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Creating Customer Experiences That Amaze (and Don’t Suck)

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WE HAVE A SAYING around our company: Everyone deserves an amazing experience. And I believe it. Every customer in every industry should have the opportunity to be amazed by an experience, and “amazing” can come in lots of different forms. For instance, you can be absolutely blown away by an experience, or you can be overcome with gratitude because an experience wasn’t nearly as painful as you anticipated. And, of course, no matter how amazing the experience, it can be spoiled by one element that sucks.

OVER-THE-TOP EXPERIENCES

When we think of amazing experiences, we most likely think of those experiences that are completely astonishing and over the top. Amusement parks, hotels, and the entire entertainment industry are loaded with examples of flawless experiences that also have some element of surprise.

It reminds me of an experience I once had at a high-end restaurant. The food and the service were exceptional, but one little surprise stood out. When the waiter asked one of the guests if she wanted an appetizer, she jokingly said she would like a grilled cheese sandwich, which of course was nowhere on the menu. We all laughed and then she placed her real order. But when the waiter delivered all the appetizers, he brought a perfectly prepared grilled cheese sandwich on fine china along with her real order. This little touch delighted the group and demonstrated how the waiter wanted to make this a special experience.

Over-the-top experiences often have an element of surprise. In fact, I think employees in these industries are trained to look for opportunities to deliver personalized experiences that are memorable and, well, amazing!

MEETING EXPECTATIONS

Sometimes amazing can mean that you simply meet expectations reliably and consistently.

For instance, the last time I rented a car everything was fine: The pickup was easy, the car was clean and comfortable, the drop-off was hassle-free. The post-experience survey asked if anything could have been done to get a “10.” I jotted a note explaining that all my expectations were met and everything was fine—no complaints. Was it amazing? If that type of experience can happen every time, then yes, to me it’s amazing.

AVOIDING PAINFUL EXPERIENCES

In a previous article, I shared the experience of having my refrigerator repaired. I documented 14 steps along the way and concluded that the entire process was relatively painless. Naturally, I expected it to be painful and expensive. But the service was good and the technician knowledgeable, and the refrigerator is still in good working order. Amazing? Compared to what I expected—yes!

We’ve all had times when we were dreading an experience—calling a customer service line, addressing an insurance claim, waiting in line to get a driver’s license renewed. Every once in a while you come through such an experience saying, “That wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be,” and the relief can feel as good as the euphoria from an over-the-top experience.

DON’T MESS UP AN AMAZING EXPERIENCE

No matter how incredible an experience you provide, you can ruin the whole thing with one bad element. The service was slow, the invoice wasn’t right, the product didn’t come on time, wrong color, wrong size—any number of things can prove fatal.

I recall a conference I attended that had many things going for it: first-rate speakers, a wide range of relevant workshops, headlining entertainers. It had all the elements in place. But the logistics were terrible. Long lines to get into the keynote sessions, overcrowded workshops, and general disorganization prompted a myriad of complaints. It was a shame. It could have amazed.

Amazing experiences can show up in many ways. Here are a few takeaways:

  • Look for opportunities to surprise. A common trait of amazing experiences is an element of something unexpected. Look for ways to go above and beyond.
  • Make it easy. Whether your experience is over the top or mundane, weed out all the complexity you can. Designing an experience that is consistently easy might be all you need to make it amazing.
  • Show some empathy. What experiences do your customers dread? Design these experiences to be as pain-free as possible by taking an interest in how customers feel. A little empathy can go a long way.
  • What sucks? To be amazing, an experience must be great and not suck. Take a close look at your customers’ journeys and identify those elements that can ruin an otherwise amazing experience. 

Patrick Gibbons is a principal at Walker, a leading experience management services firm. He leads marketing and experience management programs and can be reached at pgibbons@walkerinfo.com.

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