The Bigger They Are...


It shouldn’t have been a surprise, really.

The local Blockbuster shut down last week. Online rental, video streaming, and movie on demand dominate the brick and mortar video industry. And, although I’m sure all of these in-home options played a part in the demise of our local Blockbuster, there was another factor involved here. In our little central Texas town “going out to rent a movie” is considered “Entertainment.” So I think what really took this big boy down was the little kiosk called Redbox. It’s convenient, it’s cheap, and you still get to leave the house to choose your movie. Never mind the fact that browsing takes place on a video screen. Hey, I told you it’s a small town. We’re easily entertained.

Twelve years earlier Blockbuster moved into our town and ran almost all of the mom-and-pop video rental stores out of business. Ironic that this giant was brought down by a little red kiosk with a footprint the size of a phone booth.

Did Blockbuster see Redbox coming? Or were they scanning the horizon for a bigger predator competitor? What about your business? It’s not always the big-boxes and the mega-retailers you have to worry about. Sometimes competition comes in a small package.

Just ask Goliath.

Dig This Customer Experience

Boy in front of truck “The only difference between men and boys is the size of their... toys.”

Or, at least that might be Ed Mumm’s philosophy. Ed found a way to profit from that bit of pop wisdom by bringing adult-size Tonka® toys to life. And it isn’t just “the boys” getting behind the levers and gauges of bulldozers and hydraulic excavators at “Dig This,” the first heavy-equipment playground in America. Women like to play in the sandbox,too.

This is more evidence that illustrates...

Continue reading "Dig This Customer Experience" »

Making Your Name Stick

Chewing_gumGive it away, give it away, give it way, now!
                                          – Anthony Kiedis

In the break room, I’d often find leftover peppermints with the Sonic drive-in logo imprinted on them. Even though no one wanted to eat the mints, no one could throw them away because they were perfectly good mints. (Same with the catsup. We had a drawer filled to the top with nothing but packets of Sonic catsup.)

After seeing the peppermints with the little logo on the wrapper, I would want to jump in my car and head to the drive-in and pick up a # 1 double meat with cheese and an order of tater tots, (or as my nurse-daughter Emily calls it, “a heart attack-to-go”). Back at the break room, I’d finish the meal and then I’d leave the mints on the table.

So what can you give a customer - that won't get thrown away - to serve as a reminder of you when you’re not around?

A friend of mine owns a produce company. He often found his expensive full-color product brochures in his customers’ trash until he started placing exclusive recipes on the back. Now he finds the brochures pinned on the bulletin boards in the offices of his clientele.

Of course, not just any promotional gadget or "gimme" is going to work. For it to have any chance of triggering a positive memory of your company, it has to meet at least one of the following three criteria for the customer.

    * Relevancy – it has to be related to your business and the customer.
    * Personal – it has to be something that specifically fits the individual client.
    * Functional – it has to serve a purpose for it be used and not forgotten.

Offering premiums to your customers is one way you can fight the big boys and win. The tactic of giving stuff away is certainly not new. William Wrigley Jr. started his successful career by selling soap and baking powder. He’d include a free stick of Wrigley’s gum with each can of baking soda. It seemed to work out pretty well for him.

No Stone Unturned in Search for Customer Service

Stones_in_sink_2 Why are rocks in the bottom of this lavatory? Do they serve a purpose? Or, do they just look “kind a’ cool”? And what do they have to do with customer service?

Our daughter got married last Saturday at Fellowship Church in Dallas. When I went to the men’s restroom to cry my head off one more time before the wedding, I noticed these smooth, gray stones in the bottom of all the sinks. At first I thought they were there for aesthetics. But, later that evening we were at a restaurant and when I went to the men’s room to wash my hands, it hit me - literally. There were no rocks in the bottom of this sink, and when I gently lifted up the handle to turn on the faucet, the water shot out with such force – the phrase “like trying to fill a teacup with a fire hose” came to mind – that it splashed out the opposite side of the sink and drenched the front of my khaki slacks.

Yes, it looked like I’d wet myself.

Despite the discomforting thought of having to reenter the restaurant with wet pants, I made a connection to the church’s restroom: The water crashes over the rocks and disperses into bubbling rivulets that disappear down the crevices no matter how fast you turn on the faucet.

This is an example of when an element of the customer experience goes largely unnoticed. That’s the downside; there’s no payoff. No one is going to run and tell their friends, “Hey, you’ve got to go to this church and see the rocks in the sink.” But, then, no one has to worry about walking into the church service with wet pants, either.

It’s like providing so-called "great customer service." Few customers notice, because they expect great service. However, they do notice poor service. And they notice when the sink in your bathroom causes them to wet their pants.

Of course, going to the trouble to find a way to keep water from splashing out of the sink, reflects something larger - the church’s attitude towards its visitors and members. Obviously, if the church leaders search for subtle ways to make a guest’s visit as pleasant as possible, they look for the big ways, too – like multiple services, educational programs, innovative presentations, and a huge floor-to-ceiling glassed-in “crying room” (obviously, designed for the father of the bride). As you might guess, Fellowship Church is one of the “mega-churches” that draws thousands of worshippers every week.

Building a better experience for our customers doesn’t always involve spending a lot of money to dazzle them. Search the buying environment you’ve created and look for subtle ways to ensure your customer’s comfort and enjoyment. Remove potential obstacles and make it easy for customers to do business with you. Often a small change can make a big difference. And don’t be disappointed, if no one seems to notice.

P.S. On May 13th - May 14th, I'll be teaching a 2 day workshop with Tom Wanek at the beautiful campus of the Wizard Academy in Austin, Texas. Be one of the first twelve to register for our course, "Fight the Big Boys and Win" and you'll stay at the Engelbrecht House for free!

Yours truly,

Mike D


“We don’t take that card.”Chess_move
Digging in my wallet for cash, I said “No problem,” but mentally I deducted 10 points off of the service scale for what the business books call a “customer sacrifice.” Sacrifices refer to the gaps between what your customer wants and what you are willing to give. In this case, if I want to shop here I have to sacrifice the use of my American Express.

Maybe that sounds like a small thing, but it’s a classic example of the sacrifices businesses ask their customers to make every day, like:

* Waiting in line.
* Taking a number.
* This section closed.
* Please use other door.
* No bills larger than $20.
* For faster service, press 1.   
* We're all out of that flavor.
* We don't take reservations.

I’m sure you can make a list of your your own. Sacrifices usually negatively impact your time, money, or convenience. Almost all businesses demand some sacrifice from their customers. And I know most businesses have perfectly sound reasons for doing so. I'm not saying they aren't reasonable. I'm saying that customers don't care.

Business owners try to justify the sacrifice. In the case of AMX, I’ve heard this story more than once: “Well, you see, American Express charges the merchant a higher percentage for handling its card, than blah, blah, blah.” And as a merchant who does offer AMX, I happen to know that's true. But, in "customerspeak," that’s your problem, not mine. I’ve even had some salespeople tell me that they are trying to keep their prices lower and taking American Express would force them to charge more. Funny, I know their competitors accept American Express and charge the same price as they do. Besides, it’s not my job as the customer to guarantee the size of their profit margin.

Most of the time, you don’t recognize the sacrifices you ask your customers to make, because you see them as minor inconveniences.


But, accumulate enough of them and soon you’ll have a customer exodus on your hands. Customers are getting better at spotting a sacrifice and chances are you have a competitor who’s successfully eliminated the same sacrifice you’re asking customers to make.

In 2008, customers will increasingly become more selective about where they spend their money, and they’re certainly not expecting to make sacrifices. Close the gap between what your customers want and what you’re willing to give, or your competitors may close it before you.

If you have examples of sacrifices you’ve experienced when you’re the customer, send them in a comment to this blog, or email me at [email protected]. I'd love to hear from you.

If this room's a rockin'...

Do_not_disturb Embassy Suites adds another layer to its Personal Experience Factor by inviting guests to participate in a competition to design the hotel chain’s next series of Do Not Disturb signs. The current DND door hanger – “There’s a good reason for you not to knock right now” – is so popular that guests take them home, which is fine by Embassy Suite’s, John Lee. Of course it is. Guests are taking home a piece of their experience that reminds them of how much fun they had during their stay.

It’s called “interactive marketing” and it brings at least four things to the party:

1. Engages customers in the personal experience and creates in them a sense of ownership in your business.
2. Extends the experience beyond the primary transaction. To enter the contest, simply go to our Web site….
3. Encourages word-of-mouth – like it’s doing right now. Did you hear about the contest Embassy Suites has going on….?
4. Embellishes your brand by personalizing the company. (Like the "I'm a Mac" commercials)

Take note. Interactive marketing isn’t just about designing gimmicky contests for your customers. It’s about inviting people to participate in your business success by connecting in an innovative and emotional way.

Service that Delights

First_jack “It’s a great day at Jack in the Box!

Hard to imagine someone saying that, isn’t it? Especially, at 6:00 in the A.M.  But, my wife, Frances, calling from her cell phone, assured me those were the words that came over the speaker when she pulled in to the drive-through to order a large diet Coke on her way out of town.

“Then,” Frances continued, “when I drove up to the window, the woman handed me the drink and said, ‘No charge. It’s my treat.’”

“Truly, it must be a great day at Jack in the Box,” I replied.

“It’s going to be a great day all day long,” Frances said.

“Because you got a free drink?”

“Well, yeah!” As if I could miss something so obvious. Now you need to understand something: With Frances, it isn’t a matter of whether or not the glass is “half-full or half-empty.” It’s more like, “if the glass is half anything, a free refill is surely on the way.” “Optimist” is not a strong enough word. She believes the universe is always conspiring to help her, and interestingly, it seems to be doing just that. I mean, I never got a free drink at Jack in the Box. Hmmm….

Anyway, my point - you know there’s one in here somewhere – is that a successful outcome for a customer experience is when it causes people to talk about it. There are entire blogs devoted to the importance and impact of word-of-mouth. And for the cost of a cold drink, an employee at Jack in the Box transformed an ordinary drive-through experience into "service that delights." And Frances told others about it. And now I’m telling you.

Adding the delight factor to your customer service doesn't have to be expensive. Lots of businesses have vending machines available for the “convenience of our customers.” But, a refrigerator filled with complimentary soft drinks and bottled waters for their customers – that’s convenient. Some tire companies offer free flat repair if you buy your tires from them. But, a tire company that offers to fix your flat free no matter where you bought your tire – that’s going the extra mile*. A bakery advertises, “daily newspapers for sale.” Yawn. Now if they gave those papers away to their customers – that would create more buzz than the donuts and coffee.

How about a jeweler who replaces your watch battery for free?

Can you think of some others?

*Discount Tire will repair a flat tire for free regardless of where you bought your tires.

Why? Because we like you

Istock_000000986868xsmall Seriously. I do make it a point to avoid writing about the companies you read about all the time anyway, like Starbucks and Nike and Apple. Mainly, because, even though the spirit of the stories is intended to inspire, I believe it’s hard for most small to mid-size businesses to identify with corporations that have mega-budgets for training, marketing and "experience building." So, I aim to keep it simple. That’s why I chose this story of service recovery, told by Don Robinson, Disney’s Sr. VP of Resort Operations, because it illustrates how providing a memorable customer experience begins with the basics of common courtesy, communication and compassion.

One of the most important things that we train staff members to do is service recovery. That's when you walk into a situation and you can tell that something has gone wrong -- and you do whatever it takes to fix the problem. That's also an opportunity for what we call a "magic moment."

We once had a family that wanted to celebrate a child's birthday at a "character breakfast" -- a buffet in which Disney characters mingle with guests, sign autographs, and pose for photographs. But this family was late and didn't make the seating. The next show was scheduled for lunch, which was also booked. Members of the family were sitting on a bench outside the restaurant, waiting for an opening, when one of our employees walked by and saw that these people were not happy campers.

The employee found out what the problem was and said, "Let me see what I can do." He was able to get them into the lunch show, seat them right up front, and make sure that the birthday boy's favorite character sang "Happy Birthday.” That was a magic moment -- a quick recovery from what could have been a very disappointing birthday.

The best part? The employee who did that recovery was a custodian -- a guy just walking by with a broom, sweeping up cigarette butts. But all of our employees, from janitors and dishwashers to hotel managers, know they have the ability -- and the responsibility -- to improve the experience of any guest.

Okay, I know some people may point out that the birthday experience that Disney provides does indeed cost money, but the story is about an employee being aware of the role he plays in the total customer experience.

First, it's necessary to sell the notion of the "customer experience" to all of employees, not just those “on the frontline.” Secondly, define in detail to every employee what it means to provide “service recovery.”