Jaap Wilms is the Founder of Wilms ‘n Zo!, the NPS Programme Management firm based in the Dutch city of Delft. This November, Jaap will be judging at the 2018 International Customer Experience Awards in Amsterdam. In an article for CXM World, he describes how a little ‘heat’ can go a long way when it comes to employee engagement…

You’ll often hear me talk about engagement within an organisation, and when I do I’ll usually be quick to point out that it’s all about creating sparkles. Sparkles being a metaphor for a buzzing, inspiring, and surprising environment. But sparkles alone will not suffice. Sometimes what you need is the occasional jalapeño.

A jalapeño is a metaphor I use for something that gives the organisation some heat. That hurts or provokes a bit. Shakes things up. Because that is what gets people to respond and pay attention.

As Chip and Dan Heath (authors of Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die) so aptly say: “The most basic way to get someone’s attention is this: Break a pattern.”

It’s become such a feature of my focus on human behaviour that I made the sparkles and the jalapeño iconic. Literally!

I included it as one of the icons in my model how to create and engaged organisation (take a look, it’s on my website).

I’m also terribly fond of useless knowledge – always have been. I’ll tell you useless stuff like who invented ear muffs or why judges wear black.

So as it goes, one day I actually looked up the word ‘jalapeño’. There are many varieties of this chili pepper varying in size and heat, and it belongs to the species Capsicum annuum. In Mexico the jalapeño is also known as the cuaresmeño and gordo. Smoke-dried it’s called chilpoctli in the Nahuatl language, more commonly known as chipotle.

As divergent thinking goes, this sets off a whole world of new leads, thought experiments, and challenges to see if these novel learnings can be somehow connected to our knowledge of NPS. Let’s dwell on two.

The first lead: am I correct in depicting a jalapeño to stir up an organisation? Well, the heat of a jalapeño is measured by the Scoville scale. How fitting, as those working in NPS just love to measure.

This measurement is somewhat older, as it was devised in 1912 and named after its creator, the American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville. Turns out a jalapeño is not that hot at all, ranging between 1,000 and 20,000 Scoville heat units depending on variety. 

The world’s hottest pepper is the Carolina Reaper with an astounding 2,200,000 heat units. I am truly happy having learned such an awesome name (although the not very much milder Trinidad Scorpion Butch T Pepper is a magnificant name also). But despite being a milder variety, I’m not going to replace the jalapeño in my metaphor. There’s something to be said about the ease of recognition, and putting too much heat in an organisation is not the best idea either.

So what’s the second lead? Well, as the smoke-dried jalapeño is called chipotle, you’ll come across Chipotle as an American chain of Mexican Grill fast food restaurants, and they have done something very, very cool that anyone with an NPS Programme should pay attention to.

Although there’s much to be said about studying their business model, mission statement (called Food with Integrity, which highlights its efforts in using naturally-grown ingredients), and societal and Customer Experience philosophy, I am actually intrigued by a little thing they did. 

The author of Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer, was sitting in a Chipotle one day. He realised that he had nothing to do, as he had not thought of bringing a book or magazine along, and he didn’t yet own a smartphone. In his own words, “I really just wanted to die with frustration”. Then he had an idea: what if there were something truly good to read on his Chipotle coffee cup? He reached out to the CEO that he happened to have met a few years earlier, and the idea took off from there.

Now, under its motto Cultivating Thought, in Chipotle stores you can have cups and bags with original texts written on them by renowned authors like Foer, Malcolm Gladwell, Jonathan Franzen, Paulo Coelho, and many others.

The writings are “two-minute reads”. As Malcolm Gladwell described it: “The goal of storytelling should be to make stories as ubiquitous as music.” And it is. Small bits, easy and accessible.

Chipotle put it beautifully: “We’re hoping (to) create a moment of analog pause in a digital world, provoking introspection or inspiration, and maybe a little laughter.”

I marvel at the simplicity of it, and think the aim is fantastic. I believe that to engage an organisation you need to be clever and daring, and do something new. Even if it’s a small thing like using an everyday item for something novel and inspiring.

In Chipotle’s words: “Must a cup, or bag, suffer an existence that is limited to just one humble purpose, defined merely by its simple function?” So well put!

Not only is this thinking applicable to making NPS successful in any organisation, but the very concrete idea of putting text on a cup can immediately be put in place.

Why don’t we print the customer verbatim we collect with NPS on the coffee cups of our organisations’ coffee machines? How hard can it be to realise?

Can you imagine the huge impact it will have when every single employee gets their coffee or tea in a cup printed with an every now-and-then changing eclectic array of customer comments? Some sweet, some brutally honest, some downright funny or provoking.

Imagine, every time you get a drink, you get a two-minute read and reflection from some of your customers. Imagine, every single employee is exposed multiple times a day to NPS and what you’re trying to achieve just by the sheer frequency of their coffee or tea consumption.

Sounds like a fantastic thing to do and an amazing opportunity. So go ahead, do it and let me know how it goes.

And all this from a jalapeño! Such a small thing, yet it offers that little bit of extra heat to disrupt, set off new ideas, and get an organisation engaged.

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