Is your customer experience better than an airport janitor?

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.”

Wow.

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:

  1. Being efficient with their time (time well saved)
  2. 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.

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.