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“Plussing," and the culture of exceeding expectations and offering delightful experiences, is as critical for IT as it is for the rest of the company.  

A few years after Disneyland opened in the mid-1950s, Walt Disney’s accountants could not understand why he wanted to spend $350,000 on a Christmas parade that no one had asked for, and not a single visitor expected. Who would miss something they didn’t expect?

Walt’s reply to his accountants is classic: “That’s just the point,” he said. “We should do the parade precisely because no one’s expecting it. Our goal at Disneyland is to always give the people more than they expect. As long as we keep surprising them, they’ll keep coming back. But if they ever stop coming, it’ll cost us ten times that much to get them to come back.”

Walt Disney had a knack for exciting his fans. Part of his magic was incredible creativity. Part of it was the way his unlimited optimism for the future informed everything he touched. But perhaps Disney’s most important gift was his ability to focus his entire company on the customer.

Walt Disney coined the term “plussing” to describe what he wanted every customer interaction to feel like. “Plussing” was, and is, Disney’s secret sauce. Very simply, “plussing” is giving a customer more than they expected or asked for, and raising the bar on what they should expect. Importantly, “Plussing” includes product innovations as well as delightful experiences.  Walt “Plussed” early Mickey Mouse movies, for example, by adding sound when most other movies were silent.

Many companies that inspire highly profitable customer loyalty have taken this wisdom as gospel. Zappos.com answers every call with a human who is incented to have a conversation, not to make a sale or get off the phone fast. Apple hired the SF Symphony to record ring tones for the iPhone, and delayed its launch to make sure the square app boxes were rounded just so. While this behavior flies in the face of conventional financially driven value analysis, the resulting products and experiences are so delightful that they are the primary loyalty driver and customer retention strategy. They are also primary reasons why these companies rarely have to discount to win, even in highly competitive industries.

For companies to truly exceed customer expectations, and foster that kind of profitable loyalty, every person and every function in the company must embrace customer-centricity. The company must design its operating model around delivering unique, high quality customer experiences. All teams that are part of the customer value chain, from market facing to back office, must be measured by their ability to profitably delight their customers (economically for back office functional teams).

So what are IT’s internal customers expecting? And how can IT leaders delight their customers?  

This is a seismic shift away from standard IT expectation-setting that begins with budget, capacity and policy constraints.  I believe what internal customers crave is the capability to move faster while thinking differently. This capability takes new urgency when Apple and competitors release entirely new form factors every few years that fundamentally alter how consumers interact with brands, and when new platforms like Snapchat, Pinterest and Instagram seemingly become popular overnight. Will wearables leapfrog smartphones as the obvious digital payment medium? How will the next viral story about a touching - or an offensive - customer experience spread?

To help the business move faster than changes in customer behavior, IT must move faster than its internal customers. With its strong technology orientation, IT must also bring its own digital savvy to bear on the internal experience. “Fast” is the expectation, and “Different” is the “Plus." 

If IT wants to help shape how new digital capabilities and innovations empower extermal customer experiences, it must build confidence by delivering those types of experiences to its own internal customers. Confidence stems from showing, not telling.

As the IT organization becomes more customer-centric itself, its leadership gains the insight and cultural attributes necessary to help the company delight external customers and drive revenue growth. In the future, a company’s ability to compete may be directly tied to how customer-centric its IT organization has become.

What is your IT organization doing to exceed expectations?