Ask yourself: how does one take a commodity business, like selling coffee, and transform it into a global empire with over 21,000 stores worldwide that charges an average $5.18 for a cup of coffee?
Lou Carbone answered this question for an audience at a monthly series called the Rocket Network hosted in Schulze Hall at the University of St. Thomas’ Minneapolis campus. Carbone has dedicated his life over the last 30 years understanding the way brands deliver experiences to customers.
As he put it, “a customer cannot NOT have an experience” with a company. These experiences are emotional; they can range from creating a peace of mind to feeling annoyed. The peace of mind that is created when a genius at the Apple store is able to fix the hardware problem on your Mac- Book, to the annoyance of receiving the same promotional email sent to your inbox for the fifth consecutive week. These emotional reactions will influence customers’ behavior in powerful ways.
Emotional needs blend in with psychological needs as well; one of our needs is to feel safe and secure. Carbone and a research team conducted a study on people’s perceptions of buying a car. A subject’s brain was scanned while they were read through various scenarios of purchasing a car. The brain scans revealed that the closest thing that these experience light up in the brain were the same area the brain associated with being hunted and chased.
What type of emotions and psychological triggers are you creating for your customers?
An experience that often leaves people feeling vulnerable and overwhelmed is being in a car accident. Carbone helped Progressive Auto Insurance create an experience that understood the emotional needs of their drivers, especially in vulnerable moments. Together, they developed a unique service. When a driver is in an accident, Progressive sends someone to the scene of the accident indirectly providing emotional relief though taking pictures, documenting the accident and writing a check on-site for the damages. Through understanding the emotional needs of its drivers, Progressive saw litigation drop considerably and an increase in new business through referrals.
So, how do you start improving your products and/or service in the marketplace?
First, you need to start viewing your product or service as an experience from beginning all the way to the end. You will began sensing hidden needs that customers don’t even know that they had and responding to those needs.
How can you do this?
Go outside the office! Seriously, or put yourself in as my different customer’s shoes and situations as you can think of. Go talk to current, past and potential customers that you might think would never use your product or service. Ask them about their lives and why they do the things they do. Be a defective trying to understand their individual needs around your value proposition. Encourage them to tell stories. Look for inconsistencies in your conversations with them. Pay attention to their nonverbal cues – talking with hands or looking down at the floor in a soft tone of voice. These interactions will be rich sources of information for you when thinking about the experiences you will begin to intentionally create for your customers.
Ready for the answer to the original question?
The answer lies in the experience brands create. The experience that Starbucks created for its customers is fantastic through and through. Howard Schultz realized that Starbucks was not in the coffee business; Starbucks was in the business of creating an experience that recognizes rituals and connectivity in the world. Starbucks does this through making customers feel special and connected. Remember, each aspect of the experience matters, no matter how little it might seem.