During BRITE '12, Columbia Business School Professor Bernd Schmitt introduced "Happy Customers Everywhere", his latest book. He provocatively asked whether happiness is a function of simply removing pain points from the customer experience, or is there more?
Intuitively, ensuring that customers are happy makes sense to me. Amazon makes me happy; I return to it for more. Zappos knows that Happy Employees Deliver; their happiness is contagious. Schmitt's focus on customer happiness clicked immediately. I wanted to hear more!
Thanks to BRITE's Matt Quint, and in anticipation of One Happy Book Launch: An Evening with Author Prof. Bernd Schmitt on 5/2/12 (co-sponsored by the Columbia Business School Alumni Club of New York), I caught up with Schmitt to learn more about Happy Customers Everywhere.
C.B.: Schmitt, what is the big deal with customer happiness? How does it benefit businesses?
Customer happiness is more than customer satisfaction or loyalty. It is the emotional bond between a customer and a business, and thus a much more powerful relationship.
It greatly benefits businesses and their brands. Happy customers go out of their way to find a product. They will not compromise; they want a particular brand and only that brand. And they recommend the brand to others, via word of mouth, or nowadays actively in social media.
C.B.: If money alone isn't enough to guarantee happiness, how do you convince companies intensely focused on financial results that they would be better served [and more profitable] if they focused on customer happiness?
In my book I feature John Mackey, chairman and CEO of Whole Foods Market. He has made happiness the focus of his business. He says, sure, financial results matter, but shareholder value alone is not te primary focus.
In a customer-centric business, the focus is customer happiness, and then profits come automatically. I fully agree and in my book I feature other visionary leaders with this orientation.
C.B.: Schmitt, you refer to 3 methods for making customers happy. What are they and how do they differ? Is one more appropriate than another for business?
They are: pleasure, meaning and engagement. They are based on the scientific literature and research on positive psychology.
Pleasure is about positive emotions -- pleasing customers so to speak and getting them to savor the experience. the W hotel is a good example; there is always something there to experience with the senses.
Meaning is about values -- environmental values, family values, freedom, simplicity. I feature the Prius car, the Britta water filter, and uniqlo in that chapter.
Engagement, finally, is about doing new, creative things for customers to keep them engaged. The Coca Cola Open Happiness campaign is a good example.
All methods are equally valid but some work better for some categories and brands than others.
C.B.: How difficult was it finding examples to support the book's premise? What are some of those companies?
Easy. Lots of companies are focused on happiness now, and I gave several examples already.
But what does not work is just giving a company or brand the label "HAPPY" and not delivering. I have numerous examples of that as well.
C.B.: How else can a focus on happy customers benefit businesses [and society]?
Happiness is not just a customer or marketing issue in business; happiness is also important for employees in companies and for governments who want to make citizens happy.
In the chapter on employee happiness, I give advice on how to motivate employees, provide the right work environments, and get them to work well together -- so that they are happy.
Citizen happiness is not just an income or "possessions-of-goods" issue. It's important to live in countries and cities that stimulate and provide experiences. Plus, as I show, having time for yourself or spending time with others is more important than money.
C.B.: Thank you, Schmitt!
What are your thoughts about happiness and the customer experience? How do you see applying it to your business?
From the BRITE '12 Conference, you'll enjoy this video of Schmitt discussing Happy Customers Everywhere. [Note: to view the video directly on YouTube, click on Happy Customers Everywhere Trailer.]
To purchase Schmitt's book, click on Happy Customers Everywhere: How Your Business Can Profit from the Insights of Positive Psychology [links directly to Amazon].
While working on this article, I came come across the following 'happy' references:
[You may also enjoy Two Small Business Marketing Ideas From Uniqlo.]
Have you flown JetBlue yet? I had my first experience with the airline last week traveling to and from Orlando. I haven't stopped thinking - and talking - about my reinvented airline customer experience since then.
Continental used to be how I measured superior airline customer experience. I regularly witnessed staff collaborating to speed up boarding or deal with unavoidable weather delays. I appreciated how all overhead bins had been redesigned to accommodate business traveler rolling suitcases. I loved the clever advertisements that called attention to flyer needs.
All that is gone since United and Continental have become one. Snacks require a credit card, as does basic inflight entertainment. Representatives seem unhappy. Even the clever ads have ever so subtlely changed and now proclaim superiority and might, rather than celebrate how to enable the airline's customers to do more.
On JetBlue, I checked a bag for free. That immediately got my attention.
Encouraging bags to be checked directly affects the boarding process. Not only were the JetBlue overhead bins not crammed with bags that should have been checked, but even though I boarded at the end of the process, I had no trouble finding overhead space above my seat! Furthermore, boarding was quick and pleasant.
JetBlue offers more legroom. Inflight entertainment is free, unless one wants a premium movie.
Adding to the JetBlue airline customer experience: an interesting selection of free snacks, some of which I had never tried before, served from baskets!
I was offered a full can of seltzer rather than just a glass. I asked for lemon - assuming the answer would be "no fruit" and was offered a packet of True Lemon, a product I had never experienced before!
When I asked for coffee, it was served with a lid...
By the ways, drinks were served from a tray rather than from a utilitarian cart.
On the first flight of my JetBlue roundtrip, the captain came out of the cockpit to greet us [see image above]. I don't remember that ever having happened before.
Although pillows and blankets on planes are now mostly a convenience of the past, had I wanted a set, I could have purchased one to keep.
Finally, I tweeted about my free Jetblue checked bag and was immediately acknowledged.
I fly primarily for business now. Although I love to fly and have great memories associated with airplanes and airlines, I regret how 'unglamorous' and utilitarian the airline customer experience has become. For the most part, it has become an unpleasant necessity.
Imagine being as pleasantly surprised as I was last week by JetBlue! Hard to believe, no? Not only was I not nickel and dimed, but I actually relaxed...
Now, imagine doing something similar for your customers. How might you add a human touch? What about a dose of innovation? How might you bundle aspects of your customer experience?
Although about Surfaces 2011, the insights captured in this Floor Covering Weekly article, published in the February 21/28, 2011 issue remain relevant to this day, particularly if you are serious about connecting with customers!
Let me know if you agree.
Surfaces 2011: Connecting With Customers
By Christine B. Whittemore
Have you considered what goes into ‘connecting with customers’? It’s a question that characterized my Surfaces 2011 experience. Yes, my three education sessions focused on connecting with customers. However, every session I attended reinforced that theme. Here are highlights from Surfaces to share with you relating to ‘connecting with customers’.
- Before selling anything to anyone, build trust, establish credibility and create meaning for customers. In other words, develop relationships, banish the hard sell and focus instead on active listening to determine what matters to them.
- The more passionate you are about customers, the better you will differentiate yourself from your competition. Be a relentless customer advocate. Listen, follow up and don’t assume it’s all about price!
- Follow up after every transaction. Multiple touch points with customers create meaningful relationships; they signal that you care. Be sure to survey customers, obtain feedback, address issues in real-time and learn from every interaction.
- Be unforgettable! In your follow up, in your retail experience/store, your focus on customers, your online experience, your emails and communications.
Marty Gould from Focalize illustrated the value of making meaning for customers with a radio spot he created based on web content extracted from participants’ websites. The result: a bland, boring, meaningless, generic gobbledygook sales pitch that tried to be all things to all customers. Better to think specifically about those customers whom you can help, and create messages and content that credibly connect with them. Be real, be human; explain how and why you care. [If you haven’t already, you might enjoy David Meerman Scott’s Gobbledygook Manifesto.]
Jim Dion reminded the audience how futile it is to beat the Big Boxes on price. Better to focus on what they can’t do: customer focus, deep product knowledge and relentless attention to details. How you execute those details beats everything. Your store is about the people within the store and how passionate all of those people are about the business and building customer relationships.
According to Matt Selbie from Opiniator, of all the reasons businesses drive customers away, 55% are service related issues. In other words, by not addressing fixable issues, businesses force customers to defect. Even though 95% of companies collect customer feedback, only 30% make decisions based on that customer input and the majority never let customers know that action has been taken as a result of the feedback. Address those service issues and you’ll connect with customers! By the way, customer retention affects profitability as it does loyalty and referrals.
Imagine, as Mark Lauzon from Advanced Fabrication Solutions described, that the person you’ve hired to paint your interior trim calls, visits and touches the job up every few months after the job is completed without your prompting him. He does so not to sell, but rather to ensure customer satisfaction. Talk about being unforgettable. That is what you are striving for when connecting with customers. Other advice: banish the hard sell, particularly on the phone. Build trust. Don’t ever forget the personal, human element. Look people in the eye. Pay attention to what’s happening in your community [it will affect demand]. Consider creating an advisory council to connect with customers and inspire brand ambassadors.
As many of you know, I have been immersed socially and digitally since 2006. Although the various tools of social media can be used to communicate traditional one-way messages, where they shine is by enabling you to connect with customers. The tools allow you to be human, approachable, trustworthy, passionate in your areas of interest and also unforgettable.
With a caveat. You must focus on what matters to customers, rather than on you [e.g., you may have received the Nobel Peace Prize, but can you install my carpet?]. You need to truly ‘walk in her shoes’ and be sensitive that your sales pitches aren’t spamming customers or that you aren’t intruding on personal conversations. How well do you understand what customers are searching for? Can you provide them with meaning, information, solutions? Can you make your experience seamless for customers so your physical store or showroom communicates the same messages that your social and digital presences do? Can you truly connect with them? Will you?
Comments, reactions? What have you implemented to connect with customers since Surfaces?
Yes, I skipped last week's issue of Retail Experience in the News. It just seemed like there was too much going on with Easter and Passover Holidays...
In any case, we are back with the 4/13/12 issue of retail experience in the news links and resources.
I hope you enjoy!
Retail Experience Ideas
Retail Experience and the Consumer
Integrating Offline/Online Retail Experience
The DSW - aka Designer Shoe Warehouse - retail experience focuses intensely on conveniently bringing together customers [aka shoe lovers] and an ever-changing shoe inventory. DSW makes makes shoe buying easy.
According to Harris Mustafa, Executive Vice President, Supply Chain and Merchandise Planning and Allocation for DSW per a NRF Retail's Big Blog interview titled DSW exec talks value, loyalty and omnichannel, DSW focuses its retail experience on Shoe Lovers, particularly those "who appreciate style and value, a convenient place to shop online or at the store."
I experienced this firsthand when I introduced my daughter, a fellow shoe lover, to DSW this past weekend.
What struck me about our visit to DSW was how "shoe lover" focused the entire retail experience was.
As we walked through the store doors, we saw "now hiring: shoe lovers".
Within the store itself, every shoe there, from the practical to the preposterous, proclaimed 'shoe lover haven and heaven'! I've never encountered a shoe shopping environment more conducive to efficient browsing and easy shopping... No one stands between the shopper and the shoe. When love hits, and the price is right, it's an easy decision.
At checkout, the sales associates wore badges [similar to those worn by Apple store employees] identifying them as 'shoe lovers'.
In the interview, Mustafa was asked about DSW's "ever-changing inventory. What drives the purchasing decisions at your organization?" He explains "our merchants are constantly in the marketplace looking for new trends and fashions. We buy on an on-going basis rather than only a few times a year. We are constantly injecting freshness into our assortments."
That's guaranteed to drive shoe lovers back to DSW on a regular basis.
At the heart of DSW's product focus lies an intense focus on customers - aka shoe lovers. The systems that DSW uses exist to facilitate bringing shoe lovers and shoes together. That includes mobile technology [check out DSW aims to increase shoe sales via QR code initiative for a taste of DSW's use of QR codes].
In a second interview, Mustafa offers additional insight in DSW EVP talks analytics, mobile, and more on the EXPO floor.
If you visit the DSW website, you'll notice how focused it is on searching, browsing and purchasing shoes. DSW's Twitter feed @DSWShoeLovers has a similar vibe.
The DSW Facebook Fan Page, however, brings to life shoe passion shared between customers and DSW. Check out A Design Affair, a contest sponsored with the Fashion Institute of Technology! The page is alive with wonderful photos of fellow shoe lovers taken at DSW stores around the country.
What I admire about DSW is that it has chosen 'shoe lovers' as its core customer persona. Every aspect of the business supports the shoe lover focus.
Imagine doing something similar for your retail experience... What would your store look like if your core persona were the 'home lover' or the 'car lover'? How would you rethink every system to eliminate any hurdle that came in between your product and your customers?
Zappos' website - aka its online retail experience - strikes me as being 'powered by customers'. Would you agree?
I've written frequently about Zappos and its fierce focus on customers and how it embodies the notion of 'powered by service.' Zappos has truly redefined customer service, making use of traditional [i.e., the phone] and digital social tools [i.e., Twitter, Facebook, blogs...] to connect with and engage customers. But, what about the Zappos.com website?
Based on a recent visit to the Zappos website, I observed an online retail experience intensely powered by customers.
Starting on the Zappos.com home page, I noticed a section titled 'what our customers are saying' which refers to customer reviews. Talk about defying conventional wisdom by including so much content! However, it's relevant to customers and infinitely credible. You'll find similar customer reviews included throughout the website across a multitude of product categories.
Prominently featured above the fold on the home page is a banner image which showcases opportunities to shop by occasion and trend [you'll find a few more options]. What I find intriguing about shopping by trend - in particular - is that a trend has less urgency than an occasion. It's less utilitarian than having to find rain boots or flip flops. Shopping by trend is in invitation to browse and get ideas. It's a way to appeal to someone who may not be ready to buy that very instant, and to connect so that she returns again and again, and buys in the process.
Many retail websites focus intensely on buying and buying now. They don't address the future buyer, the one who is still in education or buying mode. The Zappos site offers options for that customer who's still considering her options. Rather than run away as fast as I can, the Zappos site invites me to stay and explore.
Further signs that the Zappos Online Retail Experience is 'powered by customers':
Click on an outfit in shopping by trend and you're taken to a page where each item from the outfit can be purchased, with a reminder about Zappos' free shipping both ways and 24/7 customer service. Talk about eliminating friction and anxiety. Talk about thinking of the purchase process from the customer's perspective.
I invite you to go explore the Zappos.com website retail experience. What are your reactions? What might you apply to your own organization?