I’m still old school enough to enjoy reading the local News & Observer on weekends. I even like flipping through pages that leave my fingers smudged from newsprint. I was reading an editorial piece a while back, and a phrase leapt out at me. A correspondent wrote, “We are in the next phase of consumer demand called the experience economy.”
The experience economy. I’ve heard the term before, but this time something clicked. In my job, I get to do some pretty cool things, like think about ways we can make our customers happier. Or how to get better at how we support them. That’s why the words “experience economy” caught my attention. Because you can have an outstanding product and efficient service, but to really make customers happy, to give them a great experience, it takes people. People either make or break the experience.
A friend of mine flew on Southwest Airlines recently. She told me about waiting in long check-in lines where the mood was almost jovial. People chatted with each other and were basically good sports about the whole waiting thing. She noticed that the five or so Southwest employees set the upbeat tone, doing their best to make it a pleasant experience, talking with the travelers and connecting with them in small but human ways.
Across the room, a rival airline had the same long lines, but the employees looked miserable, frustrated and harried, and so did the line of passengers. Through that experience, her respect for Southwest went up a few notches. That’s the difference people make. It’s not just about eliminating lines, although that would be nice too. It’s about making the experience okay despite the lines.
Impact of one
Here’s the thing: We’re connected to each other more today than we’ve ever been. Our actions influence, impact and even change the experience of those we come in contact with. The attitude of those five airline employees mattered. How they treated Southwest customers that day influenced and maybe even changed their customers’ perception of the entire company.
So, if I’m running a company, an important question I have to ask is, what is the frame of mind of my employees? When someone answers a phone call, sends an email or ships a product, what do their actions say about the company? It’s on me to make sure the workplace supports employees and gives them the leeway to delight my customers. Otherwise, they will pass their frustration through to customers. In the experience economy, that’s bad business.
As employees, we need to remember that we are a physical representation of the company. We might as well wear a T-shirt every day proclaiming, “I am Company X.” The daily contact we have with a customer, no matter how small, could be pivotal. One action by one person could be the very thing that causes a customer to think that the company is either great to work with or one to avoid.
I’m still smarting from an encounter I had with one person. I’m a “diamond member” at a hotel chain that shall go unnamed, racking up 50 to 60 stays a year. I had a stay booked, but my travel plans changed on the day of my arrival. When I called to ask about cancelling, the hotel reservationist read me the policy: “No cancellations within 24 hours.” It didn’t matter how I pleaded my case or that I had 50 stays on record. And that diamond status? Worthless. I gave the employee every chance, even asked if a supervisor or manager might be able to help. The unapologetic answer was: no cancellations, no exceptions. Period.
I paid the hotel bill for that night. But that one employee lost the hotel chain the 50 stays I would have booked in the future – and my referrals.
The scary thing is, you might have that kind of impact and not even know it. Most companies have several streams of business going on at all times, and those streams touch customers. The unreasonable customer you are dealing with today in contracts might be the ideal customer that product development needs for a beta project tomorrow. It’s the old golden rule, to treat a person the way you would like to be treated. Try to do right by the customer, and you’ll never be wrong.
It’s a mindset. Our customers are human beings, and we need to keep them at the center of what we do. After all, they’re buying more than our products. They can buy similar products from other vendors in many cases. Today, they are buying the whole experience. The good news is that technology plus people is a winning combination for creating an experience to be proud of. If you want to find out more about how technology can help make the right connections between people, we’ve got customer experience management info about that, too.
It only seems fitting to wrap this up by expressing my gratitude to and for SAS’ customers. The Temkin Group 2015 report is out, and our customers gave SAS top marks for customer experience, scores I don’t take lightly.
To SAS customers: Thank you for your confidence in us. You have my commitment that we will do all we can to continue to earn your trust and to give you the experience you want and deserve.