Every once and a while I hear a story about a brand delivering an incredible customer experience. Sometimes the experience described is carefully planned, orchestrated and executed. In other cases, the customer experience captured is spontaneous and organic.
What these too-rare stories have in common is the ability to move us. They evoke admiration and trust towards the brands that are behind them – and if you’re like many of the leaders I meet, some “What do they do that we don’t do?!” jealousy as well.
In this article I want to highlight four organizations who are delivering inspiring customer experiences. The names in this list may or may not surprise you, but what’s really worth noting is how each organization has intentionally made the customer experience a part of their mission and philosophy. To them, delivering an amazing experience is not just a line on their value statement, it’s the context through which they make every decision, interact with every customer, and craft every marketing message.
Larger than delivering a “wow” at a single touch point and different than trading off financial needs for customer needs, these leaders are using their customer experience as a path to great performance.
So some positive news for your day: leaders and organizations doing things right.
It’s probably no shock to you that Publix has made it onto my list of inspiring customer experience examples. The largest employee-owned company in America, Publix consistently ranks at the top of customer service and experience rankings. Consistent growth on both the top and the bottom lines demonstrate the link between customer experience and financial performance.
Comparisons of the company’s “people first” approach to Walmart are not new, but the potency can be breathtaking. Here’s what I found from a simple search on Twitter:
Check out what happened in August of this year in the picture at the top of this article. Gage Boucher, an employee at a Publix in Ormond Beach, Florida, helped an elderly shopper by tying his shoes when he could not reach down to do it himself. His act of kindness was photographed by another shopper and posted online, where the picture and story spread quickly.
I imagine that this was not his first act of kindness towards a customer. It’s consistent delivery of great customer experiences have earned the company consistent growth and made it one of the most profitable food companies in America.
Health insurance is one of the most complex things we buy. Even if we get help from our employers, the language is confusing and we’re often not quite clear how we’re covered. Oscar is out to change that. While it’s too early to declare victory or even use the word “consistent” when describing the company’s customer experience, Oscar’s efforts among industry peers has earned our notice. We’re pulling for them.
Oscar is a new health insurance company that operates solely in New York. The company is using technology (in the form of simplified plan design and Google-like web site and consumer tools) to “speak human.” Since last fall, 16,000 consumers in New York have said “yes” to Oscar’s plan selection and buying process.
Instead of using the language you’d expect from an insurer such as premiums, deductibles, and co-pays, Oscar speaks in plain English and asks interested visitors just a few meaningful questions to help them arrive at a policy that works for them. Here’s all you need to start the conversation (white text are choices for consumers to personalize):
Consumers are offered plans that vary by monthly payment and how many doctor visits per year they think they will need. Oscar is demystifying a product that most of us don’t understand the inner workings of, and in the process they are empowering people to feel like they can actually buy insurance online and know what they are getting. Let’s call this “doing things right so far” and keep watching.
This example of an inspiring customer experience has gone viral and swept across the internet in a blaze of warmed hearts and teary eyes. Take a minute to watch the video below.
The premise is not in itself inspiring: TD Canada gutted one of their ATM machines, put a live human inside, and had that person interact with people as they approached the machine. It’s been done by other brands (notably by Coke). But what makes this example so inspiring is how they surprised these special members.
One customer, a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays, was first surprised with a cap and jersey. That’s a nice enough surprise for someone who was expecting an average ATM visit. Then he is told that a special guest is waiting for him, and out walks Blue Jays player Jose Bautista, who next tells the customer that he’ll be throwing out the first pitch at a Blue Jays game.
Another customer, the working mom of two kids, was first surprised with savings accounts for her two kids with $1000 gifts in each. And then TD took it a step further with tickets for her and her kids to go to Disneyworld, a vacation that the mother had always wanted to take her family on but never could.
And yet another customer, the mother of a daughter with cancer, was surprised with two plane tickets to Trinidad to visit her daughter.
The smiles, tears and joy in the customer’s eyes says it all.
What TD Canada did was create a touching story that was shared, talked about and watched again and again. What makes this an inspiring customer experience example is the incredibly personal, compelling and engaging acts of kindness that this brand did for its customers.
My final example today is more personal to me because it’s one I experienced recently first-hand.
I have terrific clients and most of them are not located near our office in St. Paul. So I travel. A lot. I am in and out of many hotels each year, and find myself telling stories of my own experiences as a customer.
Recently I had a surprisingly wonderful experience at The Capital Hotel in Little Rock, Arkansas.
My flight into Little Rock landed late at night, and I took a cab from the airport to the hotel. When I arrived I walked through the front doors and noticed a gentleman standing near a small podium which I took to be the bellhops stand. The man saw me enter and said, “Are you Ms. Ireland?”
Slightly confused and amazed, “Yes…”
“We’ve got you all checked in. If you’re ready I can escort you to your room.” And then he offered me a bottle of water.
I was completely taken aback.
As we walk, the desk staff says hello. My escort shares the hotel’s history with me along the way. The room is wonderful.
The next morning, I found myself smiling as I stepped out of my room into the hallway. Instead of the too-familiar tall carts stacked with linens and cleaning products, I saw wicker baskets covered with linen sitting in front of many of the room’s doors. Instead of the common cart I struggle to get around, the Capital Hotel places all of the bedding and toiletries to be changed inside these neat and handsome baskets. A historic touch, helping to maintain the appearance of elegance and tidiness as well.
I snapped a photo because it was such a pleasant alternative to encounter in the hallway.
As I walked by the reception area to leave, I hear, “Good morning Ms. Ireland, would you like any help getting a car to take you to your meeting this morning?”
I’m floored. This was a different person, yet they still knew who I was. Not only was their staff incredibly prepared, courteous and helpful, but also their attention to detail was top notch.
That evening I returned to the hotel with newly-arrived 3 colleagues ready to check in. Heady with anticipation at how they would be greeted, sure enough, there was my friend with personalized greetings and bottles of water.
The Capital Hotel delivered one of the most special and memorable hotel experiences that I’ve had to date. And to this day I still cannot say how they knew who I was
So what are the ingredients to an inspiring customer experience? What makes the examples covered in this article so inspiring?
Inspiring experiences are personal, compelling, social and empowering. The organic, unplanned moments of kind staff are most meaningful when they happen in the context of an intentional, smart, and consistently delivered customer experience. Inspiring experiences are made up of tangible things like products and prices AND emotional outcomes that move us. And in inspiring customer experience the link between customer success and organization success is incredibly clear.
Any inspiring customer experiences you’d like to share?