Monday, July 25, 2016

Online is the New Frontline

How long is 30 seconds? Okay, yes, it’s half a minute. But what does 30 seconds really mean to the customer experience? Sometimes, not that much. Like if your cocktail gets placed on the bar 30 seconds after your companion’s – that’s barely noticeable. But when you’re a busy traveler with a cell phone in one hand, a briefcase in the other and luggage to carry, racing to go to another appointment . . . it can be a huge deal.
I travel extensively for work, and sometimes on more than one airline in a day or a week. One day, I was checking in for a flight with Airline A at a kiosk. It was intuitive and speedy – a great experience. The next day, I checked in at Airline B’s kiosk. I thought, “Am I crazy, or does the wheel on this computer screen keep spinning and spinning? Why is it taking so long? Is the machine broken?” I hit the restart button and found that it wasn’t broken at all, but the “think time” that computer needed was considerably longer than Airline A’s computer. I did some research later and was able to verify that there was a full 30 seconds difference between kiosk check-in times on these two airlines! In the case of Airline B, 30 seconds was all it took for me to become a frustrated, disengaged customer who would no longer willingly be giving them my business.
Just a few years back, it was commonplace to call a reservation desk to get information and make travel plans, and then gone to an actual agent to check in for my flight. That agent would’ve had some customer service training in how to treat a traveler. Now, people pretty much do all their own research, bookings and check-ins online and at self-serve airport kiosks. But don’t we still want and deserve a stellar customer experience?
I hope this isn’t too big of a news flash, but: ONLINE IS YOUR NEW FRONTLINE. And everyone involved in the creation of that online experience – from the coders to the designers to the developers – should understand the customer, their needs and wants, and what the goal at every step in the process is. From the very start, your customers’ online experience has to be flawless and have a competitive edge. If you keep them waiting for 30 seconds, well, that half a minute can be all it takes for them to choose your competition.
I challenge you: Think of the online experience as what it really is . . . An EXPERIENCE. It’s not about transacting – it’s about creating loyalty with your customers.
The Online Experience Blockbuster Didn’t Deliver
“People are always going to want to come into our stores for movies and games. They want the store experience and the guidance and recommendations of an associate. Netflix is not a threat to us.”
Those are the words I heard at Blockbuster’s headquarters in 2001. The executive team was getting a lot of flak from investors, and even customers, for not buying a still-struggling Netflix for a mere $50 million in 2000. In 2004, the peak for the business, Blockbuster employed 60,000 people and operated 6,000 stores. Back then, Netflix simply allowed you to select movies and games online, get them in the mail and send them back in prepaid envelope. Both brands offered movies and games for rent, but only one offered a differentiated experience online. Blockbuster was so committed to the concept of in-person service that they didn’t think the online option would be a threat. Yes, the chose to ignore the online experience. Bad decision.
It doesn’t matter if you have the most unbelievable brick-and-motor location with the most fabulous staff and exciting in-person perks – you cannot let your online experience fall to the wayside. Customers start with the Internet. They’re going to look up you (and your competition too) before they step foot in your door.
Your web presence and its look, feel, usability, intuitiveness, and functionality – they all represent and may replace your retail space and the customer experience itself. If your online presence can’t do everything (or almost everything) offered in your physical space, you’re probably not going to lead potential customers there or entice them to purchase online, let alone make them loyal.
The Blockbuster and Netflix story isn’t about the technology changing from VHS to DVD to Blu-Ray to streaming media. It’s about the changing wants and needs of consumers who are focused on convenience and immediate gratification and satisfying those needs.
Want to ensure you’re delivering a differentiated customer experience online – one that entices people to leave the house and visit your physical location or order through your website? It’s time to reevaluate what you’re doing online. These 3 steps are imperative for your longevity and financial success.
  1. List out each and every touch point of the online Customer Experience. Think of each interaction as if your customer were in a physical location being assisted by a live person. What would that interaction look like? Feel like?
  1. Identify the all employees or teams responsible for creating that online experience. And I mean everyone – programmers, web designers, etc. Take the time to teach individual online programmers and designers exactly who your customer is and what that customer expects at every touch point – not just the ones they’re responsible for. They might be thinking of the fastest way to code something, but not understanding how their decisions not might impact the customer’s experience later. They need to approach their behind-the-scenes work as if they are a shopper themselves.
  1. Create a consistent Customer Experience. Create in-person opportunities for your new “frontline” technology team to meet your actual customers and their counterparts on the literal This will help with step number two in so many ways.
I discuss the importance of the online experience and every other issue related to establishing customers for life in my latest book720 Haircuts: Creating Customer Loyalty that Lasts a Lifetime. If this article has piqued your interest, check it out! Or leave a comment below so we can continue this discussion.


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Creating Customer Experiences that Differentiate Your Business

Customer Experience (CX) has moved beyond buzzword status. Today almost all organizations are laser-focused on trying to deliver customer experiences that truly differentiate their businesses. By that I mean creating the type of customer-driven company that doesn’t just please customers, but gives them exactly what they need and want time, after time, after time in an effort to establish customers for life.
It’s not easy. It’s not often achieved. But, it is possible. To be successful in today’s ├╝ber-competitive online and global marketplace, you MUST be committed to creating an emotional connection between your customers and your brand.
That’s right.
A strong emotional connection is what will have people talking about you, paying more for your products or services, and walking past your competition to get to you. In other words, that emotional connection you make is where customer loyalty lives.

It is your company’s fingerprint, individual to you and your business.

I believe so much in the importance of creating emotional connections that I wrote my latest book,720 Haircuts: Creating Customer Loyalty that Lasts a Lifetime, on this very topic. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 2, “The Customer Experience Revolution:  We’ve All Been “Starbuckized.”
To understand the importance of the Customer Experience today, we need to take a deeper look at the past.
During the first half of the 20th century, retailers focused on creating loyal customers by establishing an emotional connection. In a bricks-and-mortar store, this was done face-to-face, but it was quite possible to do it another way – through mail order, the ancestor of online shopping.
One of the best examples of a company that built an emotional connection to its brand was Sears and Roebuck, originally a mail-order business. You could order just about anything from the Sears catalog, from clothing to housewares to farm tools. (Does this sound familiar, Amazon shoppers?)
And as for an emotional connection? Well, when the Sears catalog arrived in the mail, that was a good day! For most people, rural or not, this was their basic link to the latest trends, their window into everything from the current fashions to technological advancements. It was literally a “mall in a mailbox.” No matter your age, geographic location, or economic status, that catalog bonded people – farmers with bankers, generations of all ages, and faraway friends.  Everybody loved it. And they remained loyal customers for life.
Up through the 1950s, women who worked in the home were called “housewives” or “homemakers,” and they made an art form of running a household and managing a family.  Those were the days when people actually changed drapes in the spring and fall, when there was a difference between “play clothes” and “school clothes.” Moms stayed home to manage the house and family, dads worked from 9 to 5 without ridiculous extra hours or weekend travel, and going out to eat was for special occasions only.
For the most part when people shopped in stores, it wasn’t for fun; it was for a purpose.  “Retail therapy” wasn’t for the masses. During the Great Depression and World War II, people had learned to be frugal. The average family had a budget. Mom carefully planned a weekly menu and visited the grocery store just once a week. She shopped at an independent market where the owner knew her name, gave recommendations, and likely checked her out and bagged her groceries. People shopped for clothing for a season at a time – the four seasons being winter, spring, summer, and “school.” And shopkeepers delivered a quality Customer Experience with a personal touch.
The satisfying Customer Experience of those early years all but disappeared during the social upheaval of the 1960s and ’70s. The 1960s had been a sort of boom time economically, but the 1970s took a financial u-turn. Prices went up, commodities went down, and no one’s salary was increasing. Women left their aprons in the kitchen and joined the workforce to add to the family income – but they were still running their households, resulting in a huge time crunch. A dual-earner household required speed and in-the-moment convenience. Mothers, and now dads, became over scheduled and needed to get more done in less time at a lower cost.
At the same time, the Women’s Liberation Movement was in full swing. Following the fight for Civil Rights, women were stepping up to claim an equal place in businesses. Nearly every advertisement for women’s products highlighted this, from Virginia Slims cigarettes’ slogan, “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby,” to Enjoli perfume, whose theme song included the lyrics, “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let you forget you’re a man.” Helen Reddy’s #1 hit song of 1972, “I Am Woman,” became the de facto anthem for millions of women who were striving to expand their horizons past the white picket fence.
So no matter what the reasons – economic need, convenience, time crunch, empowerment, or all of the above – the world was changing. These unprecedented shifts in marketplace forces required an unprecedented response from the business world. Women were entering the workforce just as the economy was turning sour. The convenience needs of the American family soared, and businesses saw the economies of scale and greater levels of profitability that could be reached with new store formats and in different shopping venues.

Changes in the Game of Retail

Those downtown stores that opened at 9 and closed at 5 eventually went out of business.  Giant shopping malls started popping up everywhere. They housed multiple shoe stores, department stores, jewelry boutiques, and bookstores, where consumers could compare similar products before deciding what to purchase.
Consumers were shopping in a new way, and retailers were staffing to meet the changing needs. To offer what consumers now demanded – speed, convenience, and low prices – retailers no longer hired “career shopkeepers” who took pride in sharing their expertise, being a trusted advisor who spent time with each customer. Instead, they hired hourly workers who were simply seeking a paycheck. Hourly employees weren’t required to be enthusiastic or knowledgeable about what they were selling. They were warm bodies who were merely expected to efficiently process a customer and move on to the next person in line.
The average consumer wasn’t expecting personal service at this time. The rules were different.
Today’s customer wants the satisfying customer experience of yesteryear along with speed and convenience, and they want to fall in love with the companies they are doing business with. Yes, fall in love! “I love Starbucks,” “I love Amazon,” “I love Disney.” The word love in combination with a company is commonplace today and it’s because these companies are offering a differentiated experience. Customer experience is the final frontier. Those businesses that don’t focus on delivering a differentiated customer experience, those companies that don’t have a customer-first culture, end up in the graveyard of failed businesses . . . and there is always room for an extra headstone.
So, let me ask you this: What if all your customers fell in love with your business and the experience that you created for them? What if their love was so deep they would pay more, drive farther, and literally step over your competition to get to you? What if your customers shopped with you with their emotions as well as their wallets?
Trust me, this is possible! Take my Uncle Mel for example. For the last 60 years, he has visited the same barbershop, without fail, for his monthly haircut. The location and the employees have changed over the years. But no matter where he’s lived, from a few blocks away to over a 100-mile round trip, he has been unwavering in his loyalty. Twelve haircuts a year for 60 years … that’s 720 haircuts – and counting!
And believe it or not, ANY brand is capable of generating this type of loyalty. Over the years, I’ve learned from some of the best companies that there are simple yet essential elements to inspiring loyalty. Yes, there is a proven formula! And establishing an emotional connection with your customers is paramount. Start there and you’ll be on your way to achieving the ultimate in customer experience.
For more insight and practical tips from “720 Haircuts,” or to purchase a copy for yourself (or dozens for your employees!) visit Amazon today.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Customer Experience Secrets Revealed – 3 Tips to Employ Right Now

Remember when every place was like Cheers? Where everybody knew your name? And that’s not all. They also knew your favorite order, your likes, your dislikes and probably a bit about your life too.
Or, maybe it wasn’t the bartender – it was the butcher, the baker and the dressmaker – and they knew your mom’s name. At least, that’s my childhood memory. I can vividly recall accompanying my mom on her many errands around town. As she shopped (and toted me around with her), every storeowner was there to greet her. They knew her name, they knew her preferences, and they were ready to advise and guide her in making the right selections. It was a personal, authentic experience built on real emotional connections.
Sounds lovely, right? Takes you back to a simpler time. While most of us aren’t able to walk down Main Street, USA and chat with local shop owners as they select the best items for our needs, we still want that type of personalized experience. We still want a trusted expert to guide us – except we want it with modern-day speed and convenience.
And here’s where technology comes into play. Today it’s not the local storeowner who knows your shopping preferences and needs, it’s your computer, your smartphone and your favorite online retailers!
Just consider one of the most popular shopping sites . . . yes, I’m talking about Amazon. After you log in, you’re greeted by name, you’re reminded of your recent orders and will always receive suggestions on add-on items you might need based on what you’re buying that day.
Sure, an excellent face-to-face experience is always nice – who doesn’t like seeing the local barista prep their coffee order as soon as they walk in the door? But the exciting thing is about today’s shopping experience is that it’s possible for brands to create personal connections with their customers whether they’re making a purchase in person or shopping from the comfort of their couch.
I should know, I’ve worked with companies for longer than I’m willing to admit – helping them go from stuck to stellar. And I just wrote a book, 720 Haircuts: Creating Customer Loyalty that Lasts a Lifetime, on this very topic. In it I share all my best secrets, and today I’m sharing a few with you right now!
The Power of the Emotional Connection
Creating emotional connections between your customers and your brand is the true determinant of customer loyalty. If you can establish an emotional connection between your business and your customer, you’ve achieved the secret behind exceptional customer service. This connection is everything! It is your company’s fingerprint, individual to you and your business. If Amazon can create this while you’re shopping in your PJs, your brand can do it too.
Here’s what the great companies do to differentiate and build those golden emotional connections:
  1. They establish a customer first culture. You have to start here. No ifs, ands or buts. You need to define your specific culture and customer experience. And get specific. What do you stand for? What makes you unique? Sometimes it’s the little things that make the biggest impact of all. As you plan your strategy, remember, the actions and behaviors of your leaders should reflect the culture you are trying to create.
  1. They empower staff to act like business owners. This means giving your people the flexibility and autonomy to address customer needs in real-time. No matter how prepared your organization is in terms of dealing with customer issues, there won’t be clear guidelines for every single scenario that can possibly arise. The customer experience you deliver can be unique because your team is empowered to fix a problem on the spot … or reward a happy and loyal customer for being just that. And this doesn’t just apply to face-to-face experiences. Your online support is critical. They too need to know they have the power to assist your customers and convert each shopper into a customer for life.
  1. They create an authentic experience. You can’t script real life and you shouldn’t try! You want your people to act true to their personalities. If they’re snarky, let them be snarky. If they’re serious or silly or dry, let them be themselves. If you want to create a customer experience that touches an individual and converts them to your customer for life, you need connect with them emotionally, and authentically, and that doesn’t come from a script. It’s as simple as that.
Whether you’re a sales associate, t-shirt designer or car manufacturer, a brick-and-mortar brand with 40 locations or an online-only e-tailor, there’s a real need to stand out today in every industry. And trust me on this, your competition is watching. The only thing they can’t replicate is the experience you provide. They can’t replace the emotional connect you create between YOUR brand and the shopper. Once this connection is established, that shopper becomes YOUR loyal customer.
The intricate lines and nuances of your culture, your people, and the way they interact with your customers both in store and online are what will shape that fingerprint and leave a real mark on everyone you touch.