We’ve probably all heard some story about over-the-top customer experience in our day. Like the story about the family on vacation at the Ritz Carlton, Bali. The family of a child with a severe food allergy was on vacation. The food they’d brought for their child spoiled en route. When they arrived, the manager of the hotel consulted with his executive chef who was unaware of any shops on the island that stocked the specialty items that had spoiled. But he did recall a shop in Singapore, where his mother-in-law lived, which stocked food the child could safely eat. So what did he do? He called his mother-in-law had her get the items and jump on a plane to Bali. For those of you who are curious, that’s a 3-plus-hour flight!

Stories such as these stand out for obvious reasons. But they don’t scale. That’s why companies need to focus on delivering great experiences, day in and day out, with products and services that meet customer needs, are easy to use, and are enjoyable.

It’s this last piece — enjoyability — that’s so hard to pin down. Why? First off, enjoyability is subjective. What one person thinks of as fun, another person thinks of as foolish. Skydiving, anyone? (I’ve tried it and think it’s kind of cool, but maybe it’s not your thing.) What’s more, many of the things that we think benefit customers, such as providing seemingly unlimited product configurations or service choices, are actually the opposite of enjoyable because they cause anxiety and hurt the decision-making process. And to top things off, it’s hard to sustain an enjoyable experience from start to finish. Ever been to a theater to watch an otherwise-satisfying movie only to be disappointed with the ending? How about being treated like royalty when considering signing up for a service only to be disappointed by how you were treated once you became a paying customer?

The simple fact is that in today’s experience-based economy, things like price don’t matter as much as experience. It’s making an emotional connection with customers that matters. What does matter? Delivering on people’s four fundamental needs:

  • Comfort. Comfort is characterized by a desire to remove stress and reduce complexity. Feelings associated with comfort are reassurance, serenity, security, and safety. 
  • Connection. People want to connect to other people. In the experience realm, that means things like conversation and shared experiences.
  • Variety. Variety is not only the spice of life but also the key for growth. But it’s not about having unlimited choices. It’s about having options.
  • Uniqueness. Even though people want to connect to other human beings, they also want to feel unique and special in the world. This sense of uniqueness allows us to have optimistic expectations about our own chances, even when people around us struggle. 

So how can you deliver emotionally engaging and enjoyable experiences that serve these basic human needs? Start by:

  • Measuring the right things. It might seem strange to start with measurement, but if you're reading this, the likelihood is that your business delivers something to customers, and you want to start with an understanding of where you stand. You can’t tell if someone enjoyed an experience by looking at paths through a website or conversion data. You have to get at user perceptions and then connect the dots to these other metrics.
  • Telling a story. People don’t want to connect with brands. They want to connect with like-minded people who share their values. People need to see themselves as part of a greater story. And the story needs to be woven across time and touchpoints. Knowing that you are like others creates comfort and connection. Variety and uniqueness come from showing differentiated qualities and the special status or feeling that comes from being treated as an individual. 
  • Sweating the details. It’s not only what you do but also how you do it that means the difference between ho-hum and wow. Little things like feedback and social proof reassure and connect and can mean the difference between someone moving on in a process or abandoning it altogether. 

If you'd like to learn more, I’ll be sharing these thoughts with data and examples at Forrester's Forum For Customer Experience Professionals West in Los Angeles on October 9th and 10th and again at Forrester's Forum For Customer Experience Professionals EMEA in London on November 19th and 20th. I hope to see you there.