Make Customer Experience a Portal to Fun
By Chip R. Bell | 4.14.17
Portals are cool concepts. They are like doorways or secret passageways into another world. The wall outlet is such a portal. It sits passively on a room wall. But, plug in an electric cord and the lamp comes on, the hair dryer blows, or the microwave heats up a snack. My doctor has provided me a portal into all my medical records—every test, diagnosis, prescription, and even his notes.
Those portals are mostly about utility. Many companies think of their touchpoints in that way, as well. What if, instead, your customer experience (CX) was a portal to fun?
I was on a Southwest flight to Houston and the flight attendant sang and danced the FFA mandated safety speech. She referenced the flight’s gourmet peanuts, each hand-selected for their unique flavor; the soft drinks were signature versions of familiar brands; and, the pilot was the most handsome pilot in the company…all for this special flight. Everyone on board recognized the over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek spiel was an exaggeration. And, everyone clapped at the end of the flight.
Before we go too far down this trail, there are clearly industry niches for which fun as a CX strategy isn’t appropriate—emergency rooms and funeral homes come to mind. And, there are clearly target audiences that might prefer serious over silly; somber over whimsical. A tax audit firm with a fun strategy might seem a bit sadistic. Yet, in an era of dreary news and unengaged employees, fun might be worth a closer look.
Making any customer experience strategy work takes three actions: Fit, Execution and Inclusion. Fit means it’s a strategy likely to be valued by the customer audience for whom it is intended. (My wife regularly reminds we when I react negatively to an ad on TV: You are not their audience.) Execution includes all the critical success factors. It means, for example, that employees have the capacity, competence, and commitment to bring the CX strategy to life day in and day out. Finally, inclusion recognizes that CX strategies must be adaptable and enable customers to help reshape them as their expectations change.
Does a fun strategy fit your target audience?
Michael Dubin used a wacky YouTube video to introduce his company, Dollar Shave Club, to the world. Dollar Shave Club is an online business that targets men and sells shaving paraphernalia and now toilet paper. The title of Dubin’s video is “Our blades are f***ing great!” His unique brand of toilet paper was introduced with another YouTube video entitled, “Let’s talk about #2.”
Dollar Shave Club’s fun CX strategy, however, is more than just clever ads. It extends into the packaging with quotes like: “I like shaving with a dull razor. –No one, ever.” The company posts all customer reviews. And, it highlights the ones that echo the same irreverent, in your face style as their videos. For example, “I save $100/yr on shaving now. Basically, I’m a genius”—Jeff. And, “One wipe Charlie’s changed my life”—Ryan S.
The keystone to Dubin’s success was knowing precisely the audience he was targeting and using a style, message, and product strategy that would appeal. The Women’s Missionary Union at the Hardshell Baptist Church or Hollerbach Funeral Home would likely find Dubin’s approach to be crude, lude, and rude. But, the Gen X upwardly mobile male population would more likely register it as cool, clever, and refreshingly honest.
Strategic fit, like humor, is in the eye of the beholder. Dubin sold his company to Unilever for a billion dollars cash and remains the CEO.
Make the strategy execution super simple
A Southwest Airlines flight from Austin to Harlingen landed unusually hard one day. Even a few oxygen masks fell from the cabin ceiling. As the plane raced down the runway, the captain was heard by everyone onboard saying on the loud speaker, “Whoa, big fella, whoa!” No one remembered the hard landing; everyone was focused on the humor from the cockpit.
Southwest is famous for simple fun. Most travelers get a comical rendition of the mandatory FAA safety briefing: “Can I pretend to have your attention for just a few moments?” or “Folks, it’s a $2,200 fine for tampering with smoke detectors in the lavatory and you know if you had $2,200 you’d be on another airline in first class.”
Southwest employs a fun strategy by imbedding it into its culture. Two of its core values are “Have FUN” and “Don't take yourself too seriously.” The airline hire employees willing to “color outside the box.” When CEO Gary Kelly dressed up as KISS for their annual Halloween party, the “fun” message was reinforced. But, the most important part is the airline’s continuous encouragement of employees to be themselves and to make even the most mundane encounter one that is fun for customers. Great examples of fun tactics are shared with all employees on blogsouthwest.com and Luv Lines.
Include customers in your fun strategy
Poppin is an online office supply distribution company with a clear “fun-driven” strategy. Poppin declares its purpose on its website: “Whether you are making grocery lists, taking notes at the latest TED conference, or pitching the next big account, Poppin believes you should be able to do it with a smile and style. We are chock-full of people with a crazy-passion for this stuff. We love tape dispensers, file cabinets, and the way a new notebook sounds (and smells) when you turn the cover for the first time.”
When you place an order for supplies you get an email: “We know you and your Poppin stuff are really going to love each other! Right now our packers are warming up and stretching so that no one gets hurt in the scurry to get your order packed up, shipped out, and delivered across your threshold so that this new chapter of your work-happy life can begin.”
Once your shipment is en route you get another email: “We know that you and your order are both incredibly excited to see each other. While in the throes of such anticipation, it’s totally understandable to lose track of the details, so here they are.” What follows is your tracking number, order number, and a notice that your credit card has been charged.
The fun does not stop with the correspondence. Unwrapping the box of supplies you are likely to see a postcard that reads: “I was so excited to see you, I could hardly breath.” Everything about the Poppin experience envelopes you in fun.
The fun strategy works only if it is totally grin-qualified. This means the value and unique customer experience are likely to make customers smile and tell a story. There will always be a few professional sourpusses who would never reveal their pleasure no matter how lively the deed. But, organizations committed to fun do not allow those “hearts of darkness” to undermine their resolve to make the other 99.9% enjoy the fun.
“Remarkable takes originality, passion, guts, and daring,” Seth Godin writes in his best-selling book Purple Cow. “Not just because going through life with passion and guts beats the alternative (which it does), but because it is the only way to be successful. Today, the one sure way to fail is to be boring. Your one chance for success is to be remarkable.”
Fun as a strategy takes imagination. But, most of all it takes guts and daring. Are you bold enough to make fun an integral part of your customer experience?