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Two Factors That Determine Your Customers’ Experience

Author: Larry Chester, President

I recently attended a Crain’s Chicago Business Small Business Breakfast. The panel consisted of 4 CEOs of dynamic companies – the Boka Restaurant Group, Athletico, Career Builder and Hickory Farms. There was wide-ranging conversation about their work history, what inspired them, and how their companies have grown.

During one part of the panel conversation, there was a brief discussion on dealing with customers. A lot of it was focused around keeping customers happy, since happy customers lead to sales. There were two stories, two Major Factors that caught my attention:

  • Understanding the beginning and end of that experience
  • The challenge of ensuring employee engagement

Understand the start and end of the Customers’ Contact
Kevin Boehm, the co-founder of the Boka Restaurant Group, told a story about a friend of his that came into the restaurant. He recounted all of the touch points the restaurant staff had with his friend. He said that there were 72 people in the organization that needed to work together to make the meal a perfect experience. And they did.

From the person who took the reservation, to the person that filled the water glasses, to the chef and the wait staff, and the person who processed the credit card. “The hot food was hot and the cold food was cold.” At the end, the friend told Kevin that it was a perfect dinner. Kevin was very pleased. He walked to the back of the house, high fived the GM of the restaurant, went into the kitchen and thanked the executive chef and the entire kitchen staff.

As he walked back into the house, feeling very proud that his staff did a great job, he felt a hand on his shoulder. It was his friend, who told him that he had been waiting for 10 minutes for his car, which had been valet parked. Seventy-two people worked hard to deliver a perfect dinner for the customer, and yet the thing that went wrong wasn’t even something that Kevin considered part of his responsibility – that his customer had waited more than 10 minutes for his car.

Kevin said that he had taken his eye off the ball, because the restaurant experience didn’t start and end when they walked into, and out of the restaurant. It started when they got out of their car, and ended when they got back into it. If there is a moral to the story, it’s to understand where your customers’ experience begins and where it ends. If you’re to manage it from start to finish, you truly need to define it and manage it, from the very beginning to the very end.

Each and Every Employee Needs to be Engaged
Diane Pearse, the CEO of Hickory Farms, told a different kind of Customer Experience story. They have 150 year-round employees, which swells during the holiday season to over 4,000. This includes staff not just at the corporate office, but employees who man mall kiosks around the country selling product to passersby. Even though they try to expand their sales throughout the year, 30% of their annual sales occur during the holiday season, and 40% of those sales are in the two-week period from Green Monday till the last shipping day before Christmas. How on earth do you manage an HR process that balloons your company 26 times its regular size? How do you find and hire enough people, train, motivate and engage them so you can send them out into the retail war to interface with the general public for 40% of that period’s sales over a critical two weeks?

Diane recognizes that she has one opportunity to lock in the sale with that customer, or lose them. Both staff and equipment need to be prepared. Or, as Diane put it, “they’ll just go and order from Harry and David.”

Every company is certainly different, and the differences between hiring a computer programmer and a retail sales clerk are huge. But each individual needs to be aware of their contribution to the retail party, and how they, personally, can make or break that sale. The attention span of a customer has shortened. It makes no difference whether the encounter is a highly technical sale that the customer will ponder over, an impulse item at the cash register or an item that you’re buying on line on your own time.

If you’re shopping on line and the cart doesn’t respond to your request, how long are you going to wait before you go to a different website? If you ask a question of a salesperson, and they don’t know the answer, how many other people will you ask, or how long will you wait before you go to another retailer.

So, in your company, how do you identify and protect that Customer Experience? Do you understand where it starts and ends? Can you assure that each person that has direct contact with a customer knows the importance of their role in the process. It doesn’t matter if they are on the phone, on a chat line, at a register, or standing at the dock shipping orders to the customer. Cementing that relationship with the customer is everyone’s job. EVERYONE’s.

Because we’re not just talking about the experience that they’ll have in placing and receiving this order. We’re talking about a level of service that’s going to bring them back next month, next year and the year after that.

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