In today's global market, customer relationships remain key to standing out. But is it enough to deliver quality products and services on time? These practices can be copied, and increasingly are. Moreover, they don’t create the same brand loyalty they once did.
Consumers today are looking for more; something that pulls them off Facebook, out of scripted phone conversations, and connects with them. They’re looking to feel something.
A WOW customer experience is about going beyond the customer’s expectations and into their often unrecognized emotional needs to create an experience. These experiences build brand connection and turn into stories, which spread by word of mouth. If this sounds far fetched, consider that Zappos.com consistently achieves 75% repeat business with this approach, treating every call as an opportunity to connect.
But traditionally customer service has been about filling a need or function, transactionally. Not to serve customer’s feelings. How do we even begin to approach that?
Before we get into the three keys there are a few driving philosophies to understand.
1. It’s not rocket science. It’s happiness science.
Good news. Creating positive emotional experiences for your customer isn’t rocket science, it’s happiness science, which we have plenty of, thanks to 20 years of research from positive psychology. A WOW experience can be an upgrade in service that surprises, a personal connection that creates a feeling of being understood, or something in common realized with a stranger on the phone.
It can be just about anything that goes a little bit above or beyond customer expectations to create a positive emotional experience. Steph Hyken, customer service guru explains, “above and beyond is when a company is just a little above average, all of the time. That’s what the best companies do. As a result, they deliver beyond their customers’ expectations.”
We know that the most powerful WOW moments, the ones that turn customers into marketing into brand, come from lasting positive emotions. This is where the science of happiness comes in; for while a monetary discount is nice, it’s a fleeting pleasure. Experiences that last often involve a sense of connectedness or meaning. The key is to look for sustainable sources of happiness.
2. To sustainably WOW customers, employees must WOW each other.
Possibly the most important philosophy to creating powerful WOW experiences is nestled deep inside the belief system of companies like Zappos who pioneered WOW service. It’s the belief that culture is inside-out – how you treat your employees on the inside is how they will treat customers on the outside, which is how the brand is eventually perceived.
When connectedness, for example, is practiced among peers, they realize they care for each other, they gain a sense of community and belonging, and create that same feeling with customers. When this is practiced enough, it becomes ingrained in the culture- an automatic part of how employees operate, and, how the brand is seen. This is the sweet spot! You now have a self-sustaining culture of WOW service and the brand to drive it.
Ready? Let's look at three powerful keys to creating your culture of WOW.
Personal Emotional Connections are, well, just that. It’s that moment you discover something personal in common with your customer. Or end up sharing a vulnerability that is reciprocated with your colleague. These interactions bond us, we feel connected, safe and are even more resilient.
To build PECs internally, begin by asking how you connect with employees outside of the work they do. Then ask how your organization supports that.
Bill Emerson, CEO of Quicken Loans, takes a group of 20 employees to lunch every week for a three-hour, no-holds-barred discussion that starts with getting to know Bill and has no formal agenda. Other companies open activity budgets or carve out company time to create opportunities for connection. The key is to make it personal, and curate a truly safe place for emotions to develop.
To build PEC’s externally, begin by asking how you are connecting with your customers outside of the product or service they are buying. Then ask how you’re encouraging this as an organization.
Zappos empowers their representatives to delight customers by giving them the trust and control to upgrade overnight shipping, send flowers when appropriate (bridezilla anyone?) or even offer customers free cookies. A quick Google search of their customer service reveals a trail of PEC stories remembered across the world.
The right culture will always require the right people. You have standards for hiring and training for skill, what’s your plan to hire and train for culture? WOW service starts here.
In an industry normally associated with frustration, Southwest Airlines has been exceeding expectations with their brand of friendly service for 30 years. One of their secrets is a commitment to“hire for attitude, train for skill.” They receive a job application every two seconds but hire only 2% of applicants, carefully screening for those who are already engaged from the start, and whose values are in sync with SWA’s. Julie Weber, VP of People shares “we talk about hiring not for skills but three attributes: a warrior spirit (that is, a desire to excel, act with courage, persevere and innovate); a servant’s heart (the ability to put others first, treat everyone with respect and proactively serve customers); and a fun-loving attitude (passion, joy and an aversion to taking oneself too seriously.)”
To hire and train for WOW, start by asking what values and attitudes are most important to support your services.. Then ask how you can hire and train for them, long term.
Zappos famously has every new hire train for two weeks in the call center, but they don’t stop there. In high volume call times, everyone, including CEO Tony Hsieh, takes a shift on the phones. This keeps them connected to their culture of WOW in the long game.
The right culture for you will not be Zappos’ culture, or Southwest Airlines’, or Delivering Happiness’. It will be your own! It will deeply support your mission and vision. And it will grow from the values at play. The ones embedded in processes, modeled by leadership, driving everyday decisions.
Ensure the values in effect, whether they are the actual values displayed on the wall, or if there are other values really driving the culture, are the right ones for your goals. Zappos number one value is Deliver WOW Through Service, quite literally supporting the culture of WOW. But it doesn’t stop there. Look at the deeper values needed to set the long term ground conditions for your desired culture. Value number three, Create Fun and a Little Weirdness encourages employees to have fun and be themselves, which is an important underlying trait to create authentic connections with customers.
To ensure you have the right values to support a culture of WOW, start by asking, what are the personal values of your best, most outstanding representatives? Then ask, how are you supporting those values as an organization?
One of the most powerful ways to support values is modeling by leadership. Southwest Airlines pilots have been known to go around the cabin and help flight attendants serve beverages when their planes are grounded.
Delivering Happiness is one of the original culture companies to emerge before the culture craze, and is a thought leader in the space. And we’ve been busy! We’ve been around the world (a few times) consulting with companies about culture. We consistently see the best results really depend on one thing...
True commitment starts with leaders being bought in, with head and heart. It’s driven by managers who can easily promote or pollute the culture. It becomes embedded in systems like hiring and training. And becomes co-owned by every individual in the organization.
To test your commitment, ask, what would it mean to you, to your employees, to your customers to build a culture of WOW? What would it take in resources (think time, money, energy)?
In today’s digital world, there is no more organic or authentic marketing than a truly delighted customer. When you WOW, you not only have earned a customer for life, you have now won an advocate for your brand who will share their experience with passion – an ROI that no digital sales campaign can match.
“Everything begins and ends with our people. If we keep our employees happy and engaged, they will keep our customers happy, who will reward us with their loyalty. That repeat business helps our bottom line and creates value for our shareholders.”
- Southwest Airlines CEO Herb Kelleher
WOW starts with your company culture. See how culture can impact your bottom line: