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Racoon at the bus stop

March 10, 2012


Making your brand extraordinary isn’t about the grand gestures. You don’t have to be a $500 million company to create meaningful moments for your customers. And you can be any size at all to fail your customers in the blink of an eye.

A pass? Providing your full attention in the moment. Acknowledging the customer who is waiting.  Saying ‘thank you’.  A little surprise, like a Reward card or a sample in the box. Saying ‘yes’ instead of ‘no’.

Epic fail? A scornful response to an angry or annoying customer. Thinking the customer is stupid. Not finding it important to make each contact a positive one. Forgetting that the customer is why you get paid to show up at all.

We always say it’s the little things that make a difference, and yet it’s so easy to forget as we go about our days, with all the accumulated stresses and pressures that we’re dealing with, to make the effort to listen, to really hear, and to respond thoughtfully and generously.  The people and companies that become legendary are the ones who are able to make the minutes count. Even the bad ones.  But how do they do it?  It starts with a clear, focused mission that puts the customer at the forefront. Consistent performance. A culture that sustains thoughtfulness as a value, even behind the scenes.

Have you every noticed how delighted you are when someone gives you what you want, right away, with a smile- even when you want to return something too late, or with the tags off, or you’re being antagonistic because you expect a ‘no’, and then you get a friendly ‘yes’? It’s a nice surprise. It can make you feel so great about an experience, and yet it’s really just such a small thing. It’s  not easy to be that person who smiles and remains friendly when someone’s being difficult and antagonistic, when viscerally, you just want to respond in kind.

That’s what makes it special. It’s harder to be nice sometimes, but it’s a win-win for everyone. For a brand, it can create buzz. It can make you remarkable. And your customers will so happily want to bring friends to you, because it’s surprising and wonderful, and makes a difference in their day.

It reminds me of something that happened last week on the way home. Every day I commute to and from work on the bus. I completely zone out, reading or sleeping the entire way home. It’s the same, day after day. Except one night, last week, we pulled to the back of the parking lot, where the headlights showed a racoon- yes, a real racoon, standing inside a plastic storage box turned sideways, eating out of a Chinese food container. The next night, he was there again, eating from a new one. Now, every few days, we drive that way to see if he’s home. And usually, if we’re there at the same time, he is. Someone is bringing Chinese food to that Racoon. Or he’s having it delivered. Or he’s found a friendly, neighborhood garbage to raid. The point is- it was an extraordinary thing to see in the vast paved parking lot with hundreds of cars and people going about their daily commute. Just hanging out, in all his fuzzy glory, eating his lo mein.

It made us smile. And we’ve talked about it ever since. But really, it was just a racoon. What’s so special about that? It’s just that it was so unexpected. So out of context. It was remarkable.

A great customer experience is like that Racoon. It becomes something worth talking about.

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