Customer experience – the Free Prize Inside!

Seth Godin has been one of the most influential authors in my career. When I started working in an ad agency in the early 2000s, I came across Permission Marketing and it completely changed my opinion of what a marketer could be. I re-read it just a couple of years ago and was amazed at how relevant it still was.

For people who want to learn how to become more valuable in the modern workforce, I regularly recommend Linchpin. But perhaps Godin’s most famous book is Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable. The message of Purple Cow is that the only way to win in business is to become remarkable. But how do you make a purple cow? That’s what the short book, Free Prize Inside! is about.

According to Seth Godin, he had to write this follow-up because business was all wrong in how they were going about their search for a purple cow. They were seeking the big. Big innovations. Big marketing campaigns. But a purple cow is much more likely to be a small, soft innovation that customers love – a Free Prize inside their offering. Writes Godin, “Most free prizes have two essential elements in common. First, they are the thing about your service, your product or your organization that’s worth remarking on. Something worth seeking out and buying…Second, most free prizes are not about what the person needs. Instead, they satisfy our wants. They are fashionable or fun or surprising or delightful or sad. They rarely deliver more of what we were buying in the first place.”

As I was reading this, it became obvious that one of the most obvious free prizes is a great customer experience. It’s not more of the product or service. It’s something unexpected during the delivery of the product or service. Something that’s worth remarking on. And late in the book, Godin gives a fitting example. He tells the story of his interaction with Jose who worked in a taco shop in the Denver airport. What was remarkable about this interaction? Jose chatted with Godin for an extra minute while he ordered, got him a special condiment from the back. Later, he asked Godin how his meal was. In other words, Godin had a great experience with Jose. And as he points out, the cost of that experience was zero, but the value to Godin was “enormous.”

Your customer experience can be a free prize for your guests. It can cost you nothing while delivering enormous value.

What you do won’t do it

My friend Shareef Mahdavi just released a new book, Beyond Bedside Manner: Insights on Perfecting the Patient Experience. To be precise, the book has 57 insights and any one of them could transform a medical clinic all by itself. If you work in healthcare, you must read this.

One of my favorite insights is Defining Excellence, where Shareef is making the excellent point that what you do as a doctor can’t be a point of differentiation. That’s expected. Here’s the excerpt:

Your outcomes are expected in the same manner that your expertise is assumed (like that of the airplane pilot). While this can be difficult to reckon with for surgeons who have dedicated their career to excellent outcomes, technological innovation in medicine has begun to level the playing field when it comes to outcomes. Software-driven diagnostics as well as surgical tools are designed to reduce surgical variability, meaning there’s usually another doctor out there in your community who can promise similar results to yours.

If you’ve been able to distinguish your practice based on surgical results, that’s great. But as excellent outcomes are expected to begin with, this competitive advantage will only dissipate with time. Unfortunately, outcomes are gradually becoming a hygiene factor, a marketing term describing an element that is noticed only if it’s missing or something goes wrong.

I see this same sentiment in almost every industry we deal with. They will say (or at least think): “Sure, customer experience is important for coffee shops, hotels, restaurants, etc. But people come to me for the thing I do. Customer experience is nice, but what people want from me is a particular outcome.” No, the outcome is expected. The way your differentiate yourself is through the customer experience.

The medical community has been among the slowest to acknowledge this and the ones most in need of it. One of the best examples of this was the Propublica study of Yelp medical reviews a few years ago. Here’s the main takeaway:

Indeed, doctors and health professionals everywhere could learn a valuable lesson from the archives of Yelp: Your officious personality or brusque office staff can sink your reputation even if your professional skills are just fine.

In other words, your medical outcomes aren’t enough to generate a good online review, if the experience isn’t up to the patient’s expectation. This is what our training with Experience Economy authors Joe Pine & Jim Gilmore talks about:

A remarkable experience doesn’t come from what you do, but how you do what you do. Because what you do won’t do it any longer.

That’s just one of 57 insights that you’ll get from Shareef’s book. The other 56 are equally good and worth reading.

Measuring Human Impressions

My recent post Elephants Don’t Bite was about companies focusing on big things, like the strategic plan or the latest marketing campaign (the elephants), came at expense of the little things, like answering the phone or greeting the customer at the front desk (the mosquitoes) and it’s the latter that can kill you.

In Marketing Rebellion, Mark Schaefer explains why that happens:

We see our foundations of command and control marketing collapsing before our eyes. There are no more lies. There are no more secrets. There is no more control. For more than a century, we’ve built our greatest brands – like Ivory – through an accumulation of advertising impressions. But to survive this final rebellion, companies and brands must be built through an accumulation of human impressions. That is the only thing we trust. That is the only thing that matters.

That’s why the subtitle of Schaefer’s book is “The Most Human Company Wins.” This is also why my company, FiveFour, helps our clients get their customer experience right before we start marketing. The job of marketing is to get a logical prospect to try your company once. It’s the job of your customer experience to get them to come back.

But even marketing is becoming mostly about your customer experience. Writes Schaefer:

Two thirds of the touch points during the evaluation phase of a purchase involve human-driven marketing activities like internet reviews, social media conversations and word-of-mouth recommendations from friends, family and online experts…Two thirds of your marketing is not your marketing.

If human impressions are the most relevant advertising metric, how are yours? Do they create and keep customers? Do you measure them with something like the Net Promoter Score?

Elephants Don’t Bite

Near the end of The Invisible Leader (a book about which I will have more to say on this blog), author Zach Mercurio gave a useful analogy about African safaris to make a great point about modern business.

Mercurio pointed out that when people are on safari in Africa, they are focused on the elephants and giraffes in front of them. What aren’t they focused on? Malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Writes Mercurio:

Elephants don’t bite, but mosquitoes do. It is the small, even tiny, things that have a huge impact. Similarly, organizations focus on the big things – the branding initiative, strategic plan, key meeting, value proposition – while the little things are creating their reputations. How the receptionist out front says hello, how a call is handled or how an email is returned, these are all important experiences that, when added up, become the organization’s reputation.

What Mercurio is talking about, and something we wholeheartedly agree with, is the impact of customer experience on an organization’s reputation. Organizations can get the big things right, but it’s the hundreds or thousands of daily interactions with their customers that determine the public perception. It’s the little things that can kill you.

By the way, I looked it up. Elephants kill approximately 500 people per year, according to National Geographic. Mosquitoes? The W.H.O estimates 435,000 annual malaria deaths, or 870 times as many as elephants. Elephants don’t bite. Mosquitoes do. Get your organization to pay attention to the mosquitoes and you’ll stand a better chance of survival.

Pandemic as Portal

In the FT yesterday, novelist Arundhati Roy wrote:

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.

Roy was primarily talking about her native India, hoping that the mishandling of the pandemic by the country’s political leaders would become a portal to a better world. I know little of Indian politics, but my experience in American politics has left me less than hopeful that the end result of COVID-19 will be meaningful government change.

What is undeniable though is that consumers will change and force businesses to change with them. Something of this scale and duration will leave its mark, changing attitudes and behaviors long after it’s worst is behind us.

The challenge for businesses will be determining which consumer changes due to COVID-19 are temporary and which are permanent. Restaurants, who have quickly ramped up takeout and delivery, may find that consumers prefer this new way of doing things. Likewise for auto dealers who started picking up their customer’s vehicles and dropping them off after service.

What about telemedicine and other increases in video communication? Will consumers after the pandemic prefer talking to a nurse on Zoom rather than visiting a busy clinic surrounded by other sick people? How about the meeting with my financial advisor? Will I prefer Facetime to a drive across town, especially in the winter?

Consumers have changed in many obvious ways during the global pandemic. Which changes are likely to stay and which will go away once commerce starts flowing again?

Remember that today’s customer experience innovations become tomorrow’s baseline expectations. Start preparing for those expectations today.