Last month, in July, I gave a keynote speech at the Inman Connect Conference in San Francisco. At the 2010 conference we were awarded the highly-acclaimed title, “Inman’s Most Innovative Brokerage”. We won the award for our thought leadership in the industry, early adoption of social media and other new technologies and for our innovative consumer-facing website, that at the time, set a new industry standard for a real estate website.

As a result of our past achievements and recognition by Inman, when asked to speak at this year’s conference, I expected that they would ask me to share my thinking on something technology-related. So, as you can imagine, it came as somewhat of a shock when they asked that I talk on “What Great Customer Service Looks Like”.

Although surprised by the request, I, of course, accepted.

Moments after hanging up, I thought, “Well, hell…how do I talk on Customer Service?”

After a ridiculous amount of deliberation on how to design and produce a Keynote on Customer Service … a spontaneous thought occurred to me . . “What are my favorite brands?” Quickly, 5 companies came to mind: Starbucks, Zappos, Jet Blue, The Four Seasons and Apple. “Hmmm, is it a coincidence that all five companies are known as Customer Experience companies?”

In order to put together a talk on Customer Service for Inman, I studied these five cherished brands. And, what I mean by study is that I dedicated two weeks to research, analyze, and note take all that I could learn from these Customer Experience leaders.

What did I learn from my research project? Well, a lot. More than what will fit on a blog and far more than could be included in a 15 minute Keynote. But, I will share here what I discovered at the core of all five companies. Despite being in vastly different industries, these five companies share 5 Principles for Customer Experience.

Are You Defined by What You Sell?
The first thing I discovered about these five companies, which is fundamental to who they are is probably the most significant discovery of all. None of these companies believe that ‘what they are known for’ is ‘who they are’. Let me explain.

I thought Starbucks is about Coffee; Zappos, shoes; Jet Blue, airline travel; The Four Season, hotel rooms; and Apple, kick-ass products — in other words, all completely different businesses with different customer concerns. Incorrect. These companies don’t think of themselves as such. They each consider themselves fundamentally to be in the same business… “The Customer Experience” business. They all just happen to sell different products and services.

Starbucks doesn’t think they are in the coffee business per se, they are selling the ‘experience’ that surrounds a great cup of coffee. It is that ‘experience’ that leaves me happy to pay $3.79 for my Grande Non-Fat No Foam Latte — everyday. When you study Zappos as a business model, they talk very little about shoes and clothing, but almost exclusively about customer ‘experience’ and culture. There are many computer retail stores, but none come close to the ‘experience’ one has when you walk into Apple’s Genius Bar. It’s ALL ‘experience’.

My biggest takeaway from this project? The GoodLife Team is no longer a real estate company. I now declare it to be a customer experience company which delivers 5-star customer experiences to home sellers and home buyers.

The New Competitive Battleground
Another foundational discovery is that great customer service is no longer enough. Why not? Because, as consumers today, we expect great customer service. That means that providing great service is no longer competitive because, you have to provide great service just to stay in business. It’s expected. When we go to a restaurant, we expect a certain level of customer service and if it is below par, we tend to voice it publicly on Facebook, to our friends or by avoiding that eating establishment in the future. As quoted by Colin Shaw and John Ivens in the book Building Great Customer Experiences, “71% of senior business leaders believe customer experience is the new competitive battleground”. And I would venture say that these five companies would agree.

The Difference Between Experience and Service
Consumer expectations have shifted and what was once noticeable and differentiating is now mediocre and common, and as already said, expected. The baseline for what we, as consumers, NOW value is a full “Customer Experience”. We have evolved from valuing good customer service to now desiring, and paying a premium for, an exceptional customer experience. And, it’s not just a matter of semantics.

Customer Service is the personal service we offer — our one-on-one contact with the customer. Customer Experience, on the other hand, includes EVERY single touch point the customer has with your brand. The Customer Experience is the sum total of all interactions that a customer has with a brand across all channels. This means that the customer experience you provide includes your customer’s experience with your website, how quickly you respond to their inquiries and questions, how you answer your phone, how your employees, team members and/or vendors respond and are able to offer solutions, as well as how they emotionally connect to you on all channels including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. In other words, the full customer experience is how you make them feel every step of the way when connecting to your brand.

As an example of the difference between customer service and customer experience, let me share a recent experience of mine. In one of my most recent travel experiences, due to the work load I had for the flight, I requested a seat change of the desk attendant at the gate. The attendant was gracious and helpful and offered me great customer service in assisting me with a seat change. I was satisfied and happy. But, that quickly changed when I got on the flight and learned that the ‘wireless’ was not working. I had chosen this specific flight that offered wireless because I had work to complete during the 3 hour leg requiring the need to be online. It no longer mattered that I had received great customer service at the counter. The brand let me down when their wireless did not work…I had a bad customer experience and was dissatisfied.

The Five Core Principles I explicated from my study of Starbucks, Zappos, Jet Blue, The Four Seasons and Apple

As I said above, the unexpected discovery that came as a result of my research project of five great companies is that, although they are all in different industries, they all share five things in common. Since these brands are among the best brands in the world, I think we can look to this ‘commonality’ as no accident. Therefore, I turned these commonalities into 5 principles that I am now working to incorporate into my own business, and perhaps after knowing them, you will do so as well.

Come back next month to find out what they are…

About the Author:
Krisstina Wise is Founder/CEO of GoodLife Team and Coffee with Krisstina, and has spent her entire adult life working in the real estate industry. Krisstina opened her own firm to accelerate her vision for the industry, and in just a few short years, the industry has noticed. Inman news honored Goodlife Team with their Most Innovative Award; Apple, Inc. sent a production team to profile their innovation in the industry; and most recently, USA Today featured Goodlife Team on their Money section front page.
Krisstina gets most excited when talking to agents and company owners about what they can do to prosper in and take care of the industry that has provided such great opportunity for her. She loves good, healthy food, enjoys traveling, is a voracious reader, and is never far from her running shoes.

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