The Visible Experience

Experience counts. I don’t mean work experience, or the kind of wisdom that gives you insight, but the experience your customer (or prospective customer) has interacting with your company. Your customer’s Experience is the heart of your brand, and the heart of your customer’s decision to stay your customer.

Last week, I had two experiences which stood in stark contrast, and reinforced this.

First the good news:

I was invited to join a (relatively) new business-focused social networking service called Visible Path. In order to vet members to some degree, the service requires that your e-mail be a valid, non-spammer, domain (maybe more than that, I don’t fully know their criteria). So when I went to sign up, the site challenged me. The way it was stated caused me to interpret the requirement as the site admin’s desire to make an arbitrary judgment about my worthiness to join. This did not go over well, and I chose to, rather than join, fire off a rather scalding e-mail to the first contact person I could find on their web site. Within 2-3 minutes, I had a response back from Kathleen Bruno, who asked me to call her directly.

I did. She asked me what had cause me to think this, and how they could improve the process. We talked about this for nearly 30 minutes, discussing everything from word usage to my ideas for how to make the sequence friendlier and more transparent (there’s that word again!). She even told me who else in the company would also hear about my feedback.

This conversation turned my experience of Visible Path from one of a company who is clueless about networking (as an exclusive club?) to one that wants to engage users and make a valuable place to connect with others.

The initial experience was not good (I don’t think it’s completely my privacy fanatacism, either). But the response was outstanding. Here’s a company that “gets it.” They seem to care about the experience. They seem to care about making my experience useful, friendly and productive.

I’ve since completed the sign-up process and will be testing this very interesting new social-networking-for-business service to see if all of the cool stuff they offer really helps me (I’ll keep you posted!) (and, I’m not yet a raving fan of the service, but I am a raving fan of Kathleen!)

And now the bad news:

I spent this past weekend in Deerfield, IL. I stayed at the Embassy Suites (it was the designated hotel for the function). For those of you who know the Embassy Suites, you know they offer a reasonable breakfast buffet. Fortunately, this buffet included some hot food, like eggs and pancakes. Unfortunately, it also included cooked-to-order omeletes. Why is that unfortunate? In order to get any hot food at all, you have to wait in the omelet line. And on the weekend, the hotel is not populated with speed-focused businesspeople, but rather throngs of tourists, all clamoring for as much free food as possible (and ordering 4, 5 or more items). The line when I arrived was 45 minutes long. I didn’t wait.

I did, however, run into the manager as I left the line. I suggested that maybe the scrambled eggs could be placed in a chafing dish outside the line – not as fresh, but far more efficient. I made one or two other suggestions as well in my desire to be helpful and point out the error of their ways.

His response? He told me why my suggestions were bad ideas. He told me that my ideas were not what other guests wanted. All of this is probably true (I’m no hotelier, after all). But it left me thinking: This hotel doesn’t care what I think. They offer a generic service, and don’t care if I take it or leave it. (For the record, I’ll be leaving it next time I’m in Deerfield).

My experience of this hotel was one which does not care about its guests, one that does not listen, and one that does not care to improve my experience.

Contrast that to my new friend Ms. Bruno at Visible Path, who cared enough to want my personal experience to be a good one. I’ll be spending time using that service.

As is my habit, I pose the question: How are your customers experiencing your company? Are you sure? And what are you doing to make sure?

After all, Experience isn’t everything. When it comes to customers, it’s the only thing.

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