Walk in Your Customer’s Shoes

Wendy Beecham is the Managing Director of Executive Education at UC Davis. She has over 25 years of leadership experience, and has coached c-level business leaders on executive performance.

Last week, I attended the annual UNICON (University Executive Education Consortium) conference hosted by University of British Columbia, Sauder School of Business Executive Education in beautiful Vancouver. I had the pleasure of being exposed to several presentations that made me think differently about how to evaluate customer satisfaction.

Walking in Our Customer’s Shoes

One presentation by Dr. Darren Dahl posed the question, “How often do we think about walking in our customer’s shoes?”  We have all been exposed to surveys or evaluations from retailers, conference providers, or your favorite Executive Education providers asking questions about how we perceived the speaker, the venue, the food, and other service attributes. But if we were to actually “Map the Experience” of what a customer goes through when they call our customer service lines, walk into our offices, or attend one of our events, we’d have a much richer evaluation of how we are really doing.

When was the last time you called that contact number that you leave for customers who want more information? When you call, how long do you wait before the phone is answered? How difficult was it to speak with a live person? Did all your questions get answered, or were you left wondering if the person on the other end of the line was an intern at their first week on the job? Dr. Dahl shared the experience of calling a contact number, only to be given ANOTHER number to call. Time to update the website!

But more importantly, what happens when a customer comes to your place of business? How are they greeted? How easy is it for them to find where they need to go? What is the environment they’re faced with?

Creating Meaningful Touch Points and Layered Experiences for Customers

As a Canadian, I was thrilled to be treated to a presentation by Mark Raham, Creative Director of the Vancouver Canucks Hockey Team. His speech built on Dr. Dahl’s comments by sharing a concept called “Layered Experiences,” which has led to a sold out stadium for 400 + hockey games.

What is the brand story for your organization, and how do the touch points you create for your customer reinforce that brand? For the Canucks audience, the experience begins as they walk up to the stadium and are greeted by lights with the team colors, sounds of crowds cheering, and large banners with star hockey players lining the stadium – the excitement of being there begins to build.

Inside the stadium, visitors are greeted by a special “museum” that documents the history of the team along with bios of past and present stars, and team successes.  The food vendors also try to create special food that links to the team brand.

Inside the arena, before the players are introduced, the audience is exposed to a show akin to Cirque du Soleil on ice. Holograms superimposed on the ice turn the rink into a boiling ocean or a cracked ice flow, building to a crescendo that crests as the team appears on the ice.


When game begins, the audience participates by sending their reactions via social media.  Whenever there is a game, the Vancouver Canucks’ Twitter feed often tops out at number one as fans all over the world participate in the game.

I was struck once again by what my customers experience as they come into an Executive Education program that I offer. How cohesive are all the elements from the pre-session communication, to the arrival and “get settled” experience, and through the program? How can I make the evaluation process more dynamic to truly understand what the customer’s layered experience was?

Employee Empowerment

Christine Day, the CEO of Lululemon, a fitness wear company with very loyal customers spoke about her company’s success.  They published a Manifesto, which lists the values the company lives by.

When a new employee is hired they are asked to state their personal vision for the next 5 or 10 years and declare what goals they have to reach them. This process mirrors how company goals are set and therefore helps the employee tie their personal goals to the company’s.

There is a high degree of pride placed in employee empowerment.  The store managers each determine how best to run their store, and they are treated as experts who know the local areas best.  They are encouraged to gather local ambassadors who hold yoga or Pilates classes or other events in the store so shoppers can experience Lululemon close up. Their store clerks are called “Educators” and have the key role of explaining the technical attributes of the clothes rather than “selling” them to a customer.   The clothes will sell themselves if a customer understands the best fit for their sport, their style and their body type.

When customers enter the store, they are always greeted but there is a 13 second rule in holding conversation.   The role of the “Educator” is to be there to answer your questions when the shopper is ready to ask – and to not be sold to while they’re trying to browse.

Create Unexpected Surprises for the Customer

At the end of the UNICON conference, the organizers ended with an improv performance where initially the actors were part of the audience and began asking some very “penetrating” questions. It exemplified alternative methods for creating educational experiences that was highly relevant for those in the Executive Education field.

A Rich Experience

So, I left this year’s conference focused on how to make our customer’s experience richer. And thankful once again for the connections I made while learning something new–a model we try to emulate with all of our Executive Education programs.

To learn more about executive education programs at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management contact Wendy Beecham today.