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The Magic of
Customer Experiences
By Valarie D. Willis

Gilmore and Pine, authors of The Experience Economy: Work Is Theater & Every Business a Stage,assert that organizations need to become distinctive by creating compelling experiences.

The example they use concerns how birthdays are celebrated. As a society we have migrated from baking cakes from 'scratch,' to using boxed cake mixes, to purchasing bakery cakes, to throwing full blown birthday parties at various locations.

We have escalated from just cake to a total experience. Today a Build-A-Bear birthday party complete with your personalized bear is the new standard.

Businesses need to follow suit. Providing basic customer service used to be your entry ticket in business--hire nice people, script their responses, do the job description and go home. This doesn't work any longer.

Customers are demanding more, deserving more and are getting more from those who understand customer experiences.

Build-A-Bear intentionally creates an environment that is high touch versus high tech, and every facet of the process is designed to heighten the experience. To keep in touch with what their customers want, Build-A-Bear has children participate in their focus groups and board.

Build-A-Bear knows how to create that magical place for children and parents to have an experience. However, for some, creating great customer experiences is starting to follow the path of visions.

Organizations give the 'big speech' at the beginning of the year in hopes that people get it and that magical things will happen before the end of the year. Well, there is no magical formula for success, unless you call leadership magic.

Compelling customer experiences begin and end with leadership, and the associates are in the middle. Leaders have to define what the experience should be like for the customer and then get each functional area to envision and bring to life that experience.

BusinessWeek recently reviewed the "Customer Service Champs" by industry, and what they found was quite interesting. Southwest Airlines was one of Business Week's pick as a customer service champ, and Southwest believes that "providing great customer service is much more than just a job for the front lines or the call centers.

It takes coordination from the top, bringing together people, management, technology and processes to put customers' needs first."

A study conducted by BusinessWeek found that those companies who excelled in service/experiences for the customers focused on employee relationships as heavily as it did customer relationships.

Thomas Stemberg, former CEO of Staples, once said, "Treat them right and they will eat nails for you." Leaders that focus on their people, treat them with respect and dignity, value their opinions and ask for feedback help to create positive customer interactions.

It is no secret that the better an employee feels about their company, the better they will treat the customer. Most of us have felt the effects of someone having a bad day which impacted our level of service.

Leaders who learn to tap into all the discretionary potential in an organization can bring compelling experiences to life. The Ritz Carlton discovered that scripted responses were beginning to sound like a broken record and that these responses didn't always address the needs of the guest.

Several hotels have revamped their training to be more experiential and thought provoking. Scripts can be fine for learning the basics, but life happens, and the script cannot cover all of life's incidents.

John Thompson, a trainer for Choice Hotels, asked participants how many drops of water would fit on a nickel. Most people thought around seven drops would fit. The answer is forty drops. Magic? No, John demonstrated that more can be accomplished than we think. People were only expecting a few drops, but found many more could be added.

Leaders have to set the expectations, and the associates can and will deliver even beyond what may be expected. The hotel is now focused on having every individual use his or her unique talents to anticipate and serve the needs of the customer in ways that could never be scripted in advance.

Leadership throughout organizations needs to embrace the strategy of creating compelling customer experiences and then engage every facet of the organization in making this work. The problem many organizations experience is leaders "get-it," front line workers "get-it," but the behind the scene operations don't "get-it."

That is why people can sit on planes for ten hours, bills are inaccurate, faxes take hours to be received, shipments aren't packed correctly and people get transferred a zillion times.

Recently a financial service organization lost a good client as the client was passed from one department to the next, and no one focused on getting to the real problem. They were all nice enough and pleasant, but none of them served the client. Now someone else is serving their client.

The best service providers offer these tips for creating compelling experiences:

  • Allow your associates to experience what the clients will experience; in other words, walk a mile in the customer's shoes. At some hotels, employees receive a free night stay, so they can experience from the customer's point of view.
  • Have each area come up with specific ways that they can improve the experience from their view point.
  • The Ritz uses a "scenographer," someone who directs a scene for creating compelling services. Create the scene you want to see, and then back into how to make it happen in the business.
  • Hire those who understand the importance of creating customer experiences and who aren't looking for scripted answers.
  • Tell stories about great service and how the customer felt when they received the experience.
  • Let departments storyboard their processes and see where they can enhance the experience.
  • Keep customer experience a key theme in all leadership messages so the message is heard in many different ways.
  • Reward and recognize those who provide compelling experiences.
  • Invite everyone in the organization to engage in the process, and honor the ideas that are offered--even those that aren't implemented.
There is no magic wand for creating the experience. Commitment, creativity, listening, and leading will help most organizations get closer to creating compelling experiences which can lead to more loyal customers.

Loyal customers help to build your business through referrals, repeat business and a willingness to pay for what they get.

Go create some magical moments and let me know what you are doing to enhance your customer experiences.

Copyright© 2007 Valarie D. Willis. Valarie Willis is a Senior Facilitator with Bluepoint Leadership Development

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