In my last article, I discussed how to make it easy for your customers to share their impressions of your business. Today’s theme is related: helping customers connect with each other as they together experience your service.
While your business may be the star of your life, for your customers it represents something different. It will never, as a matter of fact, be the center of your customers' lives. Only your customer, and the people your customer cares about, will every hold that position. So a business often insinuates itself best into a customer’s life, memory and loyalty by being a backdrop to the story of their lives, as experienced with their friends and family. By learning from them, learning about them, and then getting the heck out of the way, or at least out of the foreground of the experience.
Restaurants, for example, provide the setting for marriage proposals, love affairs, breakups, arguments and, according to every mob drama I’ve ever enjoyed, the occasional professional hit. Not to mention the more prosaic: business meetings, shared sunsets and outings with coworkers. This isn’t isolated to foodservice setting: Airlines, hospitals, even the DMV, can be settings for the drama that runs through customers’ lives. Embracing this reality can allow your business to become very powerful, by helping customers to live out the drama and fantasy of their lives with the people who matter to them.
“My goal in life is to make you a hero to your spouse,” luxury hotelier Mark Harmon tells me. If Harmon were more shortsighted, he might set his aims on something more conventional: making his hotels the most profitable properties in the luxury hotel market, for example. But Harmon focuses on his customers’ goals rather than his own. As he puts it, “The touches we add [help] make for a memorable time together here. This is important, and we take it seriously. In the big scheme of things, how often as a couple do you really—I mean really—get away from the kids and get to connect, in a stress-free setting? We’re honored that guests let us be the setting for that, whether or not it’s technically what you’d call a special occasion.” Harmon feels his Auberge Resorts’ success is built upon the relationships his guests have with each other while enjoying Auberge’s service. It’s an astute and effective way to serve today’s customers.
For the fraught, high-stakes referral healthcare that Mayo Clinic is known for, treatment often becomes a socially complex, multigenerational affair. Mayo addresses the inclusion of family members and loved ones through design. Every exam room is designed to encourage collaboration and commiseration. One simple change has made a big difference: Each consultation room, as Management Lessons from Mayo Clinic author Leonard Berry has observed, features a specially designed, multipurpose couch instead of a couple chairs that only two can use and are rarely plentiful enough for everyone who needs to be present.
You may not think the relationship-conduit model applies to every business situation, but it applies quite widely. The True Value Hardware store and the CVS Minute Clinic seem purely functional at first glance, so putting a priority on facilitating customer relationships there appears beside the point. But even mundane, transactional situations common to the Minute Clinic or a hardware store can be improved by keeping an eye out for how relationships among customers can be facilitated. A Minute Clinic is a lot more comfortable for the patient if the patient’s family has a place to sit as well; the same goes for a customer at True Value if there are changing tables (for when you bring the family) and aisles wide enough to accommodate a shopping companion who gets around via wheelchair.