Sears, Kmart, Blockbuster… What do they all have in common? They lost sight of their in-person experience.
Entrepreneurs and business leaders inarguably put an exceptional amount of effort into figuring out the back-end logistics of getting products and services to their customers. All of that effort can be moot, however, if you’re not paying attention to the overall in-person experience you’re bringing to your customers, too.
An example of a ship that sunk
Years ago, Sears was one of the most widely known and respected brands. As a department store, it carried a huge range of products and services, including automotive maintenance, clothes, toys, and major appliances. They even offered dental services! The company had been in business since 1893, rising to fame through its popular mail-order catalog, what might be considered yesteryear’s equivalent of today’s e-commerce.
But in the 2000s, transactions started to seriously decline. Moves like stock buybacks and the sales of trusted brands, eventually including Craftsman, couldn’t pull the business out of its growing financial hole. And in 2018, the company filed for bankruptcy.
What went wrong?
Even though Sears continued to sell a lot of options, the business bailed on continuing exceptional customer service. It became hard, for example, just to find associates in the store. Customers complained that the physical locations weren’t kept up or clean, and people had to wait for repairs or couldn’t get them.
On a basic level, Sears didn’t keep up with the times. Disconnected from buyers, they didn’t keep up with trends or prioritize human interaction.
While Sears’ case is notable because of how iconic the company was, it’s not the only business to let itself become outdated and come up short in terms of customer experience. Blockbuster, for example, ignored the writing on the wall as Netflix reworked the movie rental space, and now they’re gone. All of these ventures demonstrate that failure is easy when leaders don’t anticipate or heed demands in the market and stop caring about the impression they give to the people they’re meant to serve.
3 points to create satisfied customers
There’s a lot that can go into making your customers happy, both during a single transaction and their entire time with you. But having some guiding principles can help you make the right decisions as you interact with them.
People make people feel good.
Customers, consumers, patients, clients, buyers — whatever you call them at your business, they are social creatures. They respond when you welcome them warmly, are available to ask questions, or listen empathetically to the problems they’re having. They like to feel noticed and important. And with so many businesses competing with similar products/services, it’s these interpersonal elements that tip customers to one company over another.
This is why you must invest in training your people to be inviting and helpful; ensure that they really know how to make the person in front of them feel heard. Self-service has its place, but it’s not more valuable than the human element.
Customer experience points are all interconnected.
Let’s say you go into the bathroom at your department store. Even if the store has good products and prices, if that bathroom is dirty, then you’re likely going to judge the business at least a little based on that lack of upkeep. In the same way, if your dentist is spectacular but the lobby has peeling paint and uncomfortable chairs, then you’re probably going to mentally deduct some points from their experience score.
When you’re trying to create a good customer experience, you have to remember that everything is linked. Even small details can matter a lot. It’s important that you look at the business from many different angles throughout the entire buyer journey to reduce the odds that people will receive you and your offerings poorly.
What the other guys are doing really does matter.
What other businesses do quickly creates an industry standard. And over time, that standard solidifies an expectation in your customers. For example, say you visit that same dentist again. If they tell you they will mail your claim, while everyone else is rapidly processing claims digitally, you’re probably going to be disappointed and have a less enjoyable experience, because you’re expecting a level of service or way of operating that you see from other businesses.
So, not only do you have to look at your competition, but you have to strive to be the one that sets the experience standard. By being proactive rather than reactive about trends, you can grab a larger share of the market early on and ensure more loyal customers.
Exceptional customer experience doesn’t just happen. It is a deliberate choice that you as a leader have to make. Take the Sears story to heart as a cautionary tale and absorb the three points above to ensure you stay ahead of the pack.