The 2nd Discipline of Guest Experiences: Guest Understanding

Organizations that want to produce a high-quality Guest experience need to perform a set of sound, standard practices. Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine, in their book Outside In, have developed six high-level disciplines which can be translated into Guest experiences: strategy, Guest understanding, design, measurement, governance, and culture.

An overview of all six Disciplines can be found here. These disciplines represent the areas where organizations that are consistently great at Guest experiences excel.

If you want to deliver a great Guest Experience, these disciplines are where you need to focus, too. 

Guest Understanding

You need a set of practices that create a consistent shared understanding of who Guests are, what they want and need, and how they perceive the interactions they’re having with your organization today. This discipline includes research practices, analyzing the information you’ve collected, and documenting your findings. Guest Understanding provides a foundational level of insight that guides the rest of the disciplines.

Guest Understanding Practices

  • Solicit feedback from Guests about their experiences with your organization (through surveys or interviews)
  • Collect unsolicited feedback from Guests about their experiences with your organization (through mining calls, email, or social media posts)
  • Gather input from team members about their experiences with Guests and their role in delivering the Guest Experience
  • Conduct observational research studies in Guests’ natural environments
  • Analyze Guest insight drawn from across research techniques and organizational boundaries to identify key Guest pain points and opportunities
  • Document Guest Understanding in a way that is easy for team members to understand and use (through the use of personas, Guest Journey maps, etc.)
  • Share Guest understanding with all team members

Thinking you know what Guests want is risky. Knowing what they want leads to Guest Experience improvements that matter.

Guest Survey from Pearland Vineyard, Pearland, TX

Most organizations neglect to build a foundation of Guest understanding before they develop their service and experience strategies – and then proceed with costly initiatives. Where do most organizations miss the boat on understanding their guests?

  1. Team members often fall into the seductive trap of assuming that what they want is what Guests want
  2. Many organizations view Guests only through a numerical lens
  3. Many Guests use qualitative research methods inappropriately

The good news is that you can avoid these pitfalls by using techniques that will help you to understand who your Guests are, how they perceive the interactions they are having with you today, and what they want and need from you tomorrow.

If you want to harness the power of delivering a WOW! Guest Experience, you have to start with a complete picture of who they are and what they want from you. This picture will come into focus as you begin to analyze Guest data that spans multiple research techniques and organizational boundaries.

While you may have the in-house know-how to do some of these activities, you will likely need to partner with outside experts. They will be able to help you set up studies, ask the right questions, collect the right data, and synthesize the results into meaningful insights.

I would be happy to talk with you about how you can begin the journey to understanding and delivering  a WOW! Guest Experience every week at your church.

If you try to skimp on this part of the process – by continuing with assumptions about what you think Guests need and want – you’ll not only fail to create true Guest understanding, you will also put the rest of your Guest Experience practices at risk.

Guest insights ultimately drive your Guest Experience strategies.

Application to ChurchWorld

  1. What you think you know about your Guests is probably wrong
  2. You won’t find all your answers in a survey
  3. Document your findings in easy to understand formats
  4. Share your Guest insights early and often

Guest Understanding should become the foundation of all your Guest Experience efforts.

Next in the series: How understanding your Guests becomes the primary input into your Guest Experience design process.


Want to know more about the Guest Experience in your church?

  • Learn why the Guest Experience matters here
  • Contact me here
  • Read up a little here

The 1st Discipline of Guest Experiences: Strategy

Organizations that want to produce a high-quality Guest experience need to perform a set of sound, standard practices. Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine, in their book Outside In, have developed six high-level disciplines which can be translated into Guest experiences: strategy, Guest understanding, design, measurement, governance, and culture.

An overview of all six Disciplines can be found here. These disciplines represent the areas where organizations that are consistently great at Guest experiences excel.

If you want to deliver a great Guest Experience, these disciplines are where you need to focus, too.


This is your game plan. It’s a set of practices for crafting a Guest experience strategy, aligning it with the organization’s overall attributes and brand attributes, and then sharing that strategy with team members to guide decision-making and prioritization across the organization. The strategy discipline is critical because it provides the blueprint for the experience you design, deliver, manage, and measure.

Strategy Practices

  • Define a guest experience strategy that describes the intended Guest experience.
  • Align the strategy with overall organization strategy.
  • Align the strategy with the organization’s brand strategy.
  • Share the strategy with all team members (distribute documentation, conduct training sessions, review and evaluate practices).

Great Guest experiences don’t happen by accident. They’re the result of countless deliberate decisions made by every single person in your Guest Experience teams on a daily basis. To align those decisions, team members and partners need a shared vision: a Guest Experience strategy.

Without that vision, team members are forced to set out on a random journey, and their decisions and actions will inevitably be at odds with each other despite all the best intentions.

You have a choice.

You can continue to let your team members wonder what they should do to improve the Guest Experience and flounder as they try to coordinate their own activities with those of other teams.

But the better path is to guide them toward a common vision and facilitate concerted efforts by crafting a Guest Experience strategy that clearly defines the intended experience.

Application to ChurchWorld

  1. Your Guest Experience must support your overall organizational strategy
  2. Your Guest Experience must align with your brand
  3. Your Guest Experience must be specific, clear, and memorable

Tomorrow: How to differentiate your Guest Experience in the minds of those you are trying to reach and impact.

Want to know more about the Guest Experience in your church?

  • Learn why the Guest Experience matters here
  • Contact me here
  • Read up a little here

I Read to Cheat Old Age – What About You?

It is my habit to make my lunch hour my own personal “Lunch and Learn” activity. As I work from an office in my home, I typically take a break from work to enjoy lunch seated in the dining room, reading a book.

So it’s appropriate that, while reading Curious, by Ian Leslie, I came across this information:

Being epistemically curious is a crucial condition of feeling fulfilled and alive.

Science supports this intuition. Neurologists use the term “cognitive reserve” to describe the brain’s capacity to resist the ravages of old age. For a study published in 2013, a team led by Robert Wilson at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago enrolled three hundred elderly people and tested their thinking and memory skills each year. The participants were also asked about how often they read, wrote, and engaged in other cognitively demanding activity, not just currently, but in childhood and middle age.

Following each participant’s death, his or her brain was examined for evidence of dementia. It was discovered that, after taking into account the physical effects of dementia on their brains, the subjects who made a lifelong habit of a lot of reading and writing slowed their rate of mental decline by a third compared to those who only did an average amount of those things.

In other words, those individuals cheated old age.

 - Ian Leslie, Curious

My lifelong, and ongoing, investment in reading is really an investment in my future.

courtesy photosteve101

courtesy photosteve101

What will you be reading today?

Making Hay While the Sun Shines

On the way to an appointment last week it was a warm sunny fall day so I had the sunroof open and the windows down. I came across a field that had freshly cut and baled hay in it – the old style small bales. The aroma of the hay took me back to my teenage years, when I helped nearby farmers as they would bring in hay for the winter. My usual job was to stack hay bales on a wagon pulled by a tractor – sometimes tossing them from the field, sometimes stacking them on the wagon. Hard work, but good exercise and fun for a bunch of teenagers.

courtesy Oregon Department of Agriculture

courtesy Oregon Department of Agriculture

My instantaneous trip down memory lane was shattered when I rounded the corner and saw one man, driving a tractor pulling a machine that picked up the bales, stacked them in neat rows, and when a row was complete lifted the whole thing onto a trailer. The work was quicker, neater, and in the long run more economically advantageous for the farmer.

On the way back from the appointment, going down the same road, but on the other side, I saw an elderly gentleman driving a tractor cutting a small field around his house-but with an identical International Harvester tractor and mower to the one that I used in the early 70s. Now, the tractor I used then was old – that made this one really ancient. But it seemed to be doing the job just fine, and the farmer was moving right along in his work.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The season and needs of both farmers dictated their actions. Each was using tools at his disposal to accomplish a task. Each was satisfied that they were doing the right thing, and they achieved their desired result. What was the change going on?

One of the best resources for understanding change is William Bridges’ “Managing Transitions“. Don’t let the title fool you: the first sentence explains the premise of the rest of the book:

It isn’t the changes that do you in; it’s the transitions.

Bridges sees change as situational – the new job, new boss, new policy. Transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation. Bridges would translate the old French saying above to:

There can be any number of changes, but unless there are transitions, nothing will be different when the dust clears.

Situational change hinges on the new thing, but psychological transition depends on letting go of the old reality and the old identity you had before the change took place. Nothing so undermines organizational change as the failure to think through who will have to let go of what when change occurs.

Got Change, anyone?

Four Words to Use Every Day

Most of the time we give ourselves more credit than is due for our conversations. When those conversations are intended to move the listener to take an action, we need to remember the following:

The significance of what we are saying is not always self-evident, let alone shocking and/or awe-inspiring.

It’s time for clarity, in two words:

So what?

Keep asking the question till you (and your audience) are satisfied that you are both clear on what is being communicated.

But don’t stop there: information without application leads to stagnation (a favorite quote of my pastor, Steven Furtick).

It’s time for transformation, in two more words:

Now what?

Your audience may have information, but have you given them reason to act on it?


Look Back and Learn: Investing in Wisdom Equity

In researching and working on some leadership development material for an ongoing writing project, I came across the following:

Christianity is a religion of change. Jesus’ call in Mark 1:15 (the kingdom of God is at hand) was a call to change – change of mind and heart, of conduct and character, of self and society. By its very nature Christianity is a religion for a changing world and has always had its greatest opportunity during times of upheaval.

The Christian leader has no option; he must face a changing world. If the leader is to render maximum service, he must both adjust himself to the phenomena of change and address himself passionately to the business of producing and guiding change. Here are some elements that constitute the changed world in which the Christian leader today is called to fulfill his ministry.

Changed world outlook

Changed economic philosophy

Changed social consciousness

Changed family life

Changed community conditions

Changed moral standards

Changed religious viewpoints

Changed conceptions of the church

Changed media for molding public opinion

Changed demands made upon the leader

Pretty good list, right? Dead on. Taken from today’s headlines.


courtesy the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

courtesy the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

The author was Gaines S. Dobbins, distinguished professor of Religious Education at my alma mater, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Louisville KY.

Written in 1947.

As the introduction to the book “Building Better Churches: A Guide to Pastoral Ministry.”

Dr. Dobbins retired before I was born, but while in seminary in the early eighties I had the privilege of sitting under a couple of professors who were students of Dr. Dobbins. When I came across this book in a used bookstore, I bought it on impulse. After flipping through it, I realized it was a treasure of leadership wisdom.

At Auxano, we talk about a concept called “vision equity.” It’s realizing that the history of a church is a rich resource for helping rediscover what kinds of vision language past generations have used. That language is very useful for anticipating and illustrating God’s better intermediate future.

As I read Dr. Dobbin’s book, I think there is also a concept called “wisdom equity.” It’s realizing that there have been some great leaders and deep thinkers over the past decades and centuries whose collective wisdom would be a great place to start as we struggle with the new realities that face us every day.

It’s why I love history – I see it not as an anchor that holds us to the past, but as a foundation to build a bridge to the future.

Go ahead – look back and learn.

Altitude Affects Attitude

Take a drive through the beautiful Western North Carolina mountains, especially around Asheville, and you will see why the city has used the above saying as their tagline.


Chamber of Commerce thinking aside, being aware of your altitude also helps when reviewing your priorities in order to get things done. In order to fully understand your priorities, you need to know what your work is. Using an aerospace analogy by management consultant David Allen in his book Getting Things Done, the conversations you need to be having have a lot to do with altitude:

50,000 feet: Life – this is the “biggest picture” view you can have. Why does your organization exist? The primary purpose for anything provides a core definition of what its “work” really is. All goals, visions, objectives, projects, and actions both derive from this, and lead toward it.

40,000 feet: Three to Five Year Vision – projecting three to five years into the future generates thinking about big categories like organization strategies, trends, and transition circumstances. Decisions at this altitude could easily change what your work might look like on many levels.

30,000 feet: One to Two Year Goals – One to two-year goals add a new dimension to defining your work. Meeting goals and objectives often require a shift in emphasis of your job focus.

20,000 feet: Areas of Responsibility – You create or accept most of your projects because of your responsibilities, which for most people can be defined in ten to fifteen categories. These are key areas in which you want to achieve results and maintain standards. Listing and reviewing these responsibilities gives a more comprehensive framework for evaluating your inventory of projects.

10,000 feet: Current Projects – Creating many of the actions that you currently have in front of you are the thirty to one hundred projects on your plate. These are relatively short term outcomes you want to achieve.

Runway: Current Actions – this is the accumulated list of all the actions you need to take – phone calls to make, emails to respond to, errands you need to run, and the agendas you want to communicate to your boss or team.

Though these altitude analogies are somewhat arbitrary, they provide a useful framework to remind you of the multi-layered nature of your “job” and the resulting commitments and tasks it demands.

Mastering the flow of work at all the “altitudes” you experience provides a “flight plan” that will help you accomplish a great deal and feel good in the process.

Fasten your seat belts and make sure your tray tables are in the upright and locked position -

…it’s time for your framework for decision-making to take flight.