Creating a Great Customer Experience — How, Exactly??

This morning, John Moore posted some interesting thoughts about differentiating one's business. The one I'm stuck on right now is creating a great customer experience. After all, it's the thing that started this conversation in the first place, and it's the one we still haven't really addressed head on.

So far, here are some elements that I've seen in our posts over the last several days:

  • Leaders should walk the customer service talk.
  • Employees should look for opportunities to fill a customer need — don't just fix a problem, create an opportunity.
  • Employees shouldn't be "pre-programmed." Let your personality shine through! As long as it doesn't counteract the company brand.
  • When designing messages — in-store or out — keep it simple.
  • Relationship-based loyalty programs work better at creating real customer loyalty — but transaction-based programs can appear equally effective because they trap customers into loyalty.
  • Great in-store "experiences" generate incredible customer loyalty.

These are all valuable points to make. They're also pretty fuzzy. I'd like to get specific. How, exactly, do we do these things? What do they look like in the real world? At Starbucks, at Whole Foods, at the example companies Paul and John have pointed to?

A few thoughts to get us started:

How do leaders "walk the talk"? Do they go work the check-out line once a year, like Ron Sargent, CEO of Staples, or is that just so much PR? Do they walk the aisles in the customer call center to see how their employees are representing the company? I'd like to hear some real examples of how leaders walk their talk... and are effective both in the eyes of their employees and customers, not just photogenic, for doing it.

If employees aren't provided with canned-reponses and are expected to create customer opportunities, it follows that they must have a decent amount of autonomy, and be empowered to make decisions. How does management deal with this kind of loss of control over their employees' actions? Where is the balance — where do you draw the line between what kinds of decisions an employee is allowed to make in order serve the customer (cancelling an account? providing a refund?), and what level of company control over employees is simply a necessary evil to ensure that the company keeps on running?

Paul talked about "billboarding" when creating branding or marketing messages. What are a few classic examples of successful billboards, both at Starbucks and elsewhere? Not just slogans that were memorable, but messages that actually drove business by making the customer feel more attached to the company?

When selecting a loyalty program, is it better to create a relationship-based program because it creates greater value for the customer? Or to create a transaction-based program because it delivers more immediate results for the company? How much do companies focus on customer opinions when making this choice?

And lastly, John talked about great customer experiences at stores like Ikea. What exactly makes a great experience? Personally, I get lost and disoriented whenever I go to Ikea because it's set up like a giant maze... but I always go back because their stuff is cheap and some of it even looks cool. So what does a great customer experience look and feel like? Who does it well, and what, specifically, contributes to their success?

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