When Customer Experience Is the Ticket

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Imagine planning an out-of-state business trip and facing these two travel options: Hotel A, which has a reputation for bad service, is offering a room for $180 per night. Hotel B, which is known for great experiences, is offering a comparable room at the same price. It's likely, assuming everything else is equal, that you'd select Hotel B. So wouldn't it make sense to learn from organizations that make positive experiences the central asset of their business?

It certainly does—which is why customer experience (CX) is becoming a top priority for progressive companies.

The concept of creating positive customer experiences is nothing new. In fact, amusement parks and museums have been successfully doing it for decades. Though amusement parks do sell products, they live and die not by the goods they offer but from the experiences they provide. For nearly a century, Disney World has marketed and sold its magical experience. Similarly, museums have historically depended on the appeal of the environments they create. And some museums continue to thrive in the age of the Internet because they offer a one-of-a-kind experience that extends beyond the physical location.

If these organizations are still nailing the experience, why not apply this approach to businesses whose goal is to sell goods and services? And why not take it a step further and collect data from those experiences that can later be used to reconnect with customers when they're out of physical reach?

WHAT EXPERIENCE-CENTRIC BUSINESSES HAVE YET TO PERFECT

Experience-centric organizations are becoming more reliant on linking offline experiences with those they provide online. But they haven’t quite figured everything out. These companies are beginning to realize the difficulty of getting visitors to return if you lack sufficient information regarding their interests or preferences.

Since the earnings of such companies depend largely on the success of physical locations, it is vital they keep customers engaged while they visit. And there's another motive in play: The on-site experience presents an opportunity to learn about customer preferences, so getting customers to interact with the environment in ways that produce more data will only help future engagement efforts.

Increasingly, the standards for a good experience are going up, and it's becoming more important for organizations to provide a seamless one. For Disney World, reducing the friction within its parks has been a growing concern in recent years. Visitors now have the option of investing in MyMagic+ Bands, wearable devices that track their progress at various touch points throughout the park grounds. The band is designed to make the customers' experiences easier by offering an all-in-one device that serves a number of functions, including access to rides and food. But the added benefit to Disney is that it allows the company to gather more substantial data on those customers.

A number of museums are also making efforts to better engage patrons, says Allegra Burnette, former creative director of digital media at MoMa and now a principal analyst at Forrester Research. "The notion of marrying the physical and digital, and thinking about them through different channels, makes a lot of sense," she says.

Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum allows its patrons to engage with exhibits in ways that connect the physical space to the digital world. Visitors are given a digital pen when they enter with which they can draw on rubber screens throughout the museum, bookmarking certain objects that they'd like to see later online. Once they've left the museum, they can go online to revisit exhibits digitally. There are also design-related exercises they can do along the way.

The hospitality industry is also beginning to react. "Like all hotel companies, IHG is unique in that the experience is a product," says Billy Turchin, head of CRM and customer experience at InterContinental Hotels Group. "In the old days, it used to just be a bed and shelter. Now, when I step into a city, I can find six hotels that are roughly comparable. What drives me to choose one hotel over the other? More and more, it's the experience."

To keep an edge, IHG is determining how to use apps to stay connected with customers before, during, and after their stays by offering easier ways to make requests while they are at the hotel.

Personalization is crucial to the effort. People expect companies to know more about their preferences now, and what might delight one customer may not be appreciated by another. A particular offer might seem considerate to one customer, but insulting to another. This is particularly true of the hotel industry, Turchin notes.

IHG is now making an effort to better understand the various types of people staying in its hotels. For instance, one traveler might be the type who spends little time at the hotel, returning only to sleep; another might like to take advantage of the hotel bar and restaurant. If hotels can better understand the needs of each type, it can create more personal experiences.

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