Great Customer Experiences Don’t Need to be Bought

I spent over a week interviewing about 30 people on what makes a great customer experience. Surprisingly, it doesn’t take an expensive or flashy gesture to make your customer remember their positive interaction with your company. What matters is sincerity, giving your team time to reply appropriately, and making sure that they have the right attitude.

But a terrible product can’t be covered up by good customer service. It needs to be reasonably fast and easy for people to enjoy the service and they have to want or need what you’re selling, whether it’s medical care, transportation, or insurance. Nobody praised a company for creating busywork, but interviewees repeated that good customer service could turn a confusing process into a simple one. On top of that, most people didn’t bother mentioning price with their stories. A few went so far as to say that their great experience has created a loyal relationship. They’ve stopped comparison-shopping because they trust the company to price things fairly.

Above and beyond the basics of “fast”, “easy”, and “fair”, there were three types of excellent customer experiences: great empathy from the customer service rep, ownership on the part of the representative, and going above and beyond to satisfy the customer. Some stories included all three elements, others just one or two, but these three elements are the cornerstones of a positive, memorable experience.

Empathy from the Company

Empathy comes in many forms, but usually means feeling welcome or cared about. In some cases it meant that the company was willing to be forgiving, recognizing that customers are people and sometimes make mistakes. Think of a person who misses one credit card bill but gets the penalty waived.

He had been considering refusing to fly with them ever again. As a result of her phone call, he remains a loyal customer to the airline.

One of my favorite stories was from someone who had the worst plane ride imaginable–9 hours next to a drunk who was bleeding from a head wound, surrounded by flight attendants who couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything for him. So he wrote in his story to a customer service line. A rep called him to tell him she had read his story over multiple times and wanted to let him know how terribly embarrassed she was for the company. She gave him a very small flight voucher as compensation, but wasn’t able to do much more than that. But her call was so full of empathy that he believed “she had really put herself in my seat and gone through what I experienced.” He had been considering refusing to fly with them ever again. As a result of her phone call, he remains a loyal customer to the airline.

Take Ownership to the End

Ownership implies that there’s one person at the company who takes full responsibility for making sure you get through a process. Keeping the customer in the loop is a key part of the ownership experience.

Ownership is the gate agent at the airport who, after a customer mentioned once that she might miss her connection if the flight was delayed further, walked over every half hour to provide updates on both her current and connecting flight. Another great example is the HR person who made sure that the employee was given the right phone number for benefits questions–then followed up to make sure that everything was handed off properly.

The gate agent could have shrugged and told the customer to keep an eye on the boards, and HR could have provided the link and forgotten about it, but instead they chose to remain a part of the customer’s experience. That persistence made all the difference to their customers.

Above and Beyond

Going above and beyond means two things: pleasant, unexpected surprises, and working extra hard for the customer. Most people think that going above and beyond is what defines a memorable customer experience. But my research indicates that it’s really just the icing on the cake of a great interaction between a customer and company.

The first is something we’ve all seen–a dessert on your birthday at your favorite restaurant, or an upgrade on arrival at a hotel. The idea of working extra hard is a finer line. One example comes from someone who was traveling in a rural area when his son lost a tooth. In this family, the tooth fairy only has one currency: $2 bills. The father went to the corner store, but the owner didn’t have one.

Instead of shrugging it off, the owner called around to his friends until he found someone who did have one they were willing to give away. And what did this lucky dad think of the experience? “I mean, who does that?” Talk about a memorable story!

Great Customer Experience is About Attitude

People often think that great customer experiences are about giving your customer free stuff, but as these stories show, they don’t have to be. Make sure your team has the right attitude, then put them in a situation where they can perform well–give enough time for reflection that they can be empathetic, enough flexibility in process that they can take ownership, and reward passion so that they can go above and beyond when the moment warrants it.

Don’t forget- great customer experiences pay off. As one interviewee said, “I care less about price when it is so easy, fast, and frictionless.”

Originally Posted on LinkedIn Pulse

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