The Customer Experience Engine

Recently I did a spot for New Hampshire’s WMUR Channel 9 on Savvy Shopping using smart phones. One part of the segments that got edited out were my comments on stores being able to improve retention in the face of ubiquitous pricing info and user ratings by improving their customer experience and customer service. It sounds simple, but so many fail at it.

I have three favorite examples of customer experience right now: Disney, Apple and Trader Joe’s. Each is vastly different in scope and product, yet all excel at experience. Even if you are a Mom and Pop shop, you need to take your customer’s experience just as seriously as they do, and put it at the forefront of your time spend.

Apple is well known for engineering their Apple Retail Stores to provide the ideal shopping experience for their target customer base. They keep their stores simple, bright, comfortable, interactive, attractive, artistic, efficient and well staffed with knowledgable people. There is never a shortage of help when you need it, and aesthetically they have created an atmosphere that pays attention to everything from customer flow to the way the floor feels to stand on. It makes shopping there a pleasure, yes, but they also welcome those who simply need a laptop charge or to jump online quickly – that low key expertise, atmosphere of play and knowledge, and welcome feeling works. Apple has legions of fans that congregate for new store openings and product launches, who generate vast amounts of fan content based on Apple’s brand experience, and more.

Trader Joe’s works hard to give you a neighborhood grocery feeling in their stores, while giving you a chance to buy exotic items and unique things. They make you feel special, and are so good at customer experience their customers spontaneously create videos and other odes to them. They use a special check out system to handle the problem of being in a slow line (slow lines are rare beasts indeed at Trader Joe’s, almost never spotted, even during rush times), encourage staff to be helpful and courteous, and design everything from the store layout and products stocked to the staff Hawaiian shirts to encourage a feeling of exploring and discovery.

Disney is, hands down, the reigning champ of customer experience. With a semi-hidden army of people working to ensure the happiness of everyone who interacts with Disney, especially when it comes to their theme parks, Disney has placed itself as the gold standard of perceived happiness for their customers. To go to a Disney park is to experience decades of practice implementing cutting edge ideas that only billions of dollars of R&D and advanced techniques can produce, coupled with a staff of thousands ready to execute at a moments notice – a juggernaut and a pas des deux at once.

What I find interesting for brick and mortars, Mom and Pop shops, and businesses of all sizes, is the way in which technology is leveling the playing field. Well made low cost software and gadgets enable you to be as up on what your competition is doing as the customer is. Instead of using it for what most businesses do, however: price competition, why not use it instead for customer happiness research?

Find out where your customer’s pain points are, both in your establishment and in your competitors’ establishments. Address those pain points better and faster than everyone else. Listen to what your customers love more than a bargain, and see if you can deliver it. Use this information river to make your customer feel unique, special and above all – wanted and appreciated.

Educate and empower your staff at all levels on your processes. Nothing makes a customer unhappy faster than a staff member who isn’t clued in on what the company is doing, whether it is a Foursquare Special or how to take a return with grace and care. Staff members who feel like they don’t have enough information to do their job are unhappy themselves, and this translates to customer unhappiness as well – Trader Joe’s, Disney and Apple all empower their staff to help people, and it shows in how pleasant they are to the customer.

Open online channels if you can support them, then be clear on how you will use them. Give enough people access to these channels to make them effective to avoid the ghost town effect abandoned accounts have on customer happiness and retention. Make sure the infrastructure of your business is geared to handle online inputs (don’t be a Comcast, known for having great Twitter service and shoddy actual service).

Your eyes, ears and staff are your greatest resources for retaining customers and building customer happiness and retention. Technology is out there to help you broaden their reach. Are you building your own command center and using it to your own advantage?