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Emotional Experiences: The Key to Customer Service

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By: Jim Kirk, Owner and Chief Creative Officer

If you are in business, then you deal with customer service at some level and at some time.
Every company says they are concerned about how good their customer service is.
But, look around you. What do you really see? Countless companies focused on adding endless features and giving rebates…with very little focus on personal touch.

It is interesting to note how customer service is often defined. More often than not, we hear words such as “short delivery time”, “hot”, “knowledgeable sales people” and “location”.
Boring!

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out good customer service. In fact, a rocket scientist probably couldn’t figure it out because they (like too many of us) would try to make it too difficult. In reality, customer service is just common sense…easy. It cuts to the core of human behavior. And when it really happens well, the response by a customer is palatable…and generally expressed in rather basic terms.

A very sophisticated and talented friend of mine from the U.K., when experiencing something really wonderful, always shouts out, “now, THAT’s pee in your pants good!!” You gotta’ hear it with a British accent to get the full-effect, but you get the idea. She’s saying, it’s cool. It’s neat. Her emotions have been touched.

First of all. Let’s change the term. It is not “customer service”. Service is what you do to your car. It is the Customer EXPERIENCE.

The customer experience encompasses everything you do.

Jeff Herbert has had extensive experience with Kraft, Campbell’s and Coca-Cola as a marketing guru. In assisting Jeff with a presentation, he said, “marketing is simply the business of doing business. It is not just a division or part of the company. It touches EVERY aspect of the company”.

He’s right. And as everyone in the company realizes that they are part of marketing, they will realize that they are ALL a part of the “customer experience”. This involves advertising, packaging, product & service features, ease of use, reliability and (of course) customer care.
The leaders in each area of these areas needs to spend more time thinking about how their independent decisions shape the “customer experience”. Those who get this…who are redefining customer service to become a customer emotional experience…are pushing us waaaaay beyond simply saying, “can I help you?”.

“The customer experience encompasses everything you do.”

And guess what…they’re making lots of money.

We are into a whole new era regarding customer service. Some more advanced-thinking people are saying that Customer Service is all about forming Relationships with customers. They believe that if you form that relationship, you will WIN big.

But believing that you need to do something and actually achieving it are two, different things. In truth, much data has been acquired by many companies regarding customer satisfaction. The problem is that measuring Customer SAT does not tell anyone how to achieve it…how to form that all-important relationship.

In truth, the customer experience is a series of connected experiences which culminate into the customer’s ultimate feeling toward the company. If you want to form a good relationship with that customer, clearly all of the good experiences must outweigh any that are bad.
But, simple cold, data-based experiences are not what customers are longing for. If you want to form a true wonderful relationship with a customer, you need more.

Question: “how do you form that relationship?”

Answer: “By creating an EMOTIONAL CONNECTION with your customers”
This is the way that relationships have always been formed. The greater the relationship you want, the deeper the emotional connection needs to be.

They will not only keep coming to get your product or service, they will tell their friends and colleagues about you. They will broadcast your name to everyone they know. And, if necessary, they will fight for you.

And while that has always been true (even though only a few have done it); there is now the added component which is having a dramatic effect on how we do customer service.

Social Interaction.

In the middle of the last century, there was a premium on social interaction. Most people lived in small towns and knew everyone. So, when they went to Bob’s Store, they already had a relationship with Bob, his wife Nelda, their two sons Harry and Frank…and the other three employees.

Chances are they all went to church together, went to school together, voted for the same candidates and gathered at the city square on Saturdays to listen to a marching band while they enjoyed the local “Ladies of Mayberry Ice Cream Social”.

The point is that companies didn’t have to worry about forming relationships with their customers…they already had the relationships with them

But that is not the case today in our mobile society/global economy. The people you want to form customer relationships with are either continents away or are racing by your store, at 50 mph, as they travel from work to their house. Most likely, you have no natural relationships with these people. So, if you are going to form a relationship with them, you are going to have to make them.

“The most important thing was “making an emotional connection with each customer.”

The good news is that, today, we are there is once again experiencing an increasing premium on social interaction. In a competitive environment, creating an emotional connection through enlightened social interaction will not be as difficult as it would’ve been a few years ago; because, people are looking for it.

So, give it to them!

Right now, only a few companies are taking advantage of this phenomenon. If you take advantage of this knowledge and act on it, you can use this towill differentiate yourself in a very positive way.

As I write this, JCPenney is experiencing a phenomenal turn-around. This powerhouse brand had seen its stock go from well over $50 per share down to single digits.

Mike Ullman took over the reins and began implementing a whole new way of thinking. More importantly, he implemented a whole new way of FEELING about the brand, employees, customers…everything. It is captured in the language they used at their branding campaign launch. They said they wanted to put “LOVE back in the store”. They want to create an intimate, emotional connection with shoppers.

LOVE? Now, that doesn’t sound like a solid business proposition, does it? Or does it!!
I spent 3 hours on a private plane with Mike as we raced across the eastern seaboard. He was telling me about his vision and plans for JCPenney. Over and over again, the term “EMOTIONAL CONNECTION” came up. He knew a rising stock price was important. He knew that public perception was important. He knew that employee turnover was important. He knew that cleanliness in the stores was important. But, THE most important thing was “making an emotional connection with each customer”.

This staunch, experienced, highly-successful leader told me that “if we focus strongly on making this kind of a connection with each customer, all of the other issues will easily be resolved”.

As we flew, we talked about how the first meeting with all of the Store Managers was going to be critical. They were the ones who would need to be motivated to go back to their stores and create a whole new environment in which every customer would feel appreciated and, yes, even LOVED!

How was this to be done? By creating an emotional connection with the customers in the advertising, product selection, store design and employee-customer interaction…at every touch point.

Products were to be selected based on what connected with potential customer “emotionally”.
Employees were to be selected based, not on their extensive experience, but rather, their attitude. Who could connect emotionally with the customers? Hire them.

Store Managers were encouraged to find more local community activities/charities which the store could be involved in. Find the ones in which the community has an emotional attachment.

“Don’t think about what you are saying. Think about what your customers are hearing!”

Don’t think about what you are saying. Think about what your customers are hearing!
In other words. Find out what to your customer get emotional about and connect with that. Everything was to be focused on how each area in the company could help make the JCPenney experience cool, exciting, uplifting, and fun!!

Emotion. Emotion. Emotion.

Stock’s up. It has risen from it’s once dismal single digit to well over $80.
Too many companies still define customer service solely in terms of two words…PRICE & SPEED.

For many categories, such as the fast food industry, price and speed are the price of entry.
For others, such as a telephone company or U.S. Mail, price and speed are pretty much the product/service.

But the instances where price and speed are the only saleable factors are few. Even in other instances where they appear to be the only selling points, the wise companies have realized the power of making it an “emotional equation”.

Take FedEx for example. Now there is a company that you would think is solely built on price and speed. But look at the advertising slogan they used to establish their business…
“When it absolutely, positively has to get there!”

What were they doing? Was this about fast and cheap? No way. It was about your job, that new promotion, your monthly quota, your prestige, getting the new account or keeping the old one….I mean, just think about all the bad things that could happen to you if it doesn’t get there!! Or, think about all the good things that will happen if it does!

It was about EMOTION.

It was like a beautiful hot-fudge sundae. They put the bananas (speed) and ice cream (price) on the bottom…then they piled on the hot fudge (emotion) and served it up. The bananas and ice cream are important; but, ooooh, baby, give me chocolate any day of the week and I’m buyin’!! But, having worked in many varying categories, I now believe there are many companies that are defining their customer service in terms of price and speed who desperately need to reconsider this position.

I say this for the following reasons: If you are one of them, beware. You are admitting two things.

  1. If people will not pay much for your product, they don’t think very much of it. Either because it is not very good or because there are a lot of other places where they can get it. If you and I really like a product or service…if it is valuable and special to us, we will spend whatever we have to…gladly…to get it.
  2. If people don’t want to spend much time in your place, they don’t like it. The experiences you and I enjoy, we want to last a long time. The more we enjoy them, the longer we want them to last.

Your goal should be to create something for which people will be willing to pay a premium; something they will drive half-way across town to enjoy for a long time.

“If you are all about price and speed, I bet your sales are fairly flat.”

In addition…if you are all about price and speed, I bet your sales are fairly flat. As are all of your competitors in your category, if they also define service by price and speed.

Now, you may be satisfied with this…holding your own. But, you should be scared. All it takes is for one of your competitors or somebody new to come into the category and turn the equation on it’s ear…turning it into an Emotional Experience…and you are dead.

If everybody is doing price and speed, the company that was “first to market” in the category is undoubtedly number one and will remain so.

Southwest Airlines is a prime example who, on the surface, features speed and price. But that is not what you talk about when you discuss them. You talk about their attitude, the emotion…the totally unique experience you have on one of their flights. What do they do” They add humor…one co-pilot, while welcoming the crowd, said “our pilot’s name is Stevie Wonder and my name is Justin Case.” Clever.

Nobody looks forward to driving to the airport, parking your car, standing in line through a metal detector and then flying for over an hour from Dallas to Houston, but SW Airlines actually makes it FUN. And, guess who has been successful, making money quarter after quarter? Hmmmmmmm, I wonder what that means!!

Recently, I was sitting in the Las Vegas terminal waiting for my American Airlines flight back to Dallas. Suddenly, the pilot came walking through the terminal talking with people, shaking hands and telling us that we will be leaving in just a few minutes.

When we got on the plane, he welcomed everyone and then came up and down the aisle talking with us and, again, thanking us for flying with American. As we were backing out and he came on the speaker system and joked with us.

I overheard the two guys across the aisle as one said, “he must’ve worked for Southwest.” The other one then said, “I might actually keep flyin’ this airline”. The lady next to me said, “that was great!”

Yes, the words Customer Service should be changed to CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIP. If you only serve, you will always be relegated to the role of being a Servant…nothing more. You form a relationship with another person (call them a customer if you want) and you have something much stronger. By the way, you can form a relationship with another person very quickly if you use EMOTION. It’s all a matter of attitude and focus.

So, what do I want you to get from thisyou learn from all of this?

Customer Service is not about price or fast or smile.

In fact, Customer Service is not about Service.

It is about creating a wonderful, new, emotional experiencethat your audience (call them customers, clients or consumers)looks forward to and thoroughly enjoys!Think of things that your target audience finds emotional and wrap your interaction around these emotional triggers.

By doing so, you will naturally form a relationship with these valued customers.

And when you really get serious about wanting to change your position in the market from “a follower” to “the leader”, change the price and speed equation into an Emotional Experience.

If you can’t find your way to do that’re too lazy to do that, then please tell me so I can sell my shares in your company.

Prescription:

[1] When your customer interact with your company, would you describe this to be a highly emotional experience or just a transaction? If the answer is “transaction”, slap yourself and go to prescriptive #2.

[2] Imagine how this interaction could change to truly become an emotional experience…something customers would look forward to experiencing.
© 2011 Jim Kirk Productions