I have recently learned an important lesson in customer experience: customer benchmarks are constantly changing.
Having moved to a new suburb, I needed to find a new gym. Before moving, I had a favourite boutique fitness studio where all the trainers knew me by name and would personalise exercises to suit me. I was excited to find that in my new suburb, the same gym franchisee had a studio nearby. However, after 6 weeks of visiting regularly, I feel disappointed. There is nothing wrong with the studio; the trainers are friendly and the classes are challenging, but no one seems to remember me, and I don’t look forward to the classes as much. It’s not that the new studio has delivered a poor experience, but because of the exceptional and personalised experience at one franchise, I have extremely high expectations for all others.
So, what have I learned about customer experiences? Every contact with a brand shapes our expectations for future interactions. This creates a new benchmark that we expect next time from that brand. If that new standard isn’t met in future interactions, what would once have made us happy, is likely to lead to disappointment.
An example of a brand that evolves to consistently provide excellent customer experiences, is the Ritz-Carlton, a luxury hotel renowned for the above-and-beyond service they provide their customers worldwide. The Ritz-Carlton began to receive feedback that after 20 years of great success, the scripted phrases that employees used were beginning to sound robotic and inauthentic. In addition to this, other (non-luxury) brands were beginning to adopt these phrases, and the Ritz-Carlton was losing its’ edge. Consumer tastes and benchmarks for customer service were changing. The hotel chain listened to their customer’s changing attitudes and adapted, now encouraging employees to operate with warmth, courtesy and respect, rather than following a script. By meeting the new benchmarks set, they are continuing to enjoy the same success as they had been.
These lessons are very important for brands in understanding the customer experience they provide. Brands need to understand how customers benchmark service and products standards. This is can often be intangible and difficult to measure. In both these examples, the disappointment was not about the product offered, but the personalisation in how it is delivered.
It’s important to remember that customers’ expectations will constantly evolve, based on different experiences across the brand and competitor sets. Brands might get a hint on how their customers feel when asking about NPS and propensity to recommend – but without constantly understanding what factors influence these results, will brands ever really keep up?
My advice to is to deliver products and services with consistency but to also understand what exceptional customer service means and how standards are constantly changing. Great customer experience can be delivered when brands clearly understand the new factors their customers are benchmarking them on.