What Comes After the ‘But’?

Why is Starbucks so successful in selling you a $4.00 cup of coffee when MacDonald’s charges $2.00?

Why does a stay at a Ritz Carlton hotel seem much different than at a stay at the Holiday Inn?

Most people today would answer that it’s all about ‘customer service’ when, in fact, they would be wrong! Both MacDonald’s and Holiday Inn offer incredible customer service. What Starbuck’s and Ritz Carlton understand is that it is about the customer EXPERIENCE!

I use the word ‘customer’ to make sure that, no matter what you do for a living, you understand that we all have internal and external customers. I would hope that everyone in your organization can define external customer. Internal customer, however, is anybody without whom we can’t do what we do every single day. This may be a paradigm shift for many of you. For example, my FedEx driver is an internal customer. If he doesn’t show up on the days that I need him to pick up my parcels, I am out of business. So, he is a vital part of what I do every day.

So here is the problem on which this blog is focused. Customer “experience” has become the new buzz word in the corporate world and I am not sure that most project management professionals really understand it. ‘Service’ is what you offer your customers—internal and external—everyday as a trained professional; it is personal and it comes from the heart. The nurse who truly cares about her patients. The 6th grade teacher who customizes her lesson plan for each student. The postal delivery person who takes time out of a busy schedule to help an elderly woman take down her Christmas decorations.

I am often asked if customer service is dead. It’s not dead, but it is just not the differentiator it used to be. While your competitors are competing on service, why wouldn’t you look to the next plateau—EXPERIENCE. Customer ‘experience’ is about considering our customers’ experiences from the minute they make contact with our organization until the minute they are done. This involves so many more people than just you.

Those organizations who purposefully examine every customer touch point—those opportunities we have to touch the customer from the parking attendant, to our on-hold message, to accounting, to our website and many more—are those who will excel at the customer experience. By driving the message of the experience through every department, people realize that, no matter their title or contribution—part time or full time—they are part of the customer experience, they start to become more engaged. A 2013 study conducted by the Gallop organization, found that only 50% of Americans were engaged at what they do every day. That means that 50% of Americans come to work for a pay check or for the security. By having everyone consider their specific customer touch point and how they can better that one experience, they automatically become more engaged at what they do and ultimately, the customer is the one who benefits. Imagine a CPA meeting with a client (touch point) and hearing about a problem that’s outside of their realm of expertise. They don’t hesitate to suggest that someone else in the firm could help with that challenge. That CPA has just engaged that client at a whole different level because of taking advantage of one simple touch point.

The experience has to start with you! Because of your influence and because you touch so many different people at so many levels of the organization, you have to step up to the plate as the leader you are. It starts with you getting as many people as you can, walking around asking, “What is the (fill in the name of your organization here) experience?” Then, figure out how to shatter the stereotype of the experience customers EXPECT to have with you, your department or with your organization. Ask yourself, “What small touch point could I focus on this week that will ultimately shatter that stereotype?”

Imagine going to a new restaurant that has been touted as the best in town. You arrive at 7:50 for an 8pm reservation and are seated right on time. You go on to have the best service and possibly the best food you have ever eaten. At one point, the chef comes out to your table and explains how each of your dishes was prepared. The manager checks on you a few times. It is perfect. After dinner, you proceed to go outside, you proffer your parking ticket to the car valet and FIFTY FIVE MINUTES later your car arrives! Isn’t that part of the overall experience? Of course it is. But, let’s take this to the next step. It is now 3 months later and you have told hundreds of people to go to that new restaurant because the food is amazing and the service is outstanding. Then, you finish with one word. BUT!…BUT your car will take forever to get to you after dinner.”

What’s this got to do with YOUR profession? Everything! The minute we get our people asking “What comes after the but?” is the minute we start to become 100% customer-centric. “They are the nicest people to work with BUT they always are late on delivery”. “You should call my lawyer because she is great BUT she charges too much.”. They are amazing care givers to my Mom BUT the place smells terrible. We need to examine every touch point and imagine what the customer might say. To start to make a shift from service to experience, begin by examining those touch points and see the world through THEIR eyes not yours.

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