Customer Experience: How Do You See Your Customers?

At a time when almost every product and service has become a commodity what is that ensures your customers will be loyal to you and your business?

  • Is it the quality of your product? Sometimes, but not all the time.
  • Is it your price? Sometimes, but not all the time – think $5.00 cups of coffee.
  • Is it convenience? Sometimes, but not all the time – think Magic Kingdom (unless you live in Orlando).

Customer loyalty is built on customer experience. What kind of experience do we provide when someone walks through our doors? What kind of experience do our customers have when we answer the phone or respond to an email or tweet?

Do the experiences we create fascinate or frustrate? Are we thrilled someone has chosen to connect with our organization or has the person we need to respond to interrupted our day?

One of my all-time favorite examples of a company that takes pleasure in serving their customers is Chick Fil A. It’s their pleasure because it’s their pleasure from the CEO to the part-time high school student on the front line. Each employee at Chick Fil A is trained to view each person who walks through the doors as an individual with a unique story.

What type of experience are you creating? Is it one that will keep your customers coming back again and again? Is it one that will turn your customers into evangelists for your business?

Customer Experience & Root Canals

I recently had the “pleasure” of having my second root canal. Based on the experience of my first root canal I was not looking forward to this one.

My first root canal went something like this. I arrived at the oral surgeons office (a specialist at performing a root canal). Upon my arrival I was greeted by a cold and unfriendly receptionist who pushed the clip board towards me and told me to fill out each box. After waiting 30-40 minutes the doctor arrived at the door to let me know he was ready to see me. He led me to the chair, put the dental bib around me and then told me, “the nerves in your tooth are dead so you won’t need any anesthetic.” I was a lot younger with my first root canal and more naive and didn’t question the professional – I believed him when he said it wouldn’t hurt. Needless to say, as he began to drill there was pain – enough pain for me to grab his hand, pushing it away from my mouth and yelling, “give me a shot!” As you can imagine he wasn’t thrilled with my reaction – he grabbed his needle, jammed it into my mouth and said, “I’ll be back in 15 minutes”. The root canal was a success but the journey was less than pleasurable.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago when I had my first appointment to determine the need for my second root canal. I arrive to a warm welcome at Dr. Alex Holland’s dentist’s office (a general practitioner, not a specialist). Within 5 minutes of my arrival I’m taken back to the dental chair. The hygienist was very nice, asks why I’ve come in and I explain. From there she takes a couple of x-rays, develops them and gets them to the dentist. 10 minutes later Dr. Holland arrives to discuss my x-rays and what I’ve been experiencing. After a few minutes of talking and Dr. Holland answering several questions (older and wiser I am now) we determine I need a root canal.

Last week I arrived for my root canal and experienced the same warm welcome and prompt escort to the dental chair that I was going to occupy for the next three hours.

Dr. Holland arrived shortly and proceeded to give me a few shots to ensure I would not be feeling anything this time around.

The anesthetic worked just fine and while I had some mild discomfort from keeping my mouth open for a few hours there was no pain around the tooth being worked on. Throughout the procedure Dr. Holland asked how I was doing, if I was experiencing any pain or discomfort and if I needed anything. The root canal was a success and I walked away feeling much better.

So, what does my root canal have to do with customer experience. Here are some of my takeaways.

  1. First impressions matter – we never have the opportunity to make a second first impression. Warm welcomes, happy attitudes and friendly faces set the tone for the rest of the experience.
  2. Respecting others’ time – if you set an appointment with someone be on time, preferably early. Don’t make your customers wait – you are there to serve them so take care of them as quickly as possible.
  3. Communication is key to any relationship and the relationship with your customer is no exception. Listening and responding appropriately secures the relationship. Asking and answering questions will build a strong foundation with your customers.
  4. Take the necessary time to get to know and understand your customers. If you are only about making the quick sale without having the view of a long term relationship don’t expect to be in business too long.
  5. Use the tools and technology that are going to provide a great experience for your customer. In the case of my root canal those tools were a good anesthetic and the most current technological dentistry/root canal instruments.

One last takeaway is in comparing the two doctor’s who performed the procedures. The first one was a specialist who should have had the techniques, tools and technology to offer a superior experience. Whereas my second root canal was performed by someone who is a doctor of general dentistry. There’s a difference in having the tools and knowing how to use them – make sure you connect with people who know how to use the tools and make sure you know how to use the tools and technology.

What’s most important to you when it comes to customer experience?

Leave your comments and experiences below.


Communicating in Crisis

It was reported today that Zappos was hacked and that millions (24 million to be exact) of customers information was stolen. I’ve been a fan and customer of Zappos and CEO Tony Hsieh for several years and will continue to be. Their commitment to their culture and customers is outstanding as documented in multiple blogs, articles and books. So, I’ve been anxious to see how Zappos shipping Zappo’s handles such a significant breach of trust with their customers. Yesterday Tony sent an email to employees and also posted the information on the Zappos’s blog keeping everyone posted on what had and hadn’t happened. One thing I haven’t seen and am wondering about is the absence of communication on the homepage. It will be interesting to see how their communication in the coming days and weeks unfolds.

I heard a speaker make the following quote several years ago – he said, “In the absence of clear communication people will assume the worst.” It doesn’t matter if it’s a hacker, customer service problem, personnel issue or a family matter – if people don’t understand what is happening they will default to assuming the worst that can happen IS happening. The word has been overused the past few years but it does apply in any kind of situation where a crisis or potential crisis is unfolding and that is “transparency”.

As leaders we have to be wise in our communication on any issue. Obviously there are things that can and cannot be shared regarding certain issues but to the degree that we can be, we need to keep people informed and be transparent. This one act alone can maintain trust and protect our businesses, team member and customers.

Have you ever been part of a crisis within in your company? How did you and or your company respond?

Create A Happy Retail Experience

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

For many of your customers and many of the people in your community this song from Louis Armstrong is probably not something they seem to be humming these days. So, why not take the opportunity and engage in a guerilla marketing tactic I’m calling – “ROTRFL – Rolling On The Retail Floor Laughing”. Make you store a destination for fun, joy, laughter and smiles.

Over the past few months I’ve seen some great examples of simple, fun and engaging tactics used by retailers in the Christian Retail industry. Earlier this year the crew at Lighthouse Christian Supply in Dublin, CA created an event called the Ultimate Chicken Dance Off. They invited customers to get their “Chicken Dance” on IN THE STORE for a chance to win prizes and have some fun. Not only did the grand prize winner sna an iPad but event engaged customers, created buzz but it brought a lot of fun and laughter to the store. They integrated offline and online marketing to create a very interactive experience for their customers. You can visit Lighthouse Christian Supply on Facebook at and scroll down to their updates in May of this year to see how everything unfolded.

Another fun example that I observed earlier this year was a retailer who invited customers, via their Facebook page, to bring in jokes and receive a discount on their purchase. They promoted the event in store, on their website and through their Facebook page. It cost them very little time and virtually no money to pull off the event.

Here are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing and put you on the road to bringing a smile to your customers face.

Comedy Night – Leverage the rise of Christian comedians like Chonda Pierce, Jeff Allen, Anita Renfroe and others and host a comedy day or night in your store. Play the latest comedy DVD’s and offer special discounts on all of your comedy or family friendly DVD’s. Take this idea to the next level by inviting local Christian comedians to perform in your story on a Friday or Saturday night.

Carnival day – Everyone loves a party and games. Partner with local churches and youth groups to host a carnival in your store. For a list of great carnival game ideas check out

Make the staff laugh – Invite your customers to tell you a joke, humorous story or perform a funny act and then give them a small discount on their purchase. Add a little more fun by marking off an area around your cash register area where they can “perform” – set up a camera (video or still) and catch them in the act – then post their performance on your Facebook page to add some viral marketing potential.

Press release Let the local media know about your store spreading joy. Invite them to come out to one of your event and interview you and your customers about how your are helping encourage people in your community.

Pick a month and promote it as “Happy Month At Your Store”. Post jokes and funny stories to your Facebook page during “Happy Month”. Encourage your customers to post their jokes and stories to your page as well and pick a winner each week. Hand out smiley stickers to everyone who comes through your doors.

Happy banners – hang a sign over your front door or right inside your entry way that announces to your customers that they are now entering an “Encouragement or Happy Zone”.

Roadside clowns – Go old school sandwich board marketing by positioning clowns at the road in front of your store holding signs with big smiles on them, directing them to your store. Don’t rule this tactic out too quickly. In my local town of Kernersville, NC we have a gold, cash and antique store who employs a guy named Kenny who dances while holding a sign that points people to the store. In a recent interview the owners of the store said that 1 in 3 people who come into the store do so as a result of seeing Kenny.

Answer the phone with a smile and fun salutation – We have all heard it before but it’s always worth a reminder. People can hear you smiling or frowning on the other end of the line. When you smile and talk your spreading a good mood to the person you are talking too. Try a salutation like, “Thank you for calling (insert your store name) – how can we add some happiness to your day?”

So…how can you use the “punch line” to impact your “bottom line”?

Have you created or been a part of creating an event like this?

Brain-Trust Marketing

Maybe the term brain-trust or think tank marketing is new to you so here’s how I define it and how you can use it to your advantage. We’ve all heard the saying that “two heads are better than one”. Brain-trust and think tank marketing put this principle into action. If you want to really understand what’s happening in your community and become a vital part of its fabric you have to connect and become immersed in it. You need to expand the crowd you associate with and tap into the brainpower they possess.

Here are some ideas for gathering the crowd and brains to begin discovering ways to strongly integrate your business and mission with your community.

1. Secure a central location for your meeting: someone’s office, a room at a restaurant, a conference room at a local bank – anywhere that you can comfortably meet at for a few hours in privacy. Don’t forget, everyone appreciates a little food and sometimes it’s a great hook to get the group to show up.
2. Identify members who will bring insight and ideas on how to connect with your community in a stronger way. Here’s a short list to get your started:

  • Community outreach leaders: Crisis pregnancy centers, rescue missions, Teen Challenge and other similar life issue ministry groups.
  • Other local business owners and managers – think of businesses that can compliment what you do or that you could potentially partner with that would be of equal benefit. These could include restaurants (food and refreshments for events), print shops (flyers, business cards, brochures), hobby and craft stores – continue to think of other business leaders that can bring a different perspective to what you are doing.
  • Media:  radio and television personalities, newspaper journalists, local bloggers and social media influencers.
  • Your customers! Our businesses exist to serve our customers so inviting them to be part of a group that will help you connect and serve even more customers needs to be part of the mix of the group.

3. Spread the word and begin to gather!
You’ve identified a venue for your group to gather. You have spread the word. You have a group who is ready to start lending their brain-power to you. Now it’s time to put together the agenda for your meeting. Here is a simple outline to get you started:

  • Introductions (name, company, their responsibilities and expertise) from those attending the group
  • Share your goals for the group and how everyone attending can benefit
  • Ask questions and open the floor to begin to let the ideas and insight begin to flow. Sample questions:
  1. What are the biggest challenges our community is facing?
  2. What products and/or services do we offer that can help with those challenges?
  3. Are there products and/or services that we don’t currently offer, but could, that would make a difference?
  4. How can we (the people in the group) work together to create events or outreaches that will have a positive impact on our businesses and our community?
  5. Is there a local outreach organization like a rescue mission or soup kitchen that all of us could use as a focus point for generating awareness and support? Maybe a new organization could be identified and supported each year.

Set realistic expectations for this group. Understand that this is a beginning and a building process. Overnight success will probably take over several months and years. But the success will be solid and on-going.
Obviously the main goal of this group is to generate ideas that will increase sales and extend the mission of your business. But the ideas that are implemented as a result of this group will also produce: positive word of mouth, customer loyalty and long-term goodwill.

Have you created or been a part of a group like this?

Immediate Impact for Customer Relationships

Are you looking for a powerful way to differentiate your store from others? Identify and begin to build strong ongoing relationships. Think about this – when was the last time the manager of the local big box store you shopped at gave you a phone call to personally tell you thank you. I’m going to go out on a limb and say – never – I’ve never had one call me.

Action Items for Immediate Impact:

  1. In the next seven days create your list of 20-50 people and call them.
  2. If you don’t get a hold of the 20-50 people on the phone send a handwritten note not email. Believe it or not handwritten notes get noticed and go a long way.
  3. Identify two to three influential organizations or media outlets in your area to begin building a relationship with.

Begin today – start now – you have the ability and agility to out maneuver and out serve the “big boys”.

How are you building relationships with your most important customers?

Establishing Trust (part 1)

Marketing happens 24/7. It happens any time and any where our companies touch our customers or our prospective customers. defines marketing as: the total of activities involved in the transfer of goods from the producer or seller to the consumer or buyer, including advertising, shipping, storing, and selling. offers the following commentary – marketing is everything a company does to acquire customers and maintain a relationship with them. Even the small tasks like writing thank-you letters, playing golf with a prospective client, returning calls promptly and meeting with a past client for coffee can be thought of as marketing. The ultimate goal of marketing is to match a company’s products and services to the people who need and want them, thereby ensure profitability

According to the 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer trust and transparency are as important to corporate reputation as the quality of products and services. In the U.S. and in much of Western Europe, these two attributes rank higher than product quality – and far out-rank financial returns, which sit at or near the bottom of 10 criteria in all regions.

If we want our marketing messages heard, if we want to tell our story and we want people to listen then trust must be established.

Marketing – Story – Trust

Marketing happens 24/7. It happens any time and any where our companies touch our customers or our prospective customers.

According to the 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer trust and transparency are as important to corporate reputation as the quality of products and services. In the U.S. and in much of Western Europe, these two attributes rank higher than product quality – and far out-rank financial returns, which sit at or near the bottom of 10 criteria in all regions.

If we want our marketing messages heard, if we want to tell our story and we want people to listen then trust must be established. In Tom Wanek’s book Currencies that buy Credibility he outlines six powerful “currencies” that earn trust with our customers and in turn build our business. Those six “currencies” are:

  1. Material wealth – offering warranties, guarantees or policy that put the financial risk on you instead of your customer. Wanek gives the example of One Hour Heating and Air Conditioning which became the nation’s first heating and cooling service company to offer on-time service.
    They created believability by fulfilling the promise of “Always on time or you don’t pay a dime”. They risked material wealth to build credibility.
  2. Time and Energy – investing your time and energy to offer your expertise and help solve your customer’s problem. For a great example of this check out the online retailer REI. REI takes their
    content to an amazing level by offering expert advice to outdoor experts or wannabees. What’s your expertise? How can you highlight it?
  3. Opportunity – carving out your niche and becoming specialized to the point you are willing to lose some customer’s. A great example of this is the toy store “Geppetto’s Workshop”. This unique toy story differentiates itself and prides itself in NOT carrying any toy that is made of plastic or requires batteries.  They go all out so that they don’t become ordinary. The absence of “popular and trendy” toys is what attracts the crowds.
  4. Power and Control – in today’s retail world customers have the ability to instantly share their experiences with a product or service. While standing in line at your store they can instantly update their status on Facebook with an account of outstanding service OR let their hundreds or thousands of friends hear first hand of a terrible experience. Consumers have power and control like never before which is why it’s of utmost importance that you empower your front line members to make your customers experience the most amazing experience that it can be.
  5. Reputation and Prestige – you will never get everyone to buy from you so don’t try. Holding true to your core values will draw customers to you while making your store unique, distinct and trustworthy.
  6. Safety and Well-being – identity theft continues to rise and privacy risks are regularly exposed. It doesn’t matter if it’s your website or mailing list, you need to assure your customers that you have processes in place to product their identity and privacy when they do business with you.

Successful marketing begins with telling your story. Stories have been used throughout history to tell us where our ancestors came from to the parables of Jesus that explain truths.

So, what is YOUR story? What is the story, the mission of your retail store? How are you telling that important story?

Trust + Story = genuine customer satisfaction, growth, profit and impact.

Book Review: Currencies That Buy Credibility (part two)

Tom's definition of each currency frame the rest of the book and bring a clarity to how we can put into place programs, processes and policies that increase our credibility. Today's focus is on the first – material wealth.

Material Wealth – Tom uses the example of Nordstrom's and their legendary guarantee that allow customer's to return the product at any time for a full refund. The he asks the following question, "How might your business take on the buyer's risk to strengthen credibility?"

What other ways, beyond a liberal return policy, you have seen that build credibility?

Is there a line, when it comes to this currency, that a company can not afford to cross?

The Customer Experience: Your Core Asset

I've had a quote posted above my desk for the past 15+
years that says, "It's the customer experience that is the core asset of
your business." In an economic climate where everyone wants to compete
on price we have to resist that temptation and deliver a customer
experience that trumps price and produces loyal fanatical fans.

It doesn't matter if you are a supplier or a retailer, online or brick and mortar, service provider or non-profit – your success is measured and determined by the experience you offer your customers or donors. 

What's something you have changed or will change to give your customers something to talk about – in a GOOD way?