Starting off with blah means we are usually doomed to stay there. This first leapfrog toward thrilling customers ensures (and there are few other absolutes in business) that those customers will:
• Be loyal to you as long as you maintain the Thrill Factor.
• Share their advocacy for your business with others.
• Reject the invitations of competitors to switch their allegiance.
• Be willing to pay higher-margin prices.
• Actually share a vested interest in your success.
They want you to thrive. You thrill them! The traditional us vs. them in business becomes a mutual admiration society. Even more–a virtual partnership. A love affair.
Six Ways to Thrill Your Customers
1. Give them an experience they would never expect from your business. Clients call on me, at my firm, for advice on marriage, children, personal finances, divorce–even painful psychological issues with which they are grappling. They seek this advice because they know that they are more than clients and I am hardly limited to the role of business advisor. And equally important, they know that the responses they receive from me will be heartfelt, and deeply genuine.
2. When customers ask for service or sales outside of business hours, tell them, “It is always business hours for you.” How many times have you approached the door of an establishment, only to have the proprietor flash the “Closed” sign in your face? You can read their expressions like a book: Too bad. You missed your chance. We’re going home for the day. Wow, that is a sure sign of a company that sucks. And when the proprietor at a similar establishment opens the doors after hours and warmly invites you in—well, that carries the kind of thrill factor you can’t touch with a Memorial Day sale.
3. Find out their passions in life and cater to them. When my dad (a nonstop conversationalist) happened to inform a furniturestore that he was a fly-fishing addict, the merchant took note and a week later sent a box of handmade flies as a thank-you gift. After that, Dad would never, ever buy from anyone else.
4. Reinvent your industry’s model. This need not be more than a subtle but compelling change. My favorite haircutter sells cufflinks on the display counters instead of hair products—bold and unusual links. I buy a pair almost every time I visit. It turns the haircut into a multifaceted experience.
5. Let the “dangerous minds” in your business loose to act and make waves. Challenge them to come up with thrilling options.
6. Appoint a Chief Customer Officer (CCO). This role can be filled by the owner or manager who is dedicated to raising the bar continuously on the joy of doing business with your company…Imagine giving the customer a voice. Although virtually every major business has a CEO, CIO, COO, CFO, CTO, CMO, the CCO (the voice of the customer) is nowhere to be found. For companies that live by the rule of the thrill, the Chief Customer Officer/CCO should be at the top of the corporate hierarchy, reporting to the CEO, but with dotted line responsibility to the Board as well.
Why do so many companies suck? Because very few companies really think about the customer at the outset or lose their enthusiasm for doing so somewhere along the line. As a result, they never get off the ground in a meaningful way or they endure a slump in the course of their lifecycle. If there was a CCO who really understood the customers’ needs:
• Retail establishments would have clean restrooms.
• Interacting with an insurance brokerage firm would be far more satisfying than enduring 18 minutes of telephonic nonhuman prompts that leads to a dead end.
• Websites would make it easy to navigate, find the information you want, and consummate a transaction.
• When a hotel honors member checks in and asks for an upgrade in a near-empty hotel, they wouldn’t be told, “It’s against policy.”
• You could buy tickets from movie sites without having to remember your password.
• You wouldn’t be locked into a two-year contract with cell phone companies and be penalized if you wanted to change carriers.
• Airlines wouldn’t have to hold you hostage with points–you’d want to fly with them.
A Thrilling Night’s Stay
Last year, I was walking through the lobby of the Hotel Bristol in Paris, bags in hand, scouting out a seat in the lounge bar. A thoughtful member of the staff approached me, suggesting that a Bristol guest should not be carrying bags. Although I thanked him and assured him that the luggage was light and all was fine, he insisted on checking the items so that I could focus on a chilled glass of champagne.
He would not take no for an answer. And with the seat on the suede sofa beckoning, I happily conceded. My bags were whisked away, I slipped into Parisian happy hour, and it was all as close to perfect as you can get. Think about it:
• This staff member took what others could easily view as someone else’s concern and owned it.
• A grand hotel, a reigning member of the Parisian elite, takes responsibility for the comfort of each of its guests as if we were family members.
• The rulebook doesn’t enumerate the steps the staff should take to exceed guest expectations. They do everything to accomplish that.
• No one is too important to serve as a bellman.
• No one is too busy to perform “menial” tasks.
The staff member who went out of his way to take my bags deserved recognitfion from the boss, so I brought that suggestion to the front desk. That was when I learned the staff member was the boss–the Bristol’s general manager. He is what I call the Human Ignition Switch–the leader who, through action more than words, provides a standard for the team to emulate. What he did is a sure sign of a true leader, one who inspires every employee to raise the bar. To go beyond.
To create the kind of goodwill and loyalty you can’t win with gimmicks, offers, sales, or loyalty points. That’s reserved for the thrill.
Excerpted from Your Company Sucks by Mark Stevens by arrangement with BenBella Books, Inc., Copyright (c) Mark Stevens, 2011. Edited for length and clarity.
[Image via Flickr user SJ Photography]