Service with sentiment

Alicia Arenas, Founder and CEO, Sanera, The People Development Co.

Alicia Arenas has built her business on pushing clients out of their comfort zone.

“We are change resistant creatures,” says Arenas, founder and CEO of Sanera, The People Development Co., a business coaching and consulting firm based in San Antonio. “And talking about this subject in the context of business, we have to learn to get comfortable with change.”

“Leaders who are stuck in tradition and stuck in doing things the same way that they have always done them … they’re going to bring their companies down.”

Smart Business spoke with Arenas about how changing traditional views on customer service can secure a loyal customer base and set a company apart from competitors.

Q: How can a company differentiate itself through customer service?

It used to be that the differentiator was all about the customer service. And really today, I believe the true differentiator is customer experience. And they’re two vastly different things.

Customer service is something that you do, and customer experience is how you make somebody feel.

Neuroscience is evolving into business and workplace applications. This hardcore science of understanding how the brain works, taking it to neuro-marketing, which is the science of understanding why people make the purchasing decisions that they do, this science has led to an answer, which is emotions. It is all about emotions. People don’t make the purchasing decisions that they make because they’ve done a blind double taste test. They do it because of how a product or a service makes them feel.

Q: How can a company deliver an excellent customer experience?

If we’re doing the same things that everybody else is doing, we’re giving them at the same time as everybody else is doing. … It’s not viewed as extraordinary.

When you’re doing something unexpected, it creates in the other person an element of surprise. And if it’s something unexpected that’s positive — which is hopefully what people are doing — it brings a lot of joy with it. And so what happens, from the branding perspective, is your brand becomes cemented in the consumer’s mind as being joyfully surprising. And what we know through the field of neuro-marketing is that those emotional imprints in the brain are what compel people to have brand loyalty.

Business leaders at all levels need to start getting really comfortable with change, because the thing about doing the unexpected is you can’t keep doing it. Otherwise it’s not unexpected anymore. Doing the same things is no longer innovative or creative. And where I see some companies get stuck is they have had success in doing something unexpected, but then they continue to provide that same thing and they don’t innovate and they don’t do something different with it.

Q: Can you give an example of differentiating through an unexpected experience?

If you want to relate this literally to giving gifts, part of what I teach about gift giving — which can be an important part of loyalty building, depending on the type of company — is don’t give gifts during the holidays. Don’t even give gifts during Thanksgiving. Whatever dollars you were going to spend on giving a holiday gift, take that money and find something that is going to be meaningful to that person and give it at a different time of the year. Give it when it’s unexpected. Sometimes, having that customer experience is about doing something in an off time that people wouldn’t traditionally think of.

Q: How does a company foster an environment of delivering unexpected service?

Great experiences come from great corporate cultures. There’s this theory that says that an employee is going to treat a client as well as they are treated in the workplace. And so if you have a culture that supports and enables employees to give excellent customer experience, then the likelihood of that happening on a consistent basis … it can be replicated and it can be supported.

You want to work at employee productivity. The more productive an employee is at accomplishing the goals that an organization has set out, the better it is for the company and the better it is for the clients

That responsibility lies with the executive team. I don’t believe it’s a function of HR, I don’t believe it’s a function of marketing. I believe that it’s a function of the people who are at the executive level to very firmly decide that, ‘We need to have a culture in this organization that is going to allow our employees to give their absolute best to our clients every day.’

How to reach: Sanera, The People Development Co., (888) 954-4999 or