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How long is 30 seconds? Okay, yes, it’s half a minute. But what does 30 seconds really mean to the customer experience? Sometimes, not that much. Like if your cocktail gets placed on the bar 30 seconds after your companion’s – that’s barely noticeable. But when you’re a busy traveler with a cell phone in one hand, a briefcase in the other and luggage to carry, racing to go to another appointment . . . it can be a huge deal.

 I travel extensively for work, and sometimes on more than one airline in a day or a week. One day, I was checking in for a flight with Airline A at a kiosk. It was intuitive and speedy – a great experience. The next day, I checked in at Airline B’s kiosk. I thought, “Am I crazy, or does the wheel on this computer screen keep spinning and spinning? Why is it taking so long? Is the machine broken?” I hit the restart button and found that it wasn’t broken at all, but the “think time” that computer needed was considerably longer than Airline A’s computer. I did some research later and was able to verify that there was a full 30 seconds difference between kiosk check-in times on these two airlines! In the case of Airline B, 30 seconds was all it took for me to become a frustrated, disengaged customer who would no longer willingly be giving them my business.
Just a few years back, it was commonplace to call a reservation desk to get information and make travel plans, and then gone to an actual agent to check in for my flight. That agent would’ve had some customer service training in how to treat a traveler. Now, people pretty much do all their own research, bookings and check-ins online and at self-serve airport kiosks. But don’t we still want and deserve a stellar customer experience?
I hope this isn’t too big of a news flash, but: ONLINE IS YOUR NEW FRONTLINE. And everyone involved in the creation of that online experience – from the coders to the designers to the developers – should understand the customer, their needs and wants, and what the goal at every step in the process is. From the very start, your customers’ online experience has to be flawless and have a competitive edge. If you keep them waiting for 30 seconds, well, that half a minute can be all it takes for them to choose your competition.
I challenge you: Think of the online experience as what it really is . . . An EXPERIENCE. It’s not about transacting – it’s about creating loyalty with your customers.

The Online Experience Blockbuster Didn’t Deliver

“People are always going to want to come into our stores for movies and games. They want the store experience and the guidance and recommendations of an associate. Netflix is not a threat to us.”
Those are the words I heard at Blockbuster’s headquarters in 2001. The executive team was getting a lot of flak from investors, and even customers, for not buying a still-struggling Netflix for a mere $50 million in 2000. In 2004, the peak for the business, Blockbuster employed 60,000 people and operated 6,000 stores. Back then, Netflix simply allowed you to select movies and games online, get them in the mail and send them back in prepaid envelope. Both brands offered movies and games for rent, but only one offered a differentiated experience online. Blockbuster was so committed to the concept of in-person service that they didn’t think the online option would be a threat. Yes, the chose to ignore the online experience. Bad decision.
It doesn’t matter if you have the most unbelievable brick-and-motor location with the most fabulous staff and exciting in-person perks – you cannot let your online experience fall to the wayside.
Customers start with the Internet. They’re going to look up you (and your competition too) before they step foot in your door.
Your web presence and its look, feel, usability, intuitiveness, and functionality – they all represent and may replace your retail space and the customer experience itself. If your online presence can’t do everything (or almost everything) offered in your physical space, you’re probably not going to lead potential customers there or entice them to purchase online, let alone make them loyal.
The Blockbuster and Netflix story isn’t about the technology changing from VHS to DVD to Blu-Ray to streaming media. It’s about the changing wants and needs of consumers who are focused on convenience and immediate gratification and satisfying those needs.
Want to ensure you’re delivering a differentiated customer experience online – one that entices people to leave the house and visit your physical location or order through your website? It’s time to reevaluate what you’re doing online. These 3 steps are imperative for your longevity and financial success.
  1. List out each and every touch point of the online Customer Experience. Think of each interaction as if your customer were in a physical location being assisted by a live person. What would that interaction look like? Feel like?
  1. Identify the all employees or teams responsible for creating that online experience. And I mean everyone – programmers, web designers, etc. Take the time to teach individual online programmers and designers exactly who your customer is and what that customer expects at every touch point – not just the ones they’re responsible for. They might be thinking of the fastest way to code something, but not understanding how their decisions not might impact the customer’s experience later. They need to approach their behind-the-scenes work as if they are a shopper themselves.
  1. Create a consistent Customer Experience. Create in-person opportunities for your new “frontline” technology team to meet your actual customers and their counterparts on the literal This will help with step number two in so many ways.
I discuss the importance of the online experience and every other issue related to establishing customers for life in my latest book720 Haircuts: Creating Customer Loyalty that Lasts a Lifetime. If this article has piqued your interest, check it out! Or leave a comment below so we can continue this discussion.
July 25, 2016


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