South Africa’s low service expectations are fertile territory for delivering extraordinary customer experiences
There are iconic luxury brands that have mastered the art and science of designing extraordinary customer experiences. One of the best displays of this mastery is in the high-end lodges and safari tourism sector. These lodges do not sell safari holidays, nor do they sell luxury accommodation in the bush. What they do offer are incredible, surround-sound, memorable experiences from start to finish.
No touch point with the customer is overlooked, no matter how small – every consideration of their guests needs and expectations is embedded in their booking system, every safari package is designed around personal preferences, with the utmost comfort and hassle-free experience throughout the holiday. Special meet-and-greet facilities have been designed to support guests arriving at airports, facilitating and expediting the passport control process. Additional concierge services are offered with 24/7 Whatsapp access for any request they may have. The comfort and desires of guests are considered and accommodated in every possible way. Every guest’s holiday is treated as a once in a life opportunity to make their safari experience unique, unforgettable and nothing short of magical.
Using some of these approaches to creating magical experiences for your customers is not as challenging as it may seem. The reality is that – outside of the tourism and hospitality sector – the customer service expectations of South African consumers is in fact very low. It should come as no surprise that low customer expectations are fertile territory for delivering extraordinary experiences – but very few businesses are leveraging the opportunity to impress some very disenchanted consumers to create raving ambassadors for their brand!
In our experience of engaging with and interviewing customers as part of our customer experience surveys, we find consumers to be forgiving of service failures where there is an effort to resolve them, especially where there is an emotional affinity and connection with the brand. Small changes that make customer interactions easier, and operational changes that create a more personalised experience can have a disproportionately bigger positive impact than the effort required to create them, dramatically improving customer experience and satisfaction ratings.
In the automotive industry for example, prioritising a customer when they arrive to bring their car for a service by meeting and greeting them by name makes your customer feel like all attention is on them. They feel valued and appreciated because their time and patronage is treated with respect, and so their emotional buy-in to this dealership and brand is cemented.
How difficult is it to do this, really? Hardly.
By scheduling and managing your customers’ check in times and having vehicle registrations and client names on hand to meet them when they arrive removes a lot of the stress and rush of what usually happens when clients all arrive at the same time, jostling for attention to get out of your service lounge as quickly as possible. Instead of having clients arriving randomly, as early as possible, allow your customers to drop off their cars at a convenient and pre-booked time. Make sure there is a driver waiting to drop them off back at home or the office. And of course, you need front-desk staff well trained and versed in customer care and who buy into the customer experience you’re trying to deliver. It requires consideration and pre-planning, well-trained customer-centric staff and a decent appointment management system to facilitate a hassle-free experience for your customer – but it’s not rocket science. What it does require though, is for careful thought and consideration in how you take a simple step in the customer journey that is part and parcel of the process – booking a vehicle on for a service – and design it into a personalised, thoughtful moment that shows your customer they are appreciated and respected.
Research around the ‘Peak-end’ rule by Prof Daniel Kahneman shows that people remember experiences due to a string of moments that stood out overall. As it is impossible to be ‘in-the-moment’ again, people can only recall from memory. The research also highlighted the importance of the beginning and end, as well as the peaks that happen during the process, as these are what stand out in memory or recollection of an experience. Therefore, when customers think back to an experience, it mostly relates to the things that stood out – the peaks – in their memory, rather than every granular detail. In a similar way that someone recalls their holiday – they will typically recall the best parts and hardly remember a particular day when the weather was awful!
Using the peak-end rule, businesses can create a peak at the beginning of a customer’s service journey to enhance their overall memory of the service experience, setting the tone for the rest of the expected service delivery and creating a positive mindset towards the entire experience.
Making the beginning of the customer journey stand out
Using the example of a motor dealership to illustrate – to design the arrival at the dealership into a standout moment, the customer’s potential context should be considered. Consider the additional stress that a booked car service creates in a family morning routine – everything must be started earlier to ensure that the added item on the ‘to-do list’ is accommodated. Special arrangements may be required to get the children to school on time, or to the office. There’s already additional stress and hassle before the arrival at the dealership. When your customer arrives, and everything is easy, hassle-free and super-slick, you get to tip all that negative built-up stress into a positive experience. Turning a stressful moment into a ‘peak’ standout moment holds the key to designing exceptional experiences.
Service design in action: a closer look at how to turn a routine step in a process into a moment to remember
Using the motor dealership, here are some practical examples of how routine processes can be designed into great customer experiences:
- Schedule check-in times by staggering the arrivals on an appointment basis, creating breathing space for personal attention.
- Train security staff to welcome customers and direct them to their own designated parking bay.
- Display your customer’s names at the designated parking bay, to create a personalised experience and let them know that they are welcomed.
- Offer them tea or coffee in the service reception while they wait or complete their check in.
- This requires some back-end planning as to what the experience should look like; how will it be done; who will be responsible to set it up, timing and so on. Each step in the design needs to be assigned to staff members who will have clear instructions of what to do, as well as a contingency plan if something does not go according to plan – for example a client arriving early or late, or an unexpected walk-in client, or someone parking in your client’s designated parking, or loadshedding prevents access to your schedule or systems. Great service design does not only look at how to create great experiences, but also what to do and how to recover when things don’t go to plan.
- Your employees are fundamental to this process and need to be clear on their roles and responsibilities, but also empowered to make decisions when things don’t go according to plan, to pursue an alternative plan of action to still deliver on a great experience.
Reimaging seemingly mundane transactional or operational processes into memorable experiences that exceed the expectations of your customers is not complicated – but it needs visualisation, planning and coordination. Our experience is that the results will have a disproportionately bigger and more positive effect than the effort it took. The benefits to the dealership supersede the effort to make it happen on so many levels. In a world where customers really do expect so little in terms of service, use the opportunity to design simple yet highly relevant experiences that will surprise and delight them by demonstrating care, respect and appreciation of their time, their challenges and their decision to choose your business above all others to solve them.
Don’t assume that such experiences will happen by chance, or that staff will automatically know how to create these experiences without design, direction and consistent intent. Use the peak-rule to identify simple yet highly relevant moments in your customer journey, document them, study them and plan them from start to finish. Well-designed, simple relevant customer experiences create a huge competitive advantage for your business. As simple as it sounds, few businesses are doing this to any great effect, and the opportunity cost is huge.