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Hot Showers, Cold Beer

Not too long ago, I was chatting with a Vancouver utility CEO and he shared some business advice he had offered to his staff. He told them, “We’re not selling electricity – we’re selling hot showers and cold beer.” What a big concept he put into that one sentence, because what he really meant was “we are selling the resulting experience from our product.”  There are lots of companies that marry this thought to the way they see the customer.

Consider Baskin-Robbins (of 31 flavors fame), whose cofounder Irvine Robbins said, “We sell fun, not just ice cream.” Or India’s Tata Group, which has built its brand on trust and returning wealth to the societies they serve, a customer experience that’s baked into all of their companies. And for Zappos, the shoes are a sideline... they’re really selling the “wow” factor in customer service, and have skyrocketing net promoter scores to show for it. Zappos’ founder Tony Hseih said that the desire to create a company devoted to customer happiness was “driven by frequent examples of bad customer service in my everyday personal life.” Sure, Zappos has a great product - but what most customers love to talk about is their customer experience - the ease of transacting with the company.

In my travels and conversations with members since joining Worldwide ERC, the customer experience that emerges most often is connectedness: maybe it’s the idea you get from another member that provides a strategy your company has been looking for, an email that brings you a solution to an issue in just minutes, or a conversation you struck up at one of our conferences that shows you a way to save millions, over time, on your mobility program.

Deep customer engagement is not easily won. As consumers, the economy has sharpened our appetite for the very finest experience our money can buy. As business people, we work at translating our best experience to the customer: we sell solutions, we sell results, we sell ease of use, we sell satisfaction...  and nearly everyone today is selling choice in addition to their products. 

The explosion of choice has made it more difficult in some ways, say authors Sheena Iyengar and Kanika Agrawal in their article “A Better Choosing Experience.” “If the market for your product is saturated with choice, you can’t gain a competitive edge by dumping more choices into the mix. Instead, you can outthink and outperform your competitors by turning the process of choosing into an experience.”

Like giving customers a mental picture and an emotional sense of what your products will bring, whether it’s happy assignees and their kids, personal connections with significant ROI, proof that the business you conduct with a company helps improve a community… or something as basic as hot showers and cold beer.

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