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Monday
Oct012012

Still a long way from customer WOW

Tom Peter’s landmark business book Thriving on Chaos, brought forward the notion that to please a customer was no longer enough--an organization must delight a customer as well as provide products and services beyond expectations.  Now a 15 years later this concept is still illusive to most companies, but it is also an opportunity to become a fundamental strategy to differentiate product, service and price. 

Today differentiating your products from the competition is more and more difficult. New technologies allow product comparisons in ways we could only dream about a decade ago.  The combination of similar products and exact comparison will create even more compelling reasons to attempt company and product differentiation.

Think of all those thousands of products in a market and compare the peas, applesauce, milk, shaving cream or detergent. How is any one really different from another?  Even electronics and appliances are more and more similar.  How different is one VCR from another?   How does a printing job or dental care differ?   How is good paint different from the competitor’s good paint? While each company would have several differences, they are many times so slight that the price is still a large determination.  While we believe that every effort on every front should be made to differentiate each product, one way to flank the competition is with truly exceptional service—WOW service.

New Internet products will allow sites to compare product features and prices only inches from each other.   Additional exposure to qualified buyers on these new Internet sites bring welcomed exposure to low cost producers, while valued added products and companies will have "extras" stripped away for comparison. A development of a robot “agent” program that could go to multiple sites and gather product information for a shopping comparison, was successfully barred from certain sites a couple of years ago.  But, the desire for customers to do comparative shopping is too great to stop the trend.

In 1980 I began talking about the "disneyification" of the retail store (I had just left that industry after 15 years).  “Disneyification” is delivering a product in an experiential mode instead of a transactional mode.  The delivery of a ride at Disneyland is always in the context of the whole park experience.  Several years ago Disney actually took over the retail leases in their parks, and began opening their own specialty Disney stores.  Shopping in a Disney Store is designed to be an entire experience.  All those years ago I was influenced by the generally increased expectations of merchandising and service.  Most of my customers had been to a Disney park, to be WOWed by the experience.  On the other end of the spectrum, all my customers had experienced the nearly instant service of McDonalds.  These new experiences, I argued, increased the expectations of all customers; they expected speedy service, and an incredible experience.  A rising tide (of experience) raises all boats (expectations).  This lead us to work harder to develop our shopping experience.

All these years later, Disney still does a good job (I’m not sure this is still true for McDonalds) even when our expectation of a great experience is high.  Meanwhile many eateries have adopted the “disneyification” concept to enhance the experience of eating. 

These include every combination from safari zoo concepts and theme restaurants to full entertainment centers.  They attempt to add WOW to the experience as well as the food.

However, for the vast majority of businesses and organizations, the quest for delighting the customer falls way down on the “improvements list”.  But it is time to push this goal up the priority list.

So what does it mean to delight the customer beyond their expectations, to wow them? Providing good customer service is actually the standard today, exceptional service is standard, but at the top end.  Delighting the customer is over the top-something extra that goes beyond what is expected in price, quality and service.  “Wow” is total amazement. This is very challenging--only the very best companies achieve this with any regularity (with out destroying profits).

In the quest to delight the customer beyond expectations, several factors must be considered.  A product must be delivered beyond the run-of-mill; it is not just a heroic effort at the service counter.  It is the delivery of a total value beyond the price paid.

The Burgess Value ModelTM helps analyze the four component parts of value; quality, service, price and image.  Improvements in any or all of these areas can result in WOW.  Each incremental increase in perceived quality, service, price or image will increase the likelihood of beating the competition.  The WOW is achieved when the customer, is surprised by the difference in value.  They feel like they received something beyond what they paid for. 

Last month we attended one of the largest conferences in Oxford and Cambridge England for which we wrote the marketing plan.  While I’m happy to say the plan worked, I am much more impressed at our clients’ ability to deliver an experience to the conferees that ranks at the highest levels of delight.  The conference was an International Centennial, of the noted Christian, science fiction and children’s author, C. S. Lewis.  This two-week conference was a total immersion of intellectual, scientific and artistic experience and expression, with an internationally recognized faculty of over 60. While the size of the conference presented many administrative challenges, the curriculum and activities were beyond what anyone expected.  Scores of attendees had life changing experiences that they could not have anticipated, they were Wowed.

I recently bought a new laptop computer.  I needed it before I left the job assignment in England.  I have been looking for over a year for the right combination of necessary features and price, to no avail.  Three weeks prior to leaving, I thought I would have to compromise, or spend more than I wanted.  But just as I was ready to buy a machine from a local retailer (who did not have the personnel to help me, let alone sell me), I received a mailer from a company called Winbook.  I have been on their mailing list at my request for over two years.  The model I wanted was four hundred dollars lower than any comparable machine.  I called immediately to find that this was a special mailing with a new lower price, and the production was backed up.  I expressed my disappointment to a very knowledgeable sales rep.  She asked what my requirements were. I told her that I needed shipment by a certain date.  This was clearly not going to happen, even though she offered to ship next day to England to solve the problem.  Then she said, “You know, I saw some returned machines come in yesterday, we get them every so often. Can I watch for one, for you.”   She explained how the machines were returned for various reasons, but were new and reconditioned if necessary, and they would guarantee the machines for three years for free.  I was pleased with the offer, but doubted she would be able to follow through.  But I agreed to take one if she could find one.  Three days later she had left a message one was being held for me.  I called her immediately, to get the order in, but she was busy.  I told another rep my problem.  They have dozens of sales reps, but he asked my name and immediately came up with the item.  He said, “Oh yea Sally has been here early to grab the first machine that came in. She has a note here to ship to you immediately when you call." I doubt that this was true in the exact way it was stated.  I believe they have a system, which will bring up notes on previous conversations with customers. Never the less, I was delighted.  Needless to say, I will be doing business with little (in the computer industry) Winbook next time even if the price is a higher. In this example, a customer doesn’t want entertainment, overly nice people, or fluff—just great delivery of their good product. I got it.  It is very unusual that I feel this way with anything I buy.  To ad to my delight, I got features that were standard on machines hundreds of dollars more expensive.

How do you WOW your customers?  Start by realizing that not much of what your company does is really different.  Next, think back to the last half dozen purchases you made. Which ones were beyond your expectations?  Well then, think back to the last time you were WOWed. See how rare it is?  We make decisions for the smallest reasons, but receive unexpected service and product features so rarely—a great opportunity for your company to really make a difference-differentiate your product from your competitors. Strive for delight and WOW.