forrester suggests taking an economic lens by quantifying the emotional experiences of top brands.

Strong emotions can cement experiences in our memories. We can recall more about the birth of our children a decade or more ago than what we were doing on a random Tuesday a year ago. Mundane and boring are quickly forgotten.  

To make a brand experience memorable, make an emotional impact on your customers, or connect to something your customers are already passionate about.

What I found fascinating in the Forrester report are the ratios of positive to negative emotional experiences for the top brands. 22:1 is the magic ratio for awesomeness.

“Elite brands provided about 22 emotionally positive experiences for each negative one; the bottom 5% of brands provided only three emotionally positive experiences for each negative one.”

At 3:1, we can get it right more than we get it wrong and our customers may still feel like they've had a bad experience.

22:1 is a big ratio.

It’s like we have a well of goodwill. Every time we create a good experience for a customer, we get to pour goodwill into the well, but the buckets are small. Every time we give a negative experience we draw from the well with a huge bucket. Eventually, if you pour enough small buckets in, if something bad happens, which inevitably it will, the large bucket doesn’t leave the well empty.

Which emotions fill the well? And which ones empty it?

In the industries Forrester studied, feeling valued, happy and appreciated factor highest in creating emotionally positive experiences. The three things that empty the well fastest are feeling annoyed, disappointed, frustrated.

How well do you understand the emotional journey of your customers? How do you create the conditions for them to feel valued, happy and appreciated?

When The Five Whys don’t work

Finding the actual problem before jumping into solution mode is one of the core tenets of human-centered design, and it just makes sense. Skipping to solution mode can make us feel we are taking action. Finding the real problem before launching into doing something is far more meaningful and realises better outcomes.

The Five Whys is a long-used technique to explore problems. I used to tell a story about the Washington Monument as an example of using the five whys. It comes from real life but has the feel of a fable. I told my partner Bob the story yesterday, and he asked, "Is that true?" It was a story I used in my innovation presentations to support Einstein's "If I had an hour to save the world, I'd spend 55 minutes exploring the problem and 5 minutes finding the solution."

Bob, the consummate googler he is, quickly found a recent reference to this story, where a professor sought the group who did this research and provided the real story. And what emerged is interesting.

The story I'd been telling was about erosion due to cleaning chemicals because of a massive amount of bird poo on the monument. They had spent a lot of time and money solving the bird problem, before examining why the birds were coming. It turns out the birds came to eat spiders nesting on the monument that in turn were there to eat moths attracted by the lights turned on at dusk. So by leaving the lights off longer, the moths stopped coming.

By going five whys deep, (chemicals, birds, bugs, spiders, and lights), they came up with a simple solution to the real problem. A great example, right?

Since evolving from the innovation world, I've spent the past six years in human-centered design (HCD). HCD insists you have insight from the customer to find solutions for complex problems. This example, with a simple solution emerging, seemed outside that paradigm.

Until I read on and learned the "lights off solution" had been abandoned. WTF! It worked, why not use it? Because no one had considered the customers of the monument, and what they want.

They want to take amazing, inspirational photos. And the monument looked most glorious at sunset with the lights shining on them.

The solution of keeping the lights off past dusk had not considered the customer needs, and the National Parks Service, who runs the monuments, received an overwhelming number of complaints.

The lesson is if we take too narrow a view of a situation, and only consider the practical issues or the organisational needs, we come up with solutions that don't work. Our answers might be practical and functional, but they are not meaningful.

We must consider the people (our customers) and purpose when we do this analysis. The team failed to ask, "why do we build monuments? What purpose do they serve? How does our solution align with purpose?" We must understand the people in the system and their behaviour.

We often seek simple solutions to simple problems. However, if people are involved, the problem usually gets complex. Humans are often unpredictable and can behave erratically due to emotions. When we create a solution with and for people, it needs to address their needs and desires.

The Five Whys is a great tool to get people exploring the problem space. So, how can we adapt it to work in situations like this example?

We need to introduce human questions, the subjective side of things. And consider purpose and meaning.

We can do this by adding these whys through our process:

  • Why does it exist?

  • Why does it matter?

  • Why is it important?

Maybe we should call it the Eight Whys?

Building intimacy in your personal relationships

I’m doing a presentation at PauseFest 2019, which talks about the foundations for creating intimacy, and why designing for intimacy is important, and is likely to become more important in the future. I use my relationship with partner, Bob, as an example of creating intimacy over distance. This blog post explains the way we create intimacy in our relationship.

I’ve been in a long-distance relationship Bob for 3 years.

To compensate for being apart, we’ve created a way of communicating that keeps us deeply connected. Our process evolved through trial and error, based on a communication framework we learnt in a kink class.

Each time we head into a new context, (e.g. from work to weekend or moving to a new country or crazy work/travel period) we make time to have a detailed conversation, where we explore what’s happening, what it means, what we need and how to support each other.  Instead of using this approach all the time (like we do), you could use it for a specific event or period, like a holiday, or the Christmas season.

Our process is this:

We set aside about an hour, and minimise the likelihood of interruptions.

We run through the questions below, asking each other the one question at a time, alternating. eg. I ask Bob “What are the main themes?” - he answers and then he asks me the same question.

The trick is to ask the question, and then hold space for the other person to explore and reflect.

By holding space - I mean:

  • listen with the pure intention of hearing and understanding your partner’s perspective;

  • be truly present (no phone, interruptions, distractions); 

  • listening without judgement, without making assumptions; 

  • if you observe emotion in your partner gently ask about it; e.g How do you feel about that?

  • if you are unclear, ask clarifying questions; e.g. what do you mean when you say weird?

  • beware of projecting our own perspective on to what your partner says;

  • If you feel emotion come up - park it until they have finished their turn (this is the tricky bit!)

Here are the questions, with a little explanation:

How are you doing? (A quick check in and ensuring we are present, and clearing any top of mind thoughts before getting stuck into it.)

What’s the time frame? (Considering an appropriate length of time before a change of context, typically 4 or 5 days - of course it’s the same for both of us.)

What are the main themes?  (This might be work, or writing, or getting kids settled at school. The themes might be different to your partner, or they might be the same.)

Why are we doing this, why is it important? (Checking our alignment with our intention and purpose - are we heading in the right direction?)

How do you want to feel? (Connecting us with our desires and making us conscious of what we want to manifest for ourselves.)

What do we want to do and are there any non-negotiables? (This helps uncover things that need to happen and where we have flexibility and where we don’t.)

Do you have any desired outcomes? 

What do we request of each other? (Do you need support and how might your partner be able to do that?)

How and when will we reflect during this period? (Set the expectation of when and where you will be able to create space to reflect.)

How are we going to take care of ourselves? (Makes you conscious of your self-care - meditation, yoga, exercise and the things we sometimes neglect. It helps us stay accountable for looking after ourselves and not getting overrun by work.)

What is our intention regarding sobriety and recreation? (Do we intend to drink, or partake in any recreational activities?)

Are there limits and boundaries? (Are there things we don’t want to do?)

Are there any potential triggers? How will we communicate them? (e.g. If your boss is coming to town… let’s be conscious that it might cause an issue and have a way of letting each other know it’s an issue.)

Is there any incongruence? (Does all of this make sense - or is there a disconnect e.g. between self care and triggers, or how you want to feel and what your non-negotiables are?)


Our reflections are very simple.

Similar to the frame-up, we set aside time and ask each other these questions, and hold space for each other to reflect.

The questions are:

How are you doing?

Good stuff? (What’s been positive since we last reflected.)

Challenges? (What have we struggled with or been triggered by - in general… not just each other.)

What’s your intention? (What do you want to focus on or manifest from here on.)

Our explicit conversations, both the frame-up and reflection, help us connect deeply and create intimacy over distance.

If you try it out in your relationship, please let us know how you go. And please let us know of any adaptations you’ve made - as we are always keen to learn!

Good luck!

with love
Kylie & Bob

Postscript - Post PauseFest 2019

I had a couple of people ask about the kink questions too. So I’ve attached a photo of the card we received at our Curious Creatures course.

If you are in any way curious - I can highly recommend the Kink 101 course as a great place to start. Questions?? Don’t be shy, drop me an email.


Frame up Questions.001.jpeg
Curious Creatures Consent Card - side 1.

Curious Creatures Consent Card - side 1.

Curious Creatures Consent Card - side 2.

Curious Creatures Consent Card - side 2.

Develop these 9 habits to be a great human-centred designer.

As human-centred designers, we seek to deeply understand the values, motivations and emotions behind peoples’ behaviours to uncover latent needs. Our mindset, attitudes and beliefs can affect our ability to truly connect with the perspective of the people we are designing with and for, and we can end up projecting our own perspective onto what we hear and see. Over time we can develop habits that counter our own biases, and enable us to go deep with people to open up new possibilities. 

The 9 habits:

1 - Adopt a beginner’s mind.

Be constantly curious and don’t make assumptions. Have more questions than answers and explore situations through open questions, clarifying questions and encouraging dialogue. Seek to understand and build empathy.

2 - Invite diversity.

Respect all points of view, because multiple perspectives are valuable when resolving complex problems. Keep an open mind while conducting research and collecting information. Know that every person has their own truth.

3 - Be open to experimentation. 

Always be ready to give something a try. Through prototyping and testing, clarify options that work and those needing improvement.  Evolve experiences and services through testing and iteration. See experimentation as a way of life.

4 - Embrace resilient optimism.

Prototyping is an opportunity to learn what works, and when it doesn’t work, that’s good too. When something doesn’t work, the ‘F’ word is nowhere around. (I mean failure of course!) You just learned what won’t work and saved your organisation money and rework. See failure as success.

5 - Take a broad view.

Look as broadly as possible in every situation. You need the perspectives of the people you design with and for. You also need the perspective of the organisation that will deliver your design AND other people within the ecosystem you are considering. You need to think holistically and not in isolated parts. 

6 - Choose collaboration as a default.

Ideas spark best between people. To understand complexity holistically you need multiple views and perspectives. Build an environment of trust so you can collaborate fiercely.

7 - Be comfortable with ambiguity.

Remember that ambiguity and uncertainty are part of the design method and be happy to sit within this discomfort. Sitting outside your comfort zone leads to new innovative ideas and great outcomes for people.

8 - Hold space for robust discussion.

If everyone thinks alike and agrees, nothing new emerges. Remain unattached to your ideas and create a safe space for others to voice opinions, encouraging robust discussion and respectful challenges. Let everyone know everything is up for question.

9 - Allow the answers to emerge.

The first and obvious answer is unlikely the best answer. Remain fully conscious of solution seduction and avoid jumping to conclusions or rushing to find the “answer”. Sitting without clarity in the problem space allows you to reframe what you see and assume to know and allows for new opportunity spaces to open up.

5 reasons outsiders are crucial when designing for people

Understanding the value of an external perspective 

Human-centered design focuses on creating services and experiences that resonate deeply with the customers we aim to serve. It relies on connecting with someone else’ perspective, stepping into their shoes, seeing what they see, and sensing what they experience. To do this, we should have a high level of self-awareness to avoid projecting our own experience onto the other person's reality.

Including a variety of people in our design process, people with different backgrounds, worldviews, experiences, beliefs and perspectives, supports us in seeing things objectively and gaining an external perspective.

 Let’s unpack why this helps create great designs:

 1. An outsider helps uncover assumptions

 “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” - Mark Twain.

 People in organisations develop beliefs about their business, services and customers. These things can seem like absolute truths, and often we don’t realise the premise under which we are working. For example: in a fast food business, we might believe 'people want a fast service over anything else'.

 When we invite people who aren’t part of the history of our organisation’s belief systems into the room, they can question and challenge “truths” that appear obvious to us, opening us up to new possibilities. Consciously surfacing beliefs allows us to review and examine them and decide if they are still serving us, and our customers, as we move forward.

2. An outsider doesn’t share our lingo

“Where all think alike, no one thinks very much.” - Walter Lippman.

 When we work with a group of people over time, we streamline our interactions creating shortcuts in our language enabling us to reach consensus and solutions quickly. Fast,streamlined communication is an important part of building effective teams.. However, it can prevent new ideas from gaining traction by limiting new perspectives and stifling creativity. Bringing in new people with a different background and no experience of our internal language and acronyms causes us to slow down and explain what we mean. This can lead to a deeper exploration of ideas and blossoming creativity. 

3. Outsiders aren’t bound to the hierarchy

“Unfortunately, in a hierarchical structure, power relationships tend to determine the content; there is always the danger that a "rank-based" logic will prevail. Managers, intent on advancement, tend to supply the information they know their superiors want to hear, rather than the information they ought to hear. Large organizations tend, therefore, to become systematically stupid.” ― John Médaille.

 We all like to believe we are courageous and can say what needs to be said. However, sometimes it proves difficult to call out the elephant in the room. Large organisational structures can make us feel unsafe to share our honest viewpoints. There’s even a three letter acronym, CLM (career limiting move), which recognises that when we say something unpopular it might prevent our upward progress in the organisation. For people external to our organisation, there is no promotion on the line, no politics at play, no impact on their performance review. They have no skin in the game. People free from agenda and impact can ask ‘silly’ questions, ruffle feathers, and point to the elephant without fear of consequences.

4. An outsider connects us to other industries

There is constant change happening across most industries today, caused by rapidly changing technology, a generational shift in values, and changing political and environmental landscapes. Social media gives a voice to the individual and we rely less on mainstream media and TV ads to discover what’s news, where to shop and what to do. People seek recommendations for products and companies and report good and bad experiences at a ridiculously fast pace.

No organisation is immune to the rising expectations of their customers -  expectations not only of what “should be” but also “what is possible”. Our customers are also customers of other organisations in other industries. Telecommunications customers also use health services. Citizens who vote also donate to not-for-profits, use banks and buy cars. Expectations set with customers in one domain are leaking across to other domains. In the past, we might have accepted bad experiences (“well that’s what it’s like to deal with a real estate agent”), but now people bring their broad experience and expectations with them wherever they go.

Typical competition and environment scans have us looking within our own industry and at direct competitors, staying in our comfort space.

Bringing in someone from a separate industry, with a unique view of the same customers we serve, can highlight opportunities to improve and adapt to anticipate our customers' rising expectations. Gaining a holistic view of our customers can reveal interesting opportunities we might otherwise miss by looking myopically in our own industry.

5. An outsider doesn’t know what we know

One of the challenges when looking out from within an organisation is we see our services and customer experience through the lens of our organisation. We understand our internal structure, our IT systems, which department does what, how our processes are supposed to work, and how we think things ‘should’ actually occur for our customers. It’s really hard to set this information aside and put ourselves in the mind of our customer to see our services with fresh eyes, from the outside in. It’s hard to adopt a beginner’s mind and forget all the knowledge and understanding we’ve gained over the years. Including someone from outside our organisation brings us the outside-in perspective and assists us to see our customers’ perspective. In fact, our customers are often the ideal outsiders in this case!


So the next question is, who do we involve?

There's no path to follow

The path less traveled has still borne other’s feet. The truly brave forge into uncharted territory. A path of their own.

When learning Jazz the mantra is “Imitate; assimilate then innovate.”

As we learn, we leverage the knowledge of others. We imitate their behaviour; their ideas; their ways; in order to understand, build our own knowledge and grow. Once we integrate the new information to our own frame, we assimilate and make it our own. We are then ready to innovate and we begin to forge our own path.

The real innovators, the visionaries, the “crazy ones”, the ones who break the rules, disrupt the status quo and truly make a difference, often stand alone in their sovereignty, open to ridicule by popular culture and the current memetic and value paradigm. Copernicus, Tesla, Van Gogh, Lennon, Einstein did not fit the social norm, sometimes outcast by society and often misunderstood.

They are the creatives. Their lives are works of art, as they cut a path never walked before and stood for what they thought and what they believed. Original thinkers. Unafraid. Prepared to fail. Putting themselves out there for all to see and all to ridicule.

Breaking paradigms, questioning long-held assumptions and provoking conversations that result in change can be a painful, if not deadly pursuit. However, the world needs people who are prepared to stand up against the norms, push boundaries, challenge the predominant authority and demonstrate new ways of living and being.

Have you ever had an idea only to observe it’s arrival into the world sometime after? Sometimes, we question ourselves, hesitate, wait to see if anyone else sees what we see before we act; before we forge out into the unknown. Self-doubt? Lack of belief? Fear of stepping out of line? Forging new pathways into the unknown requires courage, resilience and unwavering belief in your vision and ideas.

Updated and republished from Medium Aug 2015

Being Normal

As we drove home from my brother’s on Christmas Eve the kids and I contemplated “normal”.

Are we a “normal” family? What does “normal” mean and what does it look like? Am I a “normal” parent? Are your friends “normal”? Are their families “normal”?

Once I “knew” what normal meant, or so I thought. Well the Brady Bunch set the bar, didn’t they? Highly reasonable, tolerant parents – who appeared to have suffered no ill effects from their previous relationships (btw, how did those relationships end?). Awesomely talented, popular and beautiful children – whose banal transgressions were amusing and non-threatening to life or society. And happily and predictably, after half an hour, everything would work out just fine. I soooo loved the happy ending.

The pervasiveness of television on my early reality and personal values only hit home as an adult. How was “normalcy” determined prior to government-sanctioned rhetoric beamed directly into your home? As a child of the tv era, I can never know or understand how life was before tv. TV told us how we should live, what we should aspire to, and indeed what we should consume. ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ expanded way beyond aspiring to what the folk next door had – the folk who could afford to live near you because of their similar socioeconomic background. Television opened our eyes to enormous possibilities and created wants beyond our status and birthrights. Dare we dream of these things? Can a girl be educated? Can I have a career? Can I play the game too? Damn straight.

Consumerism really came alive in the tv era. As we wondered whether it was ok to change our lifestyle and were supported by the stories and messages transmitted into our homes. It’s ok to eat fast food; take big-pharma pills to cure our ails; shop in centers and avoid the little guy – even though he passionately knew his stuff; use swear words & be rude to people; all this, we were assured, was “normal”. The facilities to enable consumerism to thrive were quickly provided too. I remember my parents getting their first credit card. A bankcard. bbb. Now we could have stuff we couldn’t afford. Hooray!! As a society, our naivety resembled that of my kids. “Mum just use your credit card!! Dah!”, they tell me. You don’t pay – it’s “free stuff”. Instant gratification.

I recall the Christian camp I attended as a teenager. Their attempt at indoctrinating me was fairly good – we had so much fun, who wouldn’t want to be part of their community. Brady Bunch values – wholesome good fun activities. Unfortunately, they received me as a horny teenager – thirsting for attention from boys and a blossoming body of hormones … so it just wouldn’t stick. But the one message I received from the camp – which stuck to me like gluggy porridge I just couldn’t flick off my fingers – was that credit was the devil. The sign of the devil 666 was remarkably like bbb, they pointed out, and you know what, I think there is some truth in it!!

My children have grown up with computers, the internet and cable tv replacing “normal” broadcast tv. My son mastered the mouse at two years of age, and the little tykes behind him expect to transact on the screen without a mouse only ten years after. During my kids' lifetimes technology will change so dramatically we can barely conceive of the possibilities.

To see such dramatic changes in technology within a generation is previously unheard of, and expectations are the rate of change will increase, not decrease. Will society implode due to lagging ethics unable to keep pace with technology? I know we can’t go back, and sometimes it’s difficult to see forward. 

Communication has shifted from TV’s one to many, to the internet enabled many to many. From broadcast, back to person to person. Advertising is so omnipresent it's ignored in favour of trusted testimonial and I don’ think I’m alone. Online forums like Whirlpool, personal networks like facebook, and respected reviewers on Youtube are more likely to persuade a purchase than the enormously expensive TV ad. Who’s word do you trust?? I watch my tech- savv daughter who always surprises me with the contents of her Christmas and birthday gift lists – to see the trends of the young. Where does her inspiration come from? YouTube, snapchat, instagram, pintrest are now normal. 

There’s that word again.                         Normal.

Listening to the wisdom proffered by Robert Anton Wilson – “normal” and “average” are calculations. And as for all mathematics, they are total abstractions. No one is ‘the average’ anything. We are like snowflakes – completely unique. And that is the way it should be.

My life is not an abstraction. Nothing I do is normal.

As you try to fit in and be “normal”, remember there is no such thing. I realise I am not normal and can never be so. And this is truly liberating.

We are all enormously weird, wonderfully unique, amazingly heroic, heart-warmingly funny, ferociously challenging, fundamentally creative, and human.

So, don't be normal. Be You.