One thing that frustrates all of us is uncertainty and unpredictability. Even when we want a new adventure and discovering something new, we still look forward to finding out what’s going to happen next. It’s just the way most of us are built.
When we are exposed to uncertainty on a regular basis, our anxiety goes up, our stress goes up, and we seek some way to avoid this continuing. If you think of this in terms of your customers, this isn’t a good thing. If your customers are presented with uncertainties and confusion on a regular basis, they too get anxious, frustrated, and eventually leave to find somewhere that doesn’t cause this to happen.
I call this “Random Acts of Excellence and Chaos.” It’s where your customer experience is unpredictable from day to day, person to person, so it causes your customers to be anxious… and ultimately leave.
I happened to be traveling to southern California a short time ago and had the “opportunity” to go into Macy’s in Costa Mesa CA, near Newport Beach. I usually dread going into Macy’s for a variety of reasons, many of which I’m sure some of you have experienced. One of which is that there is no one around to help you if you need some guidance so it is like shopping online, only you’re in a store. AFter wandering around for a while, you what you’re looking for, decide if you like it (without asking any questions), and then go try and find a checkout line to pay for it. Sound familiar?
However, this time full demonstrated the concept of “Random Acts of Excellence and Chaos” perfectly. This visit was different. I went to the mall with my wife since she was looking for a “mother of the bride” dress for our daughters upcoming wedding. While she was shopping, I chose to wander around the mall since it is a very “high-end” mall that caters to a very distinct class of customer. These weren’t the usual stores found in your typical mall… this mall had stores like Bloomingdales, Sax Fifth Avenue, Dior, and every other high-end luxury store you can think of… most of which I have never heard of before. I always know I’m in the wrong place when you walk by stores where there are 20 purses filling an entire store and guards in the front of the store door to greet you. These stores obviously carry a hefty price tag for their goods.
But as I wandered around looking for a coffee shop to grab an Americano while I was waiting for my wife to finish her shopping (or looking), I spotted a sign for a Starbucks. Interestingly enough, it was located on the top floor of the Macy’s store… a weird location from my perspective. So I took the escalators up three floors to the top and grabbed my coffee.
Since I was in Macy’s, I thought I would check out the one thing I have bought from them in recent years… Tommy Bahama clothes. They are one of the stores that carry their products and often times have sales on some of their clothing. I love Tommy Bahama quality and fit so I usually check them out if I happen to be in a Macy’s store. While going down the escalator I spotted a couple of employees (rare find) stocking a rack so I went up and asked them if they could direct me to the men’s section, specifically the Tommy Bahama section. One of the two ladies in particular was very friendly and seemed quite willing to help me out. She explained that in this particular mall, Macy’s actually had 3 stores… a women’s, men’s, and home goods store. All I could think about was how much merchandise this must be for them to inventory. She told me the men’s store wasn’t in this store and was down the mall a little way.
Here’s where the “unusual for Macy’s” event happened. She offered to take me down to the men’s store and said to follow her so she could show me where the store was located. What?!? A Macy’s employee actually wanting to help me out in some way… this was totally unexpected from my past experiences. This was definitely a “Random Act of Excellence.” I followed her down the mall and she told me all about the different stores, the layout of the mall, why they did things this way, and provided a lot of information during our walk. She was incredibly friendly along our walk, not feeling like my questions were putting her out at all. When we got close to the store, I told her I could manage the rest of the way and thanked here for taking the time to help me out. She said it wasn’t a problem and was happy to do it.
I as in shock… where was I? Was I dreaming or did this just happen? This was definitely a “Random Act of Excellence.” Something that was well out of the norm of what I have experienced at Macy’s in the past, which was usually a “consistent act of chaos.” This was an “exceptional customer experience” and one that I wouldn’t forget… after all, I’m taking the time to share it with you.
But herein lies the issue with “Random Acts of Excellence.” She raised the bar for me… she showed me that a Macy’s employee could actually deliver a totally awesome customer experience. I was able to experience a wonderful customer experience from a company I have always known to deliver a “sub-standard” customer experience. I’m confused… is this truly a “random act” or is this a new way they do business?
Unfortunately, this is the problem with “random acts of excellence”… they are inconsistent. I received this awesome experience this one day and tomorrow I get a “sub-standard act of chaos.” This creates “customer confusion” which ultimately leads to customer “defection” and the customer choosing other options.
While you might think this is great someone stood up and acted differently, it actually works against the organization. It creates uncertainty and confusion in the mind of the customer because now they don’t know what to expect. This is customer anxiety. While the alternative is to consistently deliver a mediocre experience, at least the customer knows what to expect and doesn’t expect anything different. And if their next experience is sub-standard, it is illuminated even more than it was in the past… because now I’ve seen a “random act of excellence.”
This is a great time to do some analysis of your own company. Are you delivering “random acts of excellence” or “random acts of chaos” today? This is very common in most organizations… there is probably someone out there trying their best to deliver an exceptional experience that doesn’t fit the normal experience most of the other employees are delivering. If the norm is to deliver a more mediocre or average customer experience then you are creating customer confusion which ultimately leads to the customer leaving. What’s happening in your own organization? Now is a great time to do some analysis to see for yourself and make the necessary course corrections.
While you might think this is great to have an employee or two acting this way, it actually works against your company since it is creating uncertainty and confusion within your customer. The obvious (and absolutely best) solution would be to create detailed Customer Experience Maps of an awesome experience and have all of them delivering an exceptional experience. Unfortunately, this doesn’t “just happen” because you simply tell your employees to be friendlier and go the extra mile… never works. They might try to do it for a day or two, but then they settle back into their old (and comfortable) average ways of treating the customer.
Hopefully you can see why it is much easier to deliver an average or mediocre experience than it is to raise the bar and deliver an exceptional experience. If it wasn’t difficult, everyone would do it and we all know this isn’t the case… just go to a Macy’s store and you’ll see mediocrity in person. To raise the bar like a Zappos or Southwest Air or Disneyland, or the Ritz Carlton, or a host of other companies, it takes a significant commitment from the top person and a relentless pursuit of making this happen.
When an organization commits to doing this day in and day out, this is one of the elements that helps them be CUSTOMER OBSESSED.
Customer Obsessed organizations are focused on delivering this “exceptional experience” 24/7, not randomly. It is built into their culture, their strategy, their Vision, their Mission, and of course their Values. It runs through their blood… or as I call it, it is the DNA of the organization.