Nathan Baird of Methodry: “It starts with purpose”

It starts with purpose.You have to believe in something worthwhile to successfully see it through. That believing takes something more meaningful than profits alone. A shared purpose unites and focuses an organization giving everyone a common cause. Having a sense of purpose larger than delivering numbers gives meaning to one’s work. Disneyland is an example […]

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It starts with purpose.You have to believe in something worthwhile to successfully see it through. That believing takes something more meaningful than profits alone. A shared purpose unites and focuses an organization giving everyone a common cause. Having a sense of purpose larger than delivering numbers gives meaning to one’s work. Disneyland is an example of a great customer experience. Even queuing for your next ride or attraction is made entertaining. Disney’s purpose was about “bringing happiness to families”

As part of my series about the five things a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nathan Baird.

Nathan Baird is the founder of customer-driven innovation and growth firm Methodry and author of Innovator’s Playbook: How to create great products, services and experiences that your customers will love! He is one of the world’s leading Design Thinking practitioners, a former Partner of Design Thinking for KPMG and helps teams build their innovation mastery and works alongside them to create new innovations.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I grew up in rural New Zealand and always had a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit, whether it was selling fresh fruit to holidaymakers over summer, selling opossum furs in the winter, or hand-raising calves in the spring. I studied commerce and marketing at university and finished up with a masters degree in branding. My dream job was to be a brand manager for an iconic brand like Coca-Cola, Nike or Gillette. Through my first role in brand management, I was exposed to product innovation and ever since then I’ve been passionate about helping teams innovate better.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

I’ve made lots of mistakes, but I’m not sure many of them are funny. On one occasion we were running a global innovation project for a mobile phone company. One of the pain points that kept coming up for customers, especially women, was not being able to find their phone in their handbag in time to answer it when it was ringing. This pain point kept popping up is research around the globe. It was a global phenomenon. Now we developed all sorts of solutions including this designer toggle that you’d attach to your phone making it easy to find your phone in your bag. I think it even flashed or something.

Every single idea bombed in customer concept testing. The feedback was, “that’s what voicemail is for”. What was the learning? It may have been a global pain point, but it was a very extreme or important pain point. Now I always get teams to rank the customer needs and pain points before we select them for ideation. It also showed the value of testing your ideas before committing to expensive and time-consuming development. Looking back on that one, it was quite funny.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

After high school, I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do and what to study. I guess I took the safest option and went to a technical institute at the closest city, Nelson. Back then technical institutes didn’t have the same prestige as universities and couldn’t offer degrees. During a trip home on a semester break, I was lucky enough to catch up with Dave Heraud, a neighbour who lived a few kilometres up the road. Dave was very entrepreneurial and ran his own international business. He told me the story of how an executive friend of his when reviewing job applicant’s resumes would create two piles — degree and not degree. The not degree would go straight in the trash can. I immediately applied to study for a commerce degree at university and Dave continued to mentor me on semester breaks back home and we still catch up now whenever we get a chance.

Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business?

Well, no business can survive without customers and if you don’t offer satisfactory customer service they are going to leave you (unless you are a monopoly and/or it is too painful to leave like banks). And if you offer a great customer experience then they are more likely to become loyal customers and even advocates — resulting in repeat purchases and new customers through word-of-mouth recommendations. And nowadays if you rest on your laurels you’ll be disrupted e.g. Uber in the taxi industry and Afterpay, Zip and so on in the banking industry.

We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?

You know what, that is a big question and there is no silver bullet. Having customer service as a value statement on your HQ’s wall certainly doesn’t do it. You have to actually integrate CX into the whole operating model. For example, leadership have to truly believe in it and role model it, frontline staff have to be recruited and trained for it and then it has to be connected all the way through from the front office to the middle and back office. You have to have the processes and systems in place to get that consistency and deliver on your purpose and values. And then in time it becomes cultural. So why don’t more companies do it? Because they pay it lip service and it takes bloody hard work. You have to be a human-centric organisation as well as being disciplined.

Do you think that more competition helps force companies to improve the customer experience they offer? Are there other external pressures that can force a company to improve the customer experience?

Hell yeah, look at the taxi industry and the responses there when Uber entered. I think there have probably been 3 types of taxi drivers and responses. Group one were probably like I can’t compete I’m getting out of here. Group two just complained and still complain and still offer poor service and wonder why they got disrupted. Group three have copied a lot of Uber’s innovations and tried to adapt. But what is hard to copy is the Uber’s whole operating model, processes and systems that support the Uber customer experience.

Another great example is how credit is being disrupted in Australia. For years we’ve begrudgingly accepted 20% interest fees on credit cards. And now the Millennials with the advent of Afterpay, Zip and so are changing this attitude. And I think COVID-19 is only accelerating this. Banks are now coming out with 0% credit cards and Westpac have taken a ‘if you can’t beat them join them’ approach and partnered up with Afterpay. So yes, competition is one external pressure, more sophisticated and demanding customers is another one and technology is another, which are all prevalent in the above examples. Global competition would be another.

Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided? Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?

I think the biggest wow experiences I’ve created are through training and mentoring people. Through training and mentoring you get to help people realize their true potential. So I’m very fortunate in that I get to help people master new skills to improve their working lives almost every day. Now you don’t always make an impact on everyone you train, but then sometimes you get feedback, and it can even be years later, how you’ve changed their life.

How do I create that Wow experience? First of all, you have to have a great product and you have to have mastery of the material. You then need to design the total user experience — from enrolment through to follow-up coaching. It has to be personalized. You need to be empathetically attuned to each individual participant’s needs. You build a relationship with each individual and cater to all learning styles. And it has to be fun as well as productive. And overall you have to genuinely care. Whilst, I get a kick out of training, the kick comes from helping people and seeing them grow and develop. I’m there for them.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience. Please share a story or an example for each.

1. It starts with purpose.You have to believe in something worthwhile to successfully see it through. That believing takes something more meaningful than profits alone. A shared purpose unites and focuses an organization giving everyone a common cause. Having a sense of purpose larger than delivering numbers gives meaning to one’s work. Disneyland is an example of a great customer experience. Even queuing for your next ride or attraction is made entertaining. Disney’s purpose was about “bringing happiness to families”

Van Arsdale France, who founded the University of Disneyland, believed that his goal was, in his own words, “to get everyone [they] hired to share in an intangible dream, and not just working for a paycheck.” He pitched what would become the purpose of Walt and Roy Disney. He recounted the experience:

And here were top executives, all of them right there, and I had to get up and say “And now our theme: the purpose of Disneyland is to create happiness for others.” And you see, the beautiful thing about saying, “We’re going to create happiness” was then I could say, “Look, you may park cars, clean up the place, sweep the place, work graveyard and everything else, but whatever you do is contributing to creating happiness for others.”

2. You have to know who is your customer, what’s important to them and what problem are you solving? After all, how can you innovate for someone you don’t have any empathy and understanding for? Uber knew that taxi customers were frustrated with many elements of the taxi experience from having to wait outside their location (sometimes in horrible weather) for the taxi to arrive, to traveling in dirty and smelly cars to slow payment on arrival.

3. You have to think outside the box. In the words of Albert Einstein: “Problems cannot be solved by thinking within the framework in which the problems were created.” You have to challenge the status quo and look outside your industry for new solutions. Too many organizations stick to looking inside their industry or worse still just copy each other’s moves resulting in a market of sameness. When Apple were designing their first retail stores they sent a team to live in the Ritz-Carlton to see and feel what great customer experience was. One experience they observed was when a guest had a complaint the guest services team would both repair the problem and the relationship. This resulted in solutions like the genius bar where the Apple staff would both repair your product and relationship.

4. Before jumping to the expensive and resource-intensive stages of building a new customer experience we should experiment with new ideas by testing them with customers, getting feedback and iterating them until we know they’re going to make a positive impact. And along the journey treat each failure as an opportunity to learn. In the words of James Dyson: “I made 5,127 prototypes of my vacuum before I got it right. There were 5,126 failures. But I learned from each one. That’s how I came up with a solution. So, I don’t mind failure.”

5. Finally, to deliver the desired customer experience you need to create internal systems and processes that connect the front, middle and back-office to deliver a total customer experience. Amazon’s simple and convenient online shopping experience would be nothing without the systems and processes that keep you updated on where your order is, when it will arrive and then deliver it conveniently and undamaged.

Are there a few things that can be done so that when a customer or client has a Wow! experience, they inspire others to reach out to you as well?

A simple review and referral system. People are happy to share a positive experience, so make it easy for them to do so. Stayz the accommodation booking website asks you for feedback on the property after your stay. Those reviews on the properties are very important to getting more bookings.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Getting Design Thinking into all secondary schools. Design Thinking is not only a great problem solving and innovation methodology it is also a great tool for managing and navigating uncertainty and comprises of many of the skills and mindsets that we need for the future for example customer centricity, empathy, problem framing, creativity and experimentation.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’m most prevalent on LinkedInNathan Baird


This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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