Uber, Berkshire Hathaway, and the 'Art of the Possible'

Not long ago, Uber and Airbus announced a partnership to offer on-demand helicopter services for film festivals, trips to the Hamptons and other high-end events. Whether you think the move is "bougie" or not, it's hard not to admire their innovation.

The transportation industry is shifting rapidly, from the future of driverless cars to ride sharing, and both Uber and Airbus are continuously adapting to better serve their customers. They saw an opportunity and took it, engaging with a community of customers in a new, potentially daring way. Many companies are not in the position to adapt on the fly like this—but they could be. All it takes is a shift in perspective. 

To compete successfully in today's global economy, you have to be focused on customer experience from the beginning, and that means operating with a mind-set focused on possibilities, not limits. At Bluewolf, we have an exercise we like to call the "art of the possible." While many companies operate according to a legacy mind-set, the art of the possible is about moving beyond current practices and embracing new ideas to keep pace with customers and an ever-changing business environment.

Try this little mental exercise: Take your mission statement and replace your company's name with Uber. Now, re-create your mission statement while imagining that you have all of Uber's resources at your fingertips. How does it look when you don't hold back and create a future freely and confidently? Take a step back and analyze how to achieve this reconceived mission, making note of which ideas and attitudes have to change in order to move forward.

Often, it's not that companies lack the ability to make a change, but are caught up in old ways of thinking about their business and their customers. The worst of the old ways used to be called sacred cows; things nobody dared to touch. Here's a better idea: Kill those sacred cows and barbecue up some good burgers from the remains, enjoy the meal, and then move forward. Expect some resistance, more or less depending on how fat those cows were to begin with.

What I'm really asking of you is to challenge yourself to think about the modern customer experience. This is not a one-time, static event that you forget about next week. Customer expectations evolve rapidly based on their last, best experience. It's no longer enough to have continuous innovation—you have to provide instantaneous innovation, basically as fast as things change and change again. When you put customers first and constantly evaluate your business through their eyes, you'll be poised to adapt proactively, not reactively.

Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection exemplifies a business model that predicted what its customers would need from them and built its customer service channel in response to those anticipated needs. The company tries to anticipate the needs of its travelers, especially when things have the potential for going wrong. BHTP’s AirCare can rebook a missed connection automatically, help replace lost luggage, and even save customers a seat in the VIP Lounge. Live service is just a tweet, text, Web chat, or call away. With the introduction of AirCare in May of 2014, BHTP became the first travel insurance company to address consumers' travel woes by offering a simple, fixed-benefit travel insurance product. It proved a business model that predicted what its customers would need from them and built its customer service channel in response to those anticipated needs.

Technology exists to enable solutions; it’s not the solution itself. To achieve a similar level of innovation, you must have the right tools. In Bluewolf's annual "The State of Salesforce Report," companies with both cloud governance and application lifecycle management (ALM) were three times more likely to attribute revenue growth and twice as likely to attribute improved customer experience to their tool usage.

The art of the possible, however, doesn't mean abandoning reality and building castles in the air. It's about being open-minded about realities and customer expectations to optimize them, not succumb to them. Then train yourself and your teams to become customer-focused and positioned for success. Constantly ask yourself: Where are my customers and opportunities right now, and where do the two meet?

The goal is to move your customers out of their current mind-sets. Sometimes this requires some persuasion; in other cases, it may involve instantaneous innovation. The idea is to help them leave behind entrenched thinking that won’t take them forward. Instead, get them moving in a path that may lead where they should be going. To do that, you want to design things that are going to meet the customers' expectations while knowing full well that those expectations will be based on their last best experience.

Still, this is not impossible; expectations evolve very rapidly. You can assist by creating experiences that are relevant and up to date. In effect, their last best experience could be the one they just had with you. That's where instantaneous innovation comes into play.

You can make outstanding experiences for your customer any time, all the time. And you should.

Eric Berridge is cofounder and CEO of global consulting agency Bluewolf. Over 15 years ago, Bluewolf pioneered cloud consulting and became Salesforce's first services partner. Today the company continues to design and build innovative digital customer and employee experiences on the Salesforce platform.

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