“A dirty car hurts you more than a clean car helps you.”

PizzaI love this quote from Mark Van Wagenen, Director of Global Customer Experience at Hertz. My friend and client Lori introduced it to me, and it perfectly encapsulates one of the problems we have in customer experience: Are you trying to make your customers love you more or to hate you less?

It’s not a simple question, and you’re certainly trying to do some of each. But how you focus on improving things for detractors is different from building customers who love you.

I hear this confusion quite often in health care. Health care has amazing stories about saving peoples’ lives, and they don’t understand why that’s not sufficient to get their patients to love them. But it’s really hard to love an organization that gives you five redundant forms, and make you wait for a half-hour past your appointment.  People won’t love you until they stop hating you.

You need to make it easy on customers to stop the bleeding. That’s the impetus behind the customer effort score. It truly matters to preventing customers from leaving you. But it’s not how you make them love you. That’s where the kindness, the listening, and the empathy kick in. You need both. But each serves a different role.

When I’m trying to explain something complex, I often find a pizza metaphor helps.

Four years ago I was in the board room of a large pizza chain.  We were explaining to them our research over what led to repeat visitors. We put candidate drivers on separate slices of pizza, and asked them to sort them by their impact on building engaged customers.  The options included:

  • The food is served hot
  • Cleanliness of the restaurant
  • New food options
  • How quickly the food is served
  • Warmth of the greeting
  • Being treated as a valued customer
  • The taste of the food

What did they choose?  They went right to the rational items – cleanliness of the restaurant and how quickly the food is served. Of course, these two had the LEAST impact on engagement and repeat visits.

These are table stakes. Yes, your food needs to be delivered quickly, and the restrooms need to be clean. If you fail on these, you’ll drive customers away. So you need to measure them.

But once you hit good enough, these don’t matter.  When’s the last time you said, “Honey, let’s go to that restaurant. They have really clean bathrooms!”  No, what most matters was being treated as a valued customer and the warmth of the greeting.  Unfortunately, they couldn’t get their heads around that fact, and continued focusing on clean bathrooms and quick service. And their sales continue to drop.

So look at your customer experience. Are you analyzing both sides – what annoys customers and what leads them to love you?  Because the causes are almost certainly different.

And hopefully you’ll do better than this nutty pizza company.

photo credit: Pizza, Finally! via photopin (license)

2 replies
  1. Christopher Frawley
    Christopher Frawley says:

    Good insight. As you point out so clearly, meeting customer expectations is “table stakes.” It gets you in the game. Getting people to want to come back and tell they’re friends is about how you helped them to feel about the experience. Things like a warm greeting and being treated like a human being can mitigate some delivery failures, but those things can really set you apart when you’re meeting all the “must haves.” You’ve got to deliver the whole package – rational and emotional. Great post ~ as usual.

  2. Donna
    Donna says:

    Great advice! This can help businesses who want to start work on customer experience but feel overwhelmed — gives them a starting point.


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