Great Customer Experience is not Just the Responsibility of the Brands

Yesterday, I went to a unisex salon for a grooming session. I was attended by a young stylist. I started to engage him in a conversation. I asked his name (Sohail) and the place from where he came from (Chandigarh).  I asked him about how long he was in Bangalore, how did he end up here in Bangalore. He said how his uncle had come to Bangalore in search of work and he got him a job at this salon (owned by someone in Delhi). Apart from the salary he was drawing, he also had a paid accommodation provided by the salon.

Then he asked me about how I ended up here in Bangalore, how long have I been here and where do I stay. We shared a few laughs about how almost everyone we meet in Bangalore is not from here but is from somewhere else.

We then spoke about his dreams (he wants to save enough money to own a salon in his home town and travel the country). We then spoke about dreams in general. He offered me some tea, which I graciously accepted and enjoyed. While we were having this side conversation, he had finished my grooming session and it was time to part ways.

He asked me when would I be back and requested that I book an appointment beforehand and specifically ask for him by name to do my grooming. He also thanked me for taking interest in him and talking to him. He said that not many people take interest in people like him.

I came back home and did not think much of the conversation.

Of late, I have been thinking and reading a lot about customer experience. One thing that stood apart for me in my reading, especially after my experience at the salon was how one sided our conversations regarding customer experiences are.

We are only thinking about what can brands do to improve their customers experience with the brand. In doing this, we forget that in any given situation, there are two sets of people involved – the customer and the brand.

While all brands should definitely work towards improving the experience they provide to their customers, it is not the be all and end off customer experience. It is in their best interest to do so.

The question is what role do we play as customers or consumers in how we experience the engagement with the brands. Do we want to be passive and demanding that the brands go all out to improve our experience or can we do something that can improve our experience irrespective of what the brands are doing on this.

We as consumers can take it upon ourselves to have a great experience in every interaction we have with any given brand. We just need to understand that every experience is powered by humans (at least till now) and if we take a little bit of interest in them, they will take a lot more interest in us.

Some things that we all can do as customers to ensure that we have great experiences in our interactions with our favourite brands could be:

  • Give respect: Treating people with respect (whether it is the stylist at a salon, a retail assistant in a mall or a customer service assistant in a call centre) has a direct impact on the interaction we have with them.
  • Take Interest: Being genuinely interested in the people who are serving or interacting with us enables us to have a much richer interaction. All it takes is for us to ask some questions so we get to know them a little bit. For example, do we know the name of the person we are interacting with, where are they from, what are they doing here, what are their aspirations, etc.
  • Smile: We will be surprised when we look at ourselves in any given interaction with brands. Most of us never smile when we are interacting with people (or brands). Just smiling increases our chance of having a good interaction.

When I sit down and think about all the time that I’ve had good experiences in the past, I can always trace it back to having had a good conversation with the people engaged with me. I remember having interesting conversations with air hostesses, cab drivers, retail assistants and clerks, bank tellers, call center employees, customer service representatives at service centers, receptionists and auto-mechanics.

Every single time I’ve had these conversations, I remember going back with a good experience.

Given that this the case, the question then is the following:

  • Why are w(m)e not doing this more often?
  • Why aren’t more of us doing this more often?
  • Why aren’t brands encouraging this behaviour?”

I think it is time that we as consumers also take charge of our experiences.

Lessons in Being Remarkable from an Unlikely Place – A Museum

6cf5d187-8bc3-454f-ba4e-1b9b437c2cb2This post is for everyone of us who is responsible for creating experiences for our customers.

I visited the Paper Museum in Basel yesterday and was blown away by the experience.

We have all visited museums.. These visits are all about soaking in the information, try to appreciate the art, read about the exhibits, click a few pictures and go back home.

This experience was different.

The museum was spread over 4 floors. Each floor was clearly divided into categories like paper production, type, print, etc.

Each floor also had the possibility for a visitor to participate in the experience by creating something new. For example, I made a sheet of paper, used a quill pen and a dip pen to write a letter to my family, got the letter sealed in a cover using wax.

I set type on a printing machine and printed the type to understand first hand how type was set, how difficult it was for someone to set it and now the entire experience is etched in my memory.

I also wrote a letter to my son using a Remington type writer.

I made art using oil paints dropped on water using an age old process.

So, what did I learn from this experience of being engaged in the museum that I can apply in my work:

Break mental models:

Research shows us that our brains doesn’t process all the inputs it gets, as that would create sensory overload and too much cognitive power. What it does is process patterns. For example, if you are in a strange place and all of a sudden all lights go off, you get more alert. However, if you are sitting in a cinema hall and all of a sudden all lights go off, you get more relaxed. These are mental models that we have created that helps us navigate the world without sensory overload.

What the museum did was to break the mental model of what it looks and feels like to go to a museum – being passive content consumer! We don’t go to a museum expecting to make stuff and engage with other visitors.

In order to get your customers to sit up and take notice of you, your products and services, you need to get into their awareness and breaking their mental models gives you their complete attention.

In order to be able to do this, you need to exactly know their mental models and what they expect from you, your product/service, what is the story that they are telling themselves when they get in contact with you.

Engage contextually:

Once you have their attention and awareness, what you do with that matters significantly. You need to engage with them, contextually. For example, I was visiting a paper museum, which meant that i was interested in knowing more about paper and its history.

What better way of learning about paper to actually make paper? what better way of learning about the earliest writing instruments but by actually using one? what better way of learning about the earliest type-writers than by experiencing one? See where this goes. This is extremely contextual.

In order for this to happen, we need to know exactly what is the context in which the customer has come into contact with you? What were they trying to achieve? What were their expectations from their contact with you?

Once you know these, then we/our product/service needs to be able to engage with the customer in such a way that enhances the experience that the customer goes through while at the same time helping them achieve what their original intent was.

Its the small things that matter:

I was prodded by an employee of the museum to write a letter to my wife/son as I was alone in the museum. That small little act of making me think of my family when I was alone made this entire experience a lot more personal for me, which also made it more memorable.

These small things that doesn’t cost anything are what really matter and are the most  difficult to get right, as it requires that you have done a lot of other things well – you have engaged & thoughtful employees – which means that you have recruited & trained them well, created a culture which appreciates these small thoughtful gestures and have created an environment where such small things are routinely made possible.

Its the small things that matter the most.

And yes, I highly recommend that you visit the Paper Museum in Basel if you happen to be there.

PS: You may also want to listen to Seth Godin talk about being remarkable in the below video as well.



Customer Engagement: Ideas for Airlines to Improve Customer Engagement

A bright future for airlines who have good customer engagement
A bright future for airlines who have good customer engagement

The airline industry has been notoriously infamous about the poor customer experience and engagement. This has also played a big part on the overall profitability of the industry. The only airlines that are making profits are the one’s that have some semblance of good customer experience going.

If you take flights for work on a regular basis, you will agree that we spend enormous amounts of time reaching the airport, at the airport (both at the destination & the origin), on-board the aircraft and the drive away from the airports. So, I thought what could the airlines do to help us remain productive or engaged through the entire journey and below are some of the ideas that i could think of:

  1. Make available indoor games within the aircraft (games like crossword, Sudoku, playing cards, puzzles, lego blocks, chess, Chinese checkers, etc).
  2. In longer flights, run an impromptu crossword or sudoku competition. Give the winners a small token of appreciation.
  3. Play dumb charades on-board.
  4. Create a short story competition for passengers flying on a flight. Announce the theme for the short story post take off. Passengers need to write these stories on board the flight and submit before the flight lands.
  5. Make all these stories available for download for free.
  6. Hire an editor and select the top 100 short stories and publish them as a book. Give the book away to all passengers flying on a specific day on your airline.
  7. Use the “Best Journey Ever” and “Worst journey Ever” themes for the short story contest. This will tell you what passengers value while travelling and what they hate. Reduce/eliminate what they hate and increase and enhance what they love.
  8. At peak times, provide a newspapers or magazines to passengers in queue (at the check-in counter) which they can drop at the counter while collecting their boarding pass.
  9. Put a game of sudoku or crossword or an interesting quote at the back of the boarding pass.
  10. Publicly share the names of the people who are travelling on the same flight (with passenger permission, also share whatever they are willing to share, company, role, etc). This would provide passengers to connect and network instead of just pass time.
  11. Run a contest inviting passengers to shoot themselves making the safety announcement and submit on YouTube. Pick top videos and reward them. Use some of the ideas on board and also announce the name of the passenger who submitted that idea.
  12. Provide 2 stickers (smiley and sad face) during boarding. Request the customers to stick the smiley based on their experience on-board the aircraft.

These are some ideas that i think can be implemented with not much expense and at the same time will dramatically improve the customer engagement on-board the aircraft.

Can you think of some ideas that airlines could use to improve their customer engagement? Please share them here as well. Maybe, some airline might use some of these ideas and our travel experience better.