Is there a chance that the key to unbeatable CX does not lie in a “wow” moment but in nailing the “basics”? What are the main pillars of delivering memorable experience every time, on every channel?

Michael R. Virardi, best-selling writer and renowned speaker, answers to these and more questions, talking to Marketing Week after his insightful presentation at the CX Summit Conference. The effective management of customer expectations, consistency, employee empowerment, as well as internal cooperation without silos are highlighted as crucial elements of customer experience strategies that delight customers every time.

MW: We often see brands trying too hard to wow customers but failing to get the basics right. What are the most important elements that brands need to excel at in order to deliver unmatched CX every time?

Michael R. Virardi: Brands need to deliver on their basic promise and that’s to satisfy a certain task towards the end consumer, in other words, do the job that they are bought to do. Adding additional value, like for example the use of natural ingredients and/or supporting a certain worthwhile cause will also create awareness and add credibility for the brand because it shows that the brand, and the people behind it, care.

Expectation is a decisive factor when it comes to evaluating an experience. How can brands manage their customers’ expectations and, eventually, exceed them?

Carlsberg believes they have the best beer in the world, but they opt to use the slogan “probably the best beer in the world”, probably (pun intended) because it gives them more credibility and humbleness which inspires consumers and leads them to action. Therefore, the first element that brands need to consider and re-evaluate are the subconscious promises they make towards their customers via their marketing campaigns. Under promising and over delivering is key.

One of the biggest elements to receiving a Michelin star for your restaurant is to be consistent in your offering. Consistency in terms of experience and food quality is paramount. It is not always achievable but with the right systems in place and the right leadership at the helm you stand a better chance of getting there. Therefore, the second element, and one of the most important ones, is consistency. It applies to both major and minor brands as well as entrepreneurs, solopreneurs and freelancers.

Amazon has an almost no questions asked philosophy. Why? Because brands should compensate their customers appropriately when they fail them. Therefore, the third element is to have a plan B and C in place in case you fail to meet expectations.

The Zappos employees are well known for going above and beyond to satisfy, delight and even inspire their customers. They don’t merely sell shoes online but they deliver happiness on and offline. They do this for two reasons: they are empowered and they care. Therefore, the fourth, and final, element is to inspire and empower your team members to offer moments of surprise and delight to your customers.

With the customer journey becoming more and more complex, customer experience lies in the hands of more than one department. How can teams work better together in order to offer a consistent experience every time on every touchpoint?

Marketing is too important to be left to the hands of the marketing department, everyone has to be on board. Everything must align for the experience to be consistent. From the way we answer the telephone to the salesperson’s approach all the way to the promoter’s approach. Imagine your customers’ reactions and subsequent feelings to this scenario: Your salesperson makes a promise and your customer representative is oblivious to that promise. Oblivious because your sales team failed to communicate it to the customer service team. Collaboration failed across departments.

The remedy to the above scenario is:

  • Effective use of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems to aid with internal communication and collaboration across channels and across departments.
  • Organising onsite and offsite retreats, where people can connect and discuss outside their day to day operations, can build personal relationships whilst putting your people on an improvement path.

You’ve helped numerous brands optimize their customer experience approach. What are the most common mistakes that hinder the efforts to provide delightful experiences?

“Treat your employees well and they will treat your customers even better” is the philosophy that Richard Branson used to build the Virgin empire; and Nissan, Sony and Fujitsu pay well above the average for their sectors, train and develop their staff, and they have founded long term success on this premise. Failing to treat employees well and make sure they pay above average for their sector is probably the biggest ‘common mistake’ I have witnessed companies make. All other mistakes easier to turn around.

It takes a motivated and delighted internal customer to inspire and delight an external customer. Once you get this right the only thing you need to concentrate on is the ‘Golden Rule’: “Under promise and over deliver”.

Is there a brand or initiative that comes to mind when talking about memorable customer experience?

Yes, there is! The Ritz Carlton hotel chain. The Ritz Carlton allocates a $2,000 budget to each and every one of their employees, irrespective of hierarchical position, so they can use it to improve a customer’s experience. A vivid example of this is when a Russian bride opted to do her wedding at The Ritz Carlton. The bride was not at all happy with the tasting of the Russian menu the hotel Head Chef has prepared for her. The food didn’t taste close to the traditional Russian food she requested. So, the Chef used his budget to travel to Russia and meet the bride’s grandmother so that he and his team could deliver the authentic Russian menu the bride asked for. And they did!

What would your number one advice be to all brands out there striving to become better in delivering first-class customer experience?

Engage the consumer by exploiting more than one sense; this way the message will go directly to the limbic brain which is directly associated with decision making. Let’s take for example cars. The aim to engage the senses. They deliver appearance (vision), the distinctive noise when closing the car door (sound), when accelerating (sound and adrenaline), the smell of a brand-new car (smell), the unique and engaging interior (touch); all of which combine into a unique memorable experience that affects consumer behaviour and eventually leads to action as it is associated with positive feelings.

My second advice for brands is the same one I have given my 9-year-old son Rolando who moved from kindergarten to primary school. Mingle and get to know your new friends. ‘Mingle and get to know your new friends’ is exactly the basis on which Expedia operates. This applies to staff interactions as well as staff-customer interactions. They expect everyone to come up with good new ideas for all their brands and this is the basis on which it takes place. It is not enough for brands to describe a ‘persona’ on a board. Brands should ‘mingle’ and ‘get to know’ their customers. If you want to WOW your customers you need to get to know them first (generation they belong to, favourite channel to interact, etc.).

Market research helps us identify trends and bring new products to market. Case being is McDonalds who has recently introduced plant-based burgers based on market research and market demand for healthier options. Having real-time conversations with customers helps us refine and define the minor details that play a major part in the consumer’s decision making. After all, we are not only in the B2B (Business to Business) or just the B2C (Business to Consumer) but we are also now in the H2H (Human to Human) era.

Short Bio
Michael R. Virardi is a facilitator, speaker and best-selling author on public speaking, leadership and business culture. He is also a proud husband and father to three children. Working in over 19 countries and with some of the world’s most prestigious and recognized companies, such as Google, The American P&I Club, Microsoft and Ericsson, Michael has now become one of the most highly respected and in-demand speakers and trainers in all continents. He has written two best-selling books (“Positive Impact” and “Crisis? Let’s Beat it”) and is currently working on his third book on the topic of public speaking and presentation skills. He is also the creator of the public speaking e-course “Stand Up, Stand Out”. You can find Michael on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok where he shares daily insights and inspiration with his tens of thousands of followers.