Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Great experiences are a moving target

Whether you love them or hate them, Starbucks has been at the forefront of the experience business since their founding. Now founder and chairman Howard Schultz expresses his concern at the "commoditization," and dilution, of the Starbucks experience. Read the full memo here.

Here are three business decisions Schultz is now regretting, jointly made to accommodate their popularity and rapid expansion. These decisions have affected the original Starbucks experience, inspired by the coffeehouses of Milan:

1) Automatic espresso machines removed "much of the romance and theatre that was in play with the use of the La Marzocca machines. This specific decision became even more damaging when the height of the machines, now in thousands of stores, blocked the customer's sight line to watch the drink being made, and for the intimate experience with the barista."

2) Flavor-locked coffee bags caused "the loss of aroma -- perhaps the most powerful non-verbal signal we had in our stores; the loss of our people scooping fresh coffee from the bins and grinding it fresh in front of the customer, and once again stripping the store of tradition and our heritage."

3) New store design has created "stores that no longer have the soul of the past and reflect a chain of stores vs. the warm feeling of a neighborhood store."

Schultz is not blaming his staff in the memo, he takes full responsibility for making those decisions with them, which at the time seemed like good decisions to serve customers more quickly. But his points—that the sounds, scents, and visuals of making coffee have now been lost—are important reminders to everyone running an experience-based business. For a full and thoughtful treatment on the sensory aspect of brand experiences, check out Martin Lindstrom's book Brand Sense.

Tip of the day: The importance of the sensory experience is covered in my Sensation step (Step 6). Starbucks' decisions fall into the Common Sense step (step 7) of my 8 steps to better customer experiences. They're an example of alignment common sense. Starbucks made decisions that fundamentally changed their core mission of creating the "coffee experience." Make sure your business decisions align with your mission, so that your experience doesn't end up watered down.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Healthy vending machines serve customers

While at the Carlsbad Village Outlet Mall, I ran across this vending machine.

Fully stocked with healthy snacks.

What a great idea to serve your customers! It shows them that you care about their health and their comfort needs at the same time. This mall also had messages about their energy-saving hand dryers in the restroom and some other notable amenities that I will save for the Bathroom Blogfest 2007 in October.

Tip of the day: Even if you can't serve food, you could offer healthy snacks through a vending machine like this one. Offering food increases stay time, which generally means that people can pay more attention to your offerings, learn more if you are an educational site, and spend more if you have a retail operation.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

More Martha Mail

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I'd received an unnecessarily nasty letter from Blueprint, a magazine that's part of the Martha Stewart group. I recently received this letter from Martha Stewart Living, asking me to renew my gift subscription.

The tone (and visual style) is completely different.

"Dear Friend,
I just spotted your name on a gift subscription list marked “expired.” Perhaps we’re being a bit sentimental. But to us, you’re more than just a subscriber. You’re a vital part of the MARTHA STEWART LIVING family."

So to begin, they call me "friend" and use the word "family." Next they tell me how smart I am to be receiving MSL, and congratulate me for helping them become successful.

"... It’s the special qualities within you, your eye for beauty, your quest for quality living, your devotion to home and family, that has provided the ground for MARTHA STEWART LIVING to grow...."

Note the friendly language that also implies needed action on my part without being pushy:
"So naturally, we’d hate to see your subscription expire. And that’s going to happen if we don’t receive your renewal instructions shortly."

Then they list specific things I would miss if I let the subscription expire:
"That means an end to all the marvelous recipes... gardening know-how... decorating tips... But if you act now, you don’t have to miss a bit of it."

Night and day from the Blueprint letter, both from the same company.

Tip of the day: Creating a consistent voice for your company or organization is critical in customer communication. You can communicate urgency while still being polite. And it helps to list benefits for people to encourage them to act in your favor.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

8 steps to better experiences, part 2

In my last post, I mentioned that Adam, who writes a great blog called Work*Play*Experience asked, "Where can we find your full 8 steps, Stephanie?"

I'd been waiting to discuss them in detail until my new Web site was up. Here's the link to my 8 steps, with a slide show to illustrate them.

The first four steps are:
1. Invitation
2. Welcome
3. Orientation
4. Comfort

These four steps prime your customer (visitor, patient, or guest) to be receptive to your message, buy your products, or engage in your offerings. Let's look at steps 5-8.

5. Communication: All the ways you share information with people, both spoken and written. I recommend that you set a tone and voice for your communication that matches your organization/company's brand personality. Setting guidelines for signs, flyers, and handouts, as well as telephone scripts for training, are key ways to help clarify and coordinate the information you are giving out. See Gettin' fishey wid it on voice, and this post on printed communication.

6. Sensation: Sensation includes designing experiences that provide stimulus for all five senses, utilizing surprise and randomness, and generally having fun at the workplace. When planning new elements, ask "Is it fun?", Is it unexpected?", and "How can we add more senses to this experience?" See this post on Cheez-Wiz and the power of persuasion, and this one on the Cerritos Library.

7. Common sense: After years of working at a variety of businesses, both for- and nonprofit, I have many times said (or heard), "Why did They do that?" So, I devoted an entire step to better, smarter business practices. This step includes using evaluation/customer research to get constant feedback to improve your offerings, tapping into trend research, partnering with other businesses, using front-line staff members' ideas, and making sure you are working smart with operational, cultural, and alignment common sense. My favorite trend watcher is Reinier Evers of Trendwatching. Sign up for his amazing monthly newsletter. See the Stall of Shame for some operational errors.

8. Finale: The name for this step was inspired by Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore's book, The Experience Economy, where they liken experience-based businesses to theater productions. Reading their book made me realize that we rarely think about our last impression or design the exit experience to be as good as the first. Do we invite them back, give them reason to return, or design mementos and memorabilia that will increase their attachment to our places?

Tip of the day: Whatever your business, your goal is to create an authentic experience that makes people want to return. If it's good enough, they'll tell their friends, giving you the most valuable form of advertising, word of mouth. Improving your communication, building in sensation, using common sense, and designing your finale will help you create seamless experiences that people want to repeat.

This process is the basis for my first book, Creating Great Visitor Experiences: A Guide for Museums, Parks, Zoos, Gardens, and Libraries. Chapter 1 is now available for free download. Let me know what you think!

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

8 steps to better experiences, part 1

Blogger Adam, who writes a great new blog called Work*Play*Experience asked,
"Where can we find your full 8 steps, Stephanie?"

Thanks for asking. I'd been waiting to discuss them in detail until my new Web site was up. Here's the link to my 8 steps, with a fun little slide show to illustrate them.

I took many forms of input (museum evaluation, learning research, consumer behavior studies, hospitality) and synthesized them into my 8-step process. It's certainly not the only way to look at experiences, but I'm finding with my clients that it's a helpful framework for breaking down an experience, whether at a doctor's office, a museum, a restaurant, a theater, or any bricks-and-mortar business. (I think the process can also work, with modification, on Web sites, but that's not my area of expertise. If you are a Web usability guru, feel free to chime in!)

1. Invitation: All the ways that you invite people to your place of business, including marketing, PR, advertising, print pieces, and your Web site. This gets a customer from their home to your parking lot. Your identity/logo and market segmentation fit into the process here. Have you clearly defined who you are trying to reach? See this post on Route 66.

2. Welcome: Once they've parked (or are walking or bicycling within a block), your front door or entrance needs to get their attention, set the stage, and welcome them in. This includes the first greeting, whether that's from someone sweeping out front, a security guard, or an official greeter or ticket-taker. Customer service training fits in here. If they don't receive a warm welcome, their first impression of your place of business is forever tarnished. See this post on Costco and this one on throwing an event.

3. Orientation: Once they've gotten inside and been greeted, do they know what to do? Can they find what they're looking for? Do they understand how long things will take and how much waiting there will be? All of these factors help people relax and feel psychologically comfortable and respected. This includes wayfinding sign systems, maps, and check-in procedures. For very small shops, orientation isn't as critical, but it always helps to offer an explanation to someone who looks confused. See more on orientation at the Cerritos Library.

4. Comfort: This step covers everything you can do to meet both physical and psychological comfort needs--seating, food, restrooms, cleanliness, good lighting, and safety features. This step primes your customers/visitors/patients to receive whatever information, services, or goods you want them to learn or buy. If people's basic needs aren't met, they can't attend to what you are trying to teach, sell, or provide. More on comfort here.

Tip of the day: Note that there are four steps before you pitch them on what you do. These four steps prime them to be receptive to your message.

To keep this post a reasonable length, I'll pick up the other four steps next time. They are:
5. Communication
6. Sensation
7. Common sense
8. Finale

This process is the basis for my first book, Creating Great Visitor Experiences: A Guide for Museums, Parks, Zoos, Gardens, and Libraries. Chapter 1 is now available for free download. Let me know what you think!

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Engaging vs. disruptive

David said...

"I read your comments about Capital One with interest, as companies don't realize the power of negative word-of-mouth. I believe this is how most of us feel now with a lot of companies trying to get our attention to sell us things that most of the time we don't want (marketing AT) but not wanting to engage in a conversation when we try to reach them (i.e. automated call centers). Creating experiences that are relevant to people and marketing WITH is definitely the way forward.

Would be interested in your views on how you recommend creating experiences that are engaging and not disruptive."

David, thanks for reading and for the great question.

Engaging (via the Web):
Through permission marketing, like when I've asked to be on a newsletter and I get something useful from the company or business.

Endless spam... they must now search blogs and pull up people's email addresses that way. Do they really think I want to buy Viagra?


Creating a photo opportunity (like at the peak of a roller coaster) and then offering me photos as I leave.

Shoving a camera in my face as soon as I enter a theme park or zoo.


Providing information about their product during an event where it makes sense and I am already interested.

When I'm walking through an intersection and someone tries to get me interested in toothpaste (see nearly any episode of The Apprentice television show for more interruption marketing techniques.)

Two useful books here:
On call centers, Managing the Customer Experience by Smith & Wheeler.
On engaging your customers, Citizen Marketers by McConnell & Huba.

I could go on, but I'll bet my readers have some ideas of their own. Readers?

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Creating experiences in the mail

I usually write posts about bricks-and-mortar businesses, as that's the focus for my consulting work. However, I'm always noticing the choices businesses make and how those choices affect the way I feel about their brand. Last week, I received two items through the mail that illustrate a positive and a negative approach to these types of experiences.

Recap: Anything that goes through the mail is part of your invitation (Step 1 in my eight steps to better customer experiences.) So it should be a high-quality representative for your brand, using good quality materials and the polished communication style that matches the tone you've set for your business. (Communication is Step 5.)

Let's take a look at this mailer from Capital One. I've asked, repeatedly, to get off their mailing list to no avail. So, I am already annoyed with this company for ignoring my wishes. This one feels different, thick, a little cushy, what could be inside? A gift?

Why, just the usual Capital One junk!

But wait, what made it cushy? Ah, mystery solved. A small piece of bubble wrap was glued onto a piece of paper and slipped inside.

Does that feel icky to you, too? Setting aside the wasteful use of global resources (paper, ink, and petroleum for the bubble wrap, all to send me something I didn't want), was I fooled by this? No, I was annoyed. Annoyed enough to write a blog post about it. So instead of a happy customer they received negative word-of-mouth advertising, multiplied by the power of the Internet.

Next up, Eddie Bauer. This was different because it was requested (by a family member.) My husband received a slim box inside a brown corrugated envelope. The box was too small for a shirt, or even a tie. It intrigued me, but I had to wait until his birthday. A nice, weighty, quality, branded box, opened to reveal:

Nice! A catalog, with a little wrapper to make it special. And a mini-box inside, just to hold the gift card.

This option didn't cost the giver anything extra, but it made a huge impression on both of us. (Again, setting aside the issue of the amount of paper involved.) So, I now award Eddie Bauer the positive word-of-mouth advertising they deserve for this clever, quality mail experience.

Tip of the day: Every piece, every single piece, of your business creates an impression. Make sure you are designing that impression, that it's consistent, and that it has the intended result. And, use permission marketing to reach customers who want to be reached. See Seth Godin's great book, Permission Marketing, for more ideas.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

An experience library, part 4

In previous posts, here and here, I introduced the Cerritos Library, the world's first experience library. Today I'm going to talk about Sensation, which is step 6 in my 8-step process of creating great experiences. (The steps are 1) Invitation, 2) Welcome, 3) Orientation, 4) Comfort, 5) Communication, 6) Sensation, 7) Common Sense, and 8) Finale.)

The Sensation step helps you remember to inspire and engage all five senses of your customers, offer whole body experiences, and create fun interactions. For more great ideas about sensory experiences, check out Martin Lindstrom's great book, Brand Sense. Here are some examples from the Cerritos Library.

In the Old World Reading Room, a holographic fireplace is fun to cozy up to with a book.

Kids enter the children's area through giant copies of classic titles.

Even the donor recognition wall is fun, made up of book titles.

If a library can be this fun, imagine how fun your business can be!

Tip of the day: Sensation is important in learning and memory, so if your site is educationally oriented, engaging all five senses is important. Customers who have fun on many levels will be more likely to want to return.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

I'm not against global warming, I'm "pro-Earth"

For about six months I've been exploring a theory called the Law of Attraction. It states that, for example, if you are anti-war, you actually give war more power and influence. You need to be pro-peace.*

From time to time, I write about global warming in this blog. Not because it directly relates to great customer experiences, but because I care about it and want to help. Like many people who read my blog, I'm concerned (okay, freaked out) by global warming and don't know what to do about it.

Then it occurred to me: I need to be pro-Earth instead. I need to come up with ways to be pro-Earth, and then spread the word. So, here's an idea. Next time you go to a party, or buy a hostess, holiday, anniversary, or birthday gift, toss in a compact fluorescent light bulb. Or a whole package. People who don't know about these amazing bulbs can read the Fast Company article and become convinced. But, have we all actually put them in our homes? Or our parents and friends' homes? If we make it easy for people, they'll be more likely to install them. Just say you're wanting to save them money. Once people see how well they work and how their bills go down, they'll be more likely to switch their entire homes, and businesses, over.

And, if you're pro-Earth, send this blog post to everyone you know.

* For more on this concept, see my post on The Secret.
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Sunday, February 04, 2007

The experience library, part 3: Comfort

In previous posts, here and here, I wrote about the Cerritos Library. The library provides some great examples of my 8-step process for analyzing the customer experience. So far we've covered the invitation/welcome, and orientation.

Today I'll talk about Step 4: Comfort. If you don't make your customers/visitors/ patients/guests comfortable, they won't want to stay. They won't want to shop, or read, or learn, or tell their friends about you. Comfort is critically important for learning, so if yours is an educational site, it's especially important for you. In one early landmark study at a museum, learning increased by over 80% simply by adding chairs to an exhibit area. Studies at malls show that "stay time" increases by at least an hour with the addition of food service, while spending doubles.

Let's take a look at how Cerritos Library meets the comfort needs of its guests. (Cerritos has adopted the terminology from the hospitality industry, preferring "guests" to the old-fashioned "patrons.")

Computer workstations are mounted at different heights so everyone can be comfortable while searching the catalog. Note how this universal design also works for people using wheelchairs without setting them apart. Nice. And, how the cords have been treated in an artistic way.

Bathrooms are super clean and nicely furnished.

Themed seating offers comfortable spots to read and study.

To quote Paco Underhill, retail anthropologist and President of Envirosell:
“I love seating. I could talk about it all day. Air, food, water, shelter, seating. In that order. Before money. Before love. Seating."

"I would remove a display to make space for a chair. I’d rip out a fixture. I’d kill a mannequin. A chair says, ‘We care.’ Given the chance, people will buy from people who care.”

from Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping

Tip of the day: Take a look at your business. If it's not as comfortable as it can be, make a list of ways you can improve it. At the very least, add a chair or bench today.

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

An experience library, part 2

In part 1, I introduced the Cerritos Library, billed as the world's first experience library. The building, designed by Charles Walton and Associates, does a great job of welcoming people in. In this post I'll talk about orientation, which is Step 3 of my 8 steps to better customer experiences.

The wayfinding at the entrance is clear, clean, and easy to read.

Areas inside also have eye-catching signs that clearly tell customers what they are.

The checkout area was designed to mimic a hotel's registration desk.

In the children's library, "reference desk" is replaced by this neon sign.

Tip of the day: Wayfinding and orientation are critical components of a great customer experience. If people feel lost or confused, they won't want to return. Use an environmental graphic designer with experience in wayfinding if you need to do this kind of signage, and ask if they are a "user experience" designer. If they say yes, they'll want to test signs with your visitors (or customers, or patrons) to make sure they work. If they say no, or haven't heard of user experience design, keep looking.

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