Your two key aims in business are:
• Attract customers
• Satisfy customers
If your business doesn’t perform these two fundamental functions, it doesn’t matter how well you do anything else.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking otherwise.
If your customers don’t feel inspired by their interactions with you and your business, then your business – the business you felt such freedom in starting, the business you have poured everything into – will fail before you even see it coming.
No excuse you make can change a bad customer experience. No amount of “blame-shifting” will make your customer feel better when their expectations aren’t met. You made a promise to your customers. Perhaps to spoke it. Perhaps it was implied. But you made a promise to do something for them. Everything your business does either delivers on your promise, or doesn’t. The satisfaction your customer experiences stems from their experience of how well you deliver on that promise.
The customer experience is a dynamic one. It’s not a one-time thing. It’s happening the entire time (and even a little before and after) a client interacts with your business. As a business owner, not only do you have to create positive impressions from the start, you must ensure the customer experience remains outstanding and consistent throughout repeated exposures to your brand.
The “Canary Yellow Pen” Story
I’d like to tell you a story I heard recently. This is a story of how a very positive experience fell apart because of one small incongruity in the customer experience. It happened in a very nice restaurant, in West Sussex.
Last summer I decided to try a new upmarket restaurant in a nearby town. As I drove up to the restaurant that evening, I saw that the signs for the restaurant were tasteful and informative. The car park was spotless and the landscaping was immaculate. Even before I set foot in the door, I knew this was a high quality establishment.
The person who greeted me was friendly, polite, and seated me promptly. Though the restaurant was nearly full, it felt like the other members of my party and I were the only ones there. I felt like royalty.
The interior was subtle, upmarket, and perfectly lit. I was led to a courtyard that looked as though it belonged in ancient Greece or a scene from an arcadian painting. It had been a hot day, but somehow the courtyard was the perfect temperature. As I sat down, I was delightfully surprised; the chair was comfortable to sit in! It was the sort of chair that not only looked nice, it was also the sort of chair I could see myself sitting in for hours, lingering over desserts and coffee, long into the evening.
The white linen tablecloths were crisp and without a hint of fold lines. The front of house staff were dressed in spotless white shirts, black trousers, aprons, and were keenly attentive without being overbearing. They were stationed around the periphery, but were never intrusive. I could see a waiter at all times, and I knew that at my least whim, I could summon one over with a look.
The meal was exquisite. The starter was sublime, and each course was better than the last. The flavours were expertly combined in unusual ways, and at the end of the meal, I was pleasantly full without feeling over-full. The desserts were masterpieces of culinary creation.
When the bill came, it was in a discreet leather case. Though expensive, the meal and the experience seemed well worth the price: it was great value for money. But when the receipt came back for me to sign, I took one look and stopped cold.
They had thoughtfully provided me with a pen to sign the credit card receipt. But there, nestled in the black leather case, was a cheap canary yellow pen with a little fuzzy tassel on the top!
I stared at it. I thought, “This is absurd! This pen doesn’t belong here, of all places.”
But there it was. I held up the cheap, plastic, yellow tasseled thing and looked at it. It was a non sequitur. I wondered if they had done it on purpose. Were they so worried about a customer taking a pen that they replaced all their regular pens with yellow tasseled ones? Had they run out of nice pens? Was this just an oversight? Out of an incredible dining experience, that pen was the only thing that didn’t fit.
It was a systems failure. And no matter how hard I tried, no matter how much I told myself “it’s just a pen” I couldn’t get the image of the canary yellow pen out of my mind!
It was just one tiny element of a fantastic evening. But it was so incongruous; it was all I could think about. Even now, it’s still the most memorable part of the experience. Unfortunately, it’s the only story I tell about my evening there!
The Three Steps:
How many “canary yellow” pens are you handing out in your business each day? As a business owner, you need to develop your “canary yellow pen radar.” Your customers aren’t stupid; they won’t miss the little things. You can’t afford to either. You need to be on the lookout for inconsistencies in each customer’s experience.
In order to do that, you’ll need to change the way you think about your business. You need to get out of your head and into your customers’ heads. Together, we can achieve that.
Here are three steps to get the process started:
1. Review your marketing material through a new lens. What is the promise that you’re communicating to your customers in your message? What expectations will they have when they come to you?
2. With those expectations in mind, look at your business with a set of fresh eyes – the eyes of your customers. What do they see? Walk through each step of their experience as if you were a new customer – from the initial visit to your website, to the time they leave your shop. A great way to organize this is to create a flowchart of every client touch point. Make notes of each step in the process. Is their experience going to be consistent with the promise that you’ve made them?
3. Ask yourself: what are the “canary yellow pens” that dilute, distract, or even destroy the experience you intend to create for your customer? Once you’ve determined those inconsistencies, fix them! Most importantly, give your employees the information and the opportunity to help you develop that “canary yellow pen radar.” Give them permission to go above and beyond without always having to stop for permission. Provide them with the information they need to make informed decisions.
Don’t let a small incongruity become the one thing your customers talk about. Value, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. And the most important beholder of your business is your customer.