An extra touch of soul can recreate an authentic setting and spark positive perceptions. Nowadays, writing is just as much the work of communication and marketing professionals as journalists. But reading should be too. Customer experience leaders can benefit from literature more than you might think, to anticipate customer impressions and create new experiences.
Literature is at the origin of experiences and transformation
Hemingway in a Paris cafe in the 1920s is a symbol of the City of Lights. With the most beautiful descriptions, Hemingway paints the picture of this artistic city. In fact, his writing could provide inspiration for leaders in 2022. Through his words, we can characterise the authenticity of the Parisian experience whose decor catches the eye and delights customers both then and now.
The storytelling and staging of customer experiences greatly contribute to creating the authenticity of an offer. To see what I mean, let us look more closely at writers who best describe customer experience and aspirations.
Propelled by intuition and a passion for literature, I once again sought out Joe Pine, an American theorist who coined the term “customer experience” in the 1990s. The author of The Experience Economy and Authenticity is also a Hemingway fan, whom he calls a genius of experiential description, supporting my suspicion that literature has the power to unlock new opportunities for the design of customer experiences.
My intuition was confirmed by current trends: customers want much more than an experience, they want a transformation of their state – physical, psychological, etc. – in the aim of achieving self-fulfilment. And for this, literature is a source of inspiration.
Some of the greatest experiences occur in the pages penned by authors. Stefan Zweig, Zola, Maupassant, Hemingway, and many others have studied individual behaviours, life in society, interpersonal relations, etc. And all this in the service of literature, dreams and fantasies.
If we consider that customer experience is the entirety of emotions and feelings felt by a customer throughout their relationship with a brand then it all depends on the writer’s agility to describe it in a semantic reality. Who better than the wordsmiths of pen and ink to translate such perceptions?
As Baudelaire reminds us, “Never despise a person’s sensitivity. His sensitivity is his genius.” Intimate Journals (1887), XVIII.
Transcribing the customer’s emotions as accurately as possible during an interaction with a brand means giving reality to their perceptions, eventually leading to a better understanding of them. And therefore better serving them.
Writers translate the best sensations and experiences.Customer experience expert Joe Pine
In fact, classic and contemporary literature inspired the beginnings of customer experience strategy, and I believe they continue to produce the ultimate offering for companies in the Transformation Era. For example:
Most customers go to Café de Flore in Paris to live the experience they have read about so many times in books described by writers since the 19th century. Every detail counts, psychological, physical and social. And they are ready to pay for the experience, beyond the price of a coffee.
In the novel A Moveable Feast, Hemingway depicts an idyllic city full of broke artists who, like him, haunted the cafes of Saint-Germain and Montparnasse in the roaring twenties. People who read this book and want to go to Café de Flore certainly want to meet with literary enthusiasts (social), experience the feelings described by the author (psychological) and see, feel and smell what they read in the book (physical).
If companies were to stage their experiences as an author writes a play, literature could help to render these experiences more authentic, and thus produce great impressions. “Impressions are ‘the takeaways’ of the experience,” according to Joe Pine. This is what should remain in your customers’ minds.
How literature can help us in designing experiences
Before sponsored posts and paid influencers , literature was the one responsible for creating a number of experiences. Let us take for example the case of Le Bon Marché in Paris. This store, founded in the 19th century, was described by one of the finest pens of the time: Émile Zola. A veritable researcher, he recounts innovations in the field of customer experience in The Ladies’ Paradise. It was these very ladies who contributed to the great reputation of a brand that still has loyal customers to this day. In his work, Zola bears witness to a new paradigm in customer relations and a new way of selling merchandise.
And he can still inspire us today thanks to his detailed descriptions of sales techniques and the boom in modern marketing. Zola could almost be considered one of the pioneers of customer experience.
- “Women reigned in their shops like a queen, cajoled, flattered and overwhelmed with attentions. […] He raised a temple to her, caused her to be steeped in incense by a legion of shopmen, prepared the ritual of a new cultus.”
- “The customer found herself caught and subjugated, at one buying the material for a gown; at another cotton and trimming, elsewhere a mantle, […] a surrender to a longing for the useless and the pretty.”
In a few passages from Maupassant’s famous novel, Bel-Ami, there is also a description of a scene of contented customers in a store. A little later in the book, the famous French novelist details the sensory perceptions of all-consuming thirst. There is no shortage of such refined lessons throughout the text.
- “The large, bustling cafes, overflowing onto the sidewalk, spreading its clientele of people drinking under the dazzling, bright light of the illuminated storefront”
Brands like Big Mama – a chain of trendy Italian restaurants – are still playing the Bel-Ami card almost 250 years after the book’s publication. In these restaurants, the customer experience is based on creating an authentic menu and moment.
At Big Mama, the kitchen is open, placed in the centre of the restaurant. Customers can see the chefs and their activities at all times. It is a genuine spectacle to enjoy before you even taste the food. Restaurant employees take part in this spectacle and accentuate the traditional, authentic aspect of the cuisine.
Leaders must therefore excel at inspiring their employees in designing and promoting customer experience within the organisation. It is the sine qua non for a strong corporate culture, which in turn nurtures excellent customer service. Literature can be a good source of inspiration here, as well.
The large, bustling cafes, overflowing onto the sidewalk, spreading its clientele of people drinking under the dazzling, bright light of the illuminated storefront.From Maupassant’s famous novel, Bel-Ami
Literature may be a source of inspiration for leaders seeking customer-centric leadership
Professor Emeritus James March focused on the leadership lessons of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, by examining the limitations of the heroic portraits of leaders described by Tolstoy. According to him, history is not created by the spectacular actions and positions of leaders, but by the intricate combinations of many small acts by anonymous individuals. War and Peace suggests that leadership may be better served by passivity and opportunism than by pursuing audacious objectives. In this way, a culture of listening within an organisation helps directors to gather the best ideas from employees around customer experience. This Tolstoy-inspired vision reflects a very modern strategy within companies aiming to improve the employee experience (the mirror of customer experience).
In his book Authenticity, Joe Pine places emphasis on the authenticity of customer experiences. We all judge our experiences with brands as authentic or not. Therefore, businesses try to acquire this perception. And where can we find the best descriptions of authenticity over the years? Why in literature…
To win the hearts and business of your target customers, you have to convince them you are trustworthy and authentic.Forbes, As Trust Among Consumers Wavers, Authenticity is Critical
Though if I haven’t managed to convince you yet that reading literary works from the likes of Hemingway, Zola et al. gives leaders access to even more detailed analysis and allows them to set themselves apart, consider these benefits:
- Another vision of customers, closer to their emotions. Authors have this incredible ability to transcribe what is deep inside individuals and major societal trends.
- Inspiration to enrich customer experiences in light of those who have long lit up our lives. These artists describe authentic events, things and individuals with great skill.
- Ideas for creative communication with customers, in order to move them and engage them. Whether modern or classic, writers touch us with their words, by creating these scenes and events that stimulate our intellect.