What Aladdin’s lamp can teach us about customer experience

Author Steven van Belleghem shares important lessons for building a customer experience strategy.

Aladdin's lamp

Most of us grew up with the story of Aladdin, and many will have seen Disney’s recent remake of the story.

However, if you somehow don’t know it, the story is fairly easy to summarise – Aladdin finds an old lamp, gives it a polish and this makes a genie appear who promises to fulfil any three wishes that Aladdin might have.

Simple, but it always brings the question, what would you do if you had the good fortune to find a lamp like that? Before you answer, you have to remember some important rules – you cannot ask for more wishes, you cannot bring anyone back from the dead and you cannot make someone fall in love with you.

Over the last few years, I have asked thousands of people this question when I have been giving keynotes at conferences and presentations to companies around the world. What is really interesting is that whoever I ask – people from every continent, every level of the management ladder and every age group – the answer is nearly always the same.

So, what would be your first wish?
Something for yourself?
Something for your family, friends or children?
Something that solves one of the world’s major problems?

The results of my real-life research are fairly conclusive: roughly 95 per cent of people would choose something for themselves or for their family, friends or children. Just 5 per cent want to solve a major world problem as their first priority.

I am fascinated by this outcome. Everybody is always talking about the challenges facing the world and how we all need to contribute towards solving them. But once the genie is out of the bottle, we all seem to develop instant amnesia. We could solve all the world’s health problems. We could end the famine in Yemen and the war in Syria. We could eradicate world poverty. But no, as soon as we have the choice we opt for something that has a more direct impact on our own little lives. Not that there is anything wrong with that, of course. That is just the way people are. We think first about ourselves, and only then about the world.

So what does this mean for customer experience? Well to create what I call, The Offer You Can’t Refuse, you have to work your way up from the bottom. First you need a good product or service at an attractive price. Then you need a perfectly functioning interface. After that, you can start thinking about becoming a ‘partner in life’ for your customers. And after that, you can start thinking about saving the world.

This model can be frustrating for many people working in charities and NGOs, and I am often asked if the reasons for any failings in their customer experience is a result of putting ‘saving the world’ is their main business aim. More often than not, however, the answer to their problems is to be found at bottom of the model – the effort required for people to donate money to your organisation is just too great. In other words, doing good for the world is not enough; the other levels of the model are equally important.

All of this reflects the gap between what people say and what they do. Take climate change, for example, most people know the importance of the debate, but in reality, not everyone has made the same effort to try and make a positive contribution. We all know that flying is bad for the environment, but our personal freedom (particularly if it means a holiday in the sun) is also important to us.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, international air traffic has been grounded, so we quickly started to see how nature benefited once the level of human pollution was reduced. Before the crisis, mass communication about climate change and the harmful role played by air travel had not made the slightest impact on our behaviour. But once there was a risk to our own personal health, people stated to change their behaviour almost overnight. It will be interesting to see if and how our behaviour changes once the crisis is over, and whether we again start to take international holidays
regardless of their environmental impact.

I repeat: we think first about ourselves, and only then about the rest of the world. This is an important lesson when building your customer experience strategy.

  • Steven van Belleghem is a speaker and author specialising in customer engagement. His new book, The Offer You Can’t Refuse, is out now.

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