2014-4-June-Austin-Handshake.jpgI fell in love with traveling when I ran away from home at the age of five. (You would have run, too, if you were forced to eat my sister's creamed chicken.)

Years later, when I made a trip across the United States in a 1975 VW Super Beetle, I fell in love with technology, too.

There's nothing like a car without air conditioning to prove that simplicity has its limits — and that innovation is essential. 

Travel is one of the few things I suspect I won't regret on my death bed, at least now that I drive a car with all-season climate control — as well as GPS navigation, Bluetooth connectivity and a 120-volt power outlet. (Did I mention it's also Internet ready?)

And here's the thing: You can learn a lot about customer experience by traveling, regardless of whether you go by car or air. 

Sun, Fun and Marketing Strategies

In the sprit of those school essays it seems we were eternally forced to write, I offer you a selection of things companies and brands — and the people who do their marketing — can learn on a summer vacation. Good service may be more important than you think. As Zendesk notes, when customers have a bad service experience, they don't just get mad. "Most of the time they try to get even."

A survey by ClickFox examined the repercussions of a bad customer service experience. It found 52 percent of disgruntled customers complain to family and friends, but a statistically significant 32 percent will just stop doing business with the company that wronged them. What's more, when customers complain on social media, more than 60 percent of consumers are swayed by those negative comments.

Companies and brands "should view every interaction as an opportunity to increase satisfaction, build loyalty, and grow revenue.," ClickFox suggests.

Just today, cloud contact center vendor NewVoiceMedia released new data that shows 73 percent of UK consumers are standing up for customer service standards more than they were ten years ago. About 57 percent of Brits will give a business feedback to let it know about poor performance and 37 percent feel will complain on social media

More importantly, the study found half of UK consumers take their business elsewhere as a result of inadequate service, costing companies about £12 billion (USD $20.12 billion) a year.

Honor commitments:  Ever walk into a hotel late at night — only to discover the front desk has given away your room? Few things are more damaging to a brand than the failure to provide a contracted service. If I prepay for a room, and miss the deadline to cancel, the room is mine — whether or not I use it. You have no right to double dip by selling it to another customer.

Be clear: I've given American Express nearly $9,000 in annual fees over the past 20 years for the privilege of carrying a Platinum charge card.  And until very recently, I felt it was a worthwhile investment, considering the purchase protection, rewards and other benefits that come with the card. So imagine my distress when I discovered Amex quietly changed the terms and conditions for the use of the Delta Sky Club — and now expects me to pay $29 each to bring my spouse and minor children into the airport club. With paperless billing now the norm, companies have to take extra steps to make sure customers are aware of major changes. Customers who manage their accounts online will not necessarily open or read that update you send in the mail.

Create smiles: In the words of customer service guru Shep Hyken, amaze me. (You can take a collective bow, team at the Hyatt Place Downtown in Austin. Great experience, all around.) Take that simple, unexpected, unrequested step that transforms a good experience to a great one. Whether you upgrade my room or just let me borrow a cookie sheet from the kitchen so I can carry breakfast back to my room, give me reasons to feel valued and respected. 

Be honest: Yes, Delta Airlines … I'm talking to you. Would it have killed someone to tell me when I checked my luggage at Newark Airport — on a day so calm and sunny that New Jersey did not depress me — that the flight was delayed? More importantly, could someone have mentioned that I would miss my connection — and could not get another seat to my destination for 48 hours? Did you have to let me check my bags, struggle through the security checkpoint and pay $58 to bring my spouse and daughter into your Sky Club before anyone bothered to tell me about the three-hour delay? Even then, I was only told because I asked if the flight was on time. Customers not only expect, but deserve complete candor about products and services you promise to provide.

Go the extra mile. Literally: In many cities and tourist spots, pedicabs provide one of the more eclectic ways to get around. But pity the poor drivers. Pedaling around on a bike is exhausting — and even more so with the weight of a couple of passengers in the cab in the back. But that didn't stop one pedicab driver on a late night in Austin from pedaling at breakneck speed for at least a mile on a quest to help his passengers (yes, me) find "some really good donuts." The driver said he knew a food truck that sold the best donuts not only in the city, but anywhere. Unfortunately, when we arrived, he discovered the truck had moved across town. His reaction? "I'm so sorry. I'll take you back where we started, no charge."  Of course, we paid him — and tipped him well. Customers always appreciate and usually reward extra effort.

Deliver what you promise: The best donuts are only good if you can manage to buy one. After getting out of the pedicab, we drove to that now mystical food truck in our car. What did we find? The world's longest wait for made-to-order donuts. The line wasn't that long, but the wait to place an order was: two or maybe three people were in the truck, making each $4.50 custom donut. The process took forever. Even at 2 a.m., it was too much. And after 45 minutes, we left, sans donuts. The best products or services in the world are only as good as your ability to provide them when your customers want and need them.

Make it personal: For all the talk about personalization, what customers really want is the Personal Touch. Greet a guest by name when she walks through the door for the second time of the day. Shake hands when customers enter your restaurant — and thank them for coming. Introduce not only yourself, but also the two other people working behind the counter — like our waitress did at The Kill Devil Grill in North Carolina. Whether it's a physical or virtual environment, warmth, sincerity and friendliness shape the customer experience.

Just be nice: Little words and phrases — "please," "thank you," "I'm sorry" and "Is there anything I can do to help you?" – have big impact on your customers. Using them is probably the best way to retain existing customers and attract new ones. 

Thank you for reading! And come back to CMSWire soon.

Title image by Asa Aarons / all rights reserved.