Run Towards Smoke

As part of Future University I occasionally teach a class on project management.  While I developed the class specifically for customer experience and software development project managers, most of the principles apply to any kind of project.  One critical principle applies to customer experience too: run towards smoke.

In a sense, each organization is one giant project, and the CEO is the ultimate project manager. The CEO plans milestones, lines up resources, fights fires, resolves team disputes, negotiates with the customers… wait, what?  Did somebody say FIRE?!

When we smell smoke in the real world we rarely think to ourselves, “Huh.  I smell smoke, but I’m really busy with these other things that are clamoring for my attention.  It might be something really hard to deal with.  Maybe if I ignore it, it will go away, or someone else will take care of it.”  We run towards smoke.  We seek the source of the trouble so that we may assess it and take the appropriate course of action, whether it’s unplugging the toaster and dumping the smoldering bread crumbs in the sink or pulling the fire alarm and yelling for everyone to leave the building immediately.  We don’t ignore it—because the penalty for inaction is literally death and destruction.

For the customer experience-driven organization, any sign of an unhappy or disappointed customer is smoke.  Increasing customer churn?  Stagnant growth? Declining online ratings?  All smoke. Don’t walk, run to find out what’s causing the smoke and whether it’s a smoldering ember or a pending conflagration.  Don’t just take a cursory look around and open a metaphorical window to clear the room, keep looking until you find the smoke and its cause. In the real world, fire kills.  In the metaphorical world of customer experience, the fire of unhappy customers is just as lethal to an organization.

Once you’ve found the source of the trouble, overreact.  It’s not enough to pour water on it until the smoke stops, you’ve got to hit it with the fire extinguisher, stir the embers, look for remaining sparks of trouble and stomp on them.

Run towards smoke.  It just might save you.


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