Moments of change occur around us each day, and in that spirit this book begins with a moment of closure and reflection—a day of transformation, if you will—at a place I loved and once called my second home: Cinemapolis, a movie theater nestled in the heart of Anaheim Hills, California, where I obtained my first full-time job more than 30 years ago.
Imagine stepping into a world filled with larger- than-life tales, popcorn aroma wafting through the air, hushed anticipation, and the resonating echo of the simple yet enthralling words, “...coming soon.” Cinemapolis offered this experience for years—a world away from the real world, a shared dream that brought the community together as patrons embarked on cinematic adventures. As of this week, while I’m writing this, the theater closed its doors, and the landlord will usher in a Tesla showroom to fill the space. I can’t help but contemplate whether this signifies the loss of a historical structure in my life or the dawn of a new era.
What began as selling candy and cleaning auditoriums at age 17 ultimately taught me the essential values I still heed today. While working at the theater, I first learned a well-known theory: “The customer is always right.” Thirty- five years later, the depth of this statement is more nuanced.
The common business mantra is meant to instill a customer-centric culture, promoting a service ethos that prioritizes customer needs, satisfaction, and loyalty. It’s about treating customers with respect, listening to their concerns, and making genuine efforts to solve their problems.
However, in reality, the customer is not always correct or reasonable. Customers sometimes have unrealistic expectations, make mistakes, or exhibit unfair demands. On the flip side, in recent years, I’ve witnessed leaders who believe they know better than their customers or have imposed their personal biases on them, resulting in a substantial negative impact on their company’s value.
But while one customer might not always be right, the collective voice of customers can provide invaluable feedback. If many customers express similar complaints or suggestions, it’s indicative that some aspect of the business might need to be revised or improved. This alignment of your core customer voice is, and always will be, right.
Another guiding principle at the theater was “anticipate the guests’ needs” before asked. These philosophies, now planted in customer call centers and hospitality companies worldwide, were not just words; they were a compass, directing every interaction and decision we made at the cinema. But how exactly do you predict customers’ needs? Data? Personalization? Those annoying web cookies? Fortune 500 companies have been asking this question for the last two decades, and even with the onslaught of artificial intelligence, the belief is that we’re closer than ever to reaching it.
The reality is that change is constant. Customers’ needs, expectations, devices, engagement, opinions, and beliefs are constantly in flux next to a business’ products, services, locations, prices, and reputation. Understanding this, and being able to adapt and serve customers in the moment, aligned with core values, is the heart of customer transformation.
These principles of customer focus were more than mere words on a training sheet for me to agree to and forget all those years ago. Instead, they seeped into my core, becoming second nature to me—like a reflex, instinctive and natural. This philosophy became a passion I carried into every job after Cinemapolis. On the surface, this may feel like a given. However, I challenge you to set aside your assumptions and position your mindset with the enduring lesson: without customers, your business doesn’t exist.
I forged many memories in the theater’s comfortable darkness—first dates, hosting classic film series, my children’s first movies, enjoying popcorn with Gwen Stefani, interviewing Kathy Bates, and sneaking Sean Connery into one of his films. It was more than just a workplace; it was a hub for cultivating lifelong friendships, honing skills, and shaping experiences. For 15 years, I shared in the joys of co-workers’ graduations, marriage proposals, and the birth of their children, interviewed and trained hundreds of new employees for their first jobs, and tackled everyday customer challenges that became woven into the tapestry of my life and became a narrative of change and transformation.
As I reflect on the arc of my professional journey, it is increasingly clear that the philosophy of customer alignment has been a steadfast pillar. From my formative years at Cinemapolis to every professional endeavor that followed, the commitment to prioritize the customer remains.
This book covers seven key stages that serve as the cornerstone for fostering thriving customer relationships and enhancing business value. Each stage of the Customer Transformation framework outlines how to shift your organization’s mindset toward a customer-centric focus, accompanied by engaging stories, business case studies, and practical examples. The seven stages are:
1. Customer: focuses on understanding customers’ needs, expectations, and evolving behaviors
2. Interfaces: explores the touch points and connections between customers and your business and how innovation creates new people interfaces
3. Journeys: investigates the customer experience from start to finish, highlighting how customers engage moment-by-moment in a digital world
4. Community: discusses building and nurturing a community of engaged and loyal customers at scale
5. Culture: illuminates the significance of fostering a customer-centric culture within your organization and how it can impact how your business functions and interacts with its customer base
6. Technology: looks at the role of technology and data in meeting and anticipating customer needs and enhancing a company’s purpose
7. Value: focuses on leadership and customer alignment to quickly adapt to changing markets and significantly boost business value.
See the framework’s value chain on the next page.
Following each stage, you will find an action plan with next steps and goals to help implement the insights from the book. To assist in the process, here is how each action plan is structured:
Introduction: The introduction provides an overview of the stage you’re about to begin. It presents the key concepts, topics, and the overall objective of the stage. Read this carefully to understand the upcoming activities’ context and purpose.
Day 0: Reflection and Goal - A few days before you start the activities, take some time to reflect on the given statement. This reflection should be your starting point, shaping your initial perspective. The goal introduces what you should aspire to achieve in this stage. This sets the mindset you should adopt and the objectives to strive for during the stage.
Day 1: Workshop - This is your first team meeting. You’ll be introduced to this stage’s materials, processes, and themes. Your team will begin exploring the concepts presented and connect them to your company’s unique circumstances.
Day 1: Workshop Questions - These questions stimulate discussion and thought during your first team meeting. They serve as a guide to navigating your exploration of the introduced concepts. You should aim to answer these questions based on your company’s specific situation and objectives.
Day 2 - 7: Homework and Next Steps - After your first meeting, the team should reflect on the initial discussion and start working on the tasks identified. This could involve analyzing your current situation, researching solutions, or outlining strategies. Maintaining open communication within your team during this period is crucial to share insights, updates, and challenges.
Day 8: Touchpoint and Next Steps - You have your second team meeting one week later. You review your progress, discuss the homework, and plan your next steps here. This meeting is about converting your insights into actionable strategies and steps.
Day 9 and Beyond: Action Plan - This section outlines your deliverables for a 30 - 60 - 90-day plan. It is the roadmap for the practical application of your new strategies. It includes the tasks, goals, and metrics to track as you implement changes over the following weeks and months. Each period should build on the last, aiming to drive continuous improvement and adaptation based on results and feedback.
Customer Transformation is about keeping pace with your customers’ ever-changing needs and expectations. It’s about learning from the past and, more importantly, highlighting how these principles guide us for future growth and business value. As you delve deeper into this journey, I hope my stories will inspire you to embrace the all-important role of the customer in driving your transformation.