Injecting Fun Into the Customer Experience

Customer Strategy
Customer Experience
A great customer experience ensures that customers keep coming back. Savvy organizations are injecting an element of fun to differentiate themselves from competitors and increase employee engagement.

Delivering a great customer experience is not something to make light of. It is, after all, something that can make the difference between a one-time customer and a loyal advocate and promoter.

But does the customer experience need to be a totally humorless event? Not necessarily. As Don Peppers, founding partner of Peppers & Rogers Group, notes in a recent LinkedIn post, being customer centric shouldn't always be hard work. "Maybe you should occasionally just have some fun with your customers," Peppers stresses. "Make them laugh."

That's exactly what Grantwood Technology tries to do during interactions with customers. The company, which sells accessories for smartphones and tablets, reaches out to every customer who makes an order, even through third parties like Amazon. Further, the company uses a simple interaction to check a customer's mailing address and order, as the first step to cement the relationship.

But Grantwood Technology goes a step further and instills some humor into this first interaction, including some jokes into its emails. "We want to draw them in and become friends with them rather than just be the provider of an accessory," explains Jim Simpson, the company's vice president of sales and marketing and director of customer service.

Humor works for Grantwood Technology. Not only do the company's emails enjoy high open rates with repeat customers eager to read new jokes, but Simpson notes that data shows that the brand is trending well when it comes to repeat customers.

But it's not only customers who benefit from a fun-based relationship. Employees also enjoy instilling fun into the customer experience, leading to high levels of engagement, something that organizations have long been striving for. "People are starting to see the connection between the employee and the customer experience," notes Jeannie Walters, principal at 360Connext. According to Walters a lot of emphasis is put on allowing employees to be themselves and interact with customers in the way they see most fit. "In the 90s it was all about hip offices and the foosball table. Now it's about the individuals and letting them be who they are," she says.

Taking ownership of the customer experience

It's human nature to want to help others and intrinsically employees want to make sure their customers leave with a great impression of the brand. But many times, companies restrict their employees, putting limitations to what they can do to deliver a great and unique customer experience. "Employees tend to want to help customers but don't have the power or the tools to do so," Walters notes.

Experts believe that instead, companies should trust their employees to do the right thing and encourage them to take ownership of each situation. "Change the rules," stresses Lamont Exeter, executive director of learning solutions at TeleTech. Exeter notes that rules are often very static, not allowing employees to do what's necessary to take the customer experience above and beyond expectations. He uses a recent personal example when a server at a restaurant was explaining the menu. When Exeter's party asked her to sit down so that she wouldn't be towering over them, the server answered that the restaurant's rules didn't allow her to do so. "If you want to have a customer-centric experience, allow the staff to bend the rules," Exeter says.

Anna Convery, executive vice president of sales and marketing at OpenSpan Inc., agrees. "Give the agent power," she stresses. Convery explains that agents feel more satisfied about their job when they know they're actually helping someone. "Empower them to make decisions about the customer that will foster more customer goodwill," she asserts.

Bonobos, for example, empowers its customer service team, which it calls "Ninjas," to do what's necessary to "nudge someone towards being a promoter," explains John Rote, the company's vice president for product management and customer experience. "We've got standardized processes to make things easy, but ultimately all of our Ninjas are empowered to do what they need to do to solve problems, craft solutions, and take care of customers." Rote notes that removing the frustrations from interactions with the company and "talking with nice, genuine people who are authentically happy talking with you" contributes to a fun experience for customers. "Authenticity doesn't mean mirroring whatever the Bonobos brand is. It mans figuring out how to be genuine as you're representing the brand," he says.

With companies increasingly interacting with their customers over social media, it's also imperative to instill some fun into those communications, especially since social channels are often seen as more casual and friendly outlets. TELUS, for example, encourages its social media agents to "highlight their own personality" when interacting with customers, notes Liz Sauv?a spokesman for the company. "It's TELUS' goal to be friendly and different in our external communications," she says.

One instance when TELUS injected fun into an individual customer experience was when the company sent a red panda critter to a customer who commented on TELUS' annual report on LinkedIn. And the customer responded in kind. "He was so excited about the red panda, he began a new Twitter handle to live-tweet from as he took the critter on vacation to California," Sauv?The chosen handle was @TELUSredpanda, which the company wanted him to change since only the company can use the proprietary TELUS name. But instead of simply making the request, TELUS encouraged the customer to hold a friendly naming contest, and even offered a brand new HTC One smartphone to the winning Twitter follower. The handle @RowanRedPanda was created following the competition.

Lead by example

Exeter's experience emphasizes the need that instilling fun into the customer experience needs to be a companywide strategy and approved by the organization's leadership. This is the case for Grantwood Technology. As Simpson explains, the company's owner, Sean Mills, "truly instills a light-hearted environment" and wants the company to inject fun in "everything we do, from design to sales, to post sales."

Further, leadership needs to listen to employee feedback in order to find out what works and what needs to be changed. As the people who are in direct contact with customers, employees will have a better view of what works and what doesn't and can come up with new ways to instill fun into the customer experience. Therefore, there needs to be bi-directional feedback between different layers of the company. "Employees need to feel free to communicate what customers are asking for," notes Exeter.

Of equal importance is for leadership to listen to employees' suggestions and consider them. Then, they should close the loop by responding to employees with an actionable solution. "Don't just send a generic 'thank you,'" Exeter says. Instead, employees should be told what action is being taken on their feedback in a timely manner or else they will stop sharing their thoughts.

Timely feedback is, after all, expected during every interaction and the way companies interact with employees will impact the customer experience. As Peppers notes, the very first step in earning your customers' trust is to demonstrate humanity. "You want your customers to think of your business not as a big, bureaucratic organization with rules and procedures and lines of software code defining how things are done, but as a human organization, full of warm-blooded human beings with all the emotions and qualities of other humanslike customers themselves," he says. This strategy is what really creates a great one-to-one relationship and improves employee engagement as an extra benefit.