The relationship between what actually occurs in the course of customer service and what the customer later recalls is tricky. A business essential, therefore, is to learn how to succeed at the four customer experience junctures that tend to linger in customer memory disproportionately.
If you can get a handle on these four moments, you’re positioning yourself for the kind of relationship with your customer that drives engagement and, ultimately, loyalty—in other words, the kind of results you can take to the bank.
The first of these are the beginning and the ending. All things being equal, the mind gives these two moments disproportionate weight.
If you want to test this for yourself, have a friend read you a list of, say, ten types of kitchen implement, or spices, or hit songs, or TV shows. Odds are, you’ll remember more items that appear toward the beginning and end of any list than those that fall in the middle. Customer experiences are the same. A customer’s brain, choosing what to retain in long-term memory, takes shortcuts. One of these shortcuts is the assumption that whatever happens at the beginning or end of an interaction is likely important.
The exception here is if there’s an emotionally charged moment somewhere in the middle of a list (perhaps a song on that list of radio hits that was playing when you met your wife), or–more important for this article–a customer interaction.
This brings us to the other two moments that tend to stick in a customer’s memory. These are the two types of moments that have weight because of the emotional charge they inherently carry, regardless of when they occur in the customer journey:
- “Wow” moments: when a company employee does something for a customer beyond what was expected, beyond what could be considered “perfectly satisfactory” service, in a way that is personally meaningful to that particular customers
- Service lapses: when something goes wrong in the customer experience that calls for what I call “customer service recovery.”
Where to go from here
Now that I’ve laid out the four types of moments that can make all the business difference for you: beginnings, endings, wow moments, and service lapses, how should you go about improving your execution on each one?
- Train employees to avoid the telltale signs of being “interrupted” or put-upon, even for a second or two, when a customer comes up to their desk or calls on the phone before the employee is 100% mentally ready for them.
- Pay attention to the “beginnings before the beginning”: customer impressions of your business that occur before you even knew they were interacting with you. These can range from a dirty parking lot or confusing exterior signage to negative reviews on social media to an incorrect address or hours of operation on Google Maps.
- Don’t play with fire by “frugally” understaffing in ways that can leading to excessive wait times on the phone, email, or live chat. This is an area of customer service where the lessons of lean manufacturing and just-in-time manufacturing should not be applied.
- Most of all, strive to give each customer a greeting that is personal, that recognizes a particular customer individually rather than as one of a broad class of consumers you’ve interacted with today. As master of hospitality Danny Meyer says, one of the most important parts of a great customer experience is providing a feeling of recognition.
- The biggest problem with endings is that we tend to fail to think about endings at all, as service providers. We’re so relieved to successfully get through a customer project or interaction that we move on to the next without giving the customer at hand a proper thanks and opportunity for closure. So, make it a point to actively strive to give a bit of personal attention at the end, whether it’s a handwritten note on a final statement or lingering on the phone at the end of a conversation to ensure the customer has everything they need.
- The other problem is the addition of bona fide negatives at the end of an otherwise-satisfactory customer experience. This is the scenario where the portion of the service experience you handled in-house was done expertly and empathetically, but was marred out the end by, for example, outsourcing your billing to an overly aggressive (or merely abrupt) agency that does everything it can to break down the relationship you developed with your customer up to that point. Watch out for this scenario, as it may be, for you, “out of sight, out of mind,” but insidious nonetheless.
- If you want to create wow moments for your customers, start by realizing that these won’t happen without employee empowerment. Employees, in fact, need to understand that it’s their job to be empowered to creatively compose these moments for their customers. If employees feel their only obligation is to get through their daily checklist of to-do’s, answer the phone, fill out expense reports, etc., that doesn’t leave much time or inspiration to creatively improve life for a customer. (More on wow customer service here.)
Customer Service Lapses and Customer Service Recovery:
- The essential thing to understand about service lapses is that they’re going to happen, and you need to be prepared. I encourage you to train all employees (including managers and executives) on my AWARE system for customer service recovery. Let me know if you’d like a printable version of the AWARE service recovery approach, for your office use.
- Another essential thing to understand about customer service recovery is that it needs to change the story inside the customer’s mind about what just happened. If you only correct whatever went wrong and do nothing more, it’s not enough, generally, to change the story for a customer, because they still have been inconvenienced and are therefore worse off than they would be if the issue hadn’t occurred in the first place. But if you can be creative in figuring out ways to improve the situation beyond how it would have been if this service lapse had never happened, you’re well on your way to success.