Monday, December 19, 2016

How Microtouchpoints Can Elevate the Customer Experience

In a recent blog about technology-enabled customer experiences, I introduced the concept of the “microtouchpoint” and its importance on delivering a great customer experience in a technology-enabled world. Think for a moment about all of the interactions you have in daily life – at retail, at restaurants, while traveling, etc. that incorporate high-tech elements.

At hotels we have electronic keycards tied to an app.
At airports we have self-serve kiosks to access our boarding passes.
At restaurants we can order and/or even pay the bill via tablet.

All of these technological advancements can make you feel like we have officially moved passed the imaginary technology that captured our imagination in the original Star Trek series or the Jetsons cartoon!.

My story about Starbucks in that blog is a perfect example. I now order everything from the app on my phone and simply pick up my completed order, but still have microtouchpoints that build my relationship with the baristas at my local spot.

Recently I was traveling for business (I know, shocking) in San Diego and was looking for a spot to grab dinner. I hopped in an Uber (chalk that whole model up to a pretty spectacular tech-enabled customer experience too, btdubs) from the airport headed to the area I would be staying, which was a very industrial office park. Wanting something in walking distance wasn’t going to leave me with a ton of options, but I happened upon one of those conveyer belt sushi joints.

A host greeted me warmly and walked me a short five feet to my seat (microtouchpoint 1 = 20 seconds). Then I was asked, by a bus boy, for my drink order (microtouchpoint 2 = 5 seconds). For those of you who have not experienced this dining trend yet, you basically sit at a sushi bar with conveyor belts moving in front of you carrying every different variety of sushi. You simply pull the plates you want off the belt. When you finish you insert the plate in a slot in front of you and it calculates your total based on the number of plates you deposit. This particular restaurant had two belts – one for the standard menu items and one for custom orders that would stop right in front of you. An iPad was affixed to each station allowing you to order. Pretty much everything was automated, from ordering, to plate removal, to paying my bill. In addition to the first two human interactions mentioned above, there was one more and it was my drink refill (microtouchpoint 3=10 seconds). An entire meal (and I was lingering awhile – over an hour) with less than a minute of human service combined, and all were seamless and pleasant.

Then there was one last, but meaningful, microtouchpoint. An employee saw that I was about to order a soft serve ice cream for dessert on the iPad and in one swift move, whispered a recommendation for a frozen tea dessert instead in the same area. I checked out sans dessert and took his advice. It was packed when I got there and amazing! I spent my time at the restaurant catching up with my older son by phone and still had a great customer experience made up from microtouchpoints that not only provided me with the service I wanted and needed, but also gave me a great local dessert recommendation.  My only question was trying to figure out how does one tip with this minimal about of service.  What do you think?

Another recent example of technology changing the customer experience in the hospitality industry, is at hotels. As a matter of fact, several companies have made it possible for you to check-in and access your key , allowing you to skip the whole old-school check-in process, and instead head straight to your room.  The unintended impact is a shift away from the guest and employee creating a personal connecting during check-in. 

This inherently changes the roles of staff at hotels. The front desk employee will of course still be there, and happy to help. However,  I now see a bigger role for the folks who used to be seen as much more peripheral – like the bellman and housekeeping. You may have more contact and engage with these roles for a greater length of time than you do with a front desk person. A hello in the hallway from a housekeeper might become your only human touchpoint in a hotel stay.  This creates a heightened need to truly understand and define the microtouchpoints. and maybe equally as important to think about, how it impacts hiring decisions for these roles. If the people on the periphery are not our key touchpoints, do we have to change who we are hiring and why? What we pay them? How we train these employees? It’s the same thing that happened with the person who sat me and refilled my water at the sushi restaurant. There was no waiter. But my engagement was at least as strong with someone refilling my water because he took the opportunity to engage via a microtouchpoint!

The roles that used to exist in the background, are very much evolving with the microtouchpoint model. In a way, each one of these roles – from busboy to housekeeper – are now wearing a chief engagement officer hat, aren’t they?

Businesses are moving toward tech-enabled experiences that are helping people move past the mundane, transactional stuff more quickly and spend more time in the heart of the customer experience. The under-a-minute microtouchpoints are very much a new and unique opportunity to engage customers and enhance their experiences.

One last story that relates to this. Recently a friend was with her young daughter at Disney World in Orlando. Now, it’s no secret that Disney hires very uniquely. We know, for example, that they refer to their staff (all of them) as cast members. Everyone from the parking ticket attendant, to the custodial staff, to Cinderella, has the same cheery disposition and will tell you to have a “magical day” and mean it!

On this trip, my friend was sitting outside at one of the restaurants in Tomorrowland as a man walked up to sweep up some trash. Simultaneously, a little girl walked out of the restaurant in full Elsa garb and wearing an “It’s my birthday” sash. Without missing a beat, the man stopped sweeping and used a tool he had on him that had a piece of chalk at the end, to draw a 15-second picture of Mickey Mouse with a Happy Birthday message right in front of her. It was so slick and subtle but an incredibly amazing example of a microtouchpoint that certainly impacted that little girl’s (and her parents’) experience. He saw her birthday sash as a cue, and sprung into action to do something that had been ingrained into him somehow through Disney. Happiest place on earth indeed!

Here’s the net net of the whole thing. You can absolutely enhance the customer experience with technology, as long as you maximize the microtouchpoints.
And now more than ever, they are  coming to life through unexpected people. It changes the perspective about who you hire for these roles. People who used to blend into the woodwork are now your primary touchpoint, and people who used to be primary have a reduced role but they still need to make it count. So how do you accomplish that?

Authenticity.

Your front line employees need to make the experience  personal, like the dessert recommendation from the busboy and the impromptu street art from the sweeper at Disney. The possibilities are there and they are endless and it’s up to you to help  your people make each interaction count, no matter how small. Engage them in how important they are to the customer’s experience and how they can elevate the customer experience by making it magical… one micro experience at a time.