It's safe here. We have a net.
Perhaps it was because it was the beginning of the new millennium and everything was fresh and new. But back in 2000, I was addicted to change. My husband and I had recently moved continent. Bought a new house. Had our first child.
And so, of course, it was exactly the right time to look for a new and more challenging career.
I had barely dusted off my resume when I got a call from a headhunter about an exciting opportunity. It was for an Employee Engagement position at a Human Capital consulting firm. I went through a rigorous series of interviews with internal recruiters, the firm's owners, my future manager, and peers. The more people I spoke to, the more I realized that this company was special. They cared about engaged employees.
Sure, they provided free breakfast and a free lunch to every employee in every office around the world. And yes, they really did conduct performance reviews, invest in training, and administer employee engagement surveys. They were able to boast best-in-class Employee Engagement scores and happy customers as a result.
But there was one practice that really stood out to me—and, it would seem, to others I spoke to. It was their DUI Avoidance Benefit. Quite simply, if you ever ended up unable to drive home after a night out with coworkers, you could take a cab home and expense it. No questions asked.
I didn't hear about this from one or even two people. Every associate, owner and HR representative that I spoke with mentioned this policy.
Later on, once I was a full-time associate, I learned this particular benefit didn't need a line item in the firm's budget because no one ever took advantage of it. But, despite its lack of use, the very existence of this safety net said more to existing and future talent about how much the firm cared about its people than anything else. It was unexpected. It was unique.
It was their employee experience hallmark.
Here's the scoop.
I want to take my family to Minneapolis–Saint Paul. And not because of its proximity to the Mall of America or tax-free shopping. (If you knew me, you'd know they wouldn't be a draw.) No, I want to take the family there to visit Izzy's ice cream store. And I want to do that because I want to see my kids' faces when they get their first Izzy Scoop ®.
Izzy's ice cream store opened about 12 years ago. The owners, Lara Hammel and Jeff Sommers, did lots of research and spoke to ice cream aficionados before they opened their new business. They learned that people like to try new flavors, but not necessarily commit to an entire scoop. So, they came up with the simple and ingenious idea: offer all of Izzy's guests a smaller scoop on top of their chosen scoop so they would be able to try, without committing to, one of the other 100 or so flavors on the menu.
Guests are surprised. Delighted. Izzy's has earned customer loyalty. They get something unexpected and extra. The Izzy Scoop has turned Izzy's into a destination. It is consistently rated one of the best ice cream stores in America.
The extra scoop on top became their customer experience hallmark.
Best night's sleep ever.
Westin Hotels pioneered the Heavenly Bed, turning the hotel guest experience into one centered on the feeling of rest and rejuvenation. In a market centered on luxury amenities, they decided to differentiate on how great their guests would feel the next morning.
Soon, every hotel chain was scrambling to update the comfort of their beds, and higher-end chains were touting their own unique offerings. W Hotels introduced a pillow menu. Ibis Hotels put new bedding, better mattresses, and plush comforters in every room.
But Westin was the first to differentiate their brand and experience on wellness, to trademark the Heavenly Bed, and to sell (by recent counts) upwards of 100,000 such beds to consumers the world over. Those who have stayed at a Westin associate the experience with a great night's sleep. As a result, it's an experience one wants to repeat.
The Heavenly Bed was Westin's guest experience hallmark.
Stamp your employee and customer experience hallmarks.
A hallmark is a beautiful, simple, solid symbol of your company's brand reputation and promise—as an employer or as a provider of experiences. It is tangible evidence of your brand. (For more on why customer experience carries more weight than brand read George's last post: Why Customer Experience is Better than "Brand".)
If you have the right hallmark, it becomes what your employee or customer experience is known for. Why people seek you out. Why they return. Why they tell others about you.
But the right hallmark has to come from a clear understanding of the emotional reaction you intend to create in your audience.
The Employee Engagement firm wanted its associates to feel cared for. Izzy's wants guests to leave feeling surprised and gratified. Westin Hotels want their guests to have a fantastic night's sleep. The hallmark stems from the promise, the experience you intend to deliver.
If you decide to embark on an effort to find your hallmark, make sure that:
Your foundation is solid. You are meeting needs in a meaningful way. An extra scoop of sub-par ice cream wouldn't bring customers back. A super comfortable bed in a room that is not fully sound-proofed would be irrelevant. And, having a policy that says we care while not investing in talent would only serve to disengage.
You start from a place of customer and employee understanding. Through employee surveys and customer feedback, you should have a deep understanding of their motivations, needs, and desires.
You keep it simple, and limit yourself to one thing. Your hallmark will become confused and diluted if you add too much right away. It must be simple, easy to explain, and easily remembered. That doesn't mean you can't build from the hallmark later. Westin Hotels now offers guests the chance to try the Sleep Sensor Wearable-Lending Program, which aligns with their promise and only serves to enhance the hallmark. Izzy's recently introduced a tech solution that allows their fans to track available flavors in their local store. Start simple, and build when your experience is clearly associated with that hallmark.
What are you doing to differentiate your experience? Do you stamp it with your own unique, memorable element that your employees will talk about and your customers will come back for?
Need some help starting your customer experience improvement journey? Then download our Six Steps to Customer Happiness checklist below.