OK, here’s a quick customer experience pop quiz; You own and operate an upscale eatery in the hyper-competitive New York City restaurant scene. Your floor manager barges into your office and tells you that she’s certain that the party of one that just sat down at table 11 is actually the food critic for the Times. What do you do?
a) Do nothing – after all, every one of your customers is important so why should you single out any one of them for special treatment? Besides, because of the stellar service and food prep standards you achieve on a daily basis, you know the critic is going to receive an excellent experience.
b) Go over to 11, welcome him warmly, and say, “Aren’t you Tad O. VerKookt from the Times? It sure is a pleasure to have you dining with us this evening. Please allow us to offer you a free selection from the dessert tray when you’ve finished your meal.”
c) Quickly and quietly assign your most pleasant, knowledgeable and engaging server to table 11, and quietly let the kitchen know that the order for 11 has to be triple-checked and perfect before it is sent out. You instruct your floor manager to double her efforts to connect with all the patrons in the room including table 11, asking how their meal is, and whether there is anything else she can do.
If you chose a), you are confident, principled…and a risk-taker. Good on you for your egalitarian view of your customers, and bravo for the ice in your veins, but has even your best server never had a bad shift or gotten snippy with a customer? Has your kitchen never once goofed with a wrong order or sub-standard plate? Are you really going to play roulette on this one and trust the odds are in favor of the house, or should you rather be proactively removing each small, remote risk that could undermine 11’s positive experience?
Nawww…seriously, you didn’t choose b), did you? Your offer of a free dessert, which under completely different circumstances could be viewed as delightful service, will be perceived in this case as cheap bribery. He knows that you know, and so every perk, pleasantry and grace you offer will be interpreted as currying favor and a tepid attempt to purchase a tasty review. Your approach is inauthentic, and so much of today’s experience research demonstrates that if there’s one thing the marketplace can’t stomach, its inauthenticity.
Hello all you pragmatic customer experience professionals that chose c). Nice work. You gained insight and acted upon it to ensure a positive experience for Tad without being inauthentic, without adding cost to your operations, and without sacrificing the experience of the other diners. You recognized the marketing and revenue benefits of delighting a high influencer. You seized an opportunity to acquire hard-to-obtain but highly-prized earned media. You grasped the importance of advocacy and reputation, recommendation and user reviews. You deserve the fruits of Tad’s eventual positive assessment.
But man oh man, were you ever lucky your manager recognized him!
Why leave it to chance? Don’t we all agree that we need to know our customers, regardless of the business we’re in? And I don’t mean in general (such as; “59% of our customers are female”) and I don’t mean after the fact (such as “Peter that called to complain about his rate last week – turns out he cancelled and went with a competitor”). That level of insight is the bare minimum. Rather, I mean that we need to know them individually in real time, as they come in off the street and are seated at table 11.
Admittedly, real-time individual customer insights are going to be tough to get in a restaurant environment. Many customers will be first timers, and there are few effective ways to collect personal data for even those that stop by often. However, for many other types of businesses, CRM systems are rich with data that can be leveraged to gain powerful new insights available through social media and online channels. These days it really is possible to know in real time that Peter is unhappy about his rate and is flirting with the competition. It really is possible to know in real time that the customer on the phone with you is a tech gadget journalist, or that she is a brand Advocate, or that he has tens of thousands of Twitter followers.
To say that all customers should receive the same excellent experience sounds noble, but is largely unattainable (unless you have a Zappos-like culture, org structure, tools, resources, and training. Do you?) On the other hand the effective use of an insights and segmentation tool enables the business to improve their experience in small and attainable steps. Instead of trying to delight everyone, the brand can strategically begin to identify key influencers and advocates, and then recruit them to promote awareness and even sell on behalf of the brand. Nearly the same effect, but accomplished with far less cost and without spinning the entire organization 180 degrees in the opposite direction.
As customers, our propensity to relate either good or bad experiences probably hasn’t changed much over the past 25 years. But the raw numbers of ears and eyes that some of us can reach has skyrocketed, leading many to claim that are now living in the age of customer influence, or some variation on that theme. Platforms like Amazon, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Twitter and Facebook carry our opinions far beyond traditional spheres like family and friends, colleagues and schoolmates. Some of us wield greater social influence, others less. The smart marketing and customer experience professionals understand the power of knowing who is who in real time, and they are looking for ways to harness that power to create attainable, sustainable advantages.