Over the last few years I have developed a true disdain for flying and it has nothing to do with turbulence or a fear of crashing. I simply can’t stand feeling like chattel being ushered through the gate or that I am only as valuable as the price I paid for my ticket (because I did not shell out for a first class fare). It is the fact that obscene delays, which eventually turn into cancellations, occur regularly at which point the staff behind the customer service desk mysteriously disappear. The hundreds or even thousands of dollars spent on a plane ticket seemingly means nothing and you are left to scramble with about a hundred other passengers who are simply trying to get home, or to a funeral, or heaven-forbid, their vacation. If any industry needed schooling on the Customer Experience it is surely the airline industry. Why do I hate flying? Because my previous experiences with airlines have conditioned me to what I should expect. And it’s not pleasant. In part one of The Customer Experience I talked about “great expectations” and why we want our clients to expect greatness from us. In part two I will be discussing “great returns,” or how to fulfill client expectations and keep them coming back for more.
As I mentioned before we should all be constantly gauging our customers’ experiences with us. Being small business owners we do have a distinct advantage over huge companies, like airlines, in that we have the opportunity to create a truly personal and exceptional experience for our clients. That creates value and people are willing to pay a lot more for value. No one knows this better than my own father. As a man who travels frequently for his job, airline travel is inevitable. Just like most airlines, his preferred company, Alaska Airlines, offers special benefits to frequent fliers. My dad has maintained a “Gold Membership” for years simply by booking with Alaska Airlines regularly. The Gold Membership creates value for him. In fact a Gold Membership is so valuable to my dad that at the end of 2010 when he realized he would be losing his “gold status” because he had less scheduled travel that year, he actually booked a trip to Hawaii at the last minute to get enough mileage and maintain his gold. Don’t we all wish we had customers with that much brand loyalty?
We can instill brand loyalty by creating value with every aspect of our customers’ experience with us. To keep track of your customer’s experience, I highly recommend issuing Client Surveys after every session or wedding. You can sit down right now and start sketching the outline of your company’s survey. The trick is to make it short and concise. Your clients are busy people with loaded schedules and they can’t be bothered to answer endless questions about their experience with you. I believe 10-15 questions is ideal. First, however, think of about five key aspects of your clients’ experience that you would like to cover. These can be anything from “communication” to “artistic approach.” What are the five most important themes of your client experience? Next, create two to three questions (which are presented as a statement) for each theme. For example, under the theme of “communication,” I might use the statement, “Eric & Moriah Photography answered all questions and addressed all concerns thoroughly.” Notice how the “question” could really be answered as a True/False statement. So for each question I will create an agree/disagree scale with room for comment below. Here is an example of how I would present the question on a survey:
After you have created your client survey you must implement it. I always give my clients their survey at their final meeting with us. This is when they are coming to pick up their disc and album or other products so I have a client survey printed and included in the packaging. During our conversation, I pull out the survey to show them. I explain to my clients what it is and why we appreciate them answering it honestly and then returning it to us. I cannot stress the importance of actually talking about the survey with my clients — otherwise it is just another piece of paper to them. I also mention that they have until a specific date (which is written on the survey) to send it back to us and they will receive a $35 print credit. Because my clients are so busy, having an incentive for them to return the survey to us before a specific date ensures that they will take the time to fill it out thoroughly. I explain that they must return the survey, filled out completely, by that date to receive the credit. I also tell them that the print credit is not a bonus for a “sparkling review” but it is our hope that they answer it as honestly as possible so that we can learn and grow for our experience with them. The survey also comes with an addressed and stamped envelope to make it as convenient as possible.
When you start to receive surveys back from your clients, take the time to thoroughly analyze what they have said. Hopefully, if you have made a conscious effort to exceed your client’s expectations you will not find any “surprises” on their survey. Maybe your reviews are all circled with hearts and smiley faces and surrounded by bubbly comments. Good for you! However, if you do receive a bad review from a client, try (I know it’s hard) not to take it personally. Instead, actually “listen” to what they are saying and be honest with yourself. Did you really give this client 110% like you should have? The only casualty of a bad review is a bruised ego. If you can realize that they have done you an enormous favor by giving you the opportunity to right a wrong you didn’t know existed and prevent the same issue from occurring in the future, you will actually become a much stronger businessperson. Now, whether you decide to extend an offering to the unhappy client is entirely up to you. It can be a tough call and you should listen to your instincts. Unfortunately there are just those people out there who will complain or make you feel bad just so they can get a deal. However, maybe you really fell short of your client’s expectations and you know that you are at least partially at fault. You may want to consider offering them something to create goodwill. This doesn’t mean that you have to give them the world and sacrifice your bottom line in the process.
Remember my dad’s last minute booking to secure his gold membership? Well, the Hawaii trip actually became an impromptu 31.5 year wedding anniversary trip for my parents. Although they had a wonderful time, the inevitable happened on their way home. A six-hour delay of their return flight meant that they would be missing a connection in Seattle. This was from my dad’s favorite airline and they had the chance to lose, not only a long time, extremely brand loyal frequent flyer but also all of his future word of mouth referrals. However, something incredible happened. The staff behind the customer service desk did not disappear. There was no scramble of passengers looking for answers. Passengers were not only assisted according to the price of their ticket. Instead, the airline flew the vice president of their Hawaiian operations into the airport so he could personally oversee the problem. He apologized and explained to the delayed passengers that his company expected the best and they knew that they were letting their customers down in this situation. He was there to make things right. When the flight finally arrived in Seattle special staff were on site to handle all passengers’ needs. My parents had a flight booked for the next day, an upscale hotel to stay in for the night and meal vouchers for a nice restaurant. The airline went out of their way to assure that all passengers were take care of. My dad returned from his trip, not haggard and jaded by airline travel but reassured by his favorite airline’s commitment to exceed customer expectations and take responsibility when they had fallen short. Instead of alienating a loyal customer, Alaska Airlines gave my dad another excuse to only speak their praises. They rewrote the paradigm for airline customer service.
As a side note, upon returning from Hawaii, my dad realized that his last business trip of the year had fallen through so he quickly booked a flight to visit my brother in California with an unnecessary connection in almost the wrong direction just so he could fly enough miles to keep his gold membership for 2011. I am happy to announce that he is still a card-carrying member of the Alaska Airlines Gold MVP.
I now encourage you to create great returns in your own business by being aware of all client interactions and rewriting your own customer experience paradigm. I’ve said before that your clients are gold and we all know the golden rule. However, when it comes to your customer experience don’t settle with treating them the way you want to be treated. Treat them better, create value and give them something to talk about. Again, I’d love to keep the discussion going. You can visit our website, blog, and Facebook page and comments are always appreciated!