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People Want Either the Best or the Least Expensive
Unless you are the cheapest in your industry, you already charge for customer experience. Nobody is brave enough to break it out as an item on the receipt, but it is in there, buried in the total price. If businesses were not charging an experience tax, then everyone’s prices for a given product or service would be exactly the same. But they are not because some companies promise to provide more of an experience than their competitors.
The point is this: Every employee, associate, partner and shareholder must realize that your company needs to deliver whatever it is you promise. Otherwise, your customers can go down the street to a competitor who doesn’t promise — or charge for — those things.
The Six Components of a Customer’s Experience
In order to create brand loyalty and customer evangelists, you must (1) operate at a high level in six distinct areas of business and (2) constantly evaluate your company’s customer service across each category, separately and as categories overlap.
1. Physical: Deals with the actual brick-and-mortar component of your operation. These are the physical elements that are more permanent or long-term and cannot be changed daily.
2. Setting: Refers to the controllable setting you create daily. The setting communicates a message about what you can provide your customers. This isn’t always visual; it may be the music your customers hear when they call and are placed on hold or the mood your website creates. The setting reveals the characteristics of your business as they appeal to the five senses of your customer: sight, sound, smell, touch and taste.
3. Functional: Refers to the ease of doing business with you — return policies, hours of operation and other factors. (Functionality has nothing to do with human interactions, such as being pleasant or saying “please” or “thank you.”)
4. Technical: Refers to your staff’s level of expertise in their particular skills and in the company’s systems and equipment, such as product and job knowledge. Again, this has nothing to do with whether they are nice.
5. Operational: Refers to the actions that team members must execute behind the scenes before, during and after a customer’s experience. These actions assist in the day-to-day transactions with customers — the tasks, compliances and duties of our jobs.
6. Experiential: Refers to the team members’ actions while interacting with the customer — those actions that make the customer say “Wow!” in delighted surprise. Experiential actions are the reason customers return, refer others and become “brand evangelists.”
Task-Focused Versus Customer-Focused
It is important that a company be technically and operationally excellent before it can be experientially excellent. While your emphasis on experiential skills should not come at the cost of the technical or operational aspects, being only technically and operationally focused results in employees’ losing sight of the customer. This challenge is not unfamiliar to world-class service companies. Jim McManemon, general manager of The Ritz-Carlton Sarasota, says, “We have to constantly make sure we are keeping our employees engaged with the guest, otherwise they could easily focus on the technical aspect of their jobs.”
Neither technical nor operational excellence will create brand loyalty the way experiential excellence will. Experiential training is the least provided and hardest to teach of the components listed above. But it is also the most rewarding because it provides the largest return on investment (ROI). Experiential training is about making the customer’s day. It is about creating value over and above the product you are selling. It clearly sets you apart from you competition. It is about empowering your front-line employees to have a sense of purpose and ownership in their jobs.
Examples of Nonnegotiable Standards
Two samples of nonnegotiable standards at my business, John Robert’s Spa, are called Always and Never Standards:
-Say “not a problem.”
-Make blind phone transfers internally.
-Over-share with guests.
-Criticize other team members.
-Show frustration publicly.
-Accept “fine” or “OK” from a customer when you ask him, “How was everything today?”
-Only respond to a question with “I don’t know.”
-Have a conversation with a coworker, in front of a guest, that is unrelated to the guest.
-Make the customer wrong.