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It’s About The Experience

by Karen Jackson  | 4 Comments

These four words from Howard Schultz of Starbuck’s [SBUX] fame should keep CEO’s up at night. OK, leaders of those rare companies with a one-of-a-kind product and a significant barrier to entry can go back to sleep. Everyone else better stay up until they understand how important those words are to the health of their company.

What Schultz was saying is simple: people (whether in the form of a consumer or a business) buy from those companies that make their experience delightful. It’s obvious that there’s no lack of coffee shops, but few coffee shops create a delightful experience. Enter Starbucks with all the ingredients to delight: well-trained & friendly staff, wi-fi, music, comfy chairs, a beautiful display case with fresh food, consistent quality. Customers came, they stayed, they returned, they told their friends.

But few companies understand the importance of these four words and it’s snuffing out their opportunity for growth. At best, their customer can’t distinguish the experience. At worst, the customer experience is negative or difficult. In either case, that customer has no incentive for loyalty, much less to rave to their friends. As Gary Vaynerchuk says so perfectly in The Thank You Economy, business leaders better “care – about your customers, about your employees, about your brand – with everything you’ve got.”

A handful of my own recent experiences illustrate what goes wrong when leadership forgets (or doesn’t care) about the four words:

  • Phone call to a landscape company whose voice mail box said, “your call is very important to us but we’re not in the office right now, so please call back tomorrow.”
  • Empty restaurant at lunch time and the host offered to seat me and my guest at a small table for 2 next to the wait staff’s station
  • Phone call to my dermatologist’s office so I could pay a bill by credit card was greeted with, “sorry, the person who takes payment information is out this afternoon; please call back tomorrow.” By the way, the invoice didn’t offer me the simple option of mailing the credit card info, instead it said, “call the office to pay by credit card.” Already they had ignored the four words.
  • Letter from my major credit card company’s fraud department asked me to call but provided the wrong department’s phone number. For good measure, the person I reached gave me the correct number but suggested I re-dial.

CEO’s should be up all night fearing that their customers and prospects have these experiences. Some companies will remain unscathed because there is an agreement with the customer that what they sell does not include service. Rock bottom pricing is their key value proposition and the customer consents to give up service in exchange. But few successful businesses operate on that model and probably not yours. More likely, you can’t afford to sell your product at a price low enough for the customer to forgo the experience. The damage shows up as an inability to convert prospects, low customer retention, and negative reviews across social media. After all, it’s not too hard to find a new landscape company, a new doctor, a new restaurant, or a new credit card provider.

So what’s the solution?  Start with an audit of the organization, all departments, front- and back-office included. After all, incorrect invoices reduce the quality of the customer experience. Follow processes and paper trails to understand their impact on the customer. Review practices and scripts for all customer facing positions. Ask larger questions like:

  • How closely do we fulfill on our promises? Are we saying we’re one thing but being another?
  • Have we created a culture of caring and are we hiring people with the DNA to act accordingly?
  • Is the customer experience integrated into our values statement?
  • Does everyone in the organization understand their impact on the customer?
  • Have we established and trained everyone in standards of performance?
  • What mechanisms are in place to capture customer satisfaction at the time of interaction?
  • Does everyone that touches the customer have the training and the authority to solve a problem?

Get everyone in the company involved in this inquiry. Your revenue growth depends on it.

| Categories: Blog, Brand, Culture, customer experience, Customer Satisfaction, Growth
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4 Comments to It’s About The Experience

  1. Kevin Donlin
    March 14, 2012 6:19 pm


    You are so right — this is excellent!

    The experiences created by most businesses are, as you described, CARELESS and repellent.

    Imagine how much impact you could have if you CARED enough to plan experiences that surpised and delighted customers — these would attract more customers.

    The funny part is, creating an attractive experience requires ZERO high-tech innovation, patents or angel investors. All you have to do is CARE about your customers.

    The Ritz-Carlton, Stew Leonards, Nordstrom, Zappos — they all sell commodities … at very high margins. Because they care.

    • Karen Jackson
      March 20, 2012 9:33 am

      Thanks for your comment Kevin. The brands you mentioned immediately connote caring. And you’re correct, the investment is low in monetary terms. For most companies, however, they’re not willing (perhpas not conscious?) to make the investments necessary in terms of creating standards, processes, training and reward systems that are necessary to consistently deliver a specific experience. Again, Starbucks is a tremendous leader in how to make it happen.

  2. Gina Fedeli
    March 21, 2012 9:50 am

    Great post Karen.

    It takes investment in time and effort to create a positive, “cared for” and unique experience for a customer but it is worth it. The key is to remember to create the standards, policies and processes to ensure that the experience is repeatable to keep the customer loyal and coming back for more.

    Something for all business owners to remember!

    • Karen Jackson
      March 21, 2012 10:10 am

      Thanks Gina for your comment. You’re right, it’s more about time and effort than hard dollar expenditures. And it requires a top down committment that is often unavailable.

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