Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Happy holidays from Experienceology

Please visit my website to view my holiday greetings and to receive your free gift!

As 2007 draws to a close, I'd like to take a moment to thank all of my wonderful readers, blogging friends, and clients for such an amazing and rewarding year. This blog is just the tip of the iceberg, a way for me to reach out to people on the web and help businesses with their customer experience. In return, I've met some incredible people. Most I have never even talked to on the phone, but I feel surprisingly connected with you through your blogs, your comments, and your visits.

I've been given the following gifts this year:

The year began with Polly Cone and Tanya Bredehoft of Artefact Design working hard to get my manuscript ready for publishing. Polly is an incredible editor and turned a good book into something I'm very proud of. Tanya, my designer extraordinaire, created a lovely, clean, open feel for the book and made the workbook section immensely usable. Thanks, gals!

Thanks to Mitch Allen and the team at Left Coast Press for publishing my book. The launch in Chicago was everything a first-time author could have hoped for, and so many of my Chicago friends turned out for the party. It really felt like a homecoming. They all have worked hard to see the book succeed and I’m truly grateful to them for their support and belief in it.

It was a thrill to see my book displayed for sale for the first time!

I also appreciated the opportunity to speak to so many different organizations, either through staff workshops or conference presentations.

In June we opened the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition. I’m grateful to the entire team at the San Diego Natural History Museum for including me in this amazing experience. A highlight for me was when I was speaking with a Muslim cleric at the mosque here (for another project). I asked him if he’d seen the exhibition. He told me he’d attended with an ecumenical group, and went through the exhibition with two rabbis. As they discussed the scrolls, they came to realize how much their sacred texts had in common. He told me, “I found myself there.” It gave me chills.

It was great to visit with colleagues at the CAM, AAM, and WMA conferences. I especially appreciated getting to go behind the scenes at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach to see their conservation efforts within their facility. I also was proud of the efforts to make the CAM conference green; it’s inspired me towards some green initiatives here at Experienceology.

And finally, thanks to my podcast guests this year: Susan Abbott—Abbott Research and Consulting, Lisa Vella—South Bark Dog Wash, Jonathan Tisch—Loews Hotels, David Penney—Detroit Institute of Arts, Mielle Chenier-Cowan—Cafe Gratitude, and Joseph Pine—Strategic Horizons.

I look forward to 2008 and all the fun challenges it will bring. I'll be back blogging in early January. Until then, have a happy and safe holiday season.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Charmin's Holiday restrooms in Times Square

As a founding member of the Bathroom Blogfest, I occasionally get some interesting email. A rep from Kohler sent me these photos with their press release. It's a great concept—to provide a high-end experience during the busy shopping season. And the teaming up of Kohler (providing water-conserving toilets and faucets) and Charmin makes perfect sense.

There are 20 of these restrooms in Times Square for the holiday season, providing for the comfort of shoppers while also showcasing low-flow toilets and low-flow aerating faucets. It makes my "green" heart sing. :)

According to the press release: More than 420,000 people from 100 countries and all 50 states visited the Charmin Holiday Restrooms during the 2006 holiday season. The 2007 facilities will once again feature 20 restrooms, offering the convenience of easily accessible, family-friendly facilities at the crossroads of the world. Attendants are on staff to service and clean stalls after every use. The Charmin Holiday Restrooms open Nov. 19, and will be open daily through Dec 31.

If you're in New York, check out these restrooms and let me know what the experience was like. Would it make you more likely to buy Kohler or Charmin products?

Tip of the day: The holiday shopping season provides a great opportunity to team up with other companies to offer something special for your customers. By providing for their comfort, you show that you care about them. Who might you team up with next year?

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

A customer-experience hole big enough to drive a BMW through

When you read the words "Beverly Hills BMW" what comes to mind? A swanky customer experience, right? And that's likely true if you arrive there via a typical route. Come to buy a car and I'm sure they treat you beautifully. Take your car there for service and their very competent staff, well-schooled in customer service, do an admirable job of taking care of loads of people on any given day.

But what if your temperamental BMW breaks down there on a work trip, you're from out of town, and you get towed in? Turns out, they have a very large hole in their customer experience.

First off, a huge THANK YOU to Mike Cervenak of Diversified Painting of Huntington Beach, who took time out of his busy day to try to jump-start our dead-as-a-doornail BMW in Santa Monica on that Monday morning. Mike, you are a prince. If you need a painter in that area, call Mike at 800-809-7649. He really deserves the business.

Next, a big thank you to Jeff Baker of Beverly Hills BMW, who did fit me into his very busy day and eventually got me back on the road that night. This is not meant to be a snarky post. Jeff was great as were all the staff I encountered. But my experience illustrates a problem that many businesses might have and not realize it.

Here's the experience if you get towed in. While waiting for your tow truck you call to see if they have a replacement battery, after finding out that the BMW of Santa Monica (which is much closer) doesn't have it in stock. "Yes." You ask for the address for service. (Note italics. This is a reasonable way to ask for directions.) They give you an address on Wilshire Blvd. The tow truck comes and you give him the address. He says, "Are you sure? They usually have me tow to the Olympic lot." Hmmm. He seems pretty sure, so you call back, go through the phone tree, and ask what address to bring in a car that's being towed. Now they give you a different address on Olympic Blvd.

Here is where the experience fell apart:
They don't ask you:
1. Have you been here before?
2. What is wrong with your car?
3. Do you need your car fixed today?

They don't tell you that:
a) Our service department is completely booked today.
b) What to do when you arrive at the "Olympic lot."

So you arrive at the Olympic lot (sorry no picture, I was kind of distracted at this point) that's just that, a parking lot. No BMW sign, just an empty building and a lot full of dead cars. There is a tiny little beat-up hut in the middle of the lot, with a nice man in it. The nice man doesn't speak much English. He has been told to give you an envelope to fill out and to put your keys in it. That's it. He can't answer any questions, as he's never been told what to do with someone arriving there for the first time. He has a broken-down office chair (not the least bit Beverly Hills) and lets you sit there to fill it out. The nice tow truck driver has now left. You have questions:

1. Where the heck am I? Where is the service department? How far away is it?
2. What am I supposed to do now?
3. Is someone coming to get me? Am I in walking distance from the dealership? (No, and no.)

So, you call again, go through the phone tree, and talk to the nice young woman who has been answering the phone. You tell her that your car is at the Olympic lot, what am I supposed to do now?

She has never been given instructions for someone in this predicament, a first-time customer from out of town whose car has been towed here. It's a busy day. She tells you:
"Oh, we can't see your car today. We are completely booked up."

See what I mean by a hole? What would you have done at that point? (I got upset enough that she took pity on my and slotted me into Jeff's full schedule and sent a nice BMW to pick me up. 8 hours later my car was able to be driven home.) I wonder what my experience would have been like at the Santa Monica BMW. It turned out it was a faulty ignition switch, not the battery.

Tip of the day: Think through all the variations of arrival paths of your first-time customers. How are they finding you? What are their needs? Do you have a hole in your experience that could easily be fixed with a few simple questions?

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Friday, December 07, 2007

How to tell if your business is not customer-focused

I've written about U.S. Airways before, here. My recent trip to Philadelphia put me on U.S. Airways. Even if I didn't already know about their financial problems, there were clues all over the flight that a) U.S. Airways is hurting and b) that it's not customer-focused in its approach. I believe the two are strongly interconnected.

Clue #1. Of course, no free food anymore. The "buy on board box" (completely uninspired) is $5. Why not partner with a fabulous food company (Pret A Manger comes to mind) and offer something fabulous? I don't mind paying for my food. But I would like to have a fantastic choice.

Clue #2. Headsets: $5 each. Weren't headsets free there for a while? Anytime you go back to charging for something that used to be free, it's a double-whammy for your customers.

Clue #3. Radio-style ads played, loudly, for nearly 10 minutes after takeoff over the PA system. At least when the ads are limited to the video portion, customers can choose not to listen to them. If, in your business, you are having meetings where you have this kind of discussion—"Well, they're sitting in the seats anyway. We have a captive audience. We can sell that airspace!"—this is a tipoff that you don't care about your customers. This means that they won't care about you, either.

Clue #4. Tray tables all have ads on them now. What's next, the bathroom? The toilet paper? Author James Twitchell calls this proliferation of advertising logorrhea, and it's not good for either company. People are really tired of being marketed to everywhere they go.

Image from Upgrade: Travel Better blog.

As blogger Erick Schonfeld reports, some airlines are now offering wireless service on board. The question is: Will they charge or not? Schonfeld suggests that the airlines that offer this service free will gain huge customer loyalty. I agree, and would be happy to fly them. As long as I don't have to listen to another ad about Vegas.

Tip of the day: Take a look at these aspects of your experience to see if you are customer-focused.
1. Are we charging for items we used to offer for free? If so, why? If we must charge, can we offer something outrageously better?
2. Have we incorporated advertising in a way that feels intrusive? Is this at the expense of our customer experience? If so, are we making enough to justify lost revenue when customers leave?

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Postcards from the Post Office

Looks like the USPS has a snappy new ad agency. They are definitely hitting the mark with their customer communication. Here's one for the holidays:
the shopping. the stress. the wrapping. the decorating. the in-laws.
Today's holidays need today's mail

Inside it tells you how to make your own stamps from pix of your kids, do all your shipping online, and how to request free package pickup. It's all about the customer and making her life easier.

Here's one that came in early fall.
you will
ship a package from your kitchen
buy stamps during the "late late show"
use our free eco-friendly packaging...
have the time to do more of what you want.

And on the back: Life moves fast. Now the mail has more ways to help you keep up.

Tip of the day: Reframe your products or services from the customer's point of view, especially the emotional benefits you can provide. Suddenly, something stale feels completely fresh and new, because you're focused on the customer.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Deconstructing the de Young, part 2

In two previous posts, here and here, I started the virtual walk-through of this museum in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.

In this post I'll show some of the aspects of the Comfort step. (You'll find all 8 steps described here.) They've clearly marked where the accessible door is—welcoming for visitors with disabilities.

An unexpected touch: bags to protect your wet umbrella.
(Environmental note: This same function might be achieved with a simple numbered rack for visitors to check their own umbrellas.)

The seating at the de Young is artsy=super uncomfortable. These benches are concave on one side, convex on the either. You're either sliding off or sliding in. These guys chose the only option, prone. The stone floors are also fatiguing after a while, making comfortable benches that much more important.

Equally uncomfortable seating in the cafe, especially for people who are more generously proportioned. The food is lovely and fresh, beautifully prepared and served.

The last aspect of Comfort: the gorgeous bathroom with fresh flower arrangements.

Tip of the day: While design adds a critical visual component, make sure that you're not sacrificing visitors' comfort for looks. Test out all seating before buying. Visitors can't absorb all the beautiful artwork and wonderful spaces if they're tired and sore.

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