Last weekend I made my grandma’s oatmeal cookies for the first time. Typically, I’m not a big fan of oatmeal cookies, but these tasted like they were delivered from heaven just for you. It took me nearly 30 years to ask for the recipe, and when I finally had the directions to the magic in my hands I was suddenly disappointed.
I was expecting an old, hand-written, vanilla extract stained recipe card. But what I was holding was a cut out from a box of something called Imperial, which, after a few google searches, I learned is a brand of vegetable shortening.
I got all the ingredients together—minus the Imperial, I went with butter instead—and began measuring and mixing. The recipe is only a few simple ingredients. I stood over the bowl of oatmeal sugary, buttery goodness thinking, this doesn’t feel so magical. This is too simple, too easy.
I put dollops of the dough onto my cookie pan, put them in the oven at 375 degrees, and told Alexa to set a timer for 12 minutes.
I was ready the second the timer went off, excited to see grandma’s cookies come dancing out of the oven—all beautiful and perfect. Disney movie worthy cookies.
I opened the oven door… these are not grandma’s cookies.
I’m not sure what I did wrong. But the lesson became clear to me: it takes more than following a set directions to create an experience.
As I ate my sad looking cookies, I started thinking about all the other magical experiences I associate with grandma. This is when I realized, grandma was a customer experience master long before customer experience was an industry buzzword.
Personalization goes a long way
My grandma had 4 children, 8 grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren, and 40 other children she cared for over the years. She took the time to understand what we liked, what we didn’t, what was our favorite candy, and what would cheer us up. When I came to visit, she had the chicken shaped candy dish filled with lemon drops sitting on top of the microwave. It made me feel special, like they were there just for me.
I don’t think I’ve ever eaten lemon drops anywhere else in my life, but at grandma’s house, they were my favorite, must have thing.
While building out my Account Based Marketing (ABM) strategy at work, I was on the hunt for a solution to deliver a better content experience. I contacted a vendor in this space, discussed my needs and challenges with my helpful sales rep, and I kid you not, no more than 10 minutes after we got off the phone he sent me a personalized content hub complete with my company logo, personal message, and content that spoke specifically to the conversation we just exchanged. It made me feel special, like it was created just for me.
I forwarded this to a few colleagues, a few sales reps, and even though none of them had ever had a personalized experience like that before, now it is the must have thing.
It doesn’t have to be fancy to be memorable
It doesn’t have to be expensive either. One of the greatest joys of visiting grandma was going out to the washhouse to grab a soda—or “soda water” as grandma called it. Just outside the house, behind the driveway, was a little room not much bigger than your average walk-in closet. Inside were gardening tools, a basketball, and pickled vegetables, but the experience grandma created was in the washhouse fridge. On any one of the hot summer days I spent at her house, I could open that fridge and find dozens of different sodas to choose from—Dr. Pepper, Sprite, Sunkist, Big Red, RC, Country Time Lemonade, you name it, it was probably in there.
In Chip and Dan Heath’s latest book, The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact, they talk about the Magic Castle Hotel. It’s not fancy or expensive, especially when compared to other options in Hollywood, California. But the experience they’ve created that earns them 5-star reviews—the Popsicle Hotline. Guests lounging poolside can pick up a red phone and hear “Hello, Popsicle Hotline”. A few minutes later, a popsicle will be brought out to you on a silver platter. For free.
Before the Popsicle Hotline was cool, my grandma had the Washhouse Soda Water.
When an experience is painful, celebrate the milestones
Grandma’s house was in a small town, population 300-something, and a stone’s throw away from the railroad tracks. She always had an assortment of bikes in the garage to accommodate everyone from adults, down to the big wheel-riding little ones. When it was my time to learn how to ride a bike, it was only fitting that I graduate from training wheels at her house. In a past post, you learned that I had the tendency to get easily frustrated when I wasn’t immediately good at a new skill. Now imagine this problem on a 6-year-old. I slammed that bike down in frustration too many times to count. This experience was painful. For everyone.
Learning how to ride a bike is a memorable milestone in itself, but in the moment, we had to create mini milestones to create a positive experience. If I could ride from the swingset to the cedar tree, I could get TWO washhouse soda waters. Once I met the challenge and savored my Dr. Pepper AND Big Red, I was given another milestone. If I could make it from the swingset to the road, I could put a penny on the railroad tracks to be flattened.
Whoa, what? Only the big cousins get to do that. This was a big deal. I became the most serious and determined bike rider Abbott, Texas had ever witnessed. I still have the flattened penny.
Not every experience your customers go through will be positive, but there are ways to make traditionally arduous processes memorable. Think about your customer onboarding experience. Would your customers call it fun? If you called on a customer and asked her to describe the onboarding process, what would she say? Try to pinpoint the moments when customers fail or get delayed in deployment. Send a launch package with snacks and coffee to keep them fueled through training. Redesign the process into more manageable, easier to consume milestones. Celebrate your customer’s first big achievement with your product or service with an award or email recognizing the milestone.
A few peaks of positive experience will drown out any low or mediocre points.
A little goes a long way
Many people and businesses underinvest in customer experience because it seems difficult or expensive, but a little bit of magic can go a long way. Use these lessons to challenge yourself and your teams to find one small experience they can improve, internally or externally.
In my work, ABM can be a long journey before seeing success. I’m going to look for the little milestones and celebrate them in a big way to keep everyone motivated and excited. I’m also going to give those cookies another shot.
This post was originally posted on LinkedIn.