Conversation-worthy customer experience? Invest in symbols of extremism and keep the personal touch.

Home Conversation-worthy customer experience? Invest in symbols of extremism and keep the personal touch.

In the coming years, the focus on customer centricity will continue to grow. Great strides have been made in operational optimization and the next challenge now lies in finding a profitable way of investing in customers, both now and in the long term. Everyone is aware of the fact that customer centricity is a must but many feel that customer centricity is expensive and unproductive. This line of reasoning impedes the improvement process.

Companies are not against being more customer-oriented as long as it’s profitable. With this in mind, there are two dimensions that are essential in devising a strategy:

  • Evolving from a process-based to a people-based approach: a process is a useful tool in bringing consistency to the customer stream. Still, a perfectly executed process does not always yield the desired result in terms of customer satisfaction. The personal touch makes the difference between a feeling of distance and one of warmth.
  • Actively looking for conversation-worthy aspects of the strategy. Many companies maintain a high level of customer satisfaction but unfortunately this goes unnoticed by the market as a whole. It’s nice to have satisfied customers but real growth comes from your non-customers realizing how good you are. Hence the need for symbols that are easily passed on by the customer.

From process-based to people-based approach

Investing in an efficient customer process is essential to creating a consistent customer approach within an organization. A well-executed process means a satisfied customer but not necessarily a wildly enthusiastic one. The difference is in the personal approach. People like to talk to people, not to a process. Customers like people who are able to help them by thinking logically. They love it when you make them your top priority. A simple example are the queues at gas stations. Often you’ll find yourself in a long queue with the person at the second checkout performing some other task, e.g. sorting cartons of cigarettes. Why not take the time to ring up a few customers while you’re at it? It costs absolutely nothing and it’s all about putting the customer first.

An individual customer experience happens when:

  • The personality of the staff member fits the company culture: the principle of treating a customer the way you’d like to be treated yourself is not entirely accurate. Customers should be treated in a way befitting the company philosophy. Staff who embody the culture of an organization make that culture tangible and personal to the customer.
  • Staff believe in the impact of many small things: doing small things every day to make your customers happy makes more of an impact than organizing a customer day once a year. Staff who understand the impact of those small things can make a difference for the customer on a daily basis.
  • Every customer is important: there are no important and less important customers; there are only customers (sometimes customers would benefit from being treated as a prospect). Offering the same service to each and every customer enhances the perception of a personalized customer service. Implementing different levels of customer service can only backfire.


Adding symbols of extremism to your customer experience

Companies need to adopt a more extreme approach to customer centricity. Extreme customer centricity rests on three cornerstones:

  • Eliminating details that frustrate the customer: many companies have a kind of blind spot when it comes to customer satisfaction. We miss lots of little details, perhaps because we’ve grown used to them. As a result, they’re never sorted out but they still vex the customers. We need to remove such small dissatisfiers.
  • Installing efficient processes to provide every customer with a good experience. The second cornerstone is creating a positive and consistent customer experience for everyone. Make sure every employee knows how to handle customers.
  • Adding symbols of extremism: the final step is making the experience worthy of conversation. Good service is not enough; we need symbols that make our philosophy tangible. Such symbols are also easy to pass on.

While extremism is undesirable in a political or religious context, it is actually of crucial importance to the customer experience. Symbols of extremism make your philosophy tangible. Zappos’ 365-day return policy is a good example. KLM’s policy to reply to tweets 24/7 and inside 30 minutes is another case in point. These are simple promises to the consumer and, on top of that, they are easy to pass on. They provide the customer with a tangible reason to be satisfied.


Creating a conversation-worthy customer experience: the personal touch & symbols of extremism

Efficient organization, symbols of extremism and a personal approach are the basics of a conversation-worthy customer experience. Combining both dimensions (see diagram below) reveals the impact they have.

For instance, combining a good service level with a personal touch results in very satisfied customers. Unfortunately, the result has little conversation power and as a result, this excellent performance is mainly appreciated by existing customers and has little impact on growth. Adding symbols of extremism to the mix gives customers something to talk about. It also enhances the experience because the customer now knows exactly why he or she is so satisfied.

Three examples of companies that score on both axes

1. Pret A Manger

Pret A Manger is a UK-based fast food chain that focuses on wholesome food and customer satisfaction. Every outlet has a generous number of checkouts so queues are always short. The staff know that the customers are always the top priority. As soon as a second customer queues up, another checkout opens. Everything else can wait. Also, Pret A Manger implements a single evaluation criterion: cheerfulness. The friendlier an employee, the higher his or her chances of a promotion.

2. Coolblue

Based in Holland, this is one of the fastest-growing e-commerce players in Europe. Coolblue actually has a Director of (More Than) Satisfied Customers. Together with profitability, this is their main focus. Their NPS of 60 is far above average. Their offline stores are a symbol of their extremism. I know of no other e-commerce player who has gone to the trouble of building an offline store for its customers. It’s a 3D catalogue, as it were. After all, customers like to feel that laptop in their hands before they decide to buy it. That’s why Coolblue chose to invest in an offline store. It also makes the importance of the customer abundantly clear.

3. Tomorrowland

Both the DJs and the visitors agree that Tomorrowland is the best dance festival in the world. That’s because it’s not so much a festival as it is a dream world. The event is not constructed around a product: that would mean that the DJ sets are the focus of Tomorrowland and this is not the case. Instead, they try to make the festival experience felt in every aspect and smallest detail. A symbol of the festival’s extreme vision can be experienced on board the planes flying in to the event from every corner of the globe. The philosophy of the festival organizers is very outspoken: the Tomorrowland experience starts on the plane, which is why each flight has a laser show and DJs on board.

Do any other examples come to mind?

Feel free to let me know if you can think of other companies that do well on both axes. I’m always on the lookout for companies that spoil their customers on both levels.