Is Your Customer Experience Innovative?
By Chip R. Bell
Raise your hand if you saw the half-time show during the 2015 Super Bowl with Katy Perry? Here is a quick refresher. She came in on a giant, golden, mechanical lion singing her hit song, “Roar,” and danced with magnificent fireworks in the background. There were several more songs, gyrating dancers, colorful sets, and three costume changes before Perry ended by being swung over the stadium as if she was a rocket. The crowd went wild. And her performance snagged her an Emmy nomination!
Raise your hand again if you have ever been to a Cirque du Soleil performance. If your hand was up (at least in your mind) you are among the 150, 000,000 people who have been dazzled, awed, and had their breath taken away. Cirque’s over-the-top performances make Disney World seem as tame and subdued as Bashful, the shyest of the seven dwarfs.
Welcome to the customer service world of overstimulation. Television has become both high definition and multimedia. The nightly news shows the weather report, ball scores, stock market numbers, and a crawling headline all simultaneously on the TV screen. Internet servers have become a haven for colorful ads with video streaming at you while you try to concentrate on reading your e-mails. That steady stream of sensory arousal has made a simple hotel check-in, taking Spot to the vet, or getting a visit from a home health care person feel humdrum and plain vanilla. Pretty good has been trumped by pretty amazing. Rising customer expectations have made “novelty” a key selection criteria for the service providers to whom customers will give their revenue and their loyalty.
Winning organizations focus on uniqueness, not just betterment.
As many chain hotels struggle in the throes of “me too” competition, razor-thin margins, and more demanding guests, Kimpton Group’s Hotel Monaco chain is thriving. Why? Because they deliver to the business traveler a funky, innovative experience complete with a gold fish in the guest room, leopard skin print bathrobes in the closet, and unexpected surprises on the pillow instead of mints. Not your cup of tea? Perhaps not, but for the market to which such enchanting experiences are targeted, the innovative ingredients have made for a profitable recipe. Instead of imitating for improvement, Hotel Monaco focuses on innovating for distinction. Customers today are bored with service experiences that are simply functional and satisfactory.
Social media has made viral stories the new billboard. How many e-mail forwards have you received in the last year with YouTube videos of cat tricks, baby antics, and silly spoofs? The anthropology of the practice is that customers love to share unique stories. Social media has turned the neighborly conversation over the backyard fence into a multimedia flash mob. Word of mouse (or touchpad) has many times more influence and reach than word of mouth. And the messages with the longest legs are those that are colorful stories about the unexpected and unique. It is customer experience as National Enquirer on steroids and in cyberspace. It can be the dread or delight of any service organization. But it has elevated a demand for innovative experiences suited as centerpieces for customer stories.
The venue for innovative service is not limited to those organizations whose names we can all drop. It is also the mail room that dressed employees in costumes once a week or the information technology department that built its service experience around the Road Runner cartoon character. It is the accounting firm that had partners wear Superman t-shirts under their business suits and “think Superman” when meeting with prospects or clients. Or it is the home health care nurse visiting a client with the fanfare of a birthday celebration — complete with songs and balloons. The menagerie of innovative service spans the space from wacky to weird and from silly to sublime. The thread linking them all is an unmistakable quest for an experience that customers value, remember, and recommend.
Add a large helping of innovation.
So what is the call to action? Add creativity to your design of customer experiences. Encourage front-line employees to constantly ask: “What can I do to amaze, inspire, delight, and awe my customers today?” Affirm employees who discover or create novel ways to serve customers and share those ideas with everyone. For instance, all housekeepers at Disney theme park hotels know that Disney toys in a guest room are to be arranged into “animated” postures so the toy’s owner will return and believe it magically came alive. It was an idea one Disney employee concocted that was then shared with all to become a Disney practice.
Conduct focus groups with your customers and ask inventive questions: “What is something no one in our industry is doing that you wish we would do?” Or “We don’t plan to raise our prices anytime soon, but what would we need to do to make our customer experience worth twice the price you are currently paying?” Or “If your favorite service provider (in any industry) could be in charge of our customer experience, how would it be different?”
Value-added has been the service solution for many service exemplars: take what your customers expect and add a little more. But value-added extras have gotten a lot more expensive. The guest room on the hotel’s fancy floor that front desk clerks used to upgrade a frequent guest, for example, now needs to be sold to generate full revenue. No more baker’s dozen; the merchant needs to sell each donut with no extras. Challenging economic times call for a new approach: value-unique service.
Value-unique is different from value-added. It is not about addition: “they gave me more than I anticipated.” It is about a unique and unexpected creation. When service people are asked to give more, they often think, “I’m already doing the best I can.” But if asked to pleasantly surprise more customers, they feel less like worker bees and more like fireflies. And when employees get to create, not just perform, they feel prized. Innovative service leaves customers more than cheaply entertained — it leaves them richly stirred.
About the Author: Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker and the author of several best-selling books. His newest book is Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service. He can be reached at www.chipbell.com.