In a pre-COVID era, where vacations weren’t a taboo subject, my family and I decided to spend a quiet New Years at a quaint resort. Since the beginning of the year is always hectic, I decided to step away from the festivities and do some work in the resort’s library, by the frontdesk.
I would hear the phone ring every 5 minutes, but each time the resort’s personnel picked up, the recipient always met the same energy. The calls were all fairly transactional, always asking for a mug of tea to be sent up, some food, or some ice and a soda. But the staff somehow made these transactional moments magical- if someone asked for ice, they would always ask if they wanted a chilled soda instead.
The customer’s astonishment would echo through the phone and reach my ears in the library. They were thrilled, and the service was the talk of the town till they checked out. I swear, I even heard them talking about how special the staff made them feel on their way out.
It was magical, and memorable. And it led me to wonder-
What made such a transactional customer experience so memorable?
What makes an experience memorable?
To understand what makes an experience memorable, we have to understand how the brain creates memories. In a study conducted by Nobel Prize-winning economist, Daniel Kahneman, he explored how people remember pain. He asked his participants to rate their discomfort during the procedure, and then asked them to rate the process after the procedure.
They discovered that people rated the pain based on only two points- the intensity of the pain at its worst point, and again at the end of the procedure. Since human brains can’t remember everything, Kahneman discovered that we use a concept called, “heuristics,” or mental emotionally-driven shortcuts to identify what’s important- where the more intense and recent the feeling, the more memorable the experience.
This concept is referred to as the Peak-end Rule. It states that people judge experiences, both positive and negative, based on how they feel at the most intense part of the experience, and again at its end. It glosses over average moments.
Essentially, you only have two vacancies to transform your customer’s perception of your brand- during the peak and at the end.
The Experience Economy
In an article published by Joe Pine and James H. Gilmore, we encountered the term, the “Experience Economy.” They described it as the next economy, following the agrarian economy, the industrial economy, and the recent service economy.
Pine and Gilmore believe that memory itself is a product, and that businesses must create memorable events for customers. Because of the rapid changes in society that have been accelerated by the current digital transformation, they believe the new economies arise to cater to psychic gratification- the people strive for a higher quality of life.
If we relate this Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, since a majority of the economy have gone past the first few stages, we’ve entered the higher parts of the pyramid- esteem and self-actualization. An experience that makes customers feel good about themselves somehow is correlated with a higher quality of life, which led to Pine and Gilmore’s research.
The concept initially focused on businesses, but it now extends to other industries like tourism, architecture, nursing, and other fields.
What are the 2 types of experiences in the Experience Economy?
Customers can participate actively or passively in an experience. In active participation, a consumer plays a key role in creating the event or interaction that generates the experience. Have you ever gone to a mystery dinner theatre? You were an actively participating consumer in that space. Not a whodunit fan? Some consumers prefer to participate passively just by showing up. Concert attendees, for example, participate with their presence. Whether you prefer active or passive consumer participation, you're still getting exactly the experience you want.
Physical and mental connectivity determine experience levels, too. The two ends of the connection spectrum are absorption and immersion. If you're taking notes in a lecture, for example, you're more absorbed in the connection to the material than you would be if you were studying alone from a textbook. If you watch a sporting event standing on the immediate sideline, you're immersed in your connection to that experience (as opposed to watching it from the nosebleeds). One type of connection to experience is not more telling of consumer behavior than the other (although it is important to marketers). At the end of the day, having the connection in the first place is the most important part.
Why should companies create experiences that customers will talk about?
Think of the Peak-End rule as an 80/20 shortcut to customer experience. 20% of the experience drives 80% of the customer's memories of the experience. The more memorable the experience, the stronger the customer.
Temkin Group’s research in 2018 indicates that there are three components to customer experience:
With emotion being the most significant driver in customer experience.
A high quality experience that makes customers feel special has the power to convert a passive customer to a promoter. Promoters are more likely to repurchase and can also contribute to your marketing efforts- adding to positive word of mouth marketing.
Customers who have had an unforgettable experience are more likely to recommend your products and services to their friends, families, and colleagues.
Unforgettable experiences can drive positive financial results by ten-fold. First, an impactful experience stays fresh in the customer’s mind due to the Peak-End rule. These fresh memories will drive your customers to repurchase again and again from your brand.
Then the recommendations to their friends and families will also drive more income, and the cycle continues.
4 Ways to create experiences that customers will talk about
Before we discuss how to create unforgettable customer experiences, we have to understand the 5 stages of the customer journey.
In my story, ask yourself- what made the guest’s experience so memorable at this resort?
It was how every member of staff was trained to notice and act on the trails of the information left by the guest.
If they noticed it was a guest’s birthday, they would immediately order a cake from the city to have it personally delivered at the eating hall. If a guest ordered tea and they noticed they had a sweet tooth, they would always serve biscuits with their tea without the guest asking.
This is only one example at a micro-level. At a larger scale, each consumer will be at a different stage in the customer journey. Would it make sense for you to offer a free demo at the awareness stage? Or a product demo video at the retention stage? It wouldn’t, so remember, to be attentive of where your customers are on their journey before addressing them.
There’s nothing more flattering than a friendly greeting, and every person likes the sound of their own name. It’s a form of personalization that takes place at a micro level can but kickstart a meaningful and treasured interaction.
Personalized customer experience is something that is expected from the customer nowadays. In fact, 63% of customers expect to receive a personalized experience. Think about a time when you went to your favorite coffee shop, and you started to become a regular, so the team of baristas began recognizing you and remembering your order. Didn’t that make you feel special?
The same can happen in a digital landscape, and can be achieved through automated email marketing, or even more effective- through a chatbot.
Chatbots can send customers personalized messages and broadcast offers based on demography and previous purchase history.
You can take this a step further by adding a live agent into the mix as well. After the initial discussion with the chatbot, the conversation can get directed to a live agent to take the interaction a step further. But remember to use a platform, like Engati, that provides agents with rich chat histories and interactions.
Do you or your staff regularly walk customers to the door and open it for them as they're leaving? Do you or your employees regularly help customers carry their purchases to their car, particularly "women of a certain age" or anyone who appears frail or a bit unsteady on their feet? If you have a waiting room and some of your clientele are older, do you have chairs that are a bit higher than usual and have arms on them so they are easier to get in and out of?
When customers buy something that includes an outside component that's integral to its use or makes it more user-friendly, do you ask if they have that thing or if they still have enough of it left? For example, if you sell birthday cakes, do you have candles to go with it? If you have a pediatric dental practice, do you have a little stepstool in the bathroom so the child can reach the sink? If you have a business that makes keys, do you have something that could be put on the key to identify it so the customer will always remember what the key is for?
Next is appreciation- what do you do to show your customers, your clients or your patients that you appreciate them? After all, there are probably several other businesses that do what you do. Do you show the customers who choose to patronize you that you value and appreciate their business? Feeling appreciated is an experience that is universally meaningful.
You could invite special customers to a sale a day earlier than the general public or you could have an invitation-only event one evening and give "VIPs" an additional X percent discount. You could gift-wrap their packages or periodically give them that thing they often buy for free. If you're product is a service, offer a free check-up.
Always be sure to let them know that you are extending this extra to them because they are a valued customer and you want to show them that you appreciate them. And one of the easiest and most overlooked ways to show them appreciation is to send a handwritten note on lovely stationary.
The easiest way to create an unforgettable experience is to go above and beyond your customer’s expectations. A simple way to ensure this is by the underpromise-overdeliver method. The method is to go above and beyond for them. That’s easy to do if you underpromise and overdeliver.
For instance, instead of promising customers that their customer support emails will be answered in less than 24 hours, promise that they’ll be answered in less than 48 hours. Then, when their problems are solved much sooner than they expected them to be, your customers will be over the moon.
Creating a customer experience that gets people talking isn’t just about answering customer emails promptly and offering a great return policy. Rather, it’s about truly connecting with your customers and showing them that your company cares.
Put a smile on their face and in their heart. You can do something special for their child, their parent, their pet. Make them laugh, thank them in a showy way for a major purchase, have a contest or a drawing for something fun that they could share with family and friends. Serve warm, freshly baked cookies in your office, give their child a bunch of balloons, offer a nice snack mid-afternoon.
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