Marketing and sales have been the bread and butter of my professional career. I am not the type to boast, so please excuse what comes next, but I am very good at what I do. I am very good because I’ve studied marketing and sales in depth, I’ve lived them, I’ve breathed them, I’ve both succeeded and failed at them and I’ve taken some hard lessons both ways. Most importantly I love them, and I love the feeling of pride I get when I see that my work has benefited my company, or my community, or my world.
This said, you may find it hard to believe that this assignment – writing a blog post about the characteristics that make up a great customer experience with examples of brands either succeeding or failing – was difficult for me to write. I attribute this to the fact that I see the tricks used by brands to attempt great CEM in what I can only imagine is the same way that magicians must view each other’s acts. It makes me a cynic (or would the better word be snob?) about what constitutes great CEM.
I don’t consider getting providing the basics of a product or service right the same as providing a great customer experience, and I think the vast majority of companies simply provide the basics. Don’t get me wrong – the basics done right is great, because it allows me as a consumer to build trust and know I can expect consistency and fair value from a brand. I’ve run into enough poor performing brands that I’ll be glad to settle for the basics done right any day of the week.
But what about a great customer experience? Something that makes even a cynic like me think, WOW! What elevates it from the basics done well? It took three days of rolling this question around in my brain, along with plenty of typing -then-backspacing writing before what I had on the page was more than a judgmental laundry list of how brands fail.
So, not being one to waste good writing (even if it is brimming with negativity), let me start with a quick example of what I consider a failed attempt at creating a great customer experience: my local Chick-Fil-A’s recent interest in personal names for drive through orders.
Chick-Fil-A is a company that does the basics very well. Every time I enter one of their restaurants, or pull though a drive through, they provide courteous service and a quality product. This keeps me a happy, and returning, customer. But recently, at the drive through of the Chick-Fil-A nearest my house, the disembodied voice coming over the loud speaker has begun to ask me for a name to put on the order.
The first time it happened, I didn’t think much about it until I got to the window, and it was as if the clerk had been told to say the customer’s name as many times as possible. “Hello, Mary.” “It will $5.62 please, Mary.” “Here is your sweet tea, Mary.” “And your sandwich, Mary”. “Thank you and come again, Mary.” It felt like it was Chick-Fil-A’s equivalent of the fictional Chotchkie’s Restaurant’s 37 pieces of flair in the movie Office Space.
This overuse of my name set off every marketing and sales BS alarm my brain has. I bet there is someone in the Chick-Fil-A organization, maybe at the store level or maybe higher up the food chain (pun intended) who is pleased as punch with themselves because they came up with the idea of asking drive through customers for a name. They probably thought using the customer’s name during a transaction would add a personal touch, and would elevate a mundane drive through food run to the level of a great customer experience.
I can’t speak for other Chick-Fil-A customers, but for me, this added bit of schmaltz comes across as superficial and totally unnecessary. I understand that when I walk into the lobby, place my order, then get lost in a sea of other customers all standing around waiting, that having my name so they can call out to me when my food is ready is a very useful tool.
But in the drive though? I’m in a car, in a single file line of other cars, being herded around the building by overly landscaped cement islands and yellow lines painted on the asphalt until I reach the pick-up window. Additionally, the drive through crew has a screen that shows them all the orders, in sequential order. Why do they want a name other than to impose a false experience of personalized interaction?
It is tempting to mock this practice for my own personal amusement, and give them a false name like Miss Anthropic, or Bob. How would they handle this deviation from the CEM plan? Would they use the formal Miss Anthropic to address me, or abbreviate it to just Ann? Would they get the word play? Would the clerk be able to keep a straight face as he or she called me Bob? What if I decided two could play this game and the next time I rolled through and they asked me for my name, I began crying and shouting, “You don’t remember? You’re just like all the other fast food restaurants that take my money and don’t call the next morning!”
The point is that asking for a personal name on a drive through order comes off canned and artificial, because, in truth, it is canned and artificial. This qualifies in my book as a failure in the attempt at creating a great customer experience.
Information about providing the basics can be found all over the internet, and in plenty of ‘how to’ and textbooks on being successful in business. In searching around for inspiration for this blog post, I came across “6 Characteristics of Great Customer Service” by Errol Allen Consulting, . I would agree with all six of his points, and I believe all six are the basics done right. However, I would also argue that there is something missing – a not-so-secret number seven – that is what separates the basics of good customer service from providing a great customer experience.
It is this: Treat me in such a way that you make me forget I am your customer.
What do I mean by this? Simple. Elevate the experience above and beyond the basic relationship of seller and buyer. When it flows from a position of love for what your brand is about, it will be organic to the process of providing the product and/or service, and will transform people from customers to being your brand’s believer, friend, and evangelist. It isn’t hard, and doesn’t have to cost an extra dime to implement.
Keeping with the food theme, let me give you an example. Have you ever been to a restaurant for dinner where, instead of being aware of their role as food provider, and your role as food consumer, it felt more like you were at a really great dinner party at a friend’s house with delicious food and drink, interesting dining companions, stimulating conversation, and background music that added to the ambiance? And when the $200 check arrived in its little black folio, it didn’t bother you a bit to turn over your credit card and add on a big fat tip? I bet you’re still talking about that dinner months or even years later.
For a completely different example; have you ever been ill – minor or major – and when you finally broke down and made an appointment with a medical clinic, the nurse(s) and/or doctor(s) treated you like an interruption to their day, making you feel even worse, and validating your disdain for walking through their door in the first place? Or did they treat you like you were a long lost friend whom they were glad to see, and even more glad came to them for help? In either scenario, you probably received the treatment for what ailed you physically, but in the second, your spirit and soul also received healing. To ask the obvious – which one would make you forget that at the crux of the matter, you were simply a customer whose money allows the doctor to drive a Bentley?
Can you think of examples in your own life where you don’t think of yourself as customer, but, when boiled down to its essence, that is what you are? Pursuing a master’s degree perhaps? I think of myself as a student rather than a customer of the University. Listening to local radio? I think of the DJ’s as music experts with good taste in music and myself as a listener. Professional sports or Musicians/Musical Groups? You’re a fan!
I will admit that achieving great CEM is easier for some brands than others, because their products and service naturally lend themselves to great CEM opportunities, and that some brands do spend a lot to create great CEM. But while I don’t know of anyone with a great CEM story that involves a #2 lead pencil, I do know plenty of people with great CEM stories that involve the corner deli, the local mechanic, their hairdresser, and yes, even a national big box store.