What is the difference between a one-time customer and a loyal customer? The simple answer is that the loyal customer gives you repeat business, but a better answer is loyalty is contingent upon what the business does to make each encounter with a customer into something memorable.
Starbucks is known more for their exotic blends of hot coffee than being cold and calculating, but both their products and their attention to every detail, especially in their store design, have been major factors in their phenomenal growth from one retail outlet in Seattle in 1971 to over 19,000 retail outlets in more than 60 countries today.
There are lots of coffee chains, but only one Starbucks. Only Starbucks has designed their coffee shops so that they become an inseparable part of their customer’s daily routine, where people can chat, meet up, and even get some work done. I recently saw a clip on Bloomberg News, where a business reporter took viewers on a guided tour of a typical Starbucks retail outlet to show precisely how they mastered the art of making a coffee shop into a neighborhood gathering place.
The Starbucks experience begins the moment a customer walks in the door, or to be more precise, when they grab the door handle, which Bloomberg cleverly referred to as “the handshake between the customer and the company.” Embossed in raised, gold lettering, on the brown door frame, is the name of one of Starbucks popular brands. In doing so, Starbucks exposes the customer to their brand advertising before they even step inside.
Once inside, the customer first passes the seating area, where they can view all the different seating options and also get positive reinforcement from seeing fellow customers enjoying their coffee. Besides the flow of the coffee, the flow of the store is designed to get people in and out in the most efficient way possible. Using lighting and visual cues, customers are drawn to the back of the store, where the food and merchandise is located.
To make the experience of ordering the coffee more pleasant, and to encourage patience, Starbucks places a strip of countertop that maintains a connection between the customer and the people filling their order. If not for this countertop, the customer would find himself face-to-face with a tall coffee machine, which would be a put-off.
Before the customer leaves the store, Starbucks is already thinking – and gets the customer thinking – about his or her next visit, by strategically placing advertising on the way out.
Pam Robertson, of Australia’s Experian Marketing Services, a leading global provider of consumer insights and cross-channel marketing, says that by understanding what motivates customers, what’s important to them, how they view themselves and what a brand brings to their lives, marketers can deliver an even better customer experience — and build profitable, loyal customers.
“What makes consumers buy from one brand when they can instantly use their mobile phone to find the lowest price and an infinite assortment of products to choose from,” asks Robertson. “It’s the brand experience — things like service, convenience, expertise, exclusivity, attitude and culture. A marketer knows what their brand stands for, but the reason people become, and stay, customers can vary widely.”
We can’t all be Starbucks, and not all of us want to be, or need to grow our companies into a global empire. We can be just as happy with one store, or one office, yet the lesson we can learn from Starbucks is the extent to which we can, and must go, to build a brand experience that aligns customers’ needs and desires.
Seth Godin, whose podcast Startup School guides entrepreneurs through a workshop exploring how they can build and run their dream business, says it’s all about how you make your customers feel and then encouraging them to draw on those memories, because people express themselves with what they buy and how they use it. Purchases then become extensions of our personality, totems of ourselves, and reminders of who we are or would like to be.
And it’s “what’s in it for the customer” that the businessperson or marketing executive must always keep foremost in their thoughts. “Great marketers don’t make stuff. They make meaning,” says Godin.
This Week’s Bottom Line Action Step: Make every customer interaction into an experience.