For the last decade, improving the customer experience (CX) has been gaining momentum in strategic discussions at all levels of the organization. In those discussions, we typically talk about four levels of expectations:
- At the very least, there are minimum threshold expectations that every customer expects when receiving a product and/or service. Regardless of whom they buy it from, they, at the very minimum, expect that item to work! They inherently expect a certain degree of quality, reliability, accuracy, on-time delivery, etc.
- From this baseline, most companies craft a set of brand standards. These are the minimum expectations the customer should experience when interacting with their brand. Typically, these brand standards include the minimum threshold expectations for that category as well as any factors that will differentiate that brand from the competition. Many brands have explicitly codified these standards in some kind of document and also measure performance against these standards. For example, the Doubletree hotel offers a yummy cookie upon check-in at ALL Doubletree hotels. No other Hilton hotel has that brand standard!
- But it gets even better: When the brand decides to offer a new experience on a constant, routine basis, then that organization is raising the bar. For example, just a few years ago, a luxury car dealership would only provide a loaner car when the highest end models came in for servicing. Now, the expectation is that every customer at a luxury car dealership gets a loaner car!
Threshold expectations, brand standards, and raising the bar are strategies that must be decided at the leadership level. There is usually a cost incurred (money, manpower, materials) that affect the smooth operations of the business. These strategies should be consistent with the brand story and deepen the position the business wants to have in the marketplace. Simply put, they need to make sense. Otherwise, the employees won’t buy it and the customers won’t either!
Although leadership can dictate the standards (here’s a great guide), the execution of these strategies occurs with each and every employee. They not only need to know the standards, yet more importantly, WHY these standards are so important to deepening the relationship with the customer. Otherwise, the employee can think, “Hey, you should be grateful that we are able to put you in a loaner car at all! Don’t start whining about the fact that I can’t put you in the same (or better) model!” And if I don’t get that chocolate chip cookie at check-in, I can be one grumpy customer!
So here’s where it gets interesting. Real customer delight comes from an employee doing something special for a customer beyond the brand standards. Something random. Not expected. A surprise that puts a smile on their face. Make them feel special. And that, my friends, comes from an employee choosing to make a difference in the life of one customer.
In Chip and Dan Heath’s book, The Power of Moments, they suggest you “spot the occasions worthy of your investment.” Typically, these are peaks (celebrate the highs!), pits (empathize with the lows), and transition points (new chapters) in your life. If you ask questions to build a relationship and remember their answers, you’ll be able to create an exceptional experience.
What kind of experiences?
- Over the Top. Take a typical task and boost the sensory appeal. Turn up the volume. Pull out the stops. Make it Instagram-worthy! (Not that they have to pull out their smartphone/camera, but would someone want to when you do something special for a customer?)
- Break the Script. The customer expects a typical business to zig, and you decide you are going to zag. Do it differently. Do it so that it makes it even better for the customer.
- Celebrate Success. Notice what’s happening in their lives and spontaneously recognize their achievements. And when you are not face-to-face, subscribe to a social media aggregator that alerts you to your customers’ posts or when they are mentioned on the web. (P.S. don’t over-use this strategy or you’ll look like a stalker!)
- Create Deeper Connection. Sometimes, it’s not about the peaks. Sometimes, you’re in the pits, or having a problem. Can you help them out? At least make them feel they are not alone?
- These are random acts of kindness. Not expected. Not routine. Done simply because the employee genuinely values and appreciates that customer.
The Heath Brothers encourage you to be “occasionally remarkable.” Set the goal for doing something special for one customer every day. When you get that down pat, up the ante and make it two a day! Create your own SOS Locker to make it easier for you to delight the customer!
- But then again, why settle for “occasionally remarkable”? Think about developing a signature interaction – a specific activity that one employee does for each and every customer in order to put a smile on their faces. Barbara Glanz has a legendary story of “Johnny the Bagger” – a young man with down syndrome who placed a “thought of the day” in each grocery bag. An always-full bowl of M&M’s on your desk. Helium balloons with ribbons for every child.
How can you delight the customer? Are you simply executing to the brand standards, or raising the bar with random or a signature interaction?
KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CPF, CSP is a high stakes meeting facilitator and professional panel moderator. She’s been facilitating teams of executives and managers in making better decisions and achieving greater results for over 20 years. She is the author of the award-winning book, Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve and Inspire Audiences to Action.