On Tuesday, I wrote about how experiences contribute to happiness more than objects ever can. How we can improve our happiness and quality of life by focusing on acquiring experiences rather than buying more stuff. This subject often comes up when I’m talking with someone thinking about making a career change. Moving the decision away from defining success in terms of only money to understanding the experiences that enhance your life can help to identify career and lifestyle elements to focus on. But what if your company’s success, and your career success, depends on selling products to customers? What if you are a maker or an entrepreneur looking to build your customer base?
Start by building a community of people rather than a list of customers. Focusing on experiences does not necessarily mean we shouldn’t buy things. We need objects in our life – to live, to work, and to have fun. But we can focus on providing great experiences for our customers that improve the overall value of the objects that our customers do buy. Allow our customers to focus on the experiences in their lives, and how your products enhance that experience.
Give your customer a memorable experience.
While sitting in a restaurant a couple of days ago, I couldn’t help but overhear a man at the next table talking to several work colleagues. He was telling the story of his experience with the service and support he received from Apple. He didn’t just say he got good service, but told a very detailed story – going through the experience step by step. It was clear that he had told this story any number of times before. The experience was important to him, and stayed fresh in his memory. As he spoke, you could tell he felt valued as a customer, and that he felt good about not only the original purchase, but about the past and future interactions with the company and any future products he would surely buy.
Build a community for your customers.
Not only would this man very likely be a future Apple customer, he would also be a part of the Apple community. People don’t line up outside of Apple stores when a new Apple product comes out just to buy a new phone. There are much easier ways to buy a new phone. They come to be part of the event, part of the community. They share their experiences, take photos, and have a great time. They’re part of the club. They love to be the first to get the devices, to try out the new features and then they become “thought leaders” among the customer community.
Of course, Apple is legendary when it comes to its customer experience and the loyalty it drives. But anyone can build a meaningful customer experience. At the Pioneer Nation 2015 entrepreneur conference last month, I really enjoyed listening to a speech by Marcus Harvey, founder and owner of Portland Gear (@Portland, portlandgear.com). His company makes T-shirts and other clothing with Portland logos on them. But what he really makes is community. As he said in his talk, “anyone can sell T-shirts.” What his company sells instead is an “in-person experience” designed around the company’s Portland identity. His customers are part of the Portland community, whether they live there or not. He holds meetups and events to sell his shirts. He uses Instagram and Twitter to encourage his customers to post photos of themselves wearing the shirts. His customers meet each other at these events, and they become evangelists for Portland, and for his company. His customers even came to his rescue when his Instagram account was hacked! Now that’s loyalty.
Build loyalty by maintaining and enhancing the customer experience.
Marcus creates customer meetups around a specially decorated vintage microbus. These meetups are like reunions – people come for more than just a shirt. Be creative with your customer experiences. There are many ways you can maintain your relationship with your customers before and after they purchase a product. Provide events, contests, and freebies. Send out newsletters or provide customer only websites. Tell stories about customers who use the products to enhance their life. But don’t try “engineer” something to go “viral”. That never seems to work, and can backfire. Focus instead on creating an experience that will be meaningful, that will enhance and improve the lives of your customers. Most importantly, it must be an authentic experience that represents you, your company, and your customers’ values. Don’t lie about your products to your customers, or make promises you can’t keep. Instead, isn’t it better to really want to improve your customers’ lives? Then you can engage your customers and build experiences through your products and services that really do make a difference.