It’s All About the Experience

Last month, I spent an hour with my father at the Apple store. Shortly thereafter, I spent two hours on American Airlines, traveling to Nashville for a conference. My experiences couldn’t have been more different. And I couldn’t have learned a better lesson in business.

You see, I learned from those experiences that it’s all about the experience.

My father is recently retired and a long-time PC user. He needed to replace his laptop and, as a devoted Apple/Mac user, I persuaded him to consider switching. He was a bit ambivalent considering a MacBook can cost twice as much as a PC, no small issue for someone on a fixed income.

So I took him to the local Apple store where he became instantly amazed. Why? Not because the MacBook is simply a better product. No, he was amazed because of the experience he had: service that was friendly, timely, focused, and efficient (I won’t go into the how and why of all that; if you really want to know, visit an Apple store).

Furthermore, he purchased Apple’s unmatched One to One program, and having gone several times for a personal training session, can’t say enough about his buying experience. Now he’s even talking about getting an iPad. In a span of six weeks, he’s become an Apple loyalist.

Contrast that with my experience on American Airlines.

Boarding started late because the plane arrived late, yet we weren’t told why nor what the expected boarding time would be. Once we did board, it took forever because people are increasingly trying to dodge bag check-in fees, resulting in boarding delays. While that was happening, flight attendants were scolding guilty passengers. Then the pilot told us we’d depart in 10 minutes (five minutes after the scheduled departure) since the wings required de-icing.

But the de-icing truck didn’t arrive for another 15 minutes, during which there was no communication from the pilot nor the flight attendants (it was at that time that I decided to tweet my frustration, openly wishing for the airline I believe creates amazing experiences). We finally did depart 20 minutes later, but as expected, no apology or acknowledgment was made by anyone.

Several times that weekend, I replayed the experience in my head, telling myself I would avoid flying American whenever possible and instead fly Southwest because they know how to replicate an amazing customer experience on every flight.

And then at some point, it hit me: the reason for my loyalty to any product or service is the experience I have with it and the company. I might get drawn in by a good deal, a solid product, or a referral. But I return because of the experience.

I can’t imagine someone having a poor or average experience more than once – car wash, flight, auto dealer, university, web site – and becoming loyal to that provider over time. I believe this applies whether we’re actually buying an experience (vacation, baseball game, etc.) or simply buying a commodity (coffee, gas, computer, etc). And I imagine that, as we continue to have positive experiences with any business, we become more and more loyal to it.

The more I thought about the experience factor, the more I realized that this isn’t something that is taught in business school, mentioned in how-to-start-a-business guides, or recommended by sales and marketing experts. Truth be told, I’ve heard and seen it discussed in various contexts, but not regularly or convincingly enough to say that it’s a staple of business instruction.

So I’m on a little mission now to learn more about the art and science of creating amazing customer experiences. I believe it’s too important of a success factor – perhaps one of the most important – to be so overlooked. I won’t be able to change any large corporations but I’m hoping that I can get the attention of a small business or two who are inspired to create a better experience for their customers.

After all, when it comes to creating a customer experience, don’t we want more companies to be like Apple and fewer like American?

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