A few weeks ago, British insurer Aviva sent thousands of customers an e-mail with the salutation “Dear Michael.” Problem is, the vast majority of recipients weren’t named Michael.
The company chalked the snafu up to a “temporary technical error.” However, in a BBC interview, one customer’s reaction to the mistake perfectly illustrated how small details can have a big impact on the customer experience.
The customer (whose real name was Andrew, not Michael) received the misaddressed message and instead of just disregarding it as a simple mistake, started to wonder about what else Aviva might have done wrong: “Getting a first name wrong is one thing, but what if it was my data — my address or policy information — being sent to someone else instead?” he explained to the BBC reporter.
This is what I call the “Lampshade Effect” – the tendency for people to take a small error or oversight in the customer experience and infer from it that something bigger may be amiss.
The term is derived from the attention that luxury hotels place on even the smallest guest room details, such as the placement of a desk chair, the arrangement of bed pillows, or the positioning of a lampshade.
It’s why a renowned hotel chain such as Ritz-Carlton has its housekeepers review an over 200-item checklist to make sure every room is properly prepared for its guests. Ritz-Carlton recognizes that if a customer enters a room and sees a lampshade askew, they’ll likely wonder what else is awry in the space.
The standard advice in the customer experience arena is to focus on “moments of truth” (i.e., the episodes or touchpoints where the greatest opportunity lies to make a memorable impression). That’s reasonable advice, since the majority of our customer experiences are largely forgettable, given how our brains process and retain information.
However, while our brains may not be wired to remember every detail, we can certainly still be influenced by every detail.
A crooked lampshade in a hotel suite. A misspelling in a piece of correspondence. An unpleasant smell in a waiting room. A cluttered product display in a store. A curt greeting from a call center representative. A doctor who doesn’t make eye contact.
These are all examples of the details that our brain picks up on as it continuously scans our environment for cues about the nature of the experience we’re going through. Those cues can either reinforce or refute the brand perceptions that form in our minds as we interact with the world around us.
Importantly, effective management of customer experience details isn’t just about avoiding small errors; it’s also about delivering small surprises.
Consider why Nordstrom staff always walk around the sales counter (instead of reaching over it) to give customers their packages and thank them for their business. Consider why the founder of Krispy Kreme doughnuts cut a hole in the side of his first store, so the aroma of baked goods could waft through the surrounding streets. Consider why the CEO of Starbucks insisted that all of its stores use low-profile Espresso machines, allowing baristas to maintain eye contact with their customers.
All of these legendary companies were capitalizing on the power of details. They were leveraging subtle environmental cues to create a certain ambience in the customer experience, to reinforce desired brand attributes.
This is why details matter in the customer experience, because however small they might be, they can still exert a meaningful influence on customer perceptions – enticing people to do business with you in the first place, and then motivating them to come back again and again.
Be sure to account for the Lampshade Effect in your business. Encourage your staff to obsess over details, whether it be in your physical store, on your website, in your correspondence, or wherever your business engages with customers.
You might not think that people will notice these details – but they do, even if subconsciously. And it’s those details that can make all the difference between a customer experience that’s strong rather than weak, and distinctive rather than dull.