The Holy Grail of customer experience for many firms goes beyond useful and easy to interactions that create an emotional connection with the customer. That’s not easy to do, but step 1 is creating an experience that is at least enjoyable. Now, before you object . . . I’m not talking Disney-level enjoyable here — just generally pleasant and maybe even a little fun. Two brands that proved it’s possible with high scores on the CXi’s “enjoyable” criteria are:

  • USAA (bank): 84%.
  • Courtyard by Marriott: 83%.

It’s interesting to me that these two brands interact with customers very differently but have nearly identical scores. Most of USAA’s interactions happen at arm’s length through self-service channels. In my mind, those interactions can be harder to make enjoyable because they don’t involve connecting with another human being. Talking to a nice person is inherently pleasant, but what makes a routine website or mobile experience enjoyable once any initial newness of a technology wears off?

I think part of USAA’s success comes from constant innovation —  there’s always something new to play around with. And the few interactions members do have with company employees stand out because of the firm’s relentless focus on care and empathy in every contact. That gives the brand an overall sense of personality that is pleasant and enjoyable to work with even (maybe especially) under stressful conditions like the aftermath of a car accident.

Courtyard by Marriott interactions involve being face to face with staff at a hotel, but that doesn’t automatically make them enjoyable. In fact, the Courtyard brand caters to business travelers, which means its scores are less likely to be influenced by customers who are just happy to be on vacation. (As a frequent business traveler myself, I know how unenjoyable that lifestyle can be even at the nicest hotel!)

So what have they done? I don’t know for sure, but perhaps it’s partly the attention Marriott paid to details in an upgrade of the brand's public spaces. In 2008, Courtyard by Marriott worked with IDEO on a redesign project where “fun” was explicitly one of the goals. According to the design firm's website, the guiding principles for this work included “let personality shine,” “enable guests to feel comfortable in public spaces using subtle gestures,” and “aim to help guests feel refreshed, refueled, and recharged.” These principles were explicitly infused into the lobby design through elements like a redesigned café and welcome podiums that allow more direct and personable interactions between staff and guests. This explicit connection between the emotions you want to create and the methods by which you'll create them is critical, but it's totally absent from many of the experience plans I see.

While many firms need to focus on meeting customers’ needs and being easy to do business with first, customer experience pros looking toward the future should think about how they'll differentiate when those basics become a commodity. My colleague Ron Rogowski has done some great work on designing emotional digital experiences and firms like Experience Engineering are working to bring discipline to the process of identifying and designing for emotions in addition to functional needs.

Has your company found a way to increase its enjoyability factor in customer interactions? If so, how?