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?


21 thoughts on “Sprezzatura and the Perfect Customer Experience”

  1. You’ve got me deep in thought here. I’m struck by the paradox that what the customer sees first, is what the business owner thinks of last! As a customer, when I have a bad experience I am enraged! Yet in business, I’ve barely put into place all of the things I want to when it comes to customer experience. It’s not that I think people have bad experiences with my business (and the majority of feedback I’ve received indicate the opposite), but they aren’t having “wow” “amazing” “can’t wait to tell everyone about you” experiences.

    1. @ethanwaldman A paradox is a great way to put it. But there really is a lot of nuts and bolts things to handle before you can do this. So it’s really a testament to your service and character that you stay in business long enough for this to even come up. But when you do have the space, you really owe it to your customers and yourself to work it out.

  2. I want to do all of this. Right. Now. I’m one of those baby business owners, just starting out, and I am totally drowning in all those starting-out things you mention. But I don’t want my clients to have to wait! I want to have amazing procedures in place starting immediately. Practical? No. But I want it anyway 🙂
    My procedures are, right now, rather bare bones. I try to compensate by relying on my own friendliness and helpfulness to enhance client experiences. And of course, I don’t intend for that to ever go away. But I definitely want to develop a more robust set of procedures, both visible and invisible, as I have the capacity.

    1. @remadebyhand I’m not saying you can’t do it, but don’t make yourself crazy. It will be an evolution, given how fast you’ll be iterating over your first couple of years. 
      If anything, be happy that you’re retaining clients even when you’re not doing anything extra special. That means you have a solid products, you’re not just some internet Don Juan. Now when you set out to knock their socks of, it’ll really be something.

  3. When CJ and I started our business, we were semi-winging it – relying on our expertise in our chosen fields.   CJ had already started his side of The Biz when I joined, so I used many of his forms and procedures. This spring we realized we needed something more – a revival of sorts -and implemented many strategies from Word of Mouth Marketing (Sernovitz).  I am sure the moms appreciated CJ’s handwritten thank you notes! Now I’m thinking maybe our waiting room needs some robes and warm slippers!  
    Time to bust out the notebook.  Thanks for the reminder, Shanna!

    1. @tammyrenzi Yay! One of my big bugbears is when people find a useful book or course, and then never go back to it. Why would it have stopped being useful? I’m so happy you’re going to dig into your notebook!

  4. Oh, if only I’d had this post in January 2012. It would have prevented Black Tuesday when I lost 5 students in one day. You’d have thought the horse was coming out of the barn as I taught. Anyhow, I wasn’t doing anything terribly wrong, but I was neglecting the customer experience at many levels. I redid the whole thing, top to bottom: docs, emails, ads, policies involving make-ups and prorations, practice logs, right down to the waiting room decor and the huge photo montages hung on opposite walls with every freakin’ single student I teach. It saved the business.
    I have no qualms with invisible procedures and I think we sometimes underestimate the ability of others to cope with being one of the many as long as they are getting what they want. My clients are really the mommies that take their kids to the lessons. They have to feel that I am invested in their child and that I am reliable. But that was not the problem. I was not giving them anything to talk about when they left except for how nice I was and how well I played and that was simply not enough.
    Thanks for the superb post!

    1. @cjrenzi Wow. 5 clients, that’s harsh. You’re totally right, you’re almost serving two masters– the mommies have the purse strings, but you have to teach the kids a love of music.
      I do love your point about overestimating peoples’ tolerance for being one of the many. I definitely think it comes down to whether they feel foolish when/if they find out.
      What did you give them to talk about, if you don’t mind me asking?

      1. @Shanna Mann Thanks for your reply, Shanna. I made a cute logo with little guitars, put it on stickers and stationary/docs, put the photo montages of all my students in the waiting room, created $20 coupons to hand out to friends, redecorated the entire waiting room, began writing thank you notes and mailing them for ALL referrals and other items which deserve thanks, handed out the stickers and business cards at the first lesson and take a photo to include in the montage, became more flexible about giving make-ups and pro-rations, created a FB page where I compliment my students constantly, etc. Now best practices flow easily because good procedures are in place and I doubt Black Tuesday will happen again, but I’ll keep tweaking.
        Have a great Day!!!

  5. You know what? I spend just about all my procedure time on the visible ones. And I spend a good amount of time on procedures. I gotta frickin’ spend some of that allotted time on invisible ones AND making the visible ones turn invisible!
    I’ve never thought about designing the perfect customer experience because I’m not in the business of one-on-one attention. And I believe you can only get close to that perfect level when it’s individualized. So what I will be striving for is the really good, warm and tingly customer experience. Maybe I should ask my wife to send some of the Customer Experience team at Best Buy my way. That would be a great compliment to her Digital Analytics team and it’s the closest I’ll come to getting a corporate retreat.
    But this will have to wait a while. I’ve figured out my work and am doing the work, but I don’t have much time to market the work. And I agree designing customer experiences can only come after those three are nailed down.

    1. @joeyjoejoe This post is more oriented towards a service business or a small retail type business, but it’s still important, as your wife can no doubt attest. But when you’re doing email marketing I think there’s a ton of room for tweaking. Tons and tons. A/B split testing is the most obvious, but there are several higher-level questions about set-up, tone, formality. Personally, I’ll bet Ramit Sethi gets better results the more he berates his customers. We eat it up! 🙂

      1. @Shanna Mann  @joeyjoejoe So true, Shanna!  Long after CJ and I read Ramit’s book and implemented many of his recommendations, I stayed on his mailing list just so he could berate me!   I cannot use his effective tactics with my clients, “What?!  You don’t care if your kid can read?  Fine, delete my email and head off to soccer practice!  This isn’t the right service for you!”  Oh no, that would never work.  Nonetheless, I love his approach.

  6. I never thought about this one before. I think I would use a set of standard values to keep in mind when dealing with customers. Specific procedures – I would let those evolve as I understand what my customers like/ don’t like.

    1. @deniseurena Absolutely, Denise, it’s always a work in progress. That’s the main thing I don’t like about the ‘franchise’ method in the seminal book “The E-myth Revisited” — he never allowed for the idea that tweaking your methods as you go could be a good thing.

  7. Yeah, I haven’t thought about this too much either, probably because I’m busy in steps 1 & 2, but I love this concept of creating reminders or opportunities for ‘sprezzatura.’

    1. @sarahemily You’ll get there. I feel like I’m doing newbs a favor by warning them, “You think you’re all done once you get swamped with clients? Think again. Now the *invisible* work begins. Bwhahahaha!” 😛

      1. @Shanna Mann Hahaha, thanks, we need more things to worry about. ;- ) 
        But seriously, this is the kind of stuff I get excited about. Even though I have to stay focused on where I am with my business (at the very very beginning, to be precise), it’s good for these kinds of considerations to be marinating – gives me the opportunity to build them in from the ground up, where it’s easy to do so, and if more is needed, at least I’ll have some ideas by the time I’m ready to implement.

  8. I’ve fallen into the lazy habit of depending on my charm and wit to be reward enough for people. Stop laughing. That’s actually the process today. “Joel will charm them with his wit.”
    My limbic system knows how I want folks to feel after we’ve touched them, but it has never translated into words I could write down and share. There’s MY takeaway from this nifty piece.

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