I had the pleasure of hosting Joe Pine, author of The Experience Economy, on a quarterly webinar for clients of FiveFour. Joe talked about the next level of economic offering above experiences: transformations.
What customers want is not our products and services, or even our experiences. What they really want is for us to use those products, services and experiences to transform them into a better version of themselves.
The word describes the deterioration of customer service in our society.
No doubt, you’ve noticed this trend in your own lives. It didn’t start with Covid, but the pandemic caused real labor shortages that have since caused many service-based businesses to reduce offerings.
You don’t have to go far to see it. Where I live there are Starbuck’s that are drive-up only. A few weeks ago, I wrote about how Starbuck’s is continually innovating, citing the coffee giant’s new mega-store in downtown Chicago. But today, in some locations, you can’t even sit down to drink your coffee and surf the internet.
Plenty of other businesses have reduced the hours, or even days, they are open. Many have fewer staff when they are open.
What does that mean for us as business leaders?
Customer experience is more important than ever. Skimpflation irritates customers because they are getting less than they expected.
They will go elsewhere… eventually.
The writer in Forbes points out that simple inertia keeps consumers going back to the same companies over and over, even as the quality of the experience slides.
“Companies that routinely engage in skimpflation count on that inertia, because instead of seeking to maximize customer loyalty, they focus on minimizing customer defections,” he wrote. “And when defection-avoidance is your goal, customer inertia is your friend. A good customer experience is no longer necessary; you just need one that isn’t so awful that it eclipses the inertia and motivates a switch to a competitor.”
Be the business that gives customers a reason to leave your competitor and come to you. The market is just waiting for you to make the invitation.
How do you do that? There’s an investment, to be sure. But it’s more than money. It’s mindset. It’s leadership.
What’s the employee experience at your company?
A big part of Skimpflation is attitude. How are you and your team approaching the challenges of the day? Are you bemoaning the lack of qualified job candidates and the laziness of the ones you have?
That surely isn’t the path to a remarkable experience that develops customer loyalty.
Now’s the time to examine your company culture, your development systems and how you will ensure customer success.
If you fly into Cleveland and need to rent a car….
OK, that’s an unlikely scenario, but for the sake of today’s story, imagine that it’s possible.
If you fly into Cleveland and need to rent a car, I hope you get to ride the shuttle with Felicia.
It’s not that Felicia is a particularly adept shuttle bus driver. She clipped a curb or two in the ten-minute ride from the airport to the rental car center.
That’s the “what you do” bit of this story. Our takeaway today is all about the “how.”
Felicia’s got a pretty good “how.”
Cleveland Hopkins International is a fine airport. It’s not huge but it has a quirk of geography that requires a shuttle from the terminal to the spot where all the rental car agencies are located. There’s no option. You have to get on the shuttle.
Felicia probably makes that drive about 40 times a day. Maybe more.
This is a repetitive task. Same route. Same bleary-eyed set of travelers, only with different T-shirts.
It would be easy to stare off into the distance watching jets drop on the landing strip and wonder what to make for dinner.
Or, you could personalize the journey like Felicia and make it memorable, at least for the kids and parents on board.
Felicia talked about her kids, grandkids and her first great grandkid. She asked questions of the kiddos. And then she did her song.
“The wheels on the bus go round and round…”
You know the tune. But then it became more theatrical.
“The wipers on the bus go slap, slap, slap,” with an accompanying squirt of washer fluid.
“The horn on the bus goes, beep, beep, beep.” Three toots of the horn.
“The seat on the bus goes up, up, up.” And this is where it got a little concerning as she bumped up three notches, but still, it was good.
The kids loved it. The parents were happy for the diversion.
And you couldn’t help but jump in with, “all around the town” at the end of each verse.
It was a memorable little moment in a long day of travel.
Travel has been picking up again lately and so I found myself at the Sioux Falls airport a couple of hours in advance of my flight.
I’m not usually there that far ahead of time, but my wife dropped me off on the way to work and I was planning to work in the business lounge while waiting for my flight.
I also don’t usually check a bag, but I had to this time.
Thus, I found myself alone at the ticket counter without an American Airlines employee in sight.
That’s when a janitor came by pushing his cart and said, “They probably won’t be there for another 30 minutes.”
He must have seen the annoyed look on my face, so he explained why and then said that the coffee shop was open and there was a place to plug in my laptop.
I was impressed. He read the situation and gave me a solution.
But it got better.
After I had been sitting for 15 minutes working, that same janitor stopped by the coffee shop and said, “It looks like someone is at the gate now.”
I’m pretty sure that none of what he did for me was included in his job description. And I’m pretty sure he was an employee of the airport, not American Airlines, who I was waiting for.
But he clearly felt a sense of ownership that led him to take care of me, the customer.
When I teach companies how to create a remarkable customer experience, the first concept we discuss is time – time is the currency of experiences. This isn’t my concept. It comes from visionaries Joe Pine & Jim Gilmore.
It’s not your product or service that creates the experience. It’s the time your customers spend with you. Honoring the customer’s time means two things:
Being efficient with their time (time well saved)
Making their time valuable (time well spent)
This janitor did both. When he was first confronted with my problem, he couldn’t make the gate attendant get there any faster. But he could show me where the coffee shop was.
Then, once the attendant was at the ticket counter, he minimized my wait by letting me know of their arrival.
He honored my time.
If you want to know how well you honor your customer’s time as well as how you perform on the other four components of a remarkable customer experience, just take this short assessment.
Because, as that janitor demonstrated, every member of the team has a part to play in creating a remarkable customer experience.
When a business is small, everyone can pick up the culture just by hanging around the leaders. That closeness disappears once the business starts rapidly expanding.That’s when maintaining culture requires a new level of intention.
After the culture, the next thing you must get right to grow from the inside out is the customer experience.
Again, when a business is small, and the owner-operator is highly involved with every customer, you can grow without defining every step of the fulfillment process.
But without that defined process, the customer experience will suffer once you grow beyond the leader’s capacity to be involved in every step.
Growth from the inside out requires a world-class customer experience. That’s what I talk about in this video:
What’s the experience like for those who do business with you? Find out by taking my customer experience assessment. At the end, you’ll be able to book a strategy session with me where we will discuss the results of your assessment and the biggest opportunities for improvement.
Your customer experience may be great today, but if that’s because you’re involved in every interaction, it will become a barrier to growth. Position your business for growth from the inside out by taking this assessment today.
One of the most frequent questions I get about my new(ish) company, FiveFour is: What is FiveFour? We’re launching a new email series to answer that question, so I thought I would share it here.
FiveFour specializes in transforming businesses.
Which raises the obvious next question: “What kind of transformation are we talking about?”
Let me explain:
We help successful companies that have seen their growth start to stall or not go as fast as they would like it to. Companies who have started to see a few more disengaged employees and disgruntled customers than they are comfortable with. You know, those problems they didn’t have to worry about when the were small, and the leader wasn’t far removed from every team meeting and every customer interaction.
But you can’t just go back to the way you were doing things before. You’re a different business now and you need to create remarkable experiences for the team and the customers you have today. You need to transform your team and customer experience. That is the transformation we’re talking about.
Business today is far more than just its products and services. Increasingly, successful companies understand that their customers are looking for more than things. People value connection and personalization. We want to spend our time – and our money – on experiences, not things.
The businesses that figure this out are the ones we recommend to our family and friends. The ones we return to again and again.
Isn’t that what you want for your business? The unmatchable value of raving fans.
It isn’t easy or simple.
At FiveFour, that’s what we do.
We guide companies as they transform their culture into one committed to customer success. We get your team re-engaged so that they better engage with your customers. We get you back to growing again.
If you want to learn how your business can transform into an organization focused on customer success, sign up for our email list to ensure you don’t miss any of our important communications.
What we’re talking about takes reflection, assessment, adjustment and commitment, but only if you want to drive measurable results.
Think of us as the guides along your journey of business transformation.
P.S.: Get fresh perspective on your business with our Experience Gap Analysis. This deep dive into your employee and customer experience includes a 45-minute presentation of opportunities from one of our transformational guides. This service is normally $1,000 but are making it available to you at no charge as an introduction to FiveFour.
P.S.S: You’re probably wondering about our company name. In antiquity, the Quinquatrus (or “FiveFour”) was a celebration of the Spring Equinox – of new life and the birth of a new season of growth. The five-day celebration began with one day of festival, followed by four days of gladiator battle in the arena. This model – one-part preparation, four parts hard work – is the guiding idea behind FiveFour. We are the one day of preparation – getting you ready for the “hard work” that awaits you in the business arena.
Ready, Fire, Aim started as a retreat serial entrepreneur Michael Masterson led for other entrepreneurs. He wanted to impart the lessons he had learned from a 30-year career starting and running several multi-million-dollar businesses. Later developed and expanded as a book, the subtitle states his objective; teaching the reader to take a business from “Zero to $100 Million in No Time Flat.”
The two biggest ideas in the book are the importance of action (thus, the book title) and that going from zero to $100 million encompasses four distinct stages in the life of a company. Having read the Five Second Rule, 10X, and many other books, I knew the first point well. It’s the second that I will focus on.
According to Masterson, each of the four stages of a business has different problems, challenges, and opportunities and requires different skills from the entrepreneur running the company. The stages are:
Infancy ($0-1 million in revenue)
Childhood ($1-10 million)
Adolescence ($10 million to $50 million)
Adulthood ($50 million to $100 million and beyond)
The stage that was the most interesting to me (because it faces many of the challenges my company, FiveFour, solves for business leaders at this level) is adolescence. Once a company grows to or near $10 million, the growth almost always comes with a new set of challenges.
At this size, there is at least one or two levels of management between the founder/CEO and the front-line workers who engage with the company’s customers. Those employees do not have the benefit that existed in the first two phases of business growth – proximity to the founder/CEO. Companies that reach $10 million in revenue usually do so because the founder/CEO built a culture around taking care of the customer. With multiple levels of management, they no longer talk directly to every employee and are unable to directly impart their culture and expectations of how the customer should be cared for.
The way this usually shows up in a company is through disgruntled customers. Masterson writes: “The most important disconnect has to do with the priority you had established to make sure every customer would be handled with the utmost of care and consideration.” The business is in need of a transformation. A transformation from focusing almost exclusively on customer acquisition to one that now focuses equally on customer retention. Masterson calls it customer service, but were he writing today rather than the mid-2000’s, he would likely recognize that the customer experience is even more important.
The leader accomplishes this transformation by a focus on operations and training, communicating the vision, joint ventures and hiring stars and superstars. He’s dead-on with that list, but a few of his methods are decidedly lacking. For example, to communicate the vision he advocates writing a monthly memo. To solve this communication gap that he has so accurately identified takes much more than a written letter once a month.
And it’s behind that small defect that my larger problem with the book arises. Those memos worked for him and a client of his. That’s 98% of what you get in this book: his personal experience as an entrepreneur. Masterson has no time for theory. The only time I can remember him quoting an organizational theorist was to disagree with him.
That’s not a debilitating problem and it doesn’t erase the good that comes from the book. After all, Masterson wrote it to impart what he learned from his entrepreneurial journey. But it is a limitation that the reader should be aware of. This book is just one source – a good one, but just one – and will need to be supplemented with other resources especially the further we get from the day it was written.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?