Change Catalyst with Shanna Mann: Strategy & Support for Sane Self-Employment

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Sprezzatura and the Perfect Customer Experience

Lets talk about sprezzatura again. When last the term crossed my keyboard, it was in a damning post about how the perception of perfection is the enemy of true excellence.

I still believe that—for the most part.

However, there are certain exceptions.

There are certain type of excellence which look easy that nevertheless took some considerable effort to conceive of, and to implement itself in such a way as to seem ordinary.

It’s the sort of thing that makes a business, as Seth Godin would put it, remarkable.

And it is well worth the effort to do so.

When you go to a hotel and the hotelier wants you to feel pampered, there will be complimentary bathrobes in the room for your use.  And you must admit that when you’re freshly showered and flipping through boring cable channels whilst wrapped in that fuzzy white bathrobe, you feel pretty damn pampered.

Does it matter to you that fifty other people in the hotel are enjoying the same feeling of pampering? Not one goddamn bit.

Now, in this example, there’s next to no effort involved in the hotel hanging a bathrobe in your room. But somewhere way back when, some egghead in marketing had to say, “Hey, I bet bathrobes in the room would offer a real luxury experience.” And so then someone had to purchase a gross of bathrobes, and someone had to market it, and so on down the line.

Until Joan the cleaning lady sees on her checklist that there’s supposed to be a bathrobe laid out in this room.

And you stagger in a few hours later, more than ready to take a load off.

Designing the customer experience

While it’s never too early to start thinking about the customer experience, when a person is first starting out in business, the actual implementation of said experience tends to lag behind a) figuring out the work, b) doing the work, and c) marketing the work. So it’s really only once someone hits their stride in the first three categories (well, the first two, at least) can a business owner really start to think about how exactly, they want their customer to feel during every stage of interaction – and then begin designing systems to do so.

It’s one of the many things you have to think about when you’re the boss.

This exercise is one that requires all your mental athleticism. It requires you to be big picture, it requires you to be able to envision how you want your customers to feel,  so you’re activating all your emotional intelligence. You then have to translate into implementor for a while to figure how you’d construct that experience for your clients, i.e., what can you do to make them feel X?

This is the stuff that corporate executive retreats are made of.

However, at the moment, there’s just you.

Still, if even the Big Boys acknowledge that this sort of planning best occurs away from the hustle and din of the workaday world, they probably have something. So do your best to block off an afternoon, or even a weekend, head down to a library or something and prepare yourself.

Do it just on pen and paper. Yes, I know it will suck when you have to transcribe it, but we both know how easy it is to get distracted if you have a computer open.

Have a cup of coffee. Meditate. Let your mind drift with a soft focus on the following question:

How do I want clients to feel working with me?

Write down your answer. Be as detailed as you like.

Proceed to the following questions

  • How do I want people to feel when they’ve purchased something from me?
  • How do I want them to feel after they’ve hung up the phone with me?
  • What do I most want them to tell their friends about the experience of working with me?
  • How long do I want that feeling to last?

When that’s done, you have your target. Now you need to activate your engineer brain.

  • What do I need to put in place after people pay to ensure people are excited about the purchase?
  • What kind of follow-up can I offer to help people take actionable steps after they end the call with me?
… and so on.

This is where you start developing procedures; call them best practices, call them SOPs, I don’t care. But what you want to create is a step-by-step map of the perfect client interaction.

These can be visible or invisible procedures. A visible procedure could be an autoresponder with intake information and a coupon to the shop. I call these visible procedures because it’s obvious to everyone that that’s what you did. No one believes that you wrote up that email and created that coupon just for them.

An invisible procedure are the things that look unrehearsed, and demonstrate significant regard for the client. For instance, at the end of a call, I’ll say, “and what kind of accountability can I give you?” It started as a checklist, but it’s second nature to me now.

A Caveat

These invisible procedures are what I mean by sprezzatura. Invisible procedures sometimes come under fire because when people think they’re getting special attention paid to them, and it turns out that it’s not just them, they can feel betrayed. I sometimes read guys giving advice to other men, “put a recurring to-do list to get  flowers for your girlfriend every six weeks.” They inevitably get shouted down by women who feel that scheduling “impromptu” gifts is robbing the act of its romance. I think those women suffer from Prince Charming syndrome, but it nevertheless remains a very common reaction.

The way to avoid this is to simply create checklists and triggers to spark the act of thinking about the other person.

So if for instance, you want to show gratitude to people to refer you to clients, you would first decide to put a procedure into place, and then, every time you get a referral, you’d be triggered by the point “Show Gratitude?” and you would then  consider the person who referred you and think about sending them a small gift or a thank-you note. It’s the one-size-fits all procedures that people object to.

Your Turn

What do you think about visible and invisible procedures? Have you thought about designing the perfect customer experience? How do you want to have your clients feel by working with you?