Everything Speaks: Creating Experience Through Communication

Disney has a saying, “everything speaks.” While that’s literally true of the human beings who interact with your customers, it also means that every element of your organization communicates something about you. What does your organization say?

Everything Speaks

Consider these short snippets of experience:

  • I call a pest control company for service. I spend fifteen minutes on hold.  Tinny saxophone music blares in my ear, punctuated by occasional ads for the company’s products.
  • I visit a theme park.  The restrooms are exceptionally clean and smell of vanilla air freshener.
  • I walk into a small, family-owned glass company.  The service counter is a cluttered mess, with a photocopied sign taped to the counter that read “I can only please one person a day.  Today is not your day.  Tomorrow isn’t looking too good either.”  A television on the back counter shows a game show.
  • I visit a high-end department store at a local mall.  The main aisles of the store consist of some sort of linoleum material.  The flooring is cracked, dirty, and peeling up at the corners in many places; worn strips of duct tape attempt to hold it in place.  It has been that way for at least the last decade, and I actually think I remember the same flooring being there when I was a child.

Other than the taped sign in the glass shop, none of these situations involve language as the communication medium.  Yet each description conveys more meaning than the actual words in my sentences.  If the theme park restrooms are clean and pleasant, the rest of the park is probably well-maintained.  At the glass shop, proactive customer service is probably a pipe dream.  And the high-end department store seems unlikely to be thriving.

We constantly process enormous amounts of information that we gather through our five senses.  We constantly take tiny pieces of information and extrapolate them to fill in the holes, creating a more complete picture of a situation than might be provided by the available data.

Everything speaks.  And everyone listens.

Speaking Purposefully


This certainly speaks, and it’s not saying “Welcome!”

When we create signs, or marketing materials, or web sites, we tend to do so purposefully.  We think about the message we want to convey, the tone for which we wish to aim, and the audience for whom we’re crafting the message.  Whether we do it well is a different issue, but we are at least consciously directing the communication.

However, even a small organization has multiple touch points that we don’t necessarily think of as communication.  How’s the lighting in your retail or office space?  What’s the quality of the hold music on your phone system?  How do your field employees dress, speak, and behave?  All of these things speak about you and your brand.

I’m fond of comparing customer experience design to the preparation necessary to put on a play.  To put on a play, an organization needs to secure a venue, find a cast, choose or create a play, and sell tickets.  Directors need to direct, actors need to act, and musicians need to play.  Everyone needs to rehearse.  Set designers create the sets, and the lighting crew sets up the lighting.  The sound crew ensures that everyone can be heard.  There are dozens of moving parts even in a small production.

When the curtain goes up, the production washes over the audience through sight and sound (and in more avant garde productions, perhaps even scent and touch). While the actors and actresses are clearly communicating the story to the audience, so is the music.  So are the costumes, and the lighting design, and the sets. The cast and crew obviously creates these elements intentionally.

However, there’s more to the audience member’s experience than the production itself.  The temperature in the theater, the comfort of the seats, even the behavior of other audience members can all impact the experience. Those elements that happen by default rather than by design and completely detract from the experience.

All of the elements of a company or brand communicate, whether intentionally or not, whether with purposeful design or woeful neglect.

What is your company saying?


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