Do you remember when the first McDonalds opened in your hometown?
In Yorktown Heights, NY, that was in 1976. The red neon sign out front said, "Over 6 Million Served." I just turned 16 and could legally apply work, so I landed my first coroporate job cooking hamburgers.
On a regular basis, the manager on duty removed unsold burgers were from the warming bin, and put them in the trash. The procedure was called "Waste and Loss." As a 16-year-old male with a voracious appetite for anything remotely edible, I couldn't understand why a company would routinely and religiously throw away food that was only cooked a couple hours earlier. Sure, those burges didn't taste as fresh as the burgers that just came off the grill, but in my mind, they was perfecty edible.
Customer Loyalty and Reputations for Quality don't happen by accident; they happen and grow over time, by continually adhering to those short-term decisions that seem hard to make, and harder to live by.
(When I speak of "quality" here, I'm not talking about nutritional quality; I'm talking about quality of product and service delivery; the ability to set expecations with your customers, and rigorously stick to a certain process so that you can deliver on those expectations over and over and over; so much so, that trust in your ability to deliver become part of your brand.)
In this blog post by Seth Godin, he points to the difficult short-term decisions that a company needs to make, in order to produce consistent quality, reputation and branding.
I recently drove past that same McDonalds where I worked 38 years ago. The sign out front no longer says "Over 6 Million Served." It now says "Billions and Billions Served." Throwing away a perfectly-good hamburger may seem foolish in the short-term, but done for the right reasons for more than 38 years, it's built one of the most famous brands in the world.
What are the "hamburgers" in your business?
Do you have the guts to throw away your less-than perfect hamburgers in order to build a better reputation?
In the current issue of Fortune Magazine, there's an article called "Wolfgang Puck's Dining Revolution." The article revealed something about Puck's approach to the restaurant business that I didn't expect to be reading. But clearly, that "something" has been a driving force behind the success of his restaurant and food business.
When people think of wolfgang puck, they think of food. And when they think of a successful food business, they think of great-tasting food. But here's what Puck says in the article - referring to when he began his world-famous restaurant in Beverly Hills, Spago - that caught me by surprise:
"I put in an open kitchen so I could greet the customers, see when they finished their first course, and prep the next course. I wanted to give the guests something of a show, not just their food on a plate, and it became popular with Hollywood people."
So, here's this world-famous chef telling us how his primary focus, when planning a business, was not about the food, but the customers, and their experience in his restaurant.
The Point is This:
Yes, your tangible product has to be good. But if you want to be truly successful in your market, you need to plan the business around delivering a great customer experience.
How much is customer experience a part of your business plan? And what are some of the specific things you've done in the business, to back this up? What are you not doing now, that you could be doing, to improve the customer's experience in your business?
Wolfgang Puck with his staff at Spago in Beverly Hills (Fortune)
It's often the little things that can make a big impact on the customer experience.
If you travel a lot, and stay in a different hotel each night, it can be easy to forget your room number, especially if your more of a visual person; a person who remembers pictures better than numbers.
That's why I really appreciate what Hampton Inn has done with the room numbers in their hotels - they've added a unique black and white photograph next to the number. So if you have trouble rembering if your room was 323 or 332, you'll probably find it a lot easier to remember the photo of the farmer riding the tractor. I had the room with the adirondack chair on the sun-drenched lawn.
When I go to sleep in a hotel, I like to keep my cell phone on the night stand, and use it as an alarm clock. And I also like to keep it plugged in, to begin the next day with a full charge. But I've found that most hotels don't have enough outlets for charging all our digital stuff.
But this particular Hampton Inn mounted a cluster of outlets and USB charging ports right above the nightstand.
Visual room numbers andU SB ports by the nightstands aren't exactly big enhancements like hot breakfast bars or state-of-the art fitness centers. But they're big in two ways:
They're simple solutions to common problems - USB ports by the nightstand may not be glamorous, but they're exactly what I needed.
They're memorable - black and white photos may not transform the Hampton Inn into a luxurios hotel, but they do trigger memories, and stir curiosity - I dare you to walk down the hall to the elevator, without looking to see what photos accompany the other room numbers.
Here's thet point:
When designing your customer experience, ask yourself if each element fits at least one of the following:
1. Is it useful to the customer?
2. Is it memorable for the customer?
Don't you just love instant gratification?
A lot of the traditional retailers, ranging from the Wal-marts of the world, to the independent boutiques throught the cities accross America are constantly trying to find ways to keep their customers from spending their money with Amazon. Buying from Amazon is easy, convenient, and it saves us a ton of our most limited resource: time.
A recent New York Times article explains how these brick-and-mortar stores are investing a lot of resources to raise the bar on Amazon's conveniece factor, by making it possible to buy from them on-line, as in not leaving your home or office, but still having the product in your hands that very same day.
Here's one example from the Times article:
Ivy Wu did not immediately need the navy lace cocktail dress she ordered the other day. But when a representative from Shoptiques, an e-commerce site, arrived at her Midtown Manhattan office with the dress only hours after Ms. Wu, 26, had placed her order, “I was really impressed that it was here,” she said.
Even if the customer doesn't need the product today, the thrill of getting it today can enrich the customer experience.
The things that make a customer experience better, are often something detached from the what the customer is buying.
Customer Experience is not always about what customers want or need. Think outside the product - how can you improve your customers' experience?
We've been on this Tuna Tartare kick lately - it all started on a cold winter's night back in January, and ever since then, any time we see it on the menu, we order it. And more than seven months later, and about a dozen orders of Tuna Tartare, the thrill had begun to fade...
Until that night in Ongunquit, every Tuna Tartare was served the same way - on a plate - tastefully arranged, but on a plate. The Front Porch changed all that by surprising us with a completely different presentation - they ditched the plate, and served it in an giant martini glass!
Same tuna, same tartare, but in truly remarkable display!
If you sell a product or service that's similar to your competitor's product, you can still be different; you can still be remarkable; you can still be the one that gets remembered. Don't let the product alone define the experience. How you package, present and deliver the goods can be the difference between mundane and memorable.
What changes can you make to your presentation, packaging and delivery, to make a more memorable experience for your customers?
The salesperson’s role is changing, from selling a product to a customer, to selling new ideas to the customer; ideas that will change the customer’s life, or way of doing business, for the better. While there’s normally a product involved, the product is becoming less central to the sales process, and instead, becomes more involved as these newly-accepted ideas are implemented.
Yes, the product is still important. But what matters most to the customer is receiving new ideas, and leadership on how they can make the complex parts of their lives simpler, make their lives easier, and make their lives better. The companies and sales people that can deliver these ideas and provide that thought leadership are the companies and salespeople who’ll succeed in the future.
Let’s look at two examples.Many of us associate Apple Computer with their innovative, intuitive products. But when you walk into an Apple store, those great products are not the centerpiece. The focal point in every
Inside their stores, Apple isn't primarily promoting products. They're selling ideas, expertise and leading customers toward doing things in ways that are simpler and easier to make improvements in their lives. Yes, their customers buy plenty of i-products, but it’s the knowledge, the thought leadership around different ways of doing things that define the Apple stores.
A recent New York Times article cites Hy-Vee is the only grocery chain in the country that posts a registered dietitian in almost every one of its 235 stores.
“That puts it at the forefront of a phenomenon sweeping the grocery business as it tries both to capitalize on growing consumer awareness of the role food plays in health and wellness and to find new ways to fend off competition from specialty markets like Whole Foods and big-box stores like Walmart.”
In other words, Hy-Vee sees a competitive advantage in offering expert advice beyond the product. These dieticians in the grocery stores are there to help the customer make improvements in their lives, by seeing foods differently and by consuming foods differently. Yes, the customers do leave the store with groceries; the product on the shelf may no longer be the real product that Hy-Vee customers are buying.
Why is this happening? What’s driving it?
Products today are becoming more similar to one another, and more commoditized. Customers today can learn a whole lot about a product through researching it on the Internet, before ever going into the store, or engaging with the company that sells the product. Therefore, the salesperson that’s a “product expert” is less relevant than he or she used to be. To attract customers into a store to make a purchase, a business must provide something beyond the product, or product knowledge.
So, what does this mean to you if you’re business owner, manager or salesperson in a business that sells products similar to those of a competitor? For starters, think about how you can change your approach to selling, and how your product can fit into your customers’ lives in ways that are different from how they currently do things.
Do you and your salespeople focus beyond the product, and think of the challenges that arise, when a customer uses your product?
With groceries, a common challenge is preparing a meal that’s fast, easy and nutritious. The challenge becomes greater, when customers need to plan an entire week’s worth of meals that fit those criteria. Hy-Vee gives their customers direct access to dietary thought leaders and their expertise to lead their customers toward new ways to solving these problems. How can you take the same approach within your business?