Irrational Employees Create the Best Customer Experiences

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Joyce Hostyn avatar

Irrational Employees Create Great Customer Experience
Employees, being wonderful, irrational, social, purpose-driven creatures, are your most important weapon in connecting with and delighting the equally irrational customers you hope to convert to loyal advocates.

Why are irrational employees a good thing?

Scott Hudgins, VP of Customer Managed Relationships at Walt Disney, said it well: "No one owns the customer, but someone always owns the moment.”

Every single one of your front-line employees owns the moment. And every internal facing employee owns an inward-facing moment that helps (or hinders) the ability of a front-line employee to deliver the best possible experience at each customer moment.

customer service in the connected company.png

Drawn by Dave Gray, The Connected Company

Whenever I’m in Austin, we visit Amy’s ice cream. At Amy’s, you’re not just buying ice cream, you’re getting a floor show. If you happen to glance up at the ceiling you’ll see blotches of ice cream from that day’s mistakes. Ice cream ends up on the ceiling because Amy’s employees deliver a performance for their customers. They may ask you to turn around and hold an empty cup, then attempt to flip the ice cream over your head into the cup. Or they may head outside and toss the ice cream into the cup from across the street. “Amy’s looks at ‘going out for ice cream’ as a total sensory experience that can revitalize a less-than stellar day.” Long lines go fast because of the floor show. Ice cream slingers turn a good product Into a great customer experience.

Rational or efficient? No. Magical memories that draw people back to the store again and again? Definitely.

Here are three other examples of how the irrational can have a huge impact the customer experience and, in turn, the bottom line.

At Chick-fil-A President and COO Dan Cathy teaches employees that:

Every life has a story, and often our customers and our employees, need a little grace and a little space when you deal with them because they are either experiencing a problem, just finished having a problem, or are about to have one.”

At Industrial Alliance, Leslie McMillan added a little empathy into claims processing. She asked the 10 claims analysts in her division to call the people seeking disability benefits and interview them for a half-hour to learn more about them.

The result? An 80% drop in spending on independent medical evaluations. Settlement time fell from eight weeks to four. They boosted revenue by marketing higher-value disability management products. Claims ending in litigation dropped from 12% to 7 percent. And employee satisfaction shot up.

Richard Branson ensures Virgin employees are empowered:

Virgin has made its name by breaking into new markets and offering great value, superior service, a fresh approach and a bit of fun. It is up to our staff to consistently deliver all those elements to customers, which means that our airlines, for example, get their appealing personality from the cheerfulness -- sometimes cheekiness -- of the crew.”

When employees are passionate about their jobs, deeply understand and believe in your organization’s mission, and are empowered to deliver great service they go above and beyond merely following processes to deliver delightful performances. And, like improv artists, irrational employees are able to adapt their performance with each customer interaction.

For, as designers Daniel Sobol and Toby Bottorf suggest in 3 Ways Improv Training Can Improve Customer Service, “Like theater, service design is about connection and relationships, and it is created and delivered in the moment as it unfolds.”

Learning Opportunities

As you turn your focus to the employee experience, mapping the employee journey, ask questions like:

  • What information do employees need to have at their fingertips to make the customer feel welcome?
  • Do employees have access to the experts they need to resolve an issue quickly when they don’t know the answer to a customer question?
  • Are employees empowered to use their judgment to resolve customer issues?
  • Do employees have a deep sense of the brand personality and how to reflect it during their interactions with customers?
  • Do employees understand how to ask questions, listen and feel empathy for the stories that are running through the heads of each customer that calls in?
  • Do employees know what emotions to evoke? How to evoke them?
  • Do employees know how a delightful experience is defined for both your organization and your customers?
  • Does the employee have at their fingertips information about previous issues and attempts to resolve a current issue?
  • Are the metrics employees being measured by aligned with delivering the type of experience that makes customers feel valued?

Use your journey maps to help redesign both the customer and employee experience. Use them to educate your employees on the customer journey and empower them to be performance artists capable of harnessing their wonderful irrationality so they’re able to delight customers at each moment of truth.

The Business of Business is People

Companies are always trying to figure out how they are going to sell something to somebody. Instead figure out how you want your customer to feel" -- George Blankenship, Apple & Tesla Retail Executive on Reinventing the Car Buying Experience

If your goal is to compete on cost and efficiency, stick with a process first approach. But don’t be surprised if you fail to attract employees who expect more from their jobs than a steady paycheck. And don’t be surprised when you start losing market share to higher priced, more innovative competitors who have mastered the art of experience.

If your goal is to deliver experiences that differentiate your brand and delight your customers, embrace and nurture the irrationality of your employees. Turn them into performance artists, capable of fulfilling the emotional needs of customers, delivering memories that bring customers back again and again.

  • Employees first. Customers second. Shareholders third.
  • Experiences first. Processes second.
  • Relationships first. Transactions second.
  • Engagement first. Efficiency second.
  • Trust first. Policies second.
  • Magic moments first. Tasks second.

Shifting our language, mindset and approach will unleash organizational creativity, moving past process innovation to experience innovation -- allowing us to architect dynamic, creative, responsive organizations that delight employees, customers and shareholders alike.

I’ll close with the philosophy behind Herb Kelleher, former CEO of Southwest Airlines, approach to making Southwest Airlines a great company: “The business of business is people… Bring joy to your shareholders [by bringing joy to your employees and customers]… The intangibles of spirit are more important than the tangibles of things.”

Rational? Not on the surface. But a powerful business strategy nonetheless.

Title image courtesy of Lori Sparkia (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Be sure to read the first post in this series, Employees are Irrational (and That's a Good Thing) 

About the author

Joyce Hostyn

Joyce Hostyn is a passionate advocate for the customer experience. She believes that organizations — people-centric organizations — are in a unique position to effect positive change in the world.