Have you had the experience of walking into a new store or restaurant on opening day? All bright and shiny, entirely overstaffed with smiling faces tripping over each other to help you. Or the grand opening of a grocery store, with the aisles all clean, the lighting bright, all the lanes open. Then you come back in a year or two or five – the linoleum is stained and yellowed, the ceiling tiles streaked with smoke and grease, doors are broken, light bulbs burnt out, signs are crooked, there are only two lanes open, staffed by clerks who are too busy to acknowledge you, and the portions are smaller.
It’s not just that the cost accountants moved in - something fundamental and special has been lost, and no one seems to have taken notice.
I was reminded of these contrasts after spending four days attending the Institute of Business Forecasting conference at the Disney Contemporary Resort in Orlando. More than 40 years after it opened, the resort certainly doesn’t look its age, and the staff act as if it’s opening day every day. In fact, that is what they do – they “act”. On the site map, the main human resources building is labeled “Casting Central”. Everyone in a customer facing role is in costume or uniform. When they step out from behind the building walls, they are entering on “stage” and are expected to then remain in “character” no matter their job (reinforced of course by the uniform).
While I don’t think Disney’s “in character” concept is directly applicable to all businesses – it would certainly get tiresome if every retail encounter was like a photo-op with Mickey - (and I most definitely don’t want my doctor to be “acting”, although there is no doubt that his/her lab coat and stethoscope does put them quite clearly into the character role of my “doctor”), there is much that every business can learn from Disney’s approach. The only other business that comes to mind that consistently resembles Disney is Chick fil-A; I’m not in there often, but when I do go, it’s always clear that I, as the customer, am more important than any cleaning task or stock replenishment work that might need tending.
How I am treated as a customer is probably the biggest single factor in determining whether I’ll ever come back or not. It’s not so much price (in this increasingly commoditized world, I probably checked out price before I ever came into your store via an internet search) or even if the item is in stock or not, but my emotional impression of the overall experience that is most likely to make me a repeat customer.
I am reminded of the scene in “Miracle on 34th Street” where Kris Kringle directs a customer to Macy’s competitor, Gimbels, for an item Macy’s doesn’t carry, eventually to the grateful approval of Mr. Macy himself, who, even in 1941, understood the importance of the customer experience, and who awards Maureen O’Hara’s character with a bonus for finding and hiring Kris.
Enhancing the customer experience is both a store-front and a back-office endeavor. Facing the customer, you want to know as much about them as you can – Customer Intelligence. You want the clerk at the front desk or register and the call center to have all the pertinent information, buying history and preferences (and you don’t want them to have to repeat any of it if their call gets transferred). And you want to be able to make the “next best offer”, whether that’s a related product, a service, a coupon for the next visit, or perhaps you’re in damage control mode and the next best offer is a refund and free shipping for the returned item to rebuild goodwill.
From the back office, you want your marketing efforts efficiently directed so that you are not over-or-under-contacting your customers. You want to know what your customers are saying about you in the social media and in their comments and complaints. And you want to optimize your call center staffing so that your on-line “lanes” don’t look as if they are all closed as well.
I can’t do anything about that yellowed-linoleum-look; you’ll just have to muster up the pride in your business to invest in that upgrade yourself. But I can say that for many, if not most, businesses, be they on-line or brick-and-mortar, the customer experience is the biggest competitive differentiating factor under your control. You may not be able to control your customers’ behavior, but you can control your own, and you’d be surprised how often the customer will reciprocate when they find they are dealing with a business that “gets it”.
By Leo Sadovy, EPM Contributor, from:
Leo Sadovy handles marketing for Performance Management at SAS, which includes the areas of budgeting, planning and forecasting, activity-based management, strategy management, and workforce analytics, and advocates for SAS’ best-in-class analytics capability into the office of finance across all industry sectors. Before joining SAS, he spent seven years as Vice-President of Finance for Business Operations for a North American division of Fujitsu, managing a team focused on commercial operations, customer and alliance partnerships, strategic planning, process management, and continuous improvement. During his 13-year tenure at Fujitsu, Leo developed and implemented the ROI model and processes used in all internal investment decisions—and also held senior management positions in finance and marketing.Prior to Fujitsu, Sadovy was with Digital Equipment Corporation for eight years in sales and financial management. He started his management career in laser optics fabrication for Spectra-Physics and later moved into a finance position at the General Dynamics F-16 fighter plant in Fort Worth, Texas.He has an MBA in Finance and a Bachelor’s degree in Marketing. He and his wife Ellen live in North Carolina with their three college-age children, and among his unique life experiences he can count a run for U.S. Congress and two singing performances at Carnegie Hall.See Leo’s articles on EPM Channel here.