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Customer Experience

Why Extraordinary Experiences Don’t Have To Be Expensive or Complicated

A row of lightbulbs with only one lit up

If you want to know how to create extraordinary experiences, start by redefining “extraordinary.”

Sure, you could hire Beyoncé for a private concert, followed by a private fireworks show, and really impress your customers. But unless you have millions of dollars of unused budget lying around – and who does these days? – you’re going to have to look at extraordinary in a different way.

Extraordinary really just means “better than ordinary.” Your experience is probably ordinary right now, which is why people aren’t sharing things about your brand. But the good news is that the bar for customer experience is exceedingly low. You only have to get a little bit over it to be better than ordinary and have people take notice.

“Extraordinary” is the “E” in the “WISER” methodology outlined in my new book, The Experience Maker: How To Create Remarkable Experiences That Your Customers Can’t Wait To Share. WISER stands for Witty, Immersive, Shareable, Extraordinary, and Responsive, and it represents the core components of experiences that customers want to talk about.

Sometimes Extraordinary is where I start to lose people because they think, I can’t afford Extraordinary; it’s too expensive. Yes, I could share tons of customer experience examples where companies spent millions of dollars to create unbelievable experiences.

We could talk about the high-end hotel that built a dock overnight for a wheelchair-bound guest so she and her husband could dine at the high-end “floating restaurant.”

There’s the story of Ally Bank celebrating “Banksgiving” by having its agents finish calls with “Is there anything else I can help you with today?” and then giving the customer literally whatever they asked for next. This wound up ranging from a $25 gift card to a fall yard cleanup to a holiday visit to see family to a $55,000 grant toward a good cause.

Or of course we could reminisce about Oprah giving away a car to everyone in her studio audience.

These are all extraordinary stories, but they don’t have the three essential qualities for designing remarkable experiences for most companies: being simple, practical, and inexpensive.

So don’t worry. You don’t need a ton of money to be Extraordinary. You just need to be creative and look to create experiences where ones don’t currently exist.

An Extraordinary Experience At 2 AM

A light shines at the bottom of a nightstand

If you’re like me and travel a lot for work, that means you also stay in a lot of hotels. There’s a dirty little secret about frequent travelers that most of us don’t want to admit: Sometimes we wake up in the middle of the night with absolutely no idea where we are.

“Am I in my bedroom? No, it’s a hotel, but wait…which hotel is it again? Where is the bathroom? And why is it so dark?”

Even if you don’t travel frequently, waking up at night in a strange place can be quite disorienting.

At one hotel I stayed at (naturally, I can’t remember which one), I woke up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. As soon as my feet hit the floor, a motion-activated light turned on from the bottom of the nightstand. It lit the path to the bathroom! Brilliant.

Now, being the customer experience guy that I am and needing this picture, I got down on my hands and knees and examined the light. It surprised me to find that it was a small stick-on light that probably costs fifty cents at Home Depot. Clearly it was not expensive, but it completely changed the experience of getting up in the middle of the night in a dark hotel. That counts as Extraordinary in my book. (Literally.)

An Extraordinary Experience At An Italian Restaurant

Two doors with yes and no written on them

An Italian restaurant in Chicago called Osteria via Stato, and owned by the ubiquitous Lettuce Entertain You group, is separated into two sections by a set of swinging doors. A constant stream of people flowed through these doors the day I visited—customers, waiters with big trays of food, busboys with water pitchers, etc.—and I wondered how nobody was crashing into one another. How was that possible in such a busy restaurant?

So being the customer experience guy that I am, I took a closer look.

In the United States, usually two words appear on any retail or restaurant doors. No, I’m not thinking of “In” and “Out” or “Enter” and “Exit.” I’m thinking of “Push” and “Pull,” two English words, both four letters long, and both starting with “p-u.”

But people confuse “Push” and “Pull” all the time; we’ve all seen it. Maybe you do too, and maybe you remember pulling and pulling on a door that wouldn’t open, only to realize the sign said “Push.”

Osteria via Stato avoided this problem entirely by using perhaps the two easiest English words—”Yes” and “No.” And you know what? Not one person got it wrong. That’s a good result when you’re talking about employee and customer safety plus not wanting people’s meals to end up on the floor.

Was this an easy change? Yes. Did it cost anything? Not that I know of. Yet it’s Extraordinary because it effectively solves a real potential problem and does so with a little “wink-wink” to anyone who notices.

An Extraordinary Experience At The Bank

Sometimes the smallest changes in the customer experience have the biggest impact. It’s the little things that often matter most to customers, and if they are consistent irritants, removing them can immediately improve the overall experience.

Many of these “little things” are there because they’ve always been there and no one has questioned them.

For example, who decided that ATMs could only dispense $20 bills?

PNC Bank changed its ATMs to allow customers to “Choose Your Bills.” Now instead of being forced to accept the bills that the bank wants to give, customers can ask for—and receive—any combination of bills they choose.

It may sound like a small change, but it wasn’t to customer Marianne Hynd, who told this story on the Experience This! podcast:

I’m a mom of three kids, and part of my weekly routine includes getting lunch money for school. As we know, ATMs typically like to distribute tens and twenties, which makes it difficult to divide out. So initially, I would take money from the ATM, but then I’d need to stop somewhere to make a small purchase so I could get some singles, which to be honest was kind of a pain and something I never look forward to.

So a couple of years ago, PNC, which is who I bank with, did start allowing ATM withdrawals in multiples of a dollar, which was a really welcomed change, and while it did ease up the process a little bit, I still had to make three separate transactions. But I was OK with it at the time.

However, I went to the ATM the other day, and started going through the process, and after choosing the amount for the withdrawal I saw three game-changing words: “Choose Your Bills.”

PNC now allows customers to choose which denominations they’d like for their withdrawals. Now this is such a small change, but I can’t tell you how happy it made me. Probably happier than the folks at PNC intended! But really, what it did for me as a consumer is that it took one more step out of the process and it made my weekly trip a little bit quicker.

I’ve been a customer of PNC for many years, and it’s little changes like that that will keep me a customer for many years to come.

It’s Your Turn To Create Extraordinary Experiences

The Experience Maker Light Bulb Logo

Many companies – both B2C and B2B – are starting to figure this customer experience thing out. So if your company hasn’t started creating extraordinary experiences yet, you’re behind the competition (also, I can help).

No matter what business you’re in, you can create extraordinary experiences with a little creativity and often just by treating your customers the right way (like you’d want to be treated).

When you do the right thing for the customer, they want to talk about it with friends, family, and work colleagues. And that’s good for business.

Exclusive excerpt from The Experience Maker: How To Create Remarkable Experiences That Your Customers Can’t Wait To Share (2021: Morgan James Publishing). Reprinted with permission. The book is available on Amazon and at other fine retailers. Dan Gingiss is a customer experience keynote speaker and consultant. Main image by Colin Behrens from Pixabay; other images by Dan Gingiss.

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