The Customer Experience Jury Is In
Not every buyer-seller experience starts with a customer expecting to be delighted. There are lots of purchases we make because we're forced to make them -- something we need breaks, or an outside entity requires us to buy something. We're not buying because we want to, or even because the purchase will make our business run better -- we have to buy or we're stuck.
A lot of providers of these absolute must-have products and services don't emphasize the experience aspect of what they do, since their customers come in when they absolutely can't stay away. However, the reality is that they have competition -- and customers can relate their experiences to others.
A couple of years ago, I ran across the example of a transmission repair shop in Utah that completely understood the value of the customer experience -- even though customers came to the shop initially frustrated by their car, confused about the repair, and suspicious of the repair shop.
Investing in the experience might seem like a waste, until you think it through and realize the marketing value of creating a positive experience in an otherwise awful situation.
Recently, I stumbled across another area where experience is important, but may not seem like a natural fit: jury duty.
The judicial system has no profit motive for making the jury duty experience pleasant -- it can compel people to be part of it. However, the aim is to get the most prospective jurors involved, and if enough people start ignoring their jury summons the operation of the judicial system could be compromised.
When I responded to my summons, I saw the jury commissioner at one courthouse of Alameda County, Calif., doing his best to make a good experience for jurors out of what is usually viewed as a burden. While the court's actions don't change the fact that jury duty is a major disruption to most people's lives, he did make the experience one that jurors would not despise the next time they were asked to serve.
Following are a few customer experience lessons you can learn from jury duty.
1. Empathy Is Important
After the jurors trudged into the jury assembly room and checked in, the commissioner did not immediately begin spewing instructions. He told a few jokes, poking fun at the jury process. He made it clear that he understood that the room was not full of people who were happy to be there -- and by acknowledging that, he broke the mood and prepared the jurors to receive the information he would be sharing.
Empathy is critical in any customer service setting. When someone calls with a problem about your products or service, an apology is nice, but empathy is much nicer; it's a lot more likely an empathetic person will work to solve problems.
It's also important to be empathetic when a customer is buying because circumstances are forcing the purchase. Your customer's misfortune goes to your bottom line. Your customer wants to be seen as a person -- not your payday. Empathy and an effort to express it go a long way toward making the experience better. (As my car mechanic jokes upon customers' arrival, "Hi! I'm sure you're not happy to see me!")
2. Don't Expect Customers to Know Your Processes
Juries have to go through a lot of instructions to do their jobs, and many of those instructions have to do with the machinations of the legal system. Since most jurors aren't lawyers, those processes may seem arcane. The jury commissioner in my case was effective in simplifying instructions, repeating them, and making sure that all jurors knew they could come up and ask questions at any time.
Even if your business has simplified its internal processes, they will always seem alien when customers are first exposed to them. It's important for the sake of customer experience to streamline those processes to make buying frictionless, but it's also important to anticipate questions and confusion that may arise.
If your ordering system needs a special step, or if customer service has a routing system that may cause a brief delay, or if there are any necessary actions that might cause a bump in the customer's road to a good experience, make sure you explain them and prepare the customer. It's not the customer's duty to understand your processes -- it's your duty to explain them.
3. Courtesy Goes a Long Way
Every court officer I spoke to was relentlessly courteous -- interactions were replete with "please," "thank you" and "excuse me." That was true for the juror commissioner, the sheriff's deputies, the judge, and everyone else working for the court -- and it wasn't delivered in an insincere or sarcastic way. Jurors repeatedly were thanked for their participation.
No matter how well you engineer your customer experience, it can be undone by a lapse in manners by any of your employees. A recent dining experience was all but perfect until the very end, when a hostess snapped at a member of our party when she asked for her coat, which the hostess had collected and hung up at the start of the meal.
Hiring the right people and reinforcing to them the value of their interactions with customers is vital. When those employees understand their roles in the customer experience and take those roles seriously, they'll treat customers as they should be treated.
In situations where the customer is buying under duress, courtesy means a lot; failing to provide it adds insult to injury, and it will result not just in a customer who won't return but in a lot of negative word of mouth.