The only way you keep a customer, and get her to buy more, is to create a positive perception. And the only way a perception is created is through the customer experience — the communications, interactions, and other exposures. Create the right perception, and you can drive the desired behavior.
Of course, building a specific perception can be tricky, and many businesses fail not only at creating an intentional perception, but even in consciously building any kind of consistent, positive experiences with their customers.
Yet, it doesn't have to be overly difficult if you understand some of the basics of what makes customers tick. For example, one approach you can use to analyze and improve each customer experience is to apply the "Peak-End Rule."
Create positive experiences, and reap the benefits
The Peak-End Rule is a principal from psychology that describes how we all perceive and remember experiences. It states that a person will remember and gauge any experience by the "peak" of the experience, and the end.
Here's what that means: the "peak" of an experience is the point in the interaction that varies the most from the "norm." In other words, that's emotionally either the highest, or lowest, point of the experience. The other key moment is the end or the experience.
There are several implications when looking at your customer experiences through this "Peak-End" lens. One is that you'll find there are often only neutral or slightly negative points within certain interactions. The other is that many possible opportunities exist to pump up the perception of customers with just a little tweak to your interactions.
A good example is the AT&T stores. They noticed that it could take several minutes (at least) after a customer entered the store for an associate to be available to help. This caused some anxiety for customers, who would sometimes wonder if they were next, and how long the wait might be. So AT&T implemented several policies, including creating a system to inform a customer how many people were already waiting, and displaying the customers on a screen so they keep track of where they were in the queue.
But there was one very simple, powerful change that dramatically impacted customer experience: associates were required to acknowledge each customer entering the store within 10 seconds or 10 feet from the door. AT&T's own research has shown that, by quickly greeting a customer, his or her perception measurably improves about the experience. In fact, when asked in a survey, the customer who's greeted quickly estimates that the waiting time was shorter than it actually was.
It's not rocket science
It seems that changing a simple policy turned what could be a negative "Peak" into a positive one. AT&T employees also typically will walk a customer to the door and shake hands at the end of the interaction, creating a very deliberate, positive moment at the end of the experience for the company.
Take a look at the different customer experiences you are creating — intentionally or not. Is there a deliberate, positive "Peak" in the experience? Have you taken the time to create a positive moment at the "End"?
There is a real opportunity to dramatically change your customer's perception (and drive the behavior you want), without changing your fundamental product or service. Just pay attention and create intentional positive moments within each individual experience and you can transform how your customers think about you.
Your customers will stay longer, and buy more. Isn't that what you want?
Bill Cusick is founder of Customerspectives, a customer/prospect experience firm, and author of "All Customers Are Irrational" (AMACOM). He has helped Fortune 500 companies, as well as small and midsize companies, to improve profitability through better experience and communications.