September 30, 2015
How Virgin America Created a Wow Customer Experience
Have you flown with Virgin America before? You should. The check-in area is like a hotel lobby. They have music playing. There’s a beautiful rug. And the whole process is beautifully simple. You get to the gate and the chairs are quirky and stylish. Your eyes wander over to the purple lighting that’s actually been proven to be calming, that’s why they chose it. When you board, you see “joke of the day” and the calming purple lighting…again. The touchscreens glisten from the back of every seat where you can order snacks whenever you want during the flight, and you can tell the flight attendants actually like being there. What has Virgin America done? They’ve created a wow customer experience.
What I’ve learned from starting three tech companies
I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but I’m going to… Technology isn’t the answer to building a great company. Creating a wow customer experience is. I used to think technology was the solution. That’s especially the temptation for us technologists and software people, to bicker all day about this app versus that app. You see “the next big thing” announced on TechCrunch and you’re like, “Yeah, our business needs that!” But do you think Virgin America was sitting around the conference room wondering “Hmm, what app do we need?!” No, they were asking “How can we disrupt the awful experience that is airline travel? And let’s think about everything in detail to make the customer experience as remarkable as possible.” Don’t get me wrong, technology makes up a large part of the customer experience, but the actual experience should come first. Customer experience first, technology second. Read on for a handful of lessons I’ve learned to create wow customer experiences like Virgin America, that’ll help your business stand out from the crowd.
Map the “interesting moments” in the customer journey
A fanatical focus on the customer journey is in, and it’s here to stay. Salesforce called 2015 “The Year of the Customer Journey” and popular business bloggers like John Jantsch from Duct Tape Marketing are creating ebooks about how to guide the customer journey from end-to-end. From the research perspective, Harvard Business Review found that organizations who “skillfully manage the entire experience reap enormous rewards: enhanced customer satisfaction, reduced churn, increased revenue, and greater employee satisfaction.” But what exactly is “the customer journey”? It’s this… The customer journey is the chronological set of learnings, decisions, and touchpoints that a person experiences as they first get to know your company, then hopefully become a customer, and eventually become a repeat buyer and referrer. The way to map it is to put yourself in your customer’s shoes and think through every step of their journey from stranger to lead to customer to promoter. This takes a ton of work, but it’s worth it. And it’s why companies like Apple, Amazon, and Zappos are killing it, because a fanatical focus on the customer experience has been built into their DNA from the beginning. Pro Tip: Focus on mapping out the first problem you can solve for potential customers to show value as fast as humanly possible. This is how you create the “wow” factor immediately and keep people coming back for more.
Pinpoint metrics that reveal the quality of the customer experience
What are the specific data points you can focus on to see how well your customer experience is performing? In Virgin America’s case, if they can decrease the amount of time it takes from check-in to boarding that can drastically improve the quality of the customer experience. Or take an app like Narrative for example, by injecting behavior-based messaging into their new user onboarding they cut the time it takes to become an active user in half, making the experience more efficient. To quantify success for your own business, focus on one key metric at a time where you can say “if this metric improves my customer’s experience will be better.” Weed out vanity metrics that don’t matter, or “bullshit metrics”, as Mixpanel would say. From there, think about the moments in the customer journey where you can make a dent in your newly defined key metrics. The experience you create doesn’t have to be perfect right out of the gate. Start with something basic, see the results, and make changes as you learn more about your customer.
Observe the experience through your customer’s eyes
I learned this essential lesson through creating the new user onboarding at Autopilot. We had mapped out all of the “interesting moments” in the customer journey and designed the experience we thought was best, but discovered there was a huge difference between the path we wanted users to take and what path they were actually taking. We wouldn’t have figured this out without the power of observation. Watching videos of real people using our site from FullStory and UserTesting helped us figure out ways to make the customer experience better. If you’re a brick and mortar business, observing customers is just as important. The world-class design firm IDEO are masters of this. They observe real people in real-life situations to find out what makes them tick, what confuses them, their likes and dislikes, and needs not currently addressed by current products or services. Often the most interesting insights into the customer experience come from the gap between what is said and what actually happens, which leads to the point that ties all of this together…
Customer experience first, technology second
We live in the “there’s an app for that” economy. For a lot us, when we encounter a problem like wanting to exercise more, actually getting things done, or becoming an author - we download an app. The trouble is, in more cases than we’d like to admit (myself included), the technology doesn’t solve the root problem. We’re still left with the hard work of going to the gym, following through on tasks, or actually writing. The same is true for business. Your CRM or marketing automation software or the hottest app on TechCrunch isn’t going to create a wow customer experience for you. You have to get a bunch of smart people in the same room, put yourself in the customer’s shoes, and think through every little detail to craft an amazing, remarkable, wow customer experience. What are your insights into how to create memorable experiences for customers? Do you have any lessons you’d add to the above? Let us know in the comments.