There are short stories, and then there are the ultra-brief fictions of the writer Lydia Davis. Among my favourites is a one-line tale she simply titled, “Idea For A Short Documentary Film.” This is the story in its entirety:
Representatives of different food products manufacturers try to open their own packaging.
Amazingly, I recently realized there was a way to make this story even shorter, by saying representatives of different food products are shown “dogfooding.”
As a story published last week by the Financial Times noted, the concept of “eating your own dog food” — or seeing for yourself what customers experience by working on the front lines — has gradually morphed from a term coined by a Microsoft exec into a verb. And dogfooding is becoming more popular than ever by business leaders.
The story shows how execs at companies including Door Dash, AirBnB and others are stepping outside their gilded offices (assuming they’re not working from home) to work more directly with customers. Dogfooding at Door Dash has become a more formalized program for all personnel:
The company asks staff to complete at least four deliveries and they can also shadow customer experience colleagues, to make up 10 “dashes” per year. Shadowing restaurant partners on the DoorDash platform will also become an option. Employees are encouraged to do one of these tasks on a monthly basis.
Interestingly, the FT story focused on the question of whether dogfooding was a good use of senior leaders’ time. The answer, according to various experts interviewed, was yes — that it gets them closer to the customer and helps them to understand what’s really going on.
The story spends far less time on whether dogfooding leads to quantifiable CX improvements. Which I doubt it does.
I would imagine that in many organizations, having an exec join the rank-and-file for a short period of time would lead to a highly artificial atmosphere. There is probably less slacking off, fewer shortcuts taken, and likely next to no swearing on the job.
Dogfooding also only provides a window into the employee experience. You only really get at what the customer goes through when you try mystery shopping, which is probably impossible for senior leaders to do without a very convincing disguise.
It’s not that executives are too good to be put on the front lines, but that they should be investing in mechanisms to provide them the same kind of actionable intelligence. A great voice of the customer (VoC) should do this, even if it lacks the novelty or example-setting that a day or two of dogfooding can provide.
You could still pair VOC programs with dogfooding. That would allow execs to compare their anecdotal experiences with what they see in the data, allowing them to perhaps have greater confidence in the direction they give on improving CX.
If leaders are working the till or performing other “menial” duties where they interact with customers, it has to avoid the risk of looking performative. That will leave a bad taste in everybody’s mouth — maybe even worse than dog food.
Shane Schick tells stories that help people innovate, and to manage the change innovation brings. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and Yahoo Canada and is the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.