Do No Harm?

Someone said to me recently (only half jokingly) that the definition of “great service” is when nothing goes wrong.

I chuckled along at the time but then I though…wait a minute…

Have we really reached a point of such low expectations that the absence of a negative experience actually counts as a positive one?

I hope not.

Sure “do no harm” might be OK in certain situations, like surgery, where a good outcome is no complications.

But when it comes to brands I think we need to set the bar a little higher.

It made me think of an experience I had not that long ago with Enterprise
Rent-A-Car – where my very low expectations were unexpectedly and stunningly surpassed.

I was returning my car in Florida near the airport. To save money, I had chosen the cheapest option where you return the car with a full tank.

But I was running late and couldn’t find a gas station en route to the car return. I was worried about missing my plane, so I decided to suck it up and return the car half full and pay the exorbitant car rental gas prices.

During my return processing I complained to the Enterprise employee that all the gas stations seemed to be on the wrong side of a particularly hard to navigate divided highway.

I didn’t really expect him to doing anything. I was just blowing off steam.

After all the contract option I had agreed to was “return full”. It was all there in black and white and I was clearly at fault.

To my surprise he offered to waive the extra gas charge.

Then, without me asking, he gave me an extra discount waiving some other fee and decreasing my bill even further then I expected.

He then made sure I had all my belongings and got me on to the shuttle bus and off to meet my plane on time.

I didn’t know what to say.

I stood there with my jaw dropped and continued with this puzzled expression all the way to the boarding gate.

Not only did he not give me a hard time about the gas, he actually went on to delight me with an added benefit of unanticipated savings.

That definitely wasn’t the absence of a negative, it was a plus side experience. One I remember vividly and repeat often.

When you are evaluating your own customer experiences, take a moment to make sure you are not falling in the mediocrity trap.

Are you counting “nothing going wrong” as successful service?

Or are you actually challenging yourself and your team to go to a plus side model, where the standard is surprise and delight?

Take a moment to brainstorm service elements that would catch your customers off guard…in a positive way.

Perhaps even the opposite of what a customer is expecting walking in to a situation.

You might just find that the extra step is worth miles in terms of good will and creating fans, not just customers, for your brand.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?

What brands do you think go the extra mile to surprise and delight?

Best of Both Worlds

My son Sacha came home the other day all excited about “half and half” day at his school.

At lunch, instead of having to make the difficult choice between pizza and chicken nuggets – on this special “half and half” day he was able to have… BOTH!

Albeit slightly smaller portions of each.

I started thinking, wouldn’t life be better if we had more “half and half” days?

There’s so much choice in brands today, and while sometimes I appreciate this, often it just feels like too much.

Sometimes I don’t want to waste my time with these small but agonizing decisions. I want freedom from choice. I want to find a way to have both.

To be clear, I am not talking about products that combine two benefits in one like a 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner. These are great and have their place. (I spent many years working on Pantene Pro-V 2-in-1, and I’m a fan of that brand).

I’m talking about products and services that say “can’t decide? OK, here have both”. In one simple purchase. Decision made. Go ahead consumer get on with the rest of your day…or in the case of my son, go join your friends at the lunch table and get on with your fun.

A great example I saw of this recently is Turkey Hill Dynamic Duos ice cream. It offers a 1.5 quart of ice cream split down the middle between two incredible flavors. This isn’t your plain old vanilla/chocolate swirl. They’ve got flavors like Movie Night which offers half Popcorn flavor (popcorn flavored ice cream with pralines) and half Vanilla Twist (Vanilla ice-cream twisted with caramel).

These are two tempting flavors in their own right, with different flavor profiles. Now you can get them in on package. Mixing them if you are so inclined into one bowl or just digging in to different sides of the carton on different nights.

Take a look at your products and services. Are there any areas where consumers are having trouble choosing? If so, think about experimenting with giving them both.

A “half and half” approach might lead you to a “whole” lot of excited customers.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?

What are your favorite “half and half” ideas?

Breaking Up (Shouldn’t Be) Hard to Do

A friend of mine is trying to get out of a relationship, and it’s proving quite difficult.

In this case the relationship is with her gym, World Gym in Queens.

Even though the gym is down the street from her house they won’t let her stop by and just cancel. They are requiring that she send in a certified letter. This means she has to take time out of her busy schedule, go out of her way to a post office, stand in line, and get the letter certified. To make matters worse when she pressed the gym on why it had to be this way the only response she got was a not very helpful “that’s our policy”.

If brands are relationships…isn’t part of being in a strong, rewarding relationship also being able to get out of it in a respectful way?

With a minimum of drama and with a possibility of friendship in the future.

Because here’s the thing, she’s going to leave any way. She’s made up her mind. The relationship isn’t working for her. She’d rather find a gym that has a location near her home and her office. But now she’s going to leave with a bad taste in her mouth. And chances are she will tell her story to other friends in her neighborhood, thus limiting the gym’s future relationship prospects (e.g. the ability to attract new members).

In contrast, a while ago I called TMobile to break up and it was a whole different experience. I had gotten a new Blackberry at work and with it came a new plan with a new provider. When I spoke to a service rep at TMobile they didn’t push back. They listened to my reasons. Thanked me for my loyal years of service, and were respectful of my decision.

They also mentioned another option. Having completed the requirements of my contract period, they suggested I take advantage or our rich history together and switch to a lower rate plan for another phone. And that’s what I did. I kept the relationship alive in a new context. A cheaper monthly plan, perfect for my tween daughter.

I decided to stay involved with them, albeit in a lower commitment way. But I got the feeling that if I had finally opted just to cut all ties, they would have been OK with that and wished me well. Not made me feel badly for having shifting needs. And that made me feel good about our relationship and willing to recommend them to others.

Parting can be sweet sorrow, but it shouldn’t be unnecessarily difficult. That should also be true for brands. Especially these days when many of us are having to make difficult relationship choices. We need our brands to understand and leave the door open for us to come back.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?

What brands have made it easy or hard for you to break up with them?

Trading IN, Not Down

I was at the Argyle hospitality conference last week and there was a lot of talk of consumers trading down.

This behavior is an unfortunate result of the current economic climate, and one leaving a lot of brands wondering how to protect their market share.

The morning after the conference I was watching CNN on the treadmill in my hotel gym and an alternative expression caught my attention. During an interview on the show- Jim Skinner, McDonald’s CEO, attributed his brand’s unique market growth to “consumers trading IN” .

Regardless of how you feel about McDonald’s I think this is a really interesting concept – and one with potential applications for a wide range of brands.

Trading IN gives me a mental image of opening a door, spreading out the welcome mat and making someone feel valued and invited.

Trading IN cleverly shifts the conversation away from price (no doubt value meals are positvely impacting McDonald’s growth) towards the concept of choice.

Instead of implying compromise, trading IN implies options. A smarter way … a new discovery. It validates a consumer’s decision.

It’s an unprecedented time in consumer marketing. Old behaviors have gone out the window with a dizzying speed. But many consumers are adrift.

They know the old choices won’t work, but many haven’t yet settled on new options. This doesn’t just mean taking a high price or mid priced brand and trading down. It could mean finding a new choice.

For example, money spent on destination vacations could be re-invested in family sports equipment like bikes, roller-blades or even wii fit that allow them to spend quality time in a new way.

Trips to restaurants could be replaced by local cooking classes or a new BBQ grill that satisfies a quest for culinary adventure but with a different spin.

Think about these new orphaned consumers, maybe it’s time for your brand to invite them IN.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?

What are products or services are your trading in to?