Top Tips for Creating Customer Experiences

Amidst all the stupidity that goes on in the world today, customers seek a small oasis where they can be sure that something will go right and make them feel good about being alive again. On top of being desperately short of money and time, they feel alienated, alone and neglected, overwhelmed to too many choices of what essentially are the same bland and boring products and services, and they think that they are surrounded by morons. There is a massive trust deficit, and this translates into poor profits.

Most businesses are so focused on making the next quarter’s profit goals that they forget how easy it could be to put a smile on your customer’s face – and reap the rewards of that. It’s not as hard as you think to create a personal, memorable and emotional experience, and I’d like to share some tips about how to go about it. Where can you start, and what can you do? What works best?

Let’s start by looking at what is an experience, so we all understand it the same: An experience occurs when the company uses services as the stage, and goods as props, to engage individual customers in a way that creates a personal, memorable event. Experiences are inherently personal, existing in the mind of an individual, who has been engaged on an emotional, physical, sensual, intellectual, or even a spiritual level. (With thanks to Joseph Pine and Jim Gilmore.)

And when customer are engaged like this, not only is it memorable and remarkable, (as in they will be happy to tell many other people about it,) but they are also happy to pay more for it. Take something as simple as potatoes for example. If you wake up at 4:00 a.m. and trot off to the market, you can buy muddy potatoes of all shapes and sizes for around R6 a kilo. But those same potatoes are cleaned nicely and put into a nice bag at your local retailer, and it doubles in price to R12 a kilo. If you further add value in a factory, and clean and peel the potatoes, cut them into nice shapes, par-cook them, freeze them and put them in a colourful bag sold at the same retailers, now they are three times the price at R36 a kilo.

But you can take this even further: which are the most expensive potatoes in our country? Those 300g bags of delicious chips, crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, that are sold at countless take-away stores that the big chains run. With luck, they may even chuck in a tiny packet of red, flavoured salt that will give you cancer. And now millions of SA customers are happy to pay R66 per kilo for the same potato – just different.

If you are really lucky, you will be able to do something special with your products in order to create fantastic experiences for your customers, but a lot of what is possible with experiences hasn’t got anything to do with the products at all. Experiences can range from the simple – like bringing customers fresh bread or a small chocolate, or offering a free car wash while they are meeting with someone at your offices – to businesses whose whole business is about experiences, like Disney, uShaka Marine World in Durban, or a Metallica concert.

The low-hanging fruit lies in the areas of things that don’t cost you a lot of money, but which you know have a high positive impact on customers. Here are a few ideas:

  • Spoil your customers by doing things that they would not normally do for themselves. Virgin Atlantic offers free neck massages and personalised checking in from a limo that fetched you from home. But they also do things that make their customers laugh. (Richard Branson is known to have dressed up as a woman flight attendant.)
  • Help them out in a tight spot: It’s not Disney World’s problem when customers lock their keys in their car in the morning, or lose them somewhere in the huge complex. But Disney employs full-time locksmiths will all the right knowledge and connections to make sure that this doesn’t spoil your day.
  • Do you know who I am? Just being able to recognise your customers and acknowledge them for being there is often enough. And here’s a trick: If you stand at the door and say, “Nice to see you again,” to everyone who walks in, in 90% of cases you will be right – even if you have no idea who they are!
  • Arrange special events to celebrate important milestones in their lives. Do you know that at one Ritz-Carlton Hotel, the General Manager, (on hearing that a woman and her husband were celebrating her cancer remission with a weekend away,) welcomed her personally and congratulated her as she arrived, ensured that all the staff were wearing pink ribbons to signify support for breast cancer, and celebrated her health with champagne and fruit in the upgraded room? People don’t forget those special gestures quickly.
  • Also celebrate special occasions in your businesses life with parties, street events, launches and re-launches, entertainment, road shows, festivals and special gifts for customers.
  • Do something unusual that they won’t forget. I was once at a conference in Durban on the beachfront, and every morning the organisers “drew” a new message on the beach. As delegates woke up, they would see these huge messages like “Welcome to our conference,” carved into the sand. A garden service owner that specialised in lawns gave me his card which was actually a small brown envelope with grass seeds inside, and five tips on lawn care printed on the back. In Dubai and London, SA Tourism in a moment of genius repainted public pedestrian zebra crossings in colours and shapes that actually resembled real zebra stripes.
  • Use the various “Buzz Buttons” to capture attention. These include…
  • Taboo subjects like sex, bathroom humour, and in fact any humour or hilarity. (Think about Nando’s adverts. They definitely beat the boring stuff we have to endure every night interrupting our TV shows.)
  • Things that are absolutely outrageous also have a high impact. If they create an emotional reaction, they will be remembered, but make sure that they are not so negative that people want to forget them as soon as possible.
  • Anything that entertains customers and their families, from music to magicians and everything else in between. In-store contests are also a lot of fun.

This is just a sample of ideas, but if you get creative, you will come up with some really creative stuff. Give your customers something that they will talk about for years.

Bringing happiness to other people, we find ours.


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