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What product managers need to know to create powerful customer experiences
The experience that customers of our products encounter impacts the value they find in our products. The customer experience is intertwined with customers’ perceptions of value.
To explore customer experience, I talked with two people who design the customer experience for theme parks, zoos, museums, and other venues. Part of the conversation is about a recent book they wrote, The CEO’s Time Machine, which uses historical innovations and a story about careful listening to create new innovations for a fictional company.
We share useful insights to help innovators in a more personal context in this interview. That is because my guests include the Chief Creative Officer at Creative Principals, Geoff Thatcher, and Designer, Zoe Thatcher, who is his daughter. Consequently, it was fitting for my daughter, Kaitlin, to join me as co-host for this episode.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[1:55] What work do you do?
We have a design firm called Creative Principles, and we work on experiences including corporate brand experiences, museum exhibits, and theme parks. As designers, we get to visit a lot of fun places to do research, because you can’t innovate unless you have a stimulus.
[10:41] What makes a good customer experience?
All great innovation begins with a powerful story. To create an experience, you have to translate the story. We use this formula:
- Attract people with an iconic element
- Build trust
- Provide the information to move forward (e.g., a pre-show)
- Internalize the story (e.g., the main experience, like a theme park ride)
- Exit through retail—this isn’t just about making money; you’re challenging people to act and become part of the story
[18:27] Let’s talk about your book, The CEO’s Time Machine.
The premise of the book is that there is a CEO who is ahead of the game, making his company super successful, and nobody knows how he does it. He has a secret R&D garage, and it’s rumored there is a time machine inside. As the story begins, the CEO is about to retire, and he allows his young protege into the garage to show her the time machine. Part of being a leader is creating the branding and mystique that the CEO creates with his secret garage.
[22:01] What was Zoe’s work as illustrator like?
In October 2019, Zoe participated in an Instagram challenge to post an inked picture every day. Zoe drew a girl in a red scarf in a futuristic woodblock ink style, and we thought it would be perfect for the story, which we had already written. When our business slowed down during the pandemic, we decided to get the book out before the lockdown ended. Zoe did forty-three illustrations in three weeks, and we got the book published. The great thing about being young, when it comes to innovation, is that young people don’t know something isn’t possible. A more experienced illustrator might not have attempted all those illustrations, but Zoe thought, Why not?
[29:10] What lessons can product managers and innovators learn from the book?
History is important to innovation. As Bruce Weindruch says in our foreword, in innovation you have to start with the future and look back. You want to invent the future, but you have to look back to examples from history to inspire you.
[30:45] What are some innovation insights from history?
I am fascinated by the Wright brothers because they invented the airplane. However, within a decade or two, they were completely out of business. After their amazing innovation of flight, they spent all their time litigating and arguing. It’s an important lesson for innovators to not lose focus on innovation.
Charles Kettering, the head of R&D for General Motors, was trying to convince manufacturing that they could paint a car in an hour instead of several days. Kettering invited the head of manufacturing out to lunch. After lunch, the man couldn’t find his car because Kettering had his engineers paint it while they were at lunch. Having that personal experience convinced the head of manufacturing to embrace this new innovation.
Action Guide: Put the information Geoff and Zoe shared into action now. Click here to download the Action Guide.
- Check out The CEO’s Time Machine on Amazon
- The CEO’s Time Machine on the Creative Principles website
- The Experience Model from Creative Principles
- Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi promotional video with Creative Principles
“Research is turning dollars into ideas. Innovation is turning ideas into dollars.”– Steve Hoover, CEO of Palo Alto Research Center
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.