A few years back it was popular to say that the No. 1 competitor of all organizations seeking to create a great customer experience was Disney. Its friendliness and dedication to “happy like a kid” joy still makes most banks, restaurants, hotels and retail chains pale by comparison. Many leaders flocked to Disney World to go attend their “Disney Way” training programs.
Welcome to the new kid on the service-exemplar block: Cirque du Soleil. And their formula for success is not just an over-the-top attitude of great service; it is total sensory immersion. All their customers’ senses are plunged headlong into a cavalcade of theatrical delight. The payoff? Over 100 million people have seen a Cirque du Soleil performance; last year alone, it was 15 million.
Let’s try a fun exercise based on a real situation. You look for all the places a Cirque du Soleil sensory transformation could have elevated this experience to highwire heights.
I went with a friend to his Realtor’s office for him to sign some papers. It was a national real estate brand with lots of agents coming and going from this office. The entrance was plain vanilla industrial – lots of concrete and glass; no color except the green of the plants and grass. I was already thinking it was a good thing they were not in the home building business; this would not be a good model for their work. Inside the front door, the scene was “business boring.” No music, no decorations, no attractive paintings, absolutely nothing memorable that caught my eye, ear or nose. Where was the smell of baked apple pie when you most needed it?
There was no warm welcome as we walked in their front door. The receptionist’s greeting was polite but completely functional. She asked us to take a seat in their waiting area while she buzzed his Realtor to the front. No “would you like a cup of coffee” in the scene. The magazines featured the usual suspects – nothing whimsical, clever or even interesting. When I inquired about Wi-Fi (I live with my laptop) her expression said “What’s a Wi-Fi?” There was no popcorn machine, and no television showing CNN or CNBC or homebuying educational videos I could learn from.
An assistant from the back of the building came to the reception area and escorted my friend back to his Realtor’s office (a signal not lost on either of us); I remained up front. When I asked the receptionist the location of the bathroom, she informed me it was just past the employee break room. The bad boy in me wanted to ask if there was a customer break room.
Their bathroom could have been exported from any business office with no piped-in-music. There were no newspaper clippings, great reviews, educational pictures or even home spec sheets attracting me to select them as my Realtor the next time I bought or sold a house. The bathroom was spotless but completely sterile. I left knowing this memory would likely vanish from my brain before the end of the day.
All customers today generalize memorable experiences to all other service providers. When the FedEx delivery person moves with a hustle we assume the postal carrier will do likewise. A delightful encounter with a Zappos’ call center operator elevates expectations for all receptionists. Your customers have summoned an Uber driver on their smartphone; boarded a Disney ride with the magic band; and had all manner of merchants remember their birthday. They look for QR codes for easy access to websites and YouTube videos. They are social media natives, not newcomers like most Baby Boomers. Compared to all this sensory stimulation, an ordinary customer experience feels boring and a negative.
Know your customers well and aim for the response you believe they will value. Consider the emotion and sensations (real or imagined) you want to call to mind. Sights, sounds and smells are all cues for customers that can surface pleasant or not-so-pleasant memories. Once you have decided on the senses to appeal to, find ways to introduce them in a way that customers discover and delight in. Also remember that sensory enhancement must reflect proportion and balance. If your customers are singing along with the music in the reception area, it might be playing too loud.
Real estate agents sometimes stew over the status imagery of their new Lexus, Mercedes or Cadillac. But, many customer relationships start in your real estate office, not following a car to a home site. If your real estate office were an attraction, great service might be Disneyworld, but enchanting service would be Cirque de Soleil. Put your customers’ senses on steroids! It is an approach that can be generalized to your entire real estate practice.
Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker and the author of several best-selling books. His newest book is “Sprinkles; Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service.” He can be reached at www.chipbell.com.