Nonnegotiable experiential standards Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2008

What if your company applied an experience tax to everything you sold to your customers?

If you did, you would begin to analyze and quantify each stage of your customer experience cycle (points of contact) to understand how important it is to be consistent in delivering your nonnegotiable standards.

The truth is, unless you are the cheapest in your industry, you are probably already charging an experience tax — you just don’t realize it nor break it out. If you weren’t, then your prices — and everyone in your industry’s prices — would be exactly the same. The reason for the difference — some companies promise to provide more of an experience than others.

What’s important about this is that every employee in your organization must realize that you need to actually deliver whatever it is that you’re promising. Otherwise, your customers will move on to a competitor who neither promises nor charges for those things.

The six components of a customer’s experience

To create brand loyalty and customer evangelists, you must operate at a high level in six distinct areas of business and evaluate your company’s customer service across each category.

Physical — The actual brick-and-mortar component of your operation. These are the physical elements that are more permanent or long term and cannot be changed daily.

Setting — The controllable setting you create daily. The setting communicates a message about what you can provide to your customers. This isn’t always visual; it may be the music your customers hear when they call and are placed on hold or the mood your Web site creates. The setting reveals the characteristics of your business as they appeal to the five senses.

Functional — The ease of doing business with you, such as return policies and hours of operations. Functionality has nothing to do with human interactions, such as being pleasant or saying please or thank you.

Technical — Your staff’s expertise in their particular skills and the company’s systems and equipment.

Operational — The actions that team members must execute behind the scenes before, during and after a customer’s experience. These actions assist in the day-to-day transactions with customers, the tasks, compliances and duties of our jobs.

Experiential — The actions that team members execute while interacting with the customer. Experiential actions are the reason why customers return, refer others and become brand evangelists. These include personalization and anticipating customers’ needs.

Task-focused vs. customer-focused

Secret service focuses on the experiential, but it is important that a company be technically and operationally excellent before they can be experientially excellent.

While your emphasis on experiential skills should not come at the cost of technical or operational, being only technically and operationally focused results in employees losing sight of the customer.

But here’s the rub: Experiential training is the least provided and hardest to teach of the components. Conversely, it is also the most rewarding because it provides the largest return on investment. Experiential training is about making the customer’s day. It is about creating value over and above the product you are selling. It is about empowering your front-line employees to have a sense of ownership in their jobs, and it sets you apart from the competition.

Action plan

Get started by examining the standards on which you train your employees. It’s a safe bet that the majority, if not all, the standards fall under operational and technical. But a memorable customer experience requires memorable encounters that extend well beyond your employees dotting their I’s and crossing their T’s.

Employees need to be trained on how to deliver personal service. When getting customer information over the phone, it is imperative that we confirm their address and the accuracy of their order (all operational), but it doesn’t take any longer to ask them about the weather in Minneapolis or thank them for being a customer of your company since 2004. You’ll be amazed how those simple details change your customers’ experiential paradigm.

JOHN R. DIJULIUS III is the author of “Secret Service: Hidden Systems That Deliver Unforgettable Customer Service” and “What’s The Secret.” He is also president of The DiJulius Group, a firm specializing in giving companies a superior competitive advantage by helping them differentiate on delivering an experience and making price irrelevant. Reach him at john@thedijuliusgroup.com.