An elegant sales model. An engaging customer experience. A hidden architecture that guides customers through a rich sales process. There’s nothing accidental about these characteristics or outcomes. They’re a product of design and the result of a simple question: “What path do I want my customers to travel when they interact with my team?” It’s a significant question in that it calls in to question a sales manager’s ability to execute a framework not only for his team but for his end-user. The best companies “get” this and build their retail experiences around the design. Costco gets it. Even in the seeming chaos there’s structure. Apple gets it. Continually rewarding the customer, congratulating her on a purchase, exceeding expectations regarding communication. And Starbucks gets it–capitalizing on a series of positive impressions and leading their customers from the front door to the coffee counter with a seamless series of events.
As obtuse as this may sound in a service industry we would all be remiss to not acknowledge that the product being sold is the Experience, of which the hard goods are simply a component. In other words, the experience economy demands that the best of best sell the journey, not the destination.
Yesterday morning I purchased two cups of coffee from Starbucks (one for me, one for the Missus). She drinks a cappuccino. I prefer drip coffee. But the journey to the coffee began well before I took a sip…
1. It began with the caffeine neglected realization that I wanted (let’s be honest: needed) a cup of coffee. “I need a Starbucks,” I said to myself. Awareness is a product of marketing and advertising. For a sales manager or marketing manager this is how the journey begins. Is there variety in outbound messages? Is the brand identity unique or is it another aimless collection of snowflakes and flames? Is there a combination of web, social signals, influence, and promotion pieces? Are the messages actually targeting the right customers?
2. I drove to the Starbucks. I could have walked, it was across the street. But I always spill coffee when I walk with it so I drove. Lazy. Nonetheless I had to take a small trip towards the coffee shop. And I liked it. I saw the iconic green and white logo, the mermaid. It smelled like coffee outside. There were families mulling around out front. In a like manner, once a customer decides to buy a heating and cooling system they also take a journey towards a company. They’ll visit a website, ask around, read a few referrals, pull an “Undercover Boss” and check out a Facebook feed or Twitter stream. They may even visit a brick-and-mortar location. Regardless, they move toward the business and expect (hope) that the business will also move toward them in one form or another. The journey is an act of co-creation. Is the business outwardly interesting? Are they presenting an image and sharing content that compels the customer to move even closer? And in the course of this small movement is the customer intrigued and engaged and slightly looking forward to a meeting?
3. For a lot of people (especially former Seattle-ites such as myself) walking in to a Starbucks has an ingrained familiarity. The layout is familiar, the products are familiar, the food is familiar…and waiting in line is familiar. It’s a rare thing that I’ll walk in to a Starbucks and not have to wait to place an order. Yesterday was no exception. But while I was standing in line I was bombarded with pro-Starbucks impressions. The easy-to-read menu, the up-front pricing, the additional food items looked delicious. There was music playing (Best Coast) and I smelled a bagel or something warming in the oven. In other words: I accessed the entire retail process through simple sensory experiences. I accessed the heart and soul of Starbucks while standing in line. Our customers wait in line as well, but in a slightly different manner. They set an appointment and wait for the day and time to occur. How are we keeping them engaged during the interim? What are we sharing? What do we want a new customer to see, think about, feel?
4. Yesterday I did not order myself a drip coffee. I’d read an article about Charles Schwartz on an airplane. Schwartz’s favorite drink, turns out, is a macchiato. It’s espresso with warm milk, poured in layers. I asked the barista about the drink. She lit up! “Mr. Schwartz drinks macchiato during the day and green tea in the evening…but his favorite drink is a french press with Sumatra!” Unreal. Most salespeople know next to nothing about their boss, let alone his drink of choice. But in sharing her passion for her boss’ drink she inherently shared her passion for my experience with the product. In other words, she combined her “stoke” with her exacting expertise when it came to educating me about my choice. Learning about a new product combines education and enthusiasm. Salesmen often lean to either one or the other–the nuts and bolts OR their excitement. Isolating the two results in a half-baked opportunity.
5. Someone, somewhere, learned how to make cake in the shape of a lollipop. They’re called cake pops. My barista asked me if I wanted one. I declined. But damn if she didn’t get me thinking about the food. Egg white and turkey bacon, croissant, lemon bar…I was on the fence. Not necessarily because I was hungry. Rather, because she nearly omitted the choice of buying food as a choice. Plus, I could see and smell the food. Enhancing an order combines assumption, omitted choice, and the consumer’s ability to see the add-on items. The majority of salespeople I know can visually share information about their primary products but are woefully underprepared to help a customer visualize anything else. Let alone experience the product even marginally. I can only imagine what the profit margins are on a cake pop…
6. After placing my order and paying for it (happily!!) I again stood in line. But I wasn’t left waiting in silence. Another barista said “hello” and yet another asked if I’d been helped. Three people reached out and connected with me during the process of buying two cups of coffee. After a customer buys something there’s always a small “hold your breath and wait” moment. Will it be delivered on time, to my expectations, and be what I want it to be? Even with a cup of coffee a company like Starbucks understands that person-to-person touch points following a sale are as important as person-to-person touch points prior to a sale. What an opportunity to make a customer smile and feel confident in their decision!
7. Finally, I met my coffee. I know that sounds a little corny but that’s what happened. The barista introduced me to my coffee. “Tall machiatto with an extra shot? Matt? Here you go…” And she handed it to me. She could have clunked the cup on the counter and kept on going. After all, my name was written on the cup. But she’s been trained to introduce me to my coffee and to do with a big smile. Car dealers make a huge deal out of meeting your new car. Apple makes a big deal out of meeting your new laptop or device. I love this. It validates my decision as a consumer and appeals to my self-esteem. If I spend thousands of dollars on something I want the people who sold it to me to make it special. Not only does it show respect it leaves a cool memory.
8. And I drank the coffee. It was hot, smooth, soothing. It was exactly what I’d wanted.
In hindsight, writing this, the journey was the destination. I knew going in what to expect and the purchase was a foregone conclusion. Buying coffee from Starbucks is not a product of great coffee. It’s a product of great design. Starbucks’ hidden architecture creates an experience. Great experiences come at a premium price. Mediocre experiences end up in roadside coffee shacks. In order to command a premium price for goods and services the goods and services themselves are integrated in to a customer journey that is designed and managed from start to finish. It’s informative, rewarding, personalized, and fluid. It’s never accidental.
As I’ve written about recently, too many sales managers function in a reactionary manner. Managed design is proactive. Managed design relentlessly focuses on end-user elation. Managed design controls the touch points. Managed design is the difference between the elite and the aspirational. And along the way, companies with first class user experiences tend to be the most profitable.