Sunday, April 29, 2007

Reactive or proactive customer service: What's the difference?

I recently completed a series on defining the term customer experience. The series sprang from a discussion on my first podcast with Susan Abbott, where we discussed it in more detail.

An article in yesterday's paper added another layer to this discussion that I wanted to share. The article featured a new hotel in San Diego that is training, in the English style, a dozen butlers to offer customized service to their high-end clientele.

The item that struck me was the trainer's quote, "Most hospitality service is reactive, not proactive." He goes on to talk about how a good butler might notice that a guest had eaten all the black jellybeans out of the bowl, and could then replace them with all black jellybeans while the guest was out, thereby anticipating a need or desire. Photo by Laura Embry/Union-Tribune

Reactive vs. proactive is another way of framing the discussion about customer experience, too. Reactive is equivalent to removing the irritants for customers, reducing their complaints, and thereby improving their experience. But in some ways it's too late, because they've already had a problem that you are now trying to fix.

Proactive is going far beyond that, being ahead of the customer in a sense, reading their cues, designing and developing aspects that will wow and delight them. If someone noticed my jelly bean preferences and responded to them in that way, I would certainly tell people about it and be more likely to want to return.

Tip of the day: Proactive is better. Figure out how you can step ahead of your customer's wants and needs to surprise them, rather than just responding to complaints. Your number of complaints will probably lessen as well!

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Pistachios: a new customer experience?

When I was talking with Susan Abbott for my first podcast, she mentioned how Curves Fitness centers had analyzed all the barriers to exercise and systematically eliminated them for their target market: older, self-conscious women.

Her comment came to mind when leafing through the coupon section last Sunday. Here was the ad that caught my eye:

Very cute, eye-catching graphics, great use of complementary colors. But what grabbed me was the promise in red: Guaranteed always open.

Of course! Pistachios are delicious, but they are a pain in the neck, as there are always a few (sometimes a lot of) stubborn ones that you can't get open, and usually chip a nail in the process. Hmm... maybe some market research at work?

So I used my coupon and brought home the fun little box. And here on the back is their guarantee:

"Find a closed nut and drive a Ferrari home.* If you find a closed nut in this package, send it to us along with proof of purchase and we'll send you a FREE box of Everybody's Nuts.

*And if you own a Ferrari, you can drive it home."

Great use of tone and voice here, totally consistent with the graphic style. Check out their Web site for more fun.

More fun awaits when you open the box, as there is an insert that reminded me of the Cracker Jack Secret Toy Surprise.

And, yes, every single one of them was open.

Tip of the day: If it's possible to create a fun experience out of a box of pistachios, imagine what you can do with some creativity in your business! This is a great mix of branding, humor, consumer research, quality product and packaging, attention to detail, and authenticity. A winner!

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Want to stand out in real estate? Brand yourself

As San Diego residents, we are inundated with realtors' solicitations, postcards, pads, baseball schedules, magnets, etc. Not one has made an impact. Until Mary McTernan moved into my neighborhood. I haven't met her, nor do I know anyone who has used her (yet), but if someone asked about local realtors, she is the first person I would think of. Why? She has created a brand that sets her apart from everyone else.

Her signs are always pink, and feature a sassy illustration of her with her dogs:

She does the same, long skinny pad as everyone else, but spent the money to have her pad printed pink, and branded. Here is the bottom of her pad:

Her cars:

Her bus stop advertising:

We see her around the neighborhood walking her dogs, and she looks pretty much like her fun illustration. This strong, branded approach raises her profile in a market that's flooded with competition. Her brand no doubt appeals to women, as it has a "chick lit" feel to it that's upscale and energetic, just what you'd want in a realtor.

Thanks to reader Jay Thompson for this great example of a branded realty sign from Bloodhound Realty in Phoenix.

Tip of the day: Set yourself apart by creating a strong brand that represents your company, and carry it through every aspect of your business experience. This approach works when the brand expresses your true, authentic nature, and is integrated through good design.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

First impressions: The real estate customer experience

The customer experience relates to all kinds of businesses. I usually write about specific bricks-and-mortar sites. But what about short-term, temporary experiences? How can they be improved?

Real estate is one example where first impressions are absolutely critical, hence the term "curb appeal." While a great deal of energy is devoted to making the front of the house look appealing, what about the realtor's sign itself? Is that part of the impression? Should it be? Take a look at each picture and see if it makes you feel more or less likely to want to see the house.

Well, having this one behind bars certainly isn't appealing.

This one doesn't read very clearly, and the hand-done numbering doesn't look as professional as it could.

The realtor's information on top doesn't look integrated (either by color or type style) with the Century 21 look.

This is clean and professional.

More upscale, but a little hard to read.

Even the color of the post is integrated with their sign, and their friendly faces are also appealing.

Tip of the day: Details count. Consider every aspect of your first impression, as you may only get one chance.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Customer experience definitions: The finale

To wrap up this series on defining the customer experience, I’d like to synthesize some of the notable aspects of the posts here and on the other blogs (listed below in the order they appeared in the original posts).

I started out by sharing a short version of my definition of customer experience as being inside/outside. Inside the customer are all their thoughts, feelings, and emotions. As Adam pointed out, a customer’s feelings and emotions can be greatly influenced, especially through theatrical techniques (and the consumer psychology persuasion techniques that make up most marketing strategies today). Marianna gave a lovely explanation of this influencing technique by suggesting that we need to define what kind of experience we are trying to achieve, i.e. are you selling confidence, success, rejuvenation, excitement, or peace of mind? Helene thinks that we are trying to help customers feel good about themselves, while Pamela suggested we are trying to seduce customers into buying.

Outside the customer is the designed experience, every aspect of our environments, processes, and products. Becky provided a cradle-to-the-grave metaphor to illustrate the completeness of how we should be approaching our customer relationship, which reminds me both of the lifetime-value-of-a-customer work of Peppers and Rogers (no accident that she used to work with them) and of the South Bark Dog Wash here in San Diego, who want to serve customers for the entire life of a pet.

While Susan has a more complete description of this outside approach than simply “removing irritants” (which is just the part of our podcast conversation I quoted), several people noted that while removing irritants was important it didn’t go far enough. Mark’s “efficiency” concept (indicating a well-run experience) ties in here, but note that he also includes "aesthetics" (design) and "meaning" (emotions) as necessary for a complete experience.

Sara also talked about design: designing a positive peak and a positive ending to the experience. This positive ending ties in with Adam’s comment about the experience lasting after they’ve left your business, as he thinks we should be creating memories and using memorabilia to create lasting impressions.

And I certainly agree, the last step of my 8-step process is the Finale, and I have an entire chapter in my new book devoted to the importance of creating a great last impression and choosing memorabilia for impact and what psychologists call "place attachment.” C.B.’s post about walking in her shoes adds another way of looking at designing the full experience and thinking through every single aspect of what you offer.

Tip of the day: Recognize first that you aren’t selling products, culture, or services, you are trying to influence people. Fixing what’s broken or irritating people is a great first step. Stepping back and looking at what kind of experience you are trying to achieve might be next. Going through each aspect of your experience as if you are the customer will help pinpoint where you can improve. And, designing or re-designing elements to evoke an emotional response and create memories might be the highest level of customer experience we can create.

Thanks to all the bloggers who participated!

Read the posts in order:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Defining "customer experience," part 5

Today's definition comes from C.B. Whittemore, who writes a wonderfully thoughtful blog called Flooring the Consumer:

"I like to use the image of 'walking in her shoes' to capture the notion of customer experience, because it's all about suspending all of an organization's pre-conceived notions about the customer and truly appreciating or understanding the experience from her perspective.

That would include listening, hearing, seeing, feeling, doing [i.e. asking,searching, buying...] as the consumer would. It would definitely include
removing the irritants.

This holds for on-line as well as off-line, and before the purchase, during the purchase and definitely after the purchase, with the goal being to make the experience so hassle-free that it leads to a multitude of further experiences [i.e. a relationship].

The folks at Future Now do a great job in their books Waiting for Your Cat to Bark and Call to Action explaining the conflict between a consumer's purchase process and a buyer's selling process. Their focus is more on websites, but holds equally for an offline experience.

Too often, as business-people we think only of the selling process when we should be thinking about our consumer's purchasing process. Our challenge is to intuitively match up our selling process with how the consumer approaches it and delight them with the ease of our processes. Because we have thought through so carefully what matters to them, we create a wonderful customer experience."

You can find the rest of this series here: part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4. Listen to the podcast.
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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Defining "customer experience," part 4

Today's definition of the term "customer experience" comes from Becky Carroll, of Customers Rock! For more definitions, read part 1, part 2, and part 3.

"The customer experience encompasses all aspects of a customer's interaction with us. It spans the sales, the packaging, the 'out of box' experience (opening the product), the registration and installation/set-up, the usage, and the ongoing maintenance of the product or service (think PCs).

Or, in retail, it spans the in-store experience of the shelf displays, the size of the aisles, the crazy wheels on the shopping cart, the employees, the restrooms, the check-out lines and clerks, and the ease of returns.

In service, it spans the sales, the installation, the usage, the subscription, the monthly bills, and the upgrades (think cable/satellite TV). Take a moment now and think of what this looks like for your company and your industry!

In a nutshell, I believe the customer experience is a cradle-to-grave experience with a product or service. Not from a 'life' perspective, but from the life that customer has with that product or service." You can read Becky's full post here.

And, for a great post on cool customer experiences, visit Orange Slices, a library blog from Florida. This post makes me want to get on a plane to New York immediately to check out this Samsung store!

I'd also encourage you to read the comments on these posts, as people are offering some great additional information. Listen to my podcast with Susan Abbott, where we delve into this topic in depth.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Defining "customer experience," part 3

Today's response to my previous posts, part 1 and part 2, comes from Sara Cantor, of The Curious Shopper, one of my favorite blogs.

"I read your post and I think the inside-outside framework is very interesting. Surely most companies focus on the outside, and assume that this will have a direct impact on the inside. I think it's smart to separate them, to remind companies that they can't always control the inside, but that they can at least study the relationship between the two.

My take on customer experience is related to a principle of all experiences: their impact depends on two points, the peak and the end. I believe this theory was first shared in The Experience Economy by Pine and Gilmore (one of my favorite books). An experience always has a peak, be it positive or negative, and it obviously has an end. It's the biggest drop on the roller coaster, and how you felt when you walked off the ride.

In retail, an experience will be defined in the mind of the shopper by these two points as well. The peak is either the high point, when you try it on and it looks great, or the low point, when you discover they don't have your size. The end is when you are given a nice "Thank you" as you leave, or when you walk out without a receipt because the salesperson was taking too long. Retailers should focus on designing both a positive peak and a positive end. And hey, the peak might not be totally in their control, but the end almost certainly is. Perhaps stores could start by defining some "ideal peaks" and some "ideal ends," as well as listing the negative peaks and ends that they'd like to avoid."

And, check out this great post on good experiences by Pamela Slim of Escape from Cubicle Nation. You can listen to my podcast interview of Susan Abbott for a more thorough discussion of this topic.

What do you think? Post your comment by clicking "comments" below.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Defining "customer experience," part 2

So I got a flood of responses from other bloggers to my question: How do you define "customer experience?" Read part 1 here. Listen to my interview of Susan Abbott, which started this conversation.

Adam Lawrence, of Work*Play*Experience writes:
"I can't find fault with your 'inside and outside' thoughts, but I do have trouble with one particular part of Susan's definition—although I love her work otherwise.

If all we do is 'remove irritants,' we end up with something which is unobjectionable—no more. (I'm really trying hard to avoid the 'irritant-pearl' metaphor here—it's too corny!) To me, unobjectionable means bland, tasteless, and unexciting. In designing customer experiences, we should be aiming high and aiming to touch emotions. A good experience design will not only meet and exceed a customers' expectations, it will even exceed their hopes. Thus, our definition of customer experience needs to include the expectations and hopes that a customer brings with them. It will include all their senses—including their sense of timing and sense of humor. Most importantly, it will resonate with their understanding of how the world is put together.

This last point is critical, for everyone understands the world differently, and will find meaning in different things. I firmly believe that is impossible to make a truly remarkable (emotionally affective, fan-creating, discussable) experience which everybody enjoys. Like good products and good services, good customer experiences are in some way unique—and are thus not for everyone.

I disagree that the customer experience ends when the customer leaves the site. Experience designers should be endeavoring to create memorable experiences - and that means creating memories. This can be supported by memorabilia, and by community marketing such as websites where the customer can view pictures of their special day. Ideally, a great customer experience will pop up and say "remember me?" just as you were about to forget it..."

For another approach, read Mark Hurst's take from Good Experience.

Here's what Helene Blowers of Library Bytes had to say:
"I think removing irritants is interesting, but personally I think the customer experience is more about the intangibles of making customers feel good about themselves. When they feel good about themselves as a result of your product or service, then you have a win-win in my book."
Read her full post here.

What do you think? Post your comment by clicking "comments" below.
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Sunday, April 08, 2007

Defining "customer experience", part 1

A few days ago I chatted with Susan Abbott of Customer Experience Crossroads for my first podcast, which is now on iTunes. We compared notes on our definition of the term "customer experience." A buzzword in the business community in recent years has been "customer experience management," or CEM, which has come to mean managing call centers and Web sites efficiently. Both Susan and I define the customer experience far more broadly than that. Here is her take on it.

Susan said something that struck me, how good experiences are about "removing irritants." You look at your site, or your product, or your service, figure out all the ways that you might be providing irritants for your customers, and then systematically remove them. This approach is similar to one discussed by Tom Kelley of IDEO in his book, The Art of Innovation.

I think of the customer experience as having two dimensions; inside and outside.

• Inside. First, the experience happens in your customers’ perceptions. It’s seen from their point of view, created by a combination of their feelings, sensations, and prior experiences. Unfortunately, what you intend doesn’t always matter. All that counts is what’s happening inside a customer on the day he or she is at your site. You can’t control this inside dimension. No two customers will ever have the same experience, since everyone has a unique point of view.

• Outside. Second, an experience is made up of many separate pieces outside the customer. That’s your part. The outside dimension begins the instant a person decides to visit, continues throughout his or her time with you, and ends when he or she leaves. You control nearly every aspect of this outside dimension.

I'll be contacting some other customer experience bloggers to see if they want to share their definitions with me. In the meantime, I'd love to hear your comments as well.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Why you need wayfinding

Wayfinding is the term for sign systems that help people navigate through a space.

The other day I had to visit this strip mall to find a business called Live Scan. (A client requested that I get fingerprinted for a security clearance.) I found the building no problem, there was the sign, so I must be in the right place, correct?

Now I had to find the entrance. Hmm, was it the blue door?

No, that was the doctor's office.

The directory stated that Live Scan was on the second floor. Second floor? I stepped back and looked again.

It didn't look like there was a second floor. Back to the directory again, which was no help. I walked around the building, and could see no stairs or second floor. Before giving up, as a last resort I asked someone if they knew how to get to Live Scan. He took me back to the blue door, and pointed me through it.

Do you see the problem? Instead of saying, "Entrance," this door looked like it was solely the entrance to the doctor's office. Once inside, there was a small sign telling me how to get to Live Scan; it turned that there was indeed an upstairs.

Tip of the day: If your wayfinding doesn't do its job, your customers can't find you. If I hadn't gotten help when I did, I would have simply left.
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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Putting people first

In my new book I talk about the importance of staff members in creating great customer experiences. If you don't have happy, upbeat, empowered staff members, no amount of good design, clear signage, or comfortable seating can make up for them. Here are two examples I recently spotted of companies working to acknowledge their staff members.

We received this from American Airlines, as AAdvantage fliers. It allows the flier to easily give "applause" and a note about a great staff member while they are flying, and is pre-printed with the member's name and AAdvantage number. Each certificate is numbered as well; I'm guessing they track the usage of these, and by which fliers.

At my local grocery store, recently acquired by Wild Oats (and now by Whole Foods), they have an internal system to give kudos to hard-working staff members, who win a store gift card.

Tip of the day: Find ways to reward and acknowledge the hard work of your staff members in providing great experiences. People who have the gift of giving good customer service should be nurtured and treasured, as they are difficult to replace and invaluable to your business. You can often trade perks with other businesses, giving out one prize a month and maybe one big one every year (use a lottery system of all the people nominated to make it fair.)

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Great experiences aren't always fancy, or even spotlessly clean

This weekend we broke a water line, which needed to be repaired ASAP. Instead of going to the big orange store, we tried the Hydro-Scape store in central San Diego. It's in an industrial park and caters primarily to landscapers and contractors (B2B). But they also sell to consumers like us, and it was a great experience.

Clean, simple graphics and wayfinding let us know we'd arrived, and exactly where the entrance was. A good Invitation, Welcome, and Orientation all at once. [See my 8 steps to better customer experiences for a description of each step.] We, and most of their customers, were covered in soil, so a clean and fancy store would feel wrong and be impractical.

The no-nonsense counter provided informational material while we waited. All the brochures are coated with plastic, which makes sense for this audience. We got there at a slow time and were immediately welcomed by salesperson Corey, who asked how he could help us. [The Welcome and Communication steps.]

Our show-and-tell bag of parts provided him with the information to help us, but his willing attitude to discuss how we were going to fix the line made the difference. Instead of running the other way, as we've experienced at the big-box hardware store, Corey jumped right in with solutions. He knew every part they had, and could tell us what could be salvaged and what had to be replaced.

For busy days, they use a fair, and clear, "take a number" system. The padded stools were a nice touch, and were provided by one of their suppliers, so probably didn't cost the store anything. [Orientation and Comfort steps.]

The coffee station also provided for our comfort.

This educational flyer clearly shows the benefits of attending one of their free seminars, offered in collaboration with a lighting supplier. Good for the customer, the supplier, and Hydro-Scape. [Communication and Common Sense steps.]

Tip of the day: When you know your audience and are out to serve them, it shows. This store is serving its primary customers well, and doing a good job with us weekend handymen, too. I'll never buy irrigation supplies at the big-box store again.

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