Q: I’m curious about providing “wow experiences” for our customers as a way to elevate the customer service we’re currently providing. Candidly, we have so much trouble just getting through the day that I shudder a bit to ask this, but what’s involved in adding moments of wow, why we should bother, and so forth?
(Above is a question I received recently, as a customer service consultant and turnaround expert. Let me go ahead and answer it publicly, since many businesses are in the same boat and may benefit.)
A: One of the unsparing opinions my clients know me for is my tough-love mantra that satisfactory customer service isn’t enough to guarantee customer engagement and loyalty. Although it is, of course, essential to consistently offer competent, reliable customer service day in and day out, that’s a lot of work and you do want to be rewarded for it in terms of customer engagement, loyalty, and brand ambassadorship. So once you’re managing to provide a consistently satisfactory level of customer service, it’s time to go for it: to augment this satisfactory service level with another element, an element of wow.
A wow experience, in my definition, is when service goes beyond fulfilling basic customer expectations and does so in a creative unexpected way. This is important because human beings–including human customers–remember best in terms of stories. So a wow experience is a powerful way to create a story in your customer’s mind that, ideally, will bring that customer closer to your brand.
In your question, you mentioned that you’re already stressed enough, just getting through the day. And that is a tricky situation that will constrain your ability to provide wow. You need what I call “breathing space”: enough availability in terms of staffing to allow employees to go the extra mile in creative ways for customers without them failing to get the basics done as well.
Once you do achieve the staffing levels and systems/process improvements needed to deliver satisfactory service at a lower stress level than you are currently feeling, here are four steps to take to get your company on the road to wow.
1. Empower employees. Make it clear that it’s their job to be empowered in favor of their customers, and back that empowerment up with financial support/leeway so they can go out of their way for a customer even if it costs money.
2. Model wow. Spin tales of different ways that a customer can be impressed. These can be drawn from your own experience, your imagination, and anecdotes you’ve heard from (or experienced at) other companies. Don’t worry; you won’t have to be doing this for very long. As the in-house “bank” of wow stories grows, you can recount those homegrown examples instead.
3. Celebrate wow. When an employee or team of employees take the time and, if necessary, spend some money to create wow for a customer, this needs to be celebrated. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company celebrates this both daily at their 10-minute “lineup” and weekly companywide. It’s not so easy to stay in the mindset of celebrating wow when such an effort leads an employee to get less of their routine work done. But it’s essential, and it’s up to you: as a leader, you have the choice to either criticize the employee for being less “efficient” or celebrate them for doing something that is very important for the future of your company.
4. Learn to wow at the right time. It’s important that employees understand that, from a customer’s perspective, it’s not always the time for wow. At times, customers are in too much of a hurry or are feeling too unsociable to want to have anything to do with being wowed. It’s up to your employees to pick up on this and not be forcibly wowed. Because that’s not the kind of story you want customers to take home with them.
Micah Solomon is a customer service consultant, customer experience turnaround expert, keynote speaker, trainer, and author. Email Micah directly, visit his website, or download three free chapters of his new book: Ignore Your Customers (and They’ll Go Away): The Simple Playbook for Delivering the Ultimate Customer Service Experience, recently published by HarperCollins Leadership.