As customers, we often don’t get what we expect to get. This can happen towards both extremes: at times we are unexpectedly seduced, at other times we are left feeling deeply underwhelmed. The contrast between such opposing experiences provides valuable insight into how companies should strive to interact with their customers.
Consider the following two examples of recent experiences I had. The first is an instance of being pampered beyond all expectations. It happened at a dentist’s office, one of the places where I would least expect to be pampered. In fact it is a place where most of us go with considerable reluctance, which makes my experience all the more remarkable. Here is what happened. I was visiting family in Gulfport, Mississippi and scheduled a teeth cleaning during my stay at a nearby dental facility. My perspective going in was to endure the hour of mild to medium discomfort and to get the procedure over with for another six months. To my surprise, I was led into a room with decent music and ambiance and invited to recline on an electric massaging chair. While the chair was doing its magic the dental hygienist performed the cleaning. But that wasn’t all. Simultaneously, a colleague entered the room and submerged my hands in hot wax, a pleasant cleansing procedure I never experienced before. So there I was, ready to endure some pain for an hour. Instead, I was treated to an hour of massage and wax-based pampering, which made me forget all about any discomfort the teeth-cleaning may have caused.
Now let’s turn to the second example, which is from another service setting. It took place at a haircutting salon in Europe. I must confess I don’t particularly enjoy getting a haircut, except for one thing: The preliminary shampooing. It can often be like a mini head-massage. So when I went to the salon in question I was looking forward to this initial part. My expectations rose further as the barber instructed his assistant to administer the shampooing, thinking that since this was her only task she would be extra attentive. Sadly not. Not only was the water she used scolding hot, but during the entirety of the wash she held the water sprayer in such a way that its metal tubing was loudly grating against the side of the washbasin, which my head also happened to be resting on. Between the disagreeable water temperature and the throbbing noise I felt deeply put off even before the haircutting itself started.
Let’s reflect on the takeaways from these two stories. In the first instance I was unexpectedly pampered when least anticipating to be. The dental office transformed an unpleasant experience into a treat. It converted me from a first time client to an immediate fan in such a way that I would be compelled to recommend it to others. And here is the kicker: The price of the cleaning was in line with the market norm for such a procedure, meaning that I did not have to pay a premium for the experience. Yet giving more was smart business for the dental office as well. Unlike traditional dental-care centers which operate as standalone facilities, this one was part of a wellness and rejuvenation center—so the wax treatment and massage I received were smart cross-promotions for other services of the center. They insure that clients not only come back regularly for teeth-cleaning, but also that they are sufficiently tempted to visit in between cleanings for a wide variety of other treatments.
In contrast, the hair salon butchered a perfect pampering opportunity and therefore let me disconnect emotionally. What is especially inexcusable is that the assistant did not even bother to consider the essence of the client experience she was delivering, nor was she instructed to do so. She looked at her job as providing solely the functionality of washing hair, irrespective of how it actually came across to the recipient.
The valuable lesson here is that any point of contact between your offering and your customers should be viewed as a platform for pampering. The slightest hint of it can grab your customers emotionally and endear them to you, while its absence can cause irreparable harm and disconnect. To illustrate the power of pampering, consider this: My experience at the dental office was so compelling that I would go back even if the cleaning itself wasn’t as good as elsewhere. And no matter how great of a haircut I might have received at the salon, the washing fiasco made it difficult for me to ever want to return. So there you have it. Our emotional primers drive our perceptions of quality. And who doesn’t enjoy and take note of a little pampering?