Descending into the Mariana Trench and Lessons in Customer Experience

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Business Methodology:
Pete Abilla

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On May 28, 2013
Last modified:July 24, 2013


Metaphor lesson on how deep sea exploration from James Cameron, the Titanic Director, can teach us about the zone of indifference in Kano Analysis and Customer Experience Management.

Titanic Director, James Cameron, was recently interviewed on NPR 1 on his descent into the deepest known spot on the earth: The Mariana Trench.

The Mariana Trench is 7 miles beneath the surface of the ocean. Aside from Directing films such as Titanic and Avatar, James Cameron is also an explorer and serious enthusiasts of ocean exploration.

He also helped design the underwater submersible which is described here:

Cameron designed a 24-foot submersible vehicle, the Deepsea Challenger — “this kind of long, green torpedo that moves vertically through the water,” as he tells All Things Considered’s Melissa Block. Cameron was able to watch his descent, he says, through a window that was about 9-1/2 inches thick.

Once on the floor surface of the Mariana Trench, James Cameron describes his experience as “lunar”, devoid of life. He then describes what it took to go that deep:

To reach the ocean floor, the submersible relied on two 536-pound weights to pull the craft down. To rise later, the weights were disconnected from the craft — something Cameron did after about three hours of exploration.

After 3 hours of exploration, he shares his thoughts on ascending from the Mariana Trench and shares something very instructive in its application to the Customer Experience:

“What was going through your mind, right before you flipped that switch?” Melissa asks.

“There’s always a little bit of a sigh of relief when it works the way it’s supposed to work,” Cameron says.

Did you catch that? Let me reiterate: “There’s always a little bit of a sigh of relief when it works the way it’s supposed to work“.

Application to Customer Experience

In the field of Customer Experience Management, we often talk in terms of Detractor Avoidance and Customer Delight. The former is an approach to eliminate the sources of customer pain and hassle in order to reduce detractors. The latter focuses on getting the basics perfect AND going the extra bit in order to delight the customer; exceed the customer’s expectations, put another way.

Get the Basics Perfect

Why is the customer not surprised when something is supposed to work the way it’s supposed to? Put another way,

  • Is the customer delighted when they are treated well by a customer service agent?
  • Is the customer delighted when an online shopping cart goes through checkout the way it’s supposed to?
  • Is the customer delighted when they receive their customer order within the expected timeframe?
  • Is the customer delighted when they receive an apology from bad service?
  • Is the customer delighted when a website works the way it’s supposed to?

The general answer to these questions and more is, No. Why? Well, the customer has an expectation of how these services and products are supposed to work and when they do, there’s no surprise.

The Opposite is True

In fact, the opposite is true. When something doesn’t work the way we know it’s supposed to, we are surprised. In fact, most customers would grow frustrated and some very angry.

This is what I call Getting the Basics Perfect.

Let’s Remember Kano

Kano Analysis teaches us that there’s a zone of indifference, which is essentially what I’ve described above. Most organizations aim to remain in this zone, thinking that it will bring customer delight. We know that’s not true, and so do our customers.

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