Are your customers' experiences profoundly remarkable?
Photo by iStock.com
"What does emotional connection mean to you?" I asked a senior leader of a retail chain. I was expecting an insightful answer. "It means being helpful, courteous, and respectful to customers," he replied. I probed a bit further. "How is emotional connection different from plain, ordinary customer experience?" I got a speech about being treated like a person and not a like a number. He ended with: "We need to stop treating customers like consumers and started treating them like friends." He made it sound unique and new.
Emotional connection in the customer experience game is a mere table stake, not an extra or a value-add. It is the rule, not the exception. The absence of an emotional connection is the definition of a poor customer experience.
There was a time when boarding an elevator in a retail store was a customer experience. A nice person sat in the corner on a stool, operated the elevator, and announced the departments on a particular floor when the doors opened. Then it became completely self-service and ceased to be an experience, unless you count as experience entering a retail store with free air to breathe. If emotional connection is the bare minimum, what creates distinction and differentiation? A profoundly remarkable emotional connection.
The power of profoundly remarkable
Customers demonstrate their loyalty in a variety of ways. Loyal customers buy again, buy more, trust more, and give a wider berth for mistakes. Some identify enough with a brand to proudly wear it. Their Bass Pro Shops cap or Harley-Davidson jacket attests to their deep allegiance. But, the highest level of fidelity is the eagerness of customers to be advocates for a retailer.
Advocates come in several flavors. Net Promoter fans boast about the number of customers who claim they would recommend the organization to family or friends. But, there are ardent advocates who go beyond merely giving a recommendation; they tell an emotional story. When customers are touched, moved, awed, or stirred by a service experience, their emotional story entices prospects to become fans. My brother-in-law recommended a restaurant chain he enjoyed. I have yet to try it and there is one down the street. He also teared up when he told me about a scene from a new movie he loved. I have already seen the movie twice.
Profoundly remarkable in action
It was a local bakery I had heard neighbors talk about but never visited. My usual great bakery had sold out of banana nut bread muffins and I was planning on taking a dozen to a business meeting I was chairing. When the clerk at the new bakery rang up my muffins, she asked me, "Which one of these awesome muffins are you planning to eat?" I told her I had no idea. "Well then," she continued with an impish tone in her voice, "What's your favorite color?" "Purple," I told her.
She reached in a drawer, took out a small purple candle, and placed it in the middle of one of the muffins. "That one will be yours," she said with a big smile. I was stunned.
"Did you think it was my birthday?" I asked. "Nope," she replied, "that would be a freaky coincidence. But, it is still your day and there is no reason not to make it a glorious one!" Guess where I bought my next batch of muffins? Guess how many people have heard me tell the story I just told you?
The building blocks of profoundly remarkable
Sustaining a culture of employees who create experiences so profound customers cannot wait to remark about them requires a host of features. It starts with selecting employees with a passion to serve and a noticeable confidence. It takes an organizational value system that trumpets adventure and affirms innovation. One of Zappos' core values is "Create fun and a little weirdness;" one of Southwest Airlines' values is "A fun LUVing attitude."
A profoundly remarkable service culture requires an atmosphere of trust that has been forged in employee experiences laced with error. Employees learn if they are trusted when they strike out, not when they hit home runs. It takes leaders who are as curious about customers as they hope their frontline will be. Leaders in such settings know the influence of their physical presence. Author Tex Binder said it well: "You can pretend to care but you cannot pretend to be there." Finally, it demands an atmosphere of never-ending learning and perpetual experimentation.
There is a reason that casinos make more money on the slot machines than all the other gaming attractions combined. The variable ratio of winnings coupled with the lights and sounds of success create a profound experience that grows loyalty. Emotional connections are important. But winners are organizations that pursue profound emotional connections that create a gleeful, "You'll never believe what happened to me!"
Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker and author of several best-selling books including Take Their Breath Away, Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences through Innovative Service and Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service That Sparkles. He can be reached at chipbell.com.www