Petty Peeve #1

On this blog, we often talk about how little things can shape your experience....and the truth is, there are some things that may annoy us that aren't going to change.

This falls in to the category of "meaningless experience peeves," or "Leigh's silly rant because she's got no time to write something deep." Here's the scenario:

I'm in the store, in the checkout line. The checker finishes swiping my merchandise and I hand her cash to pay for the bill. I am getting something like $8.59 back -- four bills and a chunk of change.

The cashier extracts the bills and shuffles them to her left hand. She then pulls out the coins with her right hand. Turning to me, she then piles the coinage on top of the stack of bills and attempts to hand me this awkward pile of cash.

Man, I just I hate this! Now, maybe I'm just (a little, tiny bit) obsessive -- or maybeit's because I'm a girl. If I were a guy, I'd probably just take the wad of cash and shove it in my pocket. But, since I'm a girl - and like most girls - I'm usually standing there with one hand out, and my wallet open in the other, ready to put the bills in.

Eyeing the awkward pile-o-cash, I must juggle my wallet between my forearm and my body so I can reach out with both hands for the cash without upsetting the vicarious pile of coins. I then use both hands to sort off the change so I can get the bills and the change into their respective compartments in my wallet.

Add in the receipt and/or the six feet of coupons the checkers often hand back to me at the grocery store and this is a pain!

A momentary pain - and a small annoyance, no doubt. However, sometimes, as I roll out to my car I can't help but think: "It's really an extra step to pile up the cash in one hand like that! Why not just hand over the bills first, and then the coinage? Does someone at cashier school teach people to pile up the change like that?"

It's sick, I tell you, sick!!!

So, now that you're all convinced I'm a lunatic, I will stop ranting about something that is, in the end, not really "change worthy." Don't worry: I won't be starting a campaign to retrain all the checkers.

The fact is, we all have petty peves we may walk along unaware of until the moment they strike. My question is: What's yours?

Experience Your Doom?

You know, up until yesterday, I was thinking that I'd like to do a piece on JetBlue experience. I like the service, blue snacks, comfy seats, low prices, and satellite TV..... but here is an experience I could live without!

Jet Blue Passengers Watch Live Video of Equipment Problems

LOS ANGELES (AP) The airliner circled Southern California for hours, crippled by a faulty landing gear, while inside its cabin 140 passengers watched their own life-and-death drama unfolding on live television.

While satellite TV sets aboard JetBlue Flight 292 were tuned to news broadcasts, some passengers cried. Others tried to telephone relatives and one woman sent a text message to her mother in Florida attempting to comfort her in the event she died.

"It was very weird. It would've been so much calmer without" the televisions, Pia Varma of Los Angeles said after the plane skidded to a safe landing Wednesday evening in a stream of sparks and burning tires.
Click here for the full story

Today's live media capability makes it possible for us to experience tragedies as they unfold. We experienced this with live coverage in the Gulf War. We watched in horror as we watched the Towers Fall. And we shared the pain of individuals as disaster unfolded in the Gulf states. The idea that we could watch our own demise unfold in front of us on live television is, well, a little too much experience for me...

Photo - courtesy of Fox News

Experience Katrina

For the past two weeks I have been immersed in a Katrina relief effort. I have had the honor of meeting several individuals whose lives were swept away by Hurricane Katrina.

I'm not sure many of us have ever had to live through a castrophic experience like the citizens of the Gulf coast. Nothing I've experienced can touch it, and my heart aches for the thousands of displaced people.

There's something humbling about staring into the eyes of people that have lost everything. It puts new perspective on my own, personal fear of losing what I have, when I have dinner with people who don't know where the next meal will come from. It makes me want to give everything I have away ...

Ironically, I've found that the more I give of myself, the richer I feel. How's that for an experience paradigm?

Not sure how many of you have donated money to the Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army or any of the dozens of other charities out there, but please give generously. If you can, find a charity with matching grants, so your dollars will stretch even farther.

In addition to giving your money - I really encourage you to give of yourself. Through local charities, churches, synagogues there are hundreds of opportunities for you to help a local family in need in your own community. Beyond the actions they recommend, you can find unique ways to help on your own:

- Pick up some dinner and take it over
- Drop off a nice bag of groceries
- Help paint a room or fix something broken
- Offer childcare for an evening or two
- Volunteer to cook for a local women's or homeless shelter
- Sign up to be a big brother or sister
- Fill a few backpacks with school supplies
- Pay for a much-needed car repair
- Give them tickets to the movies
- Help find someone a job

Do this, and I guarantee you'll find what I have discovered the past few weeks: The more you give to others, the richer you become, and the more in touch you get with yourself at your best.

Click here for a gripping video on Katrina relief (turn up your volume) created by Gary Sloate and a list of charities that support Hurricane Katrina victims.

Photo: Unknown

Five Experience Fundamentals

Let's face it - we're all sweating a little: Product and service commoditization are forcing strong price competition - squeezing margins and motivating us to tigthen our belts. In the midst of "the squeeze", it's harder than ever before to deliver increased value to customers and build differentiating customer experiences. We often have fewer resources to draw upon, and we want to be wise about how we invest them.

Even so, in times like this, most successful business leaders understand the importance of investing back into the business. The most successful customer experience leaders follow this principle, as well: investing in ways to innovate and improve customer experience. It's important to note, however, that the most successful leaders in customer experience never favor "flash over substance" approaches to experience innovation. Experience Leaders understand the critical need to deliver innovation from a foundation of "experience fundamentals," outlined below:

#1. Deliver the Basics.

If innovative experience is the hook, the line is delivering what we know all customers want:

- A pleasing, safe, functional environment
- Knowledgeable, professional help
- Fast, reliable service
- Selection and availability
- Reasonable, competitive pricing

The sinker balances the delivery of these elements effectively – in and across a variety of media and channels. Without the basics, investment in innovation is the equivilant of putting lipstick on a pig: You're not fooling anyone.

#2. Diversify with Discipline

Experience Leaders consistently innovate within a core area of expertise, rather than trying to “be all things to all people.”

- Starbucks brings us coffee culture
- Amazon sets the standard for online retail
- REI delivers recreation and adventure
- Best Buy offers electronics and entertainment
- Great Harvest warms us with local baked goods
- Progressive innovates insurance
- Coca-Cola brings us liquid refreshment
- Disney entertains us with innovative story telling

It takes discipline, focus and dedication deliver one thing better than anyone else. As a litmus test, try to articulate what you deliver - in three words or less.

#3. Wear the Customer's Shoes

Experience leaders are deeply interested and thoroughly immersed in evaluating and improving customer experience. They dedicate time, attention and resources to:

Regularly test purchasing and interaction within every channel:
--> Personal engagement is key - click, call and walk-in on a regular basis!
--> Utilize third-parties: Secret shoppers, experience architects, usability experts
--> Run test cases that utilize profiling and variables to uncover gaps and trends
--> Work across functional groups to streamline and perfect experience

Understand and address customer needs and desires
--> Talk to customers and non-customers
--> Understand market, demographic, behavioral, contextual, intent & timing dynamics
--> Look for hidden opportunities: Customers don't always know what they want
--> Review incoming data and customer feedback to identify issues, trends, causes and effects

Thoroughly test and review experiences offered by competitors
--> Always wearing the customer's shoes
--> Acknowledge the elements what work - and better them
--> Pinpoint weaknesses - and exploit them

#4. Create and Engage in Ritual

Experience Leaders understand that predictability, order and routine contribute to a sense of security for customers. They work to incorporate “positive predictability” into experiences, ensuring customers can reliably:

- Access the company (McDonald’s; 1-800-FLOWERS)
- Locate products (Nordstrom; Netflix)
- Engage in transaction (Starbucks; Amazon)
- Find help (Radio Shack; Target)
- Predict selection / price (7-11; Staples)
- Anticipate timing / delivery (Fedex; Dominoes)
- Anticipate quality (Marriott; Papa John's)

Brands that successfully mesh their experiences with behavioral customer patterns can successfully make their brands a part of the customer ritual. They can even introduce new ritual: Picture Starbucks; McDonald's; 7-11...

#5. Authentically Humanize the Brand

Today’s culture is short on trust and shy on human touch. Experience leaders work to incorporate personal relationship and reinforce trust by ensuring all agents of customer experience:

- Believe in / use / show passion for products and services
- Exhibit personal dedication to customer satisfaction
- Honor commitments to reliability, quality and service
- Demonstrate ownership and personal accountability
- Establish positive customer relationships

Reinforcing this with effective marketing and branding results in the creation of legitimately humanized brands that connect with their target markets in more memorable and personable ways: Think Apple; Nike; You?

Parting Shots...

Deliver the foundational elements well, and the rest will be icing on your very appealing cake: You'll develop a new understanding, appreciation and passion for customers; attract better employees because of your authentic focus on the things people most care about; and your influx of innovative ideas will become more relevant, actionable and customer-centric.

Experience Leaders never forget that beyond bells and whistles, it's the cumulative experience that people remember. Making sure innovation is delivered from a foundation of excellence will help ensure innovatiion dollars do not go to waste. This is how experience leaders are creating brand equity, today: You can do it, too.

Couches, Climbing & Coffee...Oh My!

I promised we'd celebrate companies that are successfully investing in delivering cross-channel customer experiences that deliver beyond customer expectations. I'm touching on the activities of three very different companies, below, to provide a brief glimpse into how they're innovating to create customer experiences that are more engaging, memorable and satisfying:

Best Buy utilizes state-of-the-art technology to integrate direct marketing, web and retail experiences. In addition, stores have begun to utilize detailed profiling to adjust each store's product mix, merchandising and treatment of customers -- an approach that drove sales up in the company's San Jose store by 30% in the first year. There was a great article about this in last week's Washington Post. In addition to making the retail environments more experiential, the company is also investing in new products and services related to the entertainment and electronics field: They recently purchased "Geek Squad," a Minneapolis-based company which manages product warranties and offers door-to-door technical support from qualified "geeks" who drive branded VW Bugs, carry badges and a sense of humor. In addition, the store's new "Magnolia" service offers high end audio and video systems and installation. Specially trained Magnolia agents help consumers sample and purchase multi-component systems in plush, specially designed viewing rooms within Best Buy stores. The results? The competition is scrambling to catch up, and Best Buy is successfully grabbing customer affinity and market share.

REI is well recognized, both for its incredible array of outdoor and recreational products and its fully integrated online and offline experience. The retailer offers more than 94,000 individual items (7000 products) on a robust commerce platform that is fully integrated with REI's web, retail stores, call center and direct mail operations. The fully integrated platform allows REI to capture a single view of customer interaction across channels, as well as programs that reward repeat purchasing and customer loyalty. The system also hosts a knowledge base, replete with more than 5,000 pages of product information accessible by curious online customers as well as REI's staff of passionate outdoor enthusiasts. The brick and mortar retail environments are crafted to reflect an outdoor vibe, and even offer climbing walls for customers to try out. REI retail sales associates are happy to help store patrons locate - try on, try out and even rent - gear to suit their their needs. When customers are ready to venture out, REI offers maps, books, message boards and web-based directories that help patrons plug in to the local scene with local excursions and an array of hiking, biking, skiing (etc.) clubs. When customers are ready to go farther, "REI Adventures" offer special excursions that can take customers to almost any corner of the world.

ING Financial Services recently opened, and are now expanding innovative ING Direct cafes in New York, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. These funky, hip locations offer a great cup Peet's coffee along with comfortable seating, free high speed internet access and flat screen televisions broadcasting the latest financial news. They also offer banking and ATM access, in addition to free financial seminars and events. ING Direct cafes are a comfortable place to work remotely, conduct an informal meeting or meet up with a friend -- and as ING has discovered, a great way to build brand affinity and pick up new clients. It's a new spin on banking - and your morning cup of coffee.

Delivering old products in innovative, new, and integrated ways is working for these companies, and it can work for you, too. Long term success, however, also requires these innovators to master "old school" delivery as well. One thing these companies have in common is that they are also skilled in the delivery of what I call "the fundamentals of experience." I'll write more about this in my next post.

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LEIGH DURST

LEIGH DURST
I’m Leigh Durst, a 20 year veteran in business, operations, customer strategy, ecommerce, digital & social media and marketing. Simply put, I’m a strategist that helps companies (start-up to blue chip) achieve business shift, create more compelling online and offline experiences. I also write, speak and teach about experience design and next-generation business. I’m a futurist, visionary, strategist, doer and connector with a passion for people and helping others. When I’m not on the road, you’ll find me in the San Francisco bay area, working, beaching it and hanging out with my family and dog.

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