The Power of a Common Language in Customer RelationshipsExperiential learning is a valuable tool for improving a team’s approach to customer relationships. Rather than just explaining the importance of putting the customers’ needs first, experiential learning allows participants to get a deeper understanding of the positive impact that customer centricity can have, by taking them through an immersive experience that clearly demonstrates cause and effect. An important component of this experience is that participants share a common language.


Creating a common language around customer centricity does not mean using cliché phrases like “the customer is always first.” It means allowing the team to develop its own common language from a shared experience that evokes a visceral feeling and causes the team members to shift their behavior.

Let’s use Rattlesnake Canyon, an Eagle’s Flight program, as an example. In this experience, teams compete to make as much money as possible by selling goods to a railroad company. Settlers buy individual products like livestock, lanterns, and tools and sell them to merchants who assemble them into kits. The merchants then sell the kits to the railroad, the end customer.

During the course of the experience, participants quickly learn that they can make a lot of money by buying and reselling pigs, so a pig-purchasing frenzy quickly emerges. However, after the railroad buys a certain number of pigs, it doesn’t need any more, and it stops purchasing them. This leaves settlers and merchants with an abundance of pigs that they can’t sell, ultimately limiting their resources and hindering their ability to provide their railroad customer with the other supplies. When the teams figure this out, a common language emerges: “Stop buying pigs!”

What happens during this experience? The teams become so focused on making money by buying and selling pigs that they lose sight of their customers’ needs. This quickly becomes apparent during the debrief, and because the participants have a shared experience using a determined common language, it immediately loops them back to the lessons of the experience.


Unlike lecture-based training, an experiential learning event like this has the power to resonate with a team for a significant period of time. Sharing a common language makes it possible to make quick course corrections along the way. For example, when one team member recognizes that they might not be putting the needs of the customer first, and they announce, “Stop buying pigs!”, they can shift their focus back to the intended goal.

Everybody on the team knows what the phrase means because they also learned the same lesson on a visceral level. They experienced a failure once in the game, and they don’t want to repeat it in real life with actual customers. Having this common language also allows the team to convey the concept of customer centricity succinctly without having to use more time-consuming communication approaches.

Rattlesnake Canyon is just one example of how the power of a common language can impact customer relationships. Every experiential learning event brings teams together in a way that other types of training cannot. By sharing in the successes and failures of the game and, most important, linking the lessons learned to the workplace, participants leave with a common language they can draw from in the future. They also gain a renewed commitment to improving performance on the job and building customer centric relationships.


Since 1991, John has acquired extensive experience in the design and delivery of a diverse portfolio of programs. In addition to his executive responsibilities as President of Leadership and Learning Events, John is considered a valued partner to many executive teams. His insight and experience enable him to effectively diagnose, design, and implement complex culture change initiatives in a collaborative and engaging manner. Moreover, John’s experience in global implementations allows him to draw from a deep well of history to create unique and customized solutions. John’s passion for developing people makes him a sought after speaker, partner and coach and is evident in the high praise he receives from clients.

Re-blogged from Eagle’s Flight.

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