No matter where we sit, we’re probably serving someone something. And whether we’re face-to-face with the consumer of that product or working to build a team, an office, an administration, or agency that our customers love, we can make our product better by listening to a few radical lessons from leaders in the customer experience world.


I remember when the Army switched to the new brand, An Army of One. “What does that mean?” I asked. “I hate it!” My colleague turned to me, “It’s not for you. It’s them,” he said, pointing to a young intern walking around among our cubicles. He was right. I was already in the Army, at that point for the long haul. I wasn’t the recruiting customer. In fact, An Army of One was tremendously successful in appealing to the new generation of young people the Army wanted to recruit, and marketing experts with massive amounts of data already knew it. OfferPad President Marc Chesley says, “Early in my career I learned a valuable UX lesson – my opinion means nothing.”

In short, you may work incessantly to perfect a product—whether that’s a widget or a proposal for the way ahead; but if it doesn’t resonate with the customer (whether boss or consumer), it doesn’t achieve the positive effect you both hope for and need to succeed. Know your audience. Tailor your product to them.


The Department of Veterans Affairs’ five MyVA strategies for transforming the second-largest department in federal government led off with “Improve the Veteran Experience.” At VA, the Veteran is the customer, and the objective of that first strategy was to give Veterans, customers, a positive, exceptional, memorable experience when interacting with Veterans Affairs. But the second strategy was “Improve the Employee Experience.” As former Secretary Bob McDonald used to explain, “You can’t deliver an exceptional Veteran experience without delivering an exceptional employee experience, as well.”

Galloper’s Thiago Moraes puts employee experience first: “Other than our company culture, customer experience is the single most important part of the business.” Maraes would argue, I think, the same as McDonald—if the office culture is dysfunctional, the customers are at risk of getting the bitter product of that poison culture. For McDonald, however, veterans were absolutely first, in everything, and that was key to what he believed was a necessary aspect of the company cultural change. So culture or customer? It’s a chicken-and-the-egg kind of thing. But whomever your customer is, remember that employees who feel like valued, important parts of the process are more likely to deliver great products they care about to customers than employees sequestered in a closet.


If you don’t know what your boss, your colleague, another office or agency wants, how they think and see the world, you’re at a tremendous deficit. That’s why customer surveys are important. That’s why flatter organizations in which people can hear and have access to supervisors and customers, alike, probably do much better. As a speechwriter, it’s nearly impossible—or at least tremendously difficult—to write in a vacuum: ideally, speechwriters know the mind of the principal (a product of routine interaction, discussions, listening, trust), and the mind of the audience.

From ghostwriters to speechwriters, they don’t want access to the boss for their own edification; they want that interaction because it informs the product. “Our teams live and die by guest feedback,” says Upward Project’s Lauren Bailey. “We are pulling little tidbits from many different sources every single day and we use them to turn the knobs and get clues on how to make our experience better.” That immersion is what makes great products that resonate with audiences and customers, alike.

Jeff Pruitt writes, “A great business is so much more than a product or service. These business leaders live and die by customer experience.” Read more about Jeff’s findings in “Why These 5 Business Leaders Live By Customer Experience.”

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Ed Ledford enjoys the most challenging, complex, and high stakes communications requirements. His portfolio includes everything from policy and strategy to poetry. A native of Asheville, N.C., and retired Army Aviator, Ed’s currently writing speeches in D.C. and working other writing projects from his office in Rockville, MD. He loves baseball and enjoys hiking, camping, and exploring anything. Follow Ed on Twitter @ECLedford.