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Most people don’t understand what they are in the business of selling. Most people think they sell themselves. They sell good service. They sell a product, whatever. None of that is true. It was true 30 years ago in the 1970s, and maybe in the 1980s. People would say, “Oh your product is yourself.” That is not the way the consumer operates today.
You’re in the business of selling one thing and one thing only. And that is an experience. People today buy experiences more than ever before, and you know it’s true because you are the same way. I’ll guarantee right now that you could think of at least three ways you could prove to yourself that you, too, buy experiences. I’ll bet you drive by several restaurants on the way to your favorite restaurants. Why? Probably other restaurants have good food. You probably drive by restaurants that have great food to get to a particular restaurant.
I go to a restaurant not far from my home. The name of the restaurant is Caio. Caio is an Italian restaurant. It is a small restaurant. Outstanding food. But there are a lot of restaurants with outstanding food in the area where I live. I go there for one reason and one reason only. Every time I walk in the door, I feel better about who I am, and the food is good, and the price is good. But so what? Even if the food was more expensive, I would still go there.
So I want you to think about is this: What is it that the experience you sell says to your customers? What is the message that you consistently give to your customers, and how do you think your customers would describe the experience? Because, let me be very clear with you, your customers talk about it all the time. I’m sitting in a recording studio talking about Caio. I ate at Caio night before last. I’ll eat at Caio tomorrow night as well. I’m taking some friends to Caio. I could take them to any restaurant on Amelia Island, but I’m going to take them to Caio. Why? Because of the experience. It fits in the world that I live in. It isn’t just about the food.
And whatever it is you do, whatever product or service you sell, you must understand that the customers are less interested in the thing and more interested in what the experience is like. So know that if it’s true that your customers are talking about this thing called an experience, you’d better be very clear about what I call “cultivating the positive gossip.”
Cultivating the positive gossip is simply the extent to which you create such compelling experiences that people tend to describe what it’s like to buy your product or service all the time. If you run a restaurant, what do you want them saying about you when they leave? If you are in the real estate business, what do you want them saying about working with you as an agent or your brokerage? Whatever your business is—if you’re selling water, if your selling cars, if your selling consulting services—you’re creating an experience, and that experience gets translated into gossip, and that gossip gets translated to other potential customers, and those potential customers either choose to or choose not to buy from you in the future.
You can have the fanciest brochures, websites, blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, every other thing in the world. But if the experience of working with you and your organization is not so compelling that it drives people to talk about you in a way that drives customers to you, you’re missing something, and you’re not doing something right.
You see, as far as your customers are concerned, you are the experience. Whoever is interfacing with that customer is the experience. It isn’t that I care so much about the organization. If I go into John Doe’s car dealership down the street, I don’t care about the whole car dealership. I care about the person I’m interacting with.
Now, I want you to think about this. If it’s true that you sell an experience, and it is, and if its true that your customers are out there gossiping about you all the time, and they are gossiping about you all the time, then we need to ask ourselves, What will make the customer loyal? What will make the customer experience so compelling that this customer will be loyal like I am to Caio?
There are three things that will make them loyal:
- Make the process of dealing with you simple. Take pain out of the equation for me. Make me feel better about who I am as a human being having had to deal with you.
- Add value with every transaction or interaction. Is there some way that your organization is adding value to me? And I don’t mean just through your product, but do I feel better about who I am? Do I have an experience that makes me feel more significant as a result of dealing with your organization? Because while I may not buy it now, I’ll buy whatever it is later if I feel like the experience is compelling enough.
- Finally, quickly recover from a failure to deliver. This is as old as dirt. I’m sure you know this already, but your customers will be much more loyal with a good recovery than they will just giving great service.
In fact, I’m not even that impressed with great service, to tell you the truth, because everybody out there is trying to give good service. What I’m impressed with is an organization that wraps the experience around me and my needs not around them and their needs.
Now, I know this sounds very obvious to many of you. Well, of course Mike, that’s just good service. No, it’s not good service. Being customer centric, designing an experience that’s wrapped around me, is important.
I was speaking at a conference not long ago in Washington, DC, and afterward a guy came up to me and said something like, “If I wanted to be rude, I would have just laughed out loud.” I just could not believe that he could have missed the point this brutally. He walked up to me and said, “But Mike, you can’t custom design an experience for every one of your customers.” Au contraire. Yes, you can. And it doesn’t mean that you have to redesign your product or build a car just for me or sell a computer with my name etched on the back of it. That’s not how people evaluate the experience. They evaluate the experience by how connected and valuable they feel to your organization.
Here are the dos and don’ts of the experience.
- Do stay flexible.
- Do act quickly.
- Do acknowledge their perceptions and their challenges.
- Don’t use policies and excuses.
- Don’t argue.
- Don’t pass the buck.
Now, here is what customers and clients hate. These are the four things all customers and clients hate.
Number one is they hate being told. They hate being talked at. They hate being preached to. They hate the proverbial song of most sales organizations that sound like this: me me me me me me me me me me me me. They hate hearing all about you and being told what they need or what they should have. So if they hate being told, you know what they are going to love.
The second thing they hate is being ignored. I have an independent air conditioning unit in a specific room in my house. This particular room in my house needs to be chilled independently from the rest of my house. The unit broke. As a result of the unit breaking, it created quite a problem in this particular room. So we called the air conditioning repair people, and they came out and looked at it and said, “We’ve never seen a problem like this before with a unit like this.” To which I replied, “Well, who would know? The air conditioning company would know.” “Oh really.”
To make a long story short, three months later, as I sit here in this recording studio, that air conditioning unit still isn’t working. And the reason it is not working is because the air conditioning dealer in my town and the manufacturer of the air conditioning are in an argument while that room in my house swelters in the Florida heat.
Now, what I want you to see about that is they are not a customer-centric organization. They are not an organization designing an experience around me. I sent them what it was going to cost if that didn’t get fixed and what was going to happen to the stuff in that room if it didn’t get fixed. And guess what? All I got was excuses, excuses, and excuses. And the reason was, I was being told. I was being ignored.
The third thing customers hate is being dismissed. They hate being dismissed as whiners or being dismissed as if they don’t understand.
And the final thing they hate is being in the dark. They hate not being communicated with.
Here is what customers love. They love being asked. They love being involved in that process. The second thing they love is being informed. They love being taken seriously. They love being significant.
They love being asked.
They love being informed.
They love being taken seriously.
They love being significant.
You see, to involve a customer in the overall experience is to make that customer feel very important. It is so important that you must understand that the way they feel important is not just for you to put a piece of chocolate on my pillow if you are a hotelier. It is not just to make sure my car is running when I pick it up from the valet person.
I’ll give you an example. I get my car detailed. I got in town the other day, and the new detail company had taken a box out of my back seat and put in my trunk, folded the three beach towels in my trunk, and taken the files that were in my back seat and put them between the box and towels in alphabetical order. What detail company does that?
Now, I don’t even know who the detail company is because my car is taken to get it done. I’m going to find out who they are, and I’m going to write them a letter. My car has never been that clean. Why? Because they paid attention to what mattered most to me. Because somebody that was parking my car heard me complaining about that box in my back seat and the files, and when I got back, it was taken care of. The detail was no more or less expensive than anybody else, but somebody paid attention.
So I want you to ask yourself this question: What is it that we want our customers saying about us all the time? And are all the systems and programs and training wrapped around creating that kind of customer experience such that the gossip will compel people to buy more and spend more time with us?
Mike Staver is an internationally respected coach and speaker who was recently chosen as one of the 40 hottest business speakers in America by Meetings and Conventionsmagazine. He has a master’s degree in counseling psychology and a bachelor’s degree in business administration and is a certified speaking professional.