What on earth can something called “peripheral sparring” teach us about the customer experience?

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you know I have two sons in Taekwondo. I’ve shared lessons from their Taekwondo classes in the past, but it’s been a while. Recently, their Master Instructor introduced this new concept, and I sat there thinking, as I usually do, “Hmm. I can totally relate this to customer experience.”

Let me start by describing peripheral sparring. Here’s how it works. While two kids are sparring with each other, the Master Instructor stands near them and holds up a red pad and a blue pad. He calls out a color, and if he calls either red or blue, the first one to stop sparring and hit the appropriate colored pad gets a point. If he calls out some other color, e.g., black, the kids need to remain focused and continue sparring.

What happens if you focus on the instructor, anticipating his next move or next call, rather than on your partner?  Well, your sparring partner will keep kicking and punching you, and you’ll lose the game.

The exercise helps to strengthen and develop two things: (1) peripheral vision and (2) focus/concentration. Ironically, those are two very different things, but I think the lesson here is that you need to focus on what you’re doing and use your peripheral vision to remain aware of what’s happening around you at all times.

How do I connect that type of sparring to the customer experience? There are a couple different lessons here.

Focus on the task at hand. That “task at hand” for your business is to deliver the best experience for your customers.

But never take your eyes off those around you. Your competitors, as well as other competing forces,  are not your main focus, but you must always be aware of what’s going on outside of your main line of sight. They must be in your peripheral vision.

Don’t get distracted by shiny objects. Know your purpose and let that be your guiding light. Shiny objects might be sexy, but they aren’t worthy of your immediate attention. They suck resources into doing things that detract from your purpose.

A customer-focused culture is challenging. There will be distractions and opposing or dissenting parties, e.g., investors or shareholders who want to see returns on their investments and want you to focus on them and their needs. But what those parties need to understand is that if you focus on the customer, you are focusing on them, as well.

Don’t just be there, really be there. Malcolm Forbes said it best when he said, “Presence isn’t just being there.” When a customer is standing in front of you, asking questions and talking to you, nothing else matters. Focus on the customer’s immediate needs. Sure, there are other things happening around you that you might need to be aware of, but the customer standing in front of you is the most important thing to you at that moment.

Nothing focuses the mind better than the constant sight of a competitor who wants to wipe you off the map. -Wayne Calloway