With a robust travel and social schedule built around spending quality time with family, George Blankenship’s third attempt at retiring appears to be the charm.
Ironically, the self-appointed title he now proudly displays on his LinkedIn profile page—Director of Smiles—sums up his primary goal throughout a remarkable customer-focused career that included “comeback” stints at two revolutionary companies, Apple and Tesla Motors.
Working hand-in-hand with visionary leaders Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, Blankenship served as architect of Apple’s brand-building retail methodology and then redefined the car-buying experience.
Previously, he spent two decades developing real estate strategies at Gap Inc., which under former CEO Mickey Drexler became one of the world’s most successful retail clothiers through Gap and offshoots such as Banana Republic and Old Navy.
“The commonality is a complete focus on customers,” explains Blankenship, who also spent a year as a consultant on Microsoft’s retail strategy.
“Mickey understood what would make people feel good—the right fabric, the right fit—through a belief that less is more,” he adds. “We set our sights on making two great sweaters instead of 15.
“Steve always had a vision about design and simplicity,” Blankenship continues. “He enjoyed really pushing the limits of what could be achieved because he had an insatiable appetite to improve people’s lives.
“And for Elon,” he notes, “it really is about saving the world. His focus is on accelerating adoption of electric cars so we can use fewer petroleum products. Tesla is just the vehicle, if you will.”
Armed with insights gained in those transformative roles, Blankenship will address “The Customer Experience” during his keynote address at the America’s Credit Union Conference June 26-29 in Seattle.
He believes developing brand loyalty and earning consumers’ trust requires credit union leaders to dedicate themselves to approaching financial services from the member’s point of view.
That means rethinking the challenges consumers face in today’s technology-driven marketplace and crafting strategies based not around products and services but how consumers can use them to enhance their lives.
The selfie challenge
To sum up that goal, Blankenship issues a 21st century-style challenge to credit union leaders:
What are you doing that would stimulate someone to take a selfie?
That might sound like an odd and perhaps flippant concept. But snapping a self-portrait that conveys time and place summarizes the excitement and satisfaction consumers—especially younger consumers—now desire or even demand from their experiences, Blankenship says.
“You want to generate that level of engagement and emotional stimulation,” he says. “Whenever something happens around millennials that is a memorable experience—even just a 30-second exchange that piques their interest—they remember the experience. They attach it to whatever they were doing, where they were doing it.”
Earning the loyalty of millennials and generation Z—the demographic born after 1996—starts by recognizing younger consumers have different ambitions than their parents or grandparents.
“What they own is much less important than what they experience,” Blankenship says. “Their goal isn’t to own a huge house in a gated community. They want a selfie at the top of the Swiss Alps while snowboarding.”
No matter the industry, organizations must think about how consumers want to interact with you. Pointing to statistics that indicate 80% of millennials sleep with their smartphones, every business strategy must revolve around mobile devices, Blankenship advises.
“If you can’t do it on a phone, then that group of people won’t interact with you,” he says. “And the next step is the smart watch. Just wait until people grow familiar with Apple Pay. The watch is the next transformative product.”
NEXT: The power of human consultation