Customer Experience Lifts Service to the Stratosphere



These comments from McDonald’s CEO, Chris Kempczinski to New York Times journalist David Gelles describing how the pandemic would change the company’s business resonated with me on a couple of levels.

“We had to pivot to basically being an entirely drive-through, delivery, and curbside pickup business, and I think that’s going to still be an enduring part of this. The app is going to now be the center of that relationship with the customer. So in the past, it would be about having birthday parties in the restaurant. Well, if the app is now the center of the experience, how do you deliver fun and excitement and interest through an app?

“We build about a thousand restaurants a year. Should the dining room be as big? Probably not. Should we have a separate pickup area for delivery drivers versus regular customers? Probably a good idea. Should we have an area where loyal customers can go and get a different type of service? Worth considering.”

Kempczinski’s response highlights the company’s willingness to quickly adapt and its reliance on customer experience as a primary driver of new strategies. He caused me to consider how the association community is changing to meet shifts in member preference.

Based on two surveys that .orgSource conducted in July 2020 and April 2021, most leaders don’t anticipate major changes to their business model.

Of 100 participants, just under half, or 40%, did not foresee any long-term revisions to their product portfolio. Almost 60% believed their membership models would resume pre-pandemic patterns, and 41% saw in-person networking opportunities returning to the status quo. Many participants also commented that their mission and vision would remain unchanged.

Win Hearts by Meeting Needs

Customer experience takes place across all channels.

These results suggest that the transition from member service to member experience is not yet a significant trend for associations.  Although service and experience sound similar, and while the goal of both is to win your customers’ hearts,   the perspectives are unique.

Who wouldn’t admit that their habits had changed over the last 12 months? Companies that are attuned to customer experience are constantly evaluating those shifts in behavior, no matter how subtle and recalculating their approach.

On the other hand, member service is one-dimensional. Interactions center around communication and problem-solving. The focus is on the association and how it responds in specific situations. Customer experience turns the tables. An experiential strategy gets the physics right. It puts members at the center of your universe, where they should be.

Member needs become the force that directs organizational goals and objectives. Instead of looking at your relationship as a series of transactions, it becomes a holistic progression that is carefully orchestrated across all communications channels. Service is one point on a continuum of ongoing interactions.

Look for these distinctions between service and experience:

Service Experience
Entices people to buy. Offers opportunities designed to entice.
Driven by the product. Driven by the outcome customers are seeking.
Treats customers as a group. Views customers as individuals.
Focuses on single transactions. Focuses on the customer’s entire scope of interaction with your organization.
Concerned with the performance of individual business units. Orchestrates a superior customer journey across all departments and platforms.
Places the emphasis on customer-facing employees. Makes providing great service a priority for every employee.

Build Loyalty Across Platforms

The transition from service to experience is another example of how Industry 4.0, or the digital revolution, is making customer relationships both increasingly complex and impactful.

Facebook, the oldest of the social media channels, was launched in 2004. YouTube followed shortly after in 2005. Twitter came online in 2006, and the babies of the group, Instagram and Pinterest, were created in 2010.

It’s startling to realize that in less than 20 years, options for communicating have expanded so explosively. Along with greater choice have come more opportunities to build affiliation as well as higher expectations for performance. The public doesn’t grade on a curve. So, smaller organizations don’t get a pass just because they have limited resources.

In fact, members probably expect their association to be even more responsive than the online giants with whom their relationship is primarily commercial. Whether they are purchasing a product, viewing a webinar, or using a chatbot, their journey across your platforms should be a smooth passage that builds attachment at every touch point.

.orgSource senior consultant and marketing expert, Amy Williams puts it like this:

“Members today have so many channels to engage with their association. That’s why leaders must be focused on understanding and improving the entire customer journey. One bad experience, at any point, is all it takes for someone to move on to the competition, and people like to share their bad experiences.”

Use Technology to Deliver a Six-Star Experience

Technology makes a luxury experience possible.

How do you transcend service and provide the six-star experience that your members crave? Luxury hotels have understood this secret for some time. If you requested a fluffier pillow or a room on a high floor once, that preference is noted and provided on your next visit. Do you travel with your dog? There will be a cozy bed for Fido and maybe even a sitter. Although associations won’t be placing chocolates on their members’ pillows any time soon, technology makes a “luxury” experience possible.

If you follow my posts, you know that integrating software and strategy is where I begin most conversations about positioning organizations for success. Member-centricity can’t happen without the right software and staff who are trained to use it effectively.

The marketing magic that identifies your podcast’s biggest fans and helps you create promotions that cement and extend that loyalty begins with technology. Building personas, mapping customer journeys, and tracking campaigns require the right tools. Williams offers this advice about using technology to enhance customer experience.

“Technology supports customer journey mapping and other activities that help you deepen your understanding of your audience’s pain points, wants, and needs. You can identify how they spend their time online (so you know how to improve your marketing efforts). Journey mapping also helps team members visually understand their role and how they contribute to a positive experience.”

Make Everyone an Ambassador

Technology introduces you to individual member preferences. But taking customer service out of the hands of a few individuals and making every employee an ambassador creates the 360-degrees of care that delivers loyalty and affiliation. Teams that are not customer-facing often don’t realize how much their behavior can influence success. Williams recommends this exercise to heighten awareness.

“At the next all-staff meeting ask anyone whose work impacts the annual session to stand. My guess is that the entire room will be on their feet, including teams from meetings, education, marketing, IT, finance, customer service, membership, and governance. Then, use the meeting to explore how each one of those teams/individuals has the opportunity to amaze and impress members.”

Teams that are dedicated to discovering member needs, prepared to pivot to deliver those initiatives and products, and trained to provide outstanding customer care, take service to the stratosphere of experience. That boost gives members fresh reasons to make your organization their top professional priority.


Position Your Organization For Success

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