The plight of chemistry teacher turned drug kingpin Walter White on TV's Breaking Bad can help businesses learn a great deal about customer experience management, according to one software vendor.
The incredibly popular television show Breaking Bad ended its run this month and for anyone living under a rock during the past half-decade, the premise of the show is simple.
After a sudden diagnosis of terminal cancer, the underpaid and underinsured high school chemistry teacher, White, played by Bryan Cranston, chooses to make extra money by cooking and selling methamphetamine. With the help of a former student, Jesse Pinkman, White progresses from a simple, earnest man trying to take care of his family to a tough, hard-hearted Machiavellian drug kingpin.
There are many parallels between White's business and more mundane, above-board businesses, according to Kimberly Samuelson, director of enterprise content management (ECM) strategy at Laserfiche, a company that develops ECM and document management software.
"Walter White had founder syndrome," said Samuelson. "He was a genius and a bit of a narcissist. He was really good at cooking crystal meth and had a lot of ego and pride wrapped around it.”
Organizations that are interested in doing customer experience management correctly have some things to learn from Mr. White -- and she's not talking about going back for a second dose of high school chemistry or drugging up your customers. Samuelson weighed in on five customer experience strategies that Breaking Bad got right.
1. Have a great product
"Have a category killer," Samuelson said. "Walt's crystal blue meth was a very unique product no one other than Walt -- and later Jesse -- could build."
In the business world, a comparison would be to offer a product that no one is truly capable of imitating -- for example, the Starbucks Corp.'s Frappuccino. Many have attempted to copy it, but somehow they never quite capture the Starbucks experience.
2. Provide flexible customer service and have an agile product
Respond to the changing needs of your customers and the changing market conditions. Walter White's trademark blue meth came into existence when the protagonist was unable to procure a key ingredient in the manufacture of methamphetamine: pseudoephedrine. Instead, Walter and Jesse substituted methylamine, which contained a blue dye. While it slightly altered their product, it also meant that they were able to keep meeting their customers' needs, which kept the customers happy.
If customers feel it's difficult to get in touch with a drug cartel, or a legitimate company, they will likely look for a more responsive and more professional organization.
Respond to the emerging trends of your clients by, for example, staying in touch with them using multichannel customer service and social media marketing.
3. Be consistent
If a Breaking Bad meth head or drug dealer bought "Heisenberg's blue stuff," they knew they'd be getting a high-quality product each and every time, proving that consistency is of key importance. This is true in the legitimate business world as well. A consistent product appeals to most customers. When people go to McDonald's, they can be assured that the Big Mac they purchase and consume today is going to taste exactly the same as the Big Mac they bought yesterday -- or five years ago. McDonald's Corp. intentionally tries to keep its product consistent, because that's what their customers have come to expect.
4. Be responsive and have a far-reaching distribution channel
Distribution was always difficult for Walter, as it is for most sellers of illegal products. This issue eventually led him to team up with Gus Fring, who used his chain of chicken restaurants to help distribute the meth.
Most legal business people don't have to worry about hiding behind a front company to distribute their product. But it's important to ensure that customers find ordering a product and contacting the organization easy. The usability of a website, ease of reaching a customer service representative and convenience are all factors that customers weigh when deciding which companies deserve their loyalty. If customers feel it's difficult to get in touch with a drug cartel, or a legitimate company, they will likely look for a more responsive and more professional organization.
5. Keep employees happy
"Walt, in his own sick way, always took care of Jesse," Samuelson said. Sure, Walt poisoned someone near and dear to Jesse and made it look like Gus did it. But he also protected Jesse from Mexican drug lords and saved Jesse from the horrors of addiction and the Aryan Brotherhood. Now there's a boss who goes the extra mile for employees.
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Employee engagement has increasingly become an indicator of customer satisfaction. Customers can tell if employees aren't happy in their jobs, but they can also tell when they're enthusiastic and happy. Some companies, like Zappos, pride themselves on employee involvement and allowing the staff -- both customer-facing and otherwise -- to just be themselves and have fun at work. Additionally, providing training and a career path for motivated employees are great ways to ensure that employees feel like they belong.
Breaking Bad offered some great insight into the business world and lessons anyone in any industry can take advantage of. The most important lesson, though? Do what you're good at. "Cooking meth is a lot like cooking eggs," mused Samuelson. "There are a lot of ways to cook them, but it takes a special chef to prepare them as a soufflé that will be awarded three Michelin stars. Walter White would be that chef."
This was first published in October 2013