One step back, two steps forward

This article was originally published by Management Today in July 2016

A few months ago, I bought an Apple Watch. And despite all the gnashing of teeth and angry Apple-fanboy blog posts to the contrary, I rather like it. It gives me a load of useful information at a glance, helps me track my fitness, and makes me feel like someone from Star Trek when I pay for a sandwich in M&S.

It does have one big problem though: It’s not very good at telling me the time.

The face of the Apple Watch is usually blank, to save battery. A subtle flick of the wrist should make the screen light up and shows the time.

Except, it doesn’t.

Not on the first flick. Or the second, or third. By this time, the other people in the meeting have stopped talking and are just staring at you waving your wrist about to wake the thing up. Less Star Trek, more Wallace & Gromit.

Companies are always trying to work out what The Next Big thing is. Employees are dispatched at regular intervals on ‘off-sites’ to a ‘more relaxed’ location, allowed to wear smart-casual clothing, and tasked with spending the day surrounded by post-it’s, stickers and pens. They think, write, theme, think some more, sift, vote, and finally identify their favourite future concept before triumphantly returning to HQ full of free sandwiches and hope.

However, these well-intentioned sessions often fail in one important respect – they miss the things that don’t change. The constant threads that run through life. The things that people really care about, whether they know it or not. Hence my opening anecdote – a watch’s primary function is telling the time, but that’s probably the thing my Apple Watch is worst at.


Take Amazon as an example of how to innovate without losing sight of the constant threads that your customer expect from you. Whatever Amazon sells, however they sell it, whoever they sell it to, three things never change – it’s in stock, it’s well priced, and it’s delivered fast. The importance of these things to its customers is unchanging, and Amazon has the wisdom not to change them.

These threads exist in every industry.  Airlines – get me there safely and on time. Restaurants – give me food that tastes good. Banks – keep my money safe and secure. Utilities – keep my lights on and water running. These are all industries that have played around endlessly with how to deliver their products & services to customers, with some brilliant innovations. But ultimately, unless those core needs are met, everything else is insignificant. Even the most-used smartphone apps are still largely about creating communities or helping people find each other.

But in today’s world, it’s never been easier for companies to lose these threads. Obsessively monitoring Twitter and overweighting the opinion of the outraged and techno-dazzled can cause companies to miss or forget about the consistent, necessary, and often unexciting threads that form the backbone of their offering.

So to really get to the heart of creating a great customer experience, companies need to look for insight right across their customers’ timeline:

Look to the past to discover the things that won’t change and have never changed, the core human needs that will remain the same along with your role in delivering those – whatever the next easiest way to do that.

Understand what your customers truly value now, not just their views on what you produce, by hearing what they say, watching what they do, and listening to what they’re shouting about.

Stay up to date with the latest trends in the world, not just in technology or in your industry, to really understand the things that are going to impact your customers’ expectations and experiences in the coming years.

It’s only by looking across this spectrum of the past, present, and future that companies can have a full and complete picture of how to stay most useful and relevant, and most importantly, how to keep helping their customers to feel great.

Thank you for reading this article, I really hope you enjoyed it. If you did, I’d love you to subscribe to my blog at to get new thoughts sent to you on an infrequent basis, and find me on twitter @johnJsills.

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