The experience begins... now.

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The minute a customer accesses your website, calls your toll-free number, walks into one of your locations or opens a box with your mark printed on it, the experience begins. This isn't something you can leave to chance. You have to think about every little detail. You have to know what will make your customers smile and what will make them frown. You have to anticipate that there will be problems and that customers will look to you to fix these problems for them. How you deal with these situations is as much a part of the experience as anything else. Perhaps more so.

If a customer leaves your store or website angry, you will never see them again. They will drag your name in the dirt, and your reputation within their sphere of influence will be destroyed. For every customer you lose, they take perhaps ten more with them. The negative word-of-mouth they generate could spread to twenty. A hundred. Possibly more. Families. Communities. Corporations. You never know the impact that one person's negative campaign against you will have. Ultimately, nobody wins. Your business loses revenue and gets bad publicity. Your customer leaves angry and frustrated. Nobody wins.

Still, many companies today allow this to happen.

Crafting a positive customer experience isn't rocket science. Mostly, it's about attention to details and about showing that you care. That's it. It is never about going the extra mile. The extra mile concept is a myth. It's more like going the extra inch: A twist of lemon in a glass instead of a wedge. An extra two seconds to call a customer by her name. An extra three calories burned to produce a friendly smile. An extra thirty seconds to upgrade a frustrated guest to a better room or a better table just because they had to wait longer than they should have. A friendly "sure, let me do that for you" instead of a "No, you'll need to take this piece of paper to the third floor and fill out a request form."

It doesn't have to be about flat screen TVs above the urinals and Champagne fountains in the atrium. Most of the time, it's simply about treating customers with respect, kindness and care. People just want to be taken care of. They don't want to have to deal with rules and bureaucracy and disappointment. They probably already get that at work. Whether they are buying a car, a meal, a spa treatment or a gallon of detergent, when they come to you, they just want to have a pleasant experience that they can tell their friends about. Say "yes" to them more. Make it impossible for them not to love your products, your services, your brand. Make them excited about doing business with you.

"These guys have a really great website."

"They are just so friendly there! It's so refreshing."

"I was in and out in five minutes. That's pretty cool."

All you have to do is get to know your customers better. Not just through online surveys and customer satisfaction cards, but actually sit down with them. Buy them a drink. Listen to them talk about what they like and dislike and why. Music. Movies. Trips to the DMV. The lawnmower they just bought. Find out what they're about. If you have a handful of contextual interpreters on your team, you will be able to translate what they tell you about themselves into insights that will help you serve them better.

It could be something as simple as a cleaner bathroom. Free ice cream for the kids. A wider selection of organic foods. A wider selection of T-shirts. A simpler registration process. Friendlier salespeople. Cool music in the background. Vintage couches with TV's and Playstations between clothing racks. Remembering a customer's name when they come back. Being treated like a regular, even when you aren't. Giving your customers simple ways to customize their own shopping experience.

More often than not, it isn't about going the extra mile. It's about going the extra inch.

2 Responses to “The experience begins... now.”

  1. Anonymous Anonymous 

    Totally agree! Often it is the small things that can sink your brand. Here's a good example:

    I was shopping in my local grocery store (Albertsons) yesterday. My cart was so squeaky and loud that everyone in the store stared at me, as if I could do something about it. Every new isle, every new rounded corner brought upon the gawking of annoyed fellow-shoppers. I swear some were even looking down their nose at me, as if I had just driven a Yugo through their neighborhood streets littered with Mercedes-Benz and Land Rovers.

    A quick trip to the Albertsons web site reveals two of their corporate goals:

    "...make life easier for our customers" and to offer an "enhanced shopping experience".

    I wondered what part of my shopping experience was being enhanced by my screeching cart. (I found an abandoned cart on one of the isles and hoped to make a quick switch. Unfortunately, two of the wheels had large chunks missing from them which would make for both a bumpy and noisy ride.) Really, how hard would it be to pull these broken and noisy carts aside and give them a quick makeover? I'm talking a little WD40, not the complete works.

    The ah-ha here is that brand promises, corporate websites and annual reports don't mean squat if you can't deliver on some of the simplest parts of your business.

    Companies are spending record dollars hiring branding consultants and launching corporate programs to promote the brand, internally and externally. It makes you wonder...are the "little" things where the customer meets the brand in action (e.g. shopping carts) being overlooked by all of this corporate mumbo jumbo?

    As an investor, I'd be impressed by the company's "customer focus"...after all, it's on the corporate web site's home page. But as a customer...I'd just like a cart that works.

  2. Blogger Olivier Blanchard 

    Bingo, jd. More often than not, you have to work backwards from the customer to the brand, rather than the other way around, which is why immersing yourself in the customer experience is so important. Numbers are nice, but we also have to roll up our sleeves and spend some time on the ground floor, where the real action happens. There's no other way to spot those little things, both good and bad. Waaaay too many consultants still miss that.

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