If you've ever been to a zoo (and who hasn't?), one of the first things you do as you enter the grounds is pick up a map detailing the locations of the animal enclosures, exhibits, food areas, and, of course, restrooms. Those maps provide a wonderful set of visual cues to the customer-experience and performance-chain lessons we can all apply to our businesses.

Every company has a performance chain—the tangible and intangible elements that have to move from the moment you trigger demand until you have cash in the bank. The performance chain includes all the ins and outs that have to work together and align with your target customer experience to drive outcomes you seek.

In preparation for her recently released book ROAR: Strengthening Business Performance Through Speed, Predictability, Flexibility and Leverage, Chris LaVictoire Mahai, co-author of this article, sat down with San Diego Zoo director John Dunlap for an interview, which she wrote about in the book.

During their interview, John pulled out the current zoo visitor map, and the customer experience and performance chain story unfolded. Here are some of the lessons from that zoo visit we can all apply to business.

1. The customer comes first

When balancing performance requirements with operational decisions, you should always come down on the side of the customer. Ask yourself, What balance is right for the experience we are building? On the zoo map, for example, that might mean providing better routes, clearer icons, and color-coding that highlights the visitor's options at a glance.

The basic lesson is this: Don't make the customer learn your system; help her intuitively benefit from the system you've created. Your business may not require the literal translation of a visitor map. Then again, maybe it does.

2. Observe customer reactions

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image of Linda Ireland

Linda Ireland is co-owner and partner at Aveus, a global strategy and operational change firm. Linda's book, Domino, covers how leaders can define customer experience and use it to tip everything in a business toward better financial performance.

Twitter: @LindaIreland

LinkedIn: Linda Ireland

Chris LaVictoire Mahai is author of ROAR: Strengthening business performance through speed, predictability, flexibility and leverage. She is co-owner and managing partner at global strategy and operational change firm Aveus.