Having done all the work to create a sale, the next question is: What is that customer’s experience like? Is it different? Is it remarkable? Does it reflect what makes your brand unique?
Disney was one of the first to really develop the concept of customer experience at their parks. They realized that beyond the laughter and thrills of their various rides, it’s the little things that also delight their visitors—the actors shouting dialog as they run by you on the street, the videos while you wait in line, the parades through the park. It’s even as random as the maintenance man who uses his broom to draw a Mickey Mouse figure with water from a puddle. (Check it out on YouTube.)
When Apple decided to enter the retail market with its own stores, they were as innovative as their computers, phones, and other devices. They have no check out registers or stock on the shelves. Their employees are casually dressed in t-shirts but know everything there is to know about the products. There is generally some version of free user training taking place in a part of the store. At the back is the Genius Bar, whose personnel back up its pretentious name with expert solutions and incredibly patient advice to most of the problems that are plunked down in front of them.
Southwest Airlines started as just another no-frills, low fare airline but quickly developed a unique, high-energy customer experience that is a key part of their brand. There are no reserved seats, and passengers are assigned a boarding position based on when they check-in. Even the pre-takeoff safety briefings often seem more like a comedy routine. (One of my favorite lines: “For those of you who haven’t been in a car since 1962, this is a seatbelt.”) Southwest has an upbeat approach that keeps passengers entertained in what can be an otherwise dreary activity.
Each of these brands found ways to make their customer experience different and special, which can be a real challenge in any industry. Take a look at consumer banking services. Most people have numerous choices for where to put their savings and checking accounts. These products are essentially commodities, but banks are continually experimenting with ways to add an experiential difference. Some have tried adding a coffee shop to their lobbies, others have created “universal tellers” who greet you at the door and handle requests from check cashing to loan applications. Some have added automated kiosks with onscreen assistants to help you find what you need. The products are the same; the experience is what’s different.
Sustaining a superior customer experience isn’t easy. Disney maintains Disney University, where employees receive training on how to be “Cast Members” at their theme parks. Apple looks for “magnetic personalities” and trains each store employee in exactly how to greet and serve customers, as well as how to deal with those who are agitated by a problem with their device. Southwest also has a university for employee training and leadership development. But is it really any surprise that the same companies that have crafted and sustained unique customer experiences are also some of the most successful companies in their industries?