It has been raining all weekend. This morning while I was working in the home office, my 11-year-old son came in, slouched in the leather chair, stared at me and gave me his best “I’m bored speech”. Apparently, there was nothing on television, his brother was on the computer, and his complete library of video games was “mega-boring”. After 5 minutes of negotiation, I finally caved in and agreed to put the bills aside and spend some father/son bonding time with him. I decided to go “old school” and pull out the slot-car set that he received several years ago for Christmas.
Over the next 45 minutes we put together 62-1/2 feet of slot car magic. We told stories and laughed out loud. We worked together as a team. We got frustrated. We problem solved. And when it was done, we stood back, high-fived each other, grunted like real men, and admired our work.
The whole experience reminded me just how important the “out-of-box” experience is for a product. This slot car set is more than just plastic, metal, wires and stickers. There is magic in that box – from the packaging, to the instructions, to the smell of the track. It is a right-of-passage. Every young child should have the experience of owning a train set and/or slot car set. It starts with the simple excitement of looking at the box and fantasizing about driving the cars. Then there is the challenge and frustration of putting the set together and realizing how much effort it takes to make it work correctly. Then finally you have the actual car races – challenging your family and friends to the world-championship race.
How many products (or services) do you purchase that truly delight you the way toys did when you were an 11-year old? Your answer is probably, “very few”. You can make the argument that nothing gets you excited the way things did when you were 11 years old. However, I can probably point you to a dozen or so purchases that still do. Have you ever purchased a car that just amazed you at how wonderful the experience was? Did you ever take a cruise or stay at a hotel that you couldn’t stop talking about? There are the obvious examples of outstanding service (e.g., Nordstrom) and consumer electronics (e.g., Apple). However I can think of several little known companies and products that truly made me feel like they should have charged more for the experience.
Too many companies focus on the core product and forget about the other elements of the customer experience. There is an old real estate trick that statically works well and I am surprised more people don’t do it. Always bake chocolate chip cookies when you have an open house. The smell of fresh baked cookies gives people a positive impression of the house. A local plumber is advertising on the radio that they are the “smell good plumbers”. They explain that each of their plumbers smell really good. I think this is brilliant. It costs peanuts to give each plumber scented hand cleaner and the mental image of a good smelling plumber is much better than one that just cleaned out your neighbor’s pipes.
What does the packaging look like? Is it an afterthought or is it as well engineered as the product itself? The packaging is a reflection of the product. Apple’s packaging shows how proud they are of their products. Often companies forget the importance of user manuals and other documentation. What about customer support? Is there an easy way to locate answers to your user questions? A product can be 99% outstanding, but lack of attention to these final details can ruin the customer perception. The out-of-box experience is as important – or more important – than the product itself.
In my opinion, every company should set a goal to literally shock their customer with a positive user experience. Work to create an experience that delights the customer far beyond their normal expectations. Remind them of the feeling they had opening their first slot car set, Barbie or Red Ryder BB-gun.
I should stop writing now. My son thinks he actually has a shot at beating me in a 10 lap head-to-head race. <grin>
Do you have examples of products or services that exceeded your expectations?
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