Dramatic or Incremental Customer Experiences? Change the Rules

By Lior Arussy

As the New Year arrives, we find ourselves, once again, back to our strategic planning white boards:  Hours of debates on defending market share, preventing product or service commoditization and hopefully, offsetting customer churn.   Somewhere on the packed strategic agenda are customer experiences. What do we do with them? How can we improve them? What do they really mean?

Customer experiences are your core value proposition, not just package design. They are the true differentiators and the fulfillment of your company’s mission. Most companies fail to understand this. For those that do, customer experiences are the first item on their strategic planning to-do list). Today’s biggest misconception is that companies view customer experience as an additional cost and not as a way to grow business and profits. As such, they succumb to making small, incremental changes rather then more impact full, or differentiating ones. The time has come for real change that will require some tough choices. The time has come for dramatic experiences or nothing.

Customer experience aren’t just about being nice to customers and they certainly aren’t about smiling more sincerely (You can’t pay employees to smile sincerely). Customer experiences are about loving your customers and making money in the process–a lot of money. They represent an order-of-magnitude differentiation rather then another modest, incremental increase.

Great experiences change the rules of the industry. They set you apart from the pack. While everyone else is focusing on efficient transactions, you are tapping into the emotions and aspirations of your customers and creating a powerful connection with them through powerful experiences. Great customer experiences are also about breaking the rules by doing something new, and charging far more for it.

So stop following the crowd. Forget about following market trends based on historical data and industry “Best practices.”  By doing that, you’re following (and fulfilling) someone else’s agenda. I advocate instead, a more innovative-based approach that focuses on “Next practices.” Move your customers out of their expectation zone and focus on the “what’s next.”    Give them something new they haven’t thought about before as opposed to simply providing them with their expected incremental improvements. Surprise them. Make them smile and say “wow”.

I recently learned this lesson in the most unexpected way. After landing at Ronald Reagan National Airport, I was picked up by a taxi into which the driver (and owner) had installed massage chairs. The massage service, which offered a selection of massages in varying degrees of strength, was free of charge to all passengers. Having put himself into the shoes of his customers, he easily recognized the opportunity:  Business man or woman disembarks from plane only to jump into a cab for a hurried trip to that early morning meeting. A stiff neck or back-ache from hours of plane travel are common experiences but typically, because of the scarcity of time, are not dealt with. The aches and pains linger and distract…hardly a recipe for success!  This particular taxi driver decided to change the rules and align his value with the customer experience. He did not follow the rules of taxis as commodities. He did not read the industry’s publications, guiding him on how to squeeze customers for more money. He simply put himself into the shoes of the customer, imagined the experience, and then went ahead and responded to it.

Needless to say, I used the service, enjoyed it and tipped him handsomely. It was worth it. His service surprised and pleased me–and solved a real problem. For that I was willing to pay more. It was actually very perceptive on his part not to put a price tag on the massage, but to provide the experience for free. If there had been a related charge, most passengers would probably have passed it up. By not charging, according to the driver, the service was always in use, without exception. As expected, he received more in tips than he ever could imagine had he charged for the service. The value in the passengers’ eyes was much greater, as it usually is with great experiences, than a middle-of-the-road price could ever be. By leaving the pay up to customers, he actually made more money in tips than any fee he could have charged for the service.

When I asked him if he would be willing to pick me up on the way back to the airport, he stated that he was already fully booked for the rest of the day. I wasn’t surprised. Usually rule-breakers who invent new experiences “suffer” the good problem of high demand and repeat business.

As you move through the strategic planning process and consider redesigning your customer experience, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are these obvious changes we promote?

  • How counter-intuitive are our experiences?

  • What would our competitor’s response be to our new experiences? (Dismissal, shock, surprise; agreement?)

  • What rules are we breaking?

  • Are we following market trends or opposing them?

  • How closely knitted are our experiences to the customers’ emotions and inspirations?

  • What is the customer’s response to our newly designed experience? (amazement, gratefulness,  boredom,)

  • If we were the customer, would we pay extra for it?

  • How difficult will it be to pursue and implement the experience internally?

The more counter-intuitive your proposed experiences are, the more likely they are to be dramatic and truly differentiating. Conduct a simple litmus test:  While discussing the various ideas, what responses are you generating from the participants? Do they smile and say it is outrageous and cool, or do you get the impression that they feel it’s just another so-so idea. If they’re not smiling with amazement, your proposed ideas are not outrageous enough and most likely won’t pass the tough loyalty test of the customer.

The more objections you get from the traditional nay-sayers (You know them, “we don’t do things this way” or “that’s not how the company does it”) the better your experience will be and the more on target you are. After all, a strategy that everyone agrees with is not really a strategy; it’s merely common sense…a tactical, incremental implementation of someone else’s strategy and agenda. …Sometimes known as market trends.

Be your own leader. Through experiences, you can change the rules. Chart your own new path and force the competition to follow. And if you do your job well and do not succumb to success (while your competition scrambles to figure out how you changed the rules and how to match the new ones), you will be busy creating even newer rules.

Customer experiences are about creating a unique and easily defendable market position which will make you the envy of every other industry competitor. In a sense, it will bring you back to the leadership position you’ve been craving as defined by your most important stakeholder (if you made the right choice): The customer.

Read other articles and learn more about Lior Arussy.

For permission to reprint or reuse this article, please contact Lior at lior@strativitygroup.com.

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