Your Customer Wow! project

Business can be tough, but it's much easier when your customers love what you do for them.

When your customers say Wow! they come back, they bring others with them, they complain less and pay more and they look seriously at any new product you offer.

If all your customers said Wow! you could cut your marketing budget to zero, stop worrying about your cash flow and focus on the problems of getting all the work done.

Just a few Wows! would make going to work a whole lot more rewarding for you and your people.

Very few enterprises actually commit resources to working directly on the experience their customers have, but it could be your most cost effective investment.

Enhancing the customer experience is:

  • an effective strategy for moving the entire organisation forward, because it raises morale.
  • a powerful marketing promotion, because it directly grows the brand (ultimately, your brand is not what you say, it’s the sum of all your customers’ experiences)
  • a word-of-mouth accelerator
  • a differentiator that can make people more likely to choose you and to keep coming back.

Here's how to launch your own Customer Wow! project.


Step 1: get serious – appoint a Customer Advocate

If you want your people to think you are serious about this one, that it’s not going to fade away in a week, show it. Invest in it.

Create a Customer Advocate role.

The Customer Advocate views everything you do from a customer perspective. They consider new proposals in terms of how it will affect customers. They review the things you have always done, from a customer perspective. They remind you that customers are looking for a better experience. And there should be no part of the company that’s excluded from their scrutiny.

Appoint an internal person to the position as acting (not confirmed), in addition to their current role. Shift some of their current responsibilities on to others, so they do have spare capacity, about half their time. Give them a pay rise, while they are acting. Let them know they will be considered for permanent appointment when that happens. Choose someone for whom this is a significant step up, a real opportunity. Choose someone who loves people, is outgoing, the kind of person who just goes up to strangers and starts a conversation. Choose them for potential, for initiative and courage and give them a push.

Have them report to you, often, preferably daily, even for just a few minutes by phone, to tell you what they have been doing.

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Step 2: Involve management

Start your Customer Advocate with a planning session involving all your management team, even those who never meet customers. (If you have a manager whose work has zero impact on customers, sack them now: you don’t need them.)

The purpose of this session is to agree a plan for the Customer Advocate to implement. They can’t just go out and “advocate”, they need practical direction.

At this meeting some managers will scoff, as though this is a bit of silly lark. It is your duty as a leader to let them know they are wrong and that such negative, self-defeating attitudes have no role in your organisation. Whether a leader can most effectively do that via a low-key private chat later or via a brutal, immediate dressing down in front of colleagues is a matter for another blog. Just recognise that if you do not snuff out such attitudes, they will defeat you.


Step 3: Involve staff

Whether it’s meeting(s) or emails, get staff involved. Tell them this: You are on the frontline. It’s your job to tell what things annoy our customers and get in their way and what they want us to be doing.
And reward them, via a competition with weekly prizes for the most useful information or idea. It doesn’t have to be a big prize – film tickets are good, especially Gold Class or some other kind of indulgence they wouldn’t normally do. Let the Customer Advocate decide the winner, and be responsible for encouraging entries.


Step 4: Don’t be puritanical, be practical

Sometimes people get so wrapped up in business ideas, the go all evangelical; no-one is allowed to hold any doubts and nothing is too much.

Well, the customer experience is a tool, not an end goal – and the customer is not always right (see my article about this).

So, when you are planning and when you are choosing prize winners, emphasise value for money. You are looking for the ideas that deliver the most customer benefit at the lowest cost. When your wowed customer returns, you want to still be there to serve them again; to do that, you need to make a profit.

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Step 5: Don’t cop out by asking the customer to do the work

One of the early ideas proposed will be to get a research company to get a regular, independent measure customer satisfaction (the “net promoter score” is currently fashionable) and to ask customers about their experience and what they want.

My first career was in market research, I still run the occasional research project, and my advice is, do not do this.

Customers are sick of businesses trying to get them to do all the work of saying how to run a business. They think it’s your job (it is) and they are not much interested. They especially don’t want to hear you telling them how they should give up their time because you are generously ready to listen to them and ultimately it will benefit them, cue violins etc.

Love the company or hate it, the fact is that over the last decade of Steve Job’s leadership of Apple, they got us to buy products we didn’t know could exist, that we didn’t even know we needed – until they became essential to our everyday lives. And the company opened stores delivering the best retail experience in the world. They did this without research. They just focused on making the experience better. (The perhaps apocryphal story is that Jobs decreed Apple did not need a market research department, that instead managers could just ask him and he’d give them the answer.)

If you really desperately want to do research, jump to the other side of the tech divide and take some advice from Bill Gates: Customer complaints are your best research tool.  You want to know what you’re not getting right? Tell your staff to refer all complaints immediately to you. You’ll get faster, more accurate, more comprehensive and cheaper results, expressed more succinctly.

My point is: own your customer experience, don’t outsource it or ask your customers to manage it.


Step 6: Get a conversation going internally

People talk about stuff at work. It’s your role as the leader to lead at least some of the conversation in meaningful directions.  You want them to talk about your customer experience.  To discuss options, to compare different ways of doing things, to come up with new ideas. So inject yourself in conversation. Send emails that need an answer. Ask for reports, comments and interesting customer stories. What’s your personal leadership style for engaging with staff?  That’s what you should be doing.


Step 7: Tackle a list of specific things and keep topping the list up

Finally, the core of the thing. Your Customer Wow! project must be based on a list of specific things you want to achieve.

Redecorate the client area.  Fix the issue that causes the most complaints or the most warranty claims. Replace a low grade supplier with a better one.  Get average warranty return times down to 5 days. Be the first to introduce a new customer service, a new way of paying, an app that helps clients. Serve better coffee.

Don’t list big aspirational things that can’t be definitively “done”. Stick to precise goals and outcomes and include lots of small one.

Fix the pothole in the client carpark. Pull the weeds out front. Sponsor the local kids' sports teams and put their photos in your reception area, in your company newsletter. (Yes, knowing that companies they choose are active in their local community is a customer wow factor.)

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Step 8: Review, renew

The only thing that doesn’t change is how often people keep telling us about change. Despite that, people tend to believe that nothing really changes, that their work is the same, that their lives are the same.  Especially they think that nothing about how people behave changes.

But they are wrong. A successful Customer Wow! project can change how people behave, what their working lives are like, how enjoyable it is to go to work.

So it is your task to ensure the change is documented and that people are regularly reminded of change, that they have made it happen, and so they can renew their energies for change.

Hey Bob, remember what this reception area used to look like? And the coffee? Hardly ever saw a customer just sitting here, like you do now.


Summary: service is part of the product

Whatever product or service you sell, the customer experience is part of the product and it may be the most important part for gaining an edge with your customers.
Working on the customer experience may be the highest return investment you can make in your business right now.

This is especially true in businesses with low customer numbers or where the cost of acquiring a customer is high: you can’t afford to lose one, to blow your investment in getting them to you, by not locking them in from their first experience.

Working on your customer experience is also a powerful way of working on staff morale. In these days of cut backs and demands for higher productivity, staff morale is under pressure. But most people want to do a good job. They want to do something they can be proud of. And a Customer Wow! project can help them achieve that.

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