People say we remember two things in every presentation; we remember the first thing that's said, and the last thing the presenter says.
The same can be said for a customer experience; we remember the first touch point, and we remember the last touch point. That's not to say that we don't remember anything in between; it's just that we always remember the first and the last. And in some cases, we really remember the last.
This was the case for me when I called the Doubletree Hotel at the Newark Airport for a shuttle ride. The fact that I was tired didn't help anyone's performance.
The phone call from the airport to the front desk to too long to answer.
The instructions where to go to meet the shuttle were too confusing.
The journey from my terminal to meet the shuttle bus was too long.
The shuttle bus took too long to arrive.
The shuttle was too crowded.
The line to check in at the hotel was too long.
When it was finally my turn, the front desk clerk was amazing. Personable, informative, charming, witty and genuinely helpful. His performance caused all the negative stuff before him to seem trivial.
I'll gladly stay at the Doubletree at the Newark Airport again.
Last impressions matter - a lot.
Two key traits of any customer-facing employee are the ability to anticipate needs, and the desire to help. And there's one demographic group that surely has both: retired professionals who aren't quite ready to settle down.
During a recent flight from the airport in Portland, Maine, I stopped to check the board that lists the arriving and departing flights. A gentleman in a purple vest surprised me, by asking if I needed any help. That was Henry, one of 7 "Ambassador" volunteers at the airport. The role of the Ambassadors is to make it easy for travelers to navigate their way through the airport, and arrive at their gates, stress-free.
I almost didn't receive a FedEx package recently, because someone screwed up the shipping information. The package was shipped to the correct address, but the recipient's name - mine - was truncated.
The name appeared as "James Wa" instead of "James Watson."
I was a guest at the Omni Orlando in ChampionsGate, Florida. The package was to be held for me at the front desk. For two consecutive days, each time I called the desk to ask if the package had arrived, I was told, "No - nothing has arrived with your name on it." But the package was there the entire time.
Techncially, they were correct. My name wasn't on the package because the person entering the "Ship to" information typed the following 39 letters on the second line of the address:
"HOLD AT RECEPTION DESK FOR JAMES WATSON."
But only 35 of the 39 letters appeared on the shipping label when it printed. That's right, the software program that prints out the shipping labels will only print the first 35 letters. In 99.9% of the cases, I'm sure that's not an issue. But in my case, it was. And that's the only case I cared about on this particular day.
So who's at fault here?
An argument can be made for each of these, but regardless of who's at fault, there was a breakdown in a "back office" process that had caused me to not receive my "Next Day" package for 2 days. And that caused me to think negatively about 3 companies involved:
The Point is This:
It's not only the front-office, customer-facing employees that impact the customer experience; it's also the back-office employees and processes that can impact the experience, the brand and the reputation.
So, what to do about it?
Carefully map out the entire customer journey, but when you do, include behind the scenes processes that can impact the customer experience. It can be something as remote and banal as the number of characters that print out in and address field that can hurt your brand and reputation. It's these invisible factors that lurk beneath the surface that can really do damage. Don't let them.
What back-office experience factors exist in your business?
What can you do to fortify them?
"One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man." -- Elbert Hubbard
We're living in an era where automation is becoming the norm. Business processes that were once performed by humans are more often performed solely by technology. If not already, human interactions will soon become the exception.
Within a ten-minute period this afternoon, I ordered a prescription refill from my pharmacy, got cash from my bank, and bought and paid for groceries at a neighborhood supermarket. That's three transactions at three different businesses without a single human interaction.
By automating those transactions, the pharmacy, bank and grocery store reduced their costs, but they also reduced my customer experience to its lowest common denominator. By removing the human touch, they eliminated an opportunity to trigger my emotions; they eliminated a chance to show me a competitive advantage.
Each time a business automates a customer touch point for efficiency sake, it should look balance the automation with a human touch for experience sake.
Think about a company like Zappo's. They sell a lot of shoes, and they do it very efficiently. But if you ask Zappo's what they sell, they won't say "shoes." They'll tell you they sell "happiness." And that happiness is created by the fun, engaging customer service reps that love to make a customer's day. In fact, these human interactions are the essence of the Zappos brand. Sure, the company runs a very efficient e-commerce business, but they don't forsake the human touch for more efficiency.
Here's the point: Before automating a customer touch point, think about how the automation will impact the customer experience. Will it remove an important point of emotional contact, and a competitive advantage?
If it does, then look to either enrich an existing human touch point, or create a new human touch point that adds value and emotion to the customer journey. A good example here is the Trunk Club...
The Trunk Club is a men's clothing service where a personal stylist handpicks a trunk of high-end clothes and ships it to you, so you don't have to shop or worry about selecting the right styles. It begins as an on-line experience that could certainly remain 100% on-line, but the Trunk Club adds a human element: After providing some After providing some information about yourself and your preferences, you're assigned a "personal stylist" who serves as your concierge. The stylist then calls you directly, to begin a human-to-human customer relationship.
Is this human conversation required to complete the transaction? Of course not. Many on- line retailers avoid this costly step for efficiency sake. But the Trunk Club uses these additional human interactions to create the emotional bond with their customers clicks can't do.
In his 1981 best seller, "Megatrends," John Naisbitt presciently advised us to balance high-tech with "high-touch" to preserve our humanness. This advice is more applicable today than it was 34 years ago, because technology is more prevalent, and more challenging to our humanness on a daily basis.
What are your competitive human touch points?
Where can you add more?
Last week, I checked into the Contemporary Resort at Disney World.
I wasn't the typical customer Disney World; I didn't have children or family with me, and I didn't even pack shorts or a swim suit; I was there for a 3-day business conference, along with a few hundred other guests that would be arriving that day. And like most of them, I wanted to check in quickly, get my room key, and head up to my room to answer emails and return phone calls.
If you've checked into a Disney resort recently, you know they don't provide the common plastic key cards; they give each guest a MagicBand - a plastic bracelet imprinted with Mickey's face and the first name of the guest. The MagicBand serves as room key, and stores digital accesss to ride s, amusements and charge card for your entire stay.
And they don't just give you the MagicBand in the same simple way that a hotel desk clerk gives you your key; they present your bracelet in an oversized gift box (picture an iPhone box, but ten times larger), and proceed to tell you all the great vacation-related things that you can do with it; all while you're fidgeting to just get up to your room.
I received the entire song and dance that would thrill a family of four that's excited to be on vacation. But I wasn't a family of four and I clearly wasn't on vaction. I was a middle age guy on a business trip without his family, and I just wanted to get to my room.
The Point is this:
Different customer segments have different needs and expectations at different stages of the customer journey. Follow these four steps to get it right:
1. Segment your customers.
For Disney, this means identify your business customers from your liesure customers.
2. Identify and isolate each step of the customer journey for each segment.
Checking in at the hotel is one of those stages.
3. Design the right experience at each step, for each customer segment.
For Disney's business customer, this means creating at least two separate key bracelet delivery methods: a fast and simple delivery for the business customer, and the more elaborate presentation for the vacationing customer.
4. Deliver the right experience to the right customer.
Train the front desk staff to quickly identify (based on outward appearance, and information from the guest's reservation) the customer type, and to deliver the right experience for that type. For Disney, this means getting the desk reception to recognize me as a business guest, and therefore give me the bracelt qiuckly, without all the fanfare, and definitely without that large box!
If a customer experience idon like Disney can overlook something like this, so can the rest of us. Hence, it would behoove us all to revisit these three steps - Segment, Isolate, Design and Deliver - for our customer base.
What stage of the customer journey should you change, and for which segment?
First impressions matter. A lot.
My wife and I recently dropped our son off to begin his freshman year at Butler University in Indianapolis. He moved into his dormatory on Saturday morning, and we spent the remainder of Saturday and much of Sunday attending "Welcome Week" events - orientation sessions for new students and their parents.
The primary purpose of Butler's "Welcome Week" was to give new students and their parents (new customers of the University) a good understanding of the University, its leadership, facilities and establish a community feel ithat was all about us - the customers.
As my wife and I began our 1,100 mile trip back to Maine without our son, we were confident feeling that our son is in a good place; a university led by faculty and administrators who will guide our son well through this important stage of his life; a university whose facilities will give our son the opportunity to do things that will contribute well to his college education and growth; and a university that recognizes that the parent is as much a customer as the student.
As new customers, we were made to feel confident that we'd made the right purchase decision for our son, because we were given a well-orchestrated positive customer experience, to kick off the next four years. Welcome Week has made us enthused members of the Butler community: we're eager to participate in future events (including those ubiquitous capital campaigns) as Butler Parents. In a word, the University took steps to make us engaged customers on day one.
Butler did well what a lot of organizations fail to do: They planned and executed a customer-focused on-boarding process for their new customers.
Many organizations already have a defined on-boarding process, but its internally-focused on the company's processes, instead of the customer. For example, it's more about setting up customer records correctly in computer systems, and allocating resources to "deliver the goods" than it is about quickly engaging the customer, and making the customer feel comfortable and confident about their purchase decision.
Organizations that implement a carefully-planned customer-focused on-boarding process tend to have more satisfied and engaged customers with greater lifetime value.
The new customer on-boarding process can be distilled down to three key elements:
1. Set Clear Expectations.
They communicated the purpose of the onboarding process through emails and mailers, so that both parents and students had clear expectations before arriving on campus.
2. Present the Product.
They presented the product through entertaining and informative activities, and presentations by the University's leadership. It had been a while since most parents and students visited the campus, so this re-freshed our memories, and gave us a throrough and positive understanding of the product quality.
3. Foster Customer Community.
They provided an opportunity for new customers to meet and enage with one another, to foster a sense of customer community. When customers meet one another and keep it touch, it generates a greater desire to belong, and participate within the community as a customer.
Customer-focused on boarding that sets clear expectations for the customer, presents the product in informative and entertaining ways, and creates customer community positions the customer for a more positive and beneficial experience. It also benefits the "seller" by laying the groundwork for stronger customer engagement and lifetime value.
Does your organization have an intentionally-designed on-boarding process that's customer-focused?
Is the process executed consistently with each new customer?