I recently returned from a two-week vacation abroad. The trip itself was marvelous; my wife and I were fortunate enough to visit several countries and receive world class service that caused us to emanate gratitude throughout each day. Even now, I am astonished when I reflect on the experience. Which got me to thinking, was it all by chance or something far more intentional, calculated, predictable even?
At one time the buzzword was satisfaction. Recently, the concept of customer experience is more in vogue. As a student of social psychology and human behavior, I have found myself drawn to this research throughout my professional career. Other business leaders including marketing professionals, sales persons, and executives have long been interested in the intersection between psychology and commerce as well. One of the reasons why so many are interested in this topic is there is a lot of money to be made by understanding how people operate. While the enrichment of community is enough for me, the fact is that strong persons and strong communities mean strong financial gains and this often catches the attention of even the most avaricious of scrooges.
Before I go any further, I want to address something important. Some rightfully have a concern about the ethics of leveraging the power of persuasion to close a sale or turn a profit. I share many of these concerns. However, I am convinced that the innate value in customer experience is often more valuable than the primary goods and services originally exchanged.
I will give you an example. Every year my wife and I go to Ruth’s Chris for our anniversary. The food at Ruth’s Chris is excellent quality; there are large portions, they have top grade beef, and the chefs prepare the food with great skill. I have never had a meal there that I did not enjoy, but that is not why my wife and I return to Ruth’s Chris year after year. The service is impressive as well; the servers are personable, yet respectful and every employee is attentive to the customer, but we do not return to Ruth’s Chis year after year for the service either. We return year after year because we know that we will reconnect, laugh together, and have a great time. We go because the experience strengthens our marriage and this is worth more than anything on the menu. Does Ruth’s Chis profit from this? Absolutely. Do they attempt to sell us a more expensive bottle of wine because we are celebrating? You bet, but the experience is invaluable.
I began this post with a rhetorical question about whether or not our experience as we traveled to and throughout Europe was intentional. Of course it was! The trip began with a flight out of San Francisco aboard a Virgin Atlantic aircraft. Although we traveled economy class, we were immediately impressed with the company. The plane was clean, comfortable, and well designed, entertainment choices were top notch, and the service was impeccable. Even when one of our bags didn’t make it through our transfer in London, I never stopped being impressed with this company and here’s why: I was treated relationally with dignity and respect. The customer service representative demonstrated legitimate empathy and worked hard to correct something outside of her control. I have flown with many other companies and I can tell you that I would happily pay a premium for the Virgin Atlantic experience again. This is not an accident. The company has invested greatly in leadership development and creating key performance indicators focused on their customers.
Our flight with Virgin Atlantic was great, but the river cruise we took with AmaWaterways was outstanding. To be fair, these companies had two very different roles in our vacation. Nonetheless, both are the embodiment of service excellence. As a premier luxury cruise line, AmaWaterways goes out of their way to create unforgettable experiences. In this arena, luxury is so ingrained that it has become rudimentary. If you are familiar with the kano-model, luxury and customer service are “basic expectations” aboard AmaWaterways ships. For this reason, they invest heavily in “satisfiers” and “delighters.”
I’ll give you just one example: my wife has many dietary restrictions, which greatly limit our dining options when we away from home. Many companies have graciously set aside options for customers like my wife, but the crew aboard AmaWaterways ships go well beyond simply meeting my wife’s dietary needs. Both times we have cruised with AmaWaterways, the chef and maitre d’ have personally come to our table to ensure that my wife had appropriate options at each meal and that her dining experience was just as exceptional as the other guest’s.
One of the coolest things about customer experience is that the principles can be applied to every industry, not just the obvious ones like hospitality. I currently work in multiple sectors including healthcare, residential property management, and education. Customer experience is important in all of these because the common thread in all of them is people.
A patient and their family expect competent, best-practice medicine when they are in the hospital. The delighter is when the nurse sits at the bedside to comfort and pray with the patient. Apartment residents expect clean, safe units and respectful service. The delighter is when the management company has placed a team within the community whose specific role is to build relationships and live life with others. Students expect to learn about a specific subject and gain the knowledge to pass exams. The delighter is when their professor comes alongside and seeks to understand their unique perspective so that the knowledge can become wisdom. Simply put, regardless of what you do for a job, if you make people your vocation you will be successful. Our entire economy is built upon human relationships, so it is no wonder that when we build humans our economy grows.
I will close with a quote from our ship’s captain because he said it best on the last day of our cruise: “All this luxury really means nothing; after a while you get used to it. The crew is what you will remember.”