What motivates employees to go above and beyond the call of duty to provide a great customer experience? Disney tells a story about a little girl visiting a theme park who dropped her favorite doll over a fence. When staff retrieved the doll, she was covered in mud, so they made her a new outfit, gave her a bath and a hairdo, and even took photos of her with other Disney dolls before reuniting her with her owner that evening.
The girl’s mother described the doll’s return as “pure magic.”
The theme park team didn’t consult a script or seek advice from managers. They did what they did because going the extra mile comes naturally at Disney. Such devotion to customer service pays dividends. Emotionally engaged customers are typically three times more likely to recommend a product and to repurchase. With an eye to these benefits, many companies are making customer experience a strategic priority. Yet they are struggling to gain traction with their efforts.
Why is customer experience so difficult to get right? The main hurdle is translating boardroom vision into action at the front line. That’s even more important in an era when optimizing individual customer touchpoints is no longer enough —when you have to focus on holistic customer journeys, instead.
There’s only one way to create emotional connections with customers: by ensuring every interaction is geared to delighting them. That takes more than great products and services — it takes motivated, empowered frontline employees. Creating great customer experience comes down to having great people and treating them well. They will feel more engaged with the company and more committed to its goals.
The best companies make four activities habitual:
Listen to employees. Want your employees to take great care of your customer? Start by taking great care of them. Treat them respectfully and fairly, of course, but also get involved in tackling their issues and needs. Establish mechanisms to listen to concerns, then address them.
When Disney first opened its Hong Kong resort, employees had to pick up their uniforms from attendants before every shift. With up to 3,000 people arriving at once, waiting in line could create frustration and delay. So leaders responded by pioneering a new approach using self-service kiosks. Employees pick up a uniform, scan the tag and their ID at a kiosk, check the screen display, and walk away. Result: a smoother start to the day that frees frontline staff to focus all their energies on customers. The new approach was so effective that Disney rolled it out across all of its parks and cruise ships.
Hire for attitude, not aptitude — and then reinforce attitude. To get friendly service, hire friendly people. Airline JetBlue has embedded this philosophy in its hiring process. To recruit frontline staff with a natural service bent, it uses group interviews. Watching how the applicants interact with one another enables hiring managers to assess their communication and people skills to an extent that wouldn’t be possible in a one-to-one setting.
Having hired people with the right attitudes, leaders need to ensure they reinforce the behaviors they want to see. Although Disney hires janitors to keep its parks clean, everyone else in the organization knows that they share the responsibility for maintaining a clean and pleasant environment. Asked why he was picking up paper in the restroom, one leader replied, “I can’t afford not to.” Leaders’ actions are visible to all. Or as Disney puts it, “Every leader is telling a story about what they value.”
Give people purpose, not rules. Rules have their place, but they go only so far. To motivate employees and give meaning to their work, leading companies define their “common purpose”: a succinct explanation of the intended customer experience that resonates at an emotional level. When people are set clear expectations and trusted to do their jobs, they feel valued and empowered. They choose to go that extra mile through passion, not compliance.
For Chilean bank BCI, common purpose is about developing trust-based customer relationships that last a lifetime. Leaders at the bank tell a story about a lottery winner who was deciding who to entrust with his prize money. Asked why he chose BCI, he said advisors didn’t just sell him products, but tried to satisfy his needs. Some of them traveled regularly on the bus he drove, and he thought they seemed just as genuine in their free time as they were in the branch.
Tap into the creativity of your front line. Giving frontline employees responsibility and autonomy inspires them to do whatever they can to improve the customer experience. When they see a problem, they fix it without waiting to be asked. Frontline staff are also a rich source of customer insights. They can help leaders understand what customers want without the time and expense of market research.
Take Wawa, a US convenience-store chain. One enterprising manager decided his customers would like a coffee bar and a bigger choice of fresh food. When customer traffic and profits soared, head office noticed and dispatched a team to find out why. With facts in hand, the company quickly developed a plan to replicate the innovation across its network.
Technological advances have made it much easier for companies to understand customers on an individual basis. Even so, engaging with customers is still undertaken largely through personal contact. Building a relationship of trust happens at the front line, one interaction at a time. So to create an emotional bond with your customers, start with your employees.