To deepen the understanding of this term, first swap the term customer service for customer experience. What type of experience do you want your customers to have? It is important to think of interactions in this way, for the simple fact experiences, whether good, bad, or neutral, can linger for quite some time. In fact, we all use these previous impressions for all future decisions, judgement, and choice.
Every time you interact with your customer, you create an experience of varying intensity for that person that can be an extension of an old experience. Consider that the customer may channel past experiences in order to make a decision. While we can’t step into the minds of our customers to understand how to approach, there may be clues – shared experiences that are essential to understanding how to effectively serve our customer.
While developing a strategic marketing plan for a client with a growing plumbing business I had to consider common misconceptions of plumbers and experiences the average customer may have likely had. Like the popular image of the “sleazy car salesperson”, there may exist an equally negative connotation to challenge before winning over a customer. Remember, even a neutral position on a product or service is enough to turn away a potential sale. This can be especially true when you offer something truly unfamiliar to that customer.
In 2014 I, along with two business partners, launched a social enterprise cafe. As you know, running a customer service-intensive business such as a restaurant, one in which the customer receives several “touches” from the business, requires an understanding of how to best frame that interaction.
Activity extends the experience.
I recall one day one of our regular customers came in on a particularly busy day. We were running a waffle-themed fundraiser for a local charity and I happened to be working the register at the time. Because we hadn’t discussed a system for handling orders along with the special fundraiser requests, I unfortunately forgot to put in the customer’s order. Several minutes later he reappeared asking for the status of his salad and almond milk latte. My face turned red and my chin dropped; “I’m truly sorry sir. I must’ve forgot to put your order in.” After he chewed into me with a verbal insult he left the cafe empty-handed and hungry. I offered a free meal on the house and apologized several times over, but the damage was done. I just created a very negative experience for him that day, which led to a scathing email sent to my partners about my performance.
It was embarrassing. I let my team down. I thought to myself, “Well, I guess I just caused us to lose a very good customer.” In my mind that experience was a lost cause. There was clearly nothing I could do to resolve what I had caused, or so I thought.
Looking back, I had used my negative association of that experience as an excuse to stop trying to reach out to that customer. Subsequently, the customer returned and I did my best to avoid him. Why? What I didn’t realize then that I realize now is that experience between myself and the customer was not left at the counter. In fact, it picked up where it began every time the customer walked through our doors. And each moment, each latte purchase signaled an opportunity to change the direction of that narrative to a positive ending.
Have you ever found yourself not putting as much effort to acquire a certain customer or client over another?
As business owners we must think ourselves the co-authors of our customers’ experiences. We have the ability to mold the experience so as long we can reach that customer.
If you’re seeking a guide on developing a system for great customer experiences (and what to do when things don’t go right), I highly recommend Zingerman’s Guide to Giving Great Customer Service. It’s an easy, short read. Don’t make the mistake of believing you’ve got customer service all figured out because you think it’s “common sense”. There is always something to be learned.