Lack of differentiation in many industries has become a common thing, turning their products and services in mere commodities. Consequently, customer indifference is increasing price sensitivity at a dangerous level. The solution is to provide extraordinary service, create memorable experiences, and surprise with small things.
We’re talking about a type of sustainable differentiation that increases customer loyalty and improves a company’s competitive position. Now, how can you create memorable experiences? I’ve condensed the book’s most important messages into what I’ve called “10 principles to create memorable experiences.”
1. Hire people with a service attitude.
Having the right team is the first step in creating positive experiences for customers. This implies that beginning with recruitment, there must be cohesion between saying and doing. Many people can be brilliant at the technical aspects of their work and yet lack interest in serving others.
Zappos conducts two types of interviews with candidates: one for function, another for culture. Although someone is functionally competent, if they don’t fit into the company’s service culture, they don’t get hired. What’s more, in order to be completely sure, Zappos offers $2,000 after the initial training to anyone who doesn’t want to continue. If they reject the offer, it’s because they truly believe in the company’s philosophy. Otherwise, they’re better off gone.
2. Love your employees.
Service leaders know about the direct correlation between employee experiences and customer experiences. As the saying goes, take care of your employees and they’ll take care of your customers. There’s no greater evidence of job dissatisfaction than employee attitude and behavior toward their work. The first “clients” are those who take care of your customers, directly or indirectly. Committed employees create loyal customers, who, in turn, create even happier employees.
3. Keep your basic promise.
This means that surprises and small things are relevant only if the basics have been worked out. For example, making placing and invoicing an order incredibly easy will not be very useful if the orders arrive late or incomplete. It doesn’t matter how nice and well-mannered your wait staff is if the food they serve isn’t good. Your business won’t survive. Quality is an expectation and a minimum requirement in order to compete in any category. It’s built from the exceptional fulfillment of your basic promise. Whitening toothpaste should whiten and deodorant should protect. If the basics haven’t been covered, any additional benefit will be irrelevant.
4. Make everybody responsible for the experience.
Companies that stand out for offering amazing experiences understand that customer relationships are holistic and not just the responsibility of sales or customer service. Exceeding customer expectations doesn’t depend on one department – it depends on all departments.
Let’s look at Zappos again. Within the four weeks of mandatory intensive training for every employee, there’s one week dedicated to handling customer requests on the telephone. It doesn’t matter if the person will be working in accounting, software development, or maintenance. Every single employee must learn how to interact with customers. That’s how a service culture works.
5. Train all the time.
In order to create amazing experiences and prevent setbacks, practice processes over and over again, so that nothing takes you by surprise. Disney excels at it. In its Animal Kingdom Theme Park, for example, before a driver even gets on a vehicle to transport tourists, he or she must go through intensive training on a simulator that helps rehearse the right way to handle surprises that may occur on each route. Nothing is left to chance. It’s shocking that many companies get their new employees interacting with customers with no training beyond a few hurried instructions.
6. Seek loyalty, not mere satisfaction.
Satisfying your customers is not enough. A satisfied customer will stay, but if he or she thinks there’s a better option, they may change brands. Satisfaction isn’t synonymous with loyalty. Satisfaction involves meeting the minimum requirements expected by the customer, but in no way does it represent a difference, or a different brand perception compared to other options. Strive to create loyal customers who are your biggest fans and best brand promoters, not just satisfied customers who can easily switch to your competition.
If the people in charge of helping customers don’t have the power to make decisions, they’re not solving anything. When employees must escalate customer requests to someone above them frequently, that’s a clear sign that policies have been designed according to what’s convenient for the company, but not necessarily for the customers.
Companies that lead the way in customer experience empower their employees so that they can make decisions that best favor their customers. These organizations understand that if the customer wins, the company wins, too. Accepting a return, ensuring faster delivery, or granting special concessions makes a difference. Some companies even authorize their employees to use a specific amount of money for the benefit of customers without having to ask permission. Others also establish minimum and maximum limits (floor and ceiling) of a negotiation. After learning how to manage these situations, employees can then make decisions that create a better customer experience.
8. Adjust processes continuously.
Surprising your customers with pleasant experiences is a deliberate, planned act, not an isolated action by a motivated employee. It’s not a spontaneous deed without context. Make great experiences part of the company’s protocols and the modus operandi of each part of the process. Consistent experiences are generated when each person at each point in the process carries out his role effectively by following the guidelines previously established. Define and adjust processes, but don’t abuse them. Understand, too, that having no processes at all is just as dangerous as having too many.
9. Verify execution constantly.
Everything holds up on paper. For that reason, it’s fundamental to permanently verify process compliance and confirm that the experience is playing out exactly as it was designed. Leaders in different departments have the critical responsibility of verifying that each team member is providing the experience the customer expects. Verifying means continuously acting as the mystery shopper of your own department.
10. Evaluate customer experience indicators.
For customers, their experience is their perception of all interactions they have with you, your brand, and your organization. In order to create positive experiences consistently, you must be clear about what determines them. You must also define the indicators that will alert you when you deviate from the path or validate that you are advancing in the right direction. The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is one of the most commonly used indicators, where your customers rate from 0 to 10 how likely it is for them to refer your product, service or business to a friend, colleague or family member.