Stand in Your Own Line: Knowing the Customer Experience
Living in Central Florida and having children means plenty of trips to the Orlando theme parks. These parks are only a short drive and as my children grew, day trips to these attractions were a regular event.
Coincidentally and independently, my business partner and I visited Walt Disney World with our families on the same weekend. On this busy weekend the wait for the most popular rides was intolerably long, tedious, and uncomfortable in the hot Florida sun. At the most popular rides, we wound our way for 90 minutes through the maze of serpentine lines—futilely attempting to keep fidgeting kids occupied while listening to a continuous loop of audio announcements that soon became monotonous—finally to be herded like cattle into a waiting room and beyond to the fruit of our efforts: a two-minute burst of excitement on Space Mountain. Both my partner and I came to the same conclusion: if the CEO of Disney ever stood in his own lines, things would change dramatically.
And we then thought about our own line; what was our customer's experience like—was it positive or did it feel like waiting for Space Mountain in the hot sun? We became intrigued with the idea of standing in our own line. It was time to holistically evaluate the customer experience, to take a closer look, and to see if we were, in fact, doing it the right way. When you stand in your own line you must objectively evaluate every aspect of your business, both internally and customer-facing. Because even offering the best product does not ensure customer loyalty if the totality of the experience buying, using, and supporting the product is unpleasant, the customer can choose to go elsewhere.
When I say customer experience, I am not only talking about customer service. Good customer service is only a part of the customer experience. To understand each customer's experience, a business leader must undertake a comprehensive evaluation, one that is not limited to the customer-facing areas of the business. Underneath the customer facing façade you may discover a systemic flaw or weakness. By standing in your own line you'll become educated about the outward operation of your company as your customer experiences it.
Here are four things you need to be on the lookout for when you stand in our own line:
Are You Getting Personal with Your Customer?
Getting personal means eliminating the separation between you and a customer.
You start by understanding the customer experience and then continue maintaining a consistent line of communication throughout your relationship.
Business leaders fail in protecting their most valuable asset, their customers, by failing to draw them closer to the company. This must be accomplished with personal and on-going communication, reaching out to each with relevant messages that speak directly to your customer as an individual, not a faceless data point.
Is Your Use of Technology a Useful Tool or Company Convenience?
If your adoption of technology is solely for the benefit of your company and becomes an impersonal impediment for your customer, then you need to reevaluate how you use technology. Technology must enhance the customer experience, not create problems or become a faceless monolith. Too often the installation of new technology serves only to improve a company's bottom line to the detriment of the customer.
Technology, when properly utilized, can transform a poor customer experience into a five-star experience and strengthen the bonds between company and customer. But the intention must always be focused on the customer first and the company second.
Are You Listening to Your Staff on the Front Line?
They really do know what is going on with your customer experience because they are in the trenches and interact directly with customers. If a company process or policy is creating a poor experience these individuals will know and there is a good chance they will also be able to provide a workable solution. Dictating from a corner office without listening to those who fight your battles every day is nothing but arrogance and ignorance. A real business leader has the humility and strength of character to honestly listen to and take guidance from those he leads.
Are You Listening to Your Customers?
Sadly, this is one area that too many business leaders ignore. Being personal with your customers means a two-way communication strategy. This must be a proactive initiative and non-obtrusive. Proactive because many customers, when dissatisfied, will just not return and say nothing if the experience is poor. Non-obtrusive because no one wants to be pestered, which could only make a bad experience worse. Plus, today's concerns about privacy issues heighten consumer's sensitivity toward use of personal data, especially when using electronic communications.
The struggle for many business leaders is that regardless of the forum in which business transactions occur—in person or via an electronic intermediary, the tendency is to disengage from the customer once the deal is finalized. Those business leaders who recognize the value of being engaged and have the courage to stand in their own line to understand the customer experience are laying the foundation for long-term success.
Tom Panaggio has enjoyed a 30-year entrepreneurial career as co-founder of two successful direct marketing companies: Direct Mail Express and Response Mail Express. He is the author of The Risk Advantage: Embracing the Entrepreneur's Unexpected Edge.