Creativity & Customer Service Excellence
Great innovations have been made by reversing conventional logic.
There are several take aways from this story:
- Customer service excellence
One of the key (and most successful) principles of creativity is reversal. Most toy dolls were once sold with a full set of costume changes; Barbie was the first to sell just the doll, with a separate set of optional clothing to be purchased separately; Domino’s was the first pizza chain to deliver to the customer; ships now have their cargo on stacked on the deck, in containers, rather than in a hold underneath the deck. And Hearst Castle reversed the normal visitor experience, by having the guides respond to questions, rather than deliver a script. This made the whole experience more interactive and interesting, and is the joint best experience I have ever had when joining a visitor group. The other exemplar of excellence? Visiting Chartres Cathedral as an 11-year old, where the tour guide didn’t explain how the cathedral was built – he demonstrated it, by getting the audience to be the roof; columns and buttresses, culminating in me dangling from the roofbeams! And again – another example of reversal – in this case, making the audience active, rather than passive.
Customer Service Excellence
The tour experience, as described, was the highlight, and created the lasting impression of customer service excellence. But there were other examples of excellence too…and again, a reversal. Instead of saying ‘no photographs please’, they encouraged everyone to take as many photos as possible, because they would certainly ‘sell’ the venue, whoever they were shown to. The tour had to be booked, and the size of each group was limited, and took place at a specific time, and was beautifully choreographed so that, although there were several tour parties ‘on site’ at the same time, our paths never crossed, so that throughout the tour it felt as though we were the only visitors getting the tour. And to me, this is customer service excellence in two ways: firstly, a strategic approach, so that everything is considered and integrated, so the customer journey is as integrated as possible. And secondly, the whole visit was framed from a ‘customer journey’ perspective; it was clear throughout that the whole design and experience had been based on answering this simple question: “what will delight the customer at this point?”
The two guides for my tour were phenomenal: they had an answer for every question asked; they clearly knew their stuff. And they seemed to genuinely love knowing it. Not in a ‘show off’ way, but simply by building a reputation of ‘being impressive’ – in this case, through knowledge. But they weren’t just dry reciters of facts and figures. They usually added interesting titbits and stories to embellish the question – which inevitably led to a follow up question. For example, when I asked about who the last person was to sit in that chair, others in the group asked about who else was in that meeting, and where they had sat, then someone asked about what they did after dinner…and so on and so on… And, without it ever being anything other than fun, it was clear that both the tour guides prided themselves on the quality and quantity of knowledge they had, and if one had answered, but the other had something to add, they would add it – so there was almost a friendly competition between the two guides. They were clearly motivated by knowledge, and the desire to pass it on in an entertaining way…
I was not the only one surprised by the way the tour was conducted. And because it was so different, and initially challenging, people were initially out of their comfort zone. No one wanted to be the first to ask a question – after all, that wasn’t their experience of touring museums. So this experience was a classic change: different from their norm, their expectations. But the guides persisted; they held the line. They explained that most people initially struggled because it was so unusual, then they said, q uite matter of factly, “OK, if there are no questions here, we’ll move on to the next room”. At that point someone said, “OK, before we do, I’d like to know…” – and we were off. The point here that if introducing change, you should expect discomfort, uncertainty and hesitation; by explaining that was typical, expected, and would become easier, the guides gave reassurance and confidence, without reverting to what was expected. In other words, they held their nerve – and of course, had plenty of previous experience to know just how to manage the change.
Hearst Castle is an amazing site – there are wow factors at every turn. It was visually stunning – so naturally photos will be a way of showing the venue, rather than trying to describe it. There was a shop, and you could buy postcards and photo books, but most people were happy taking their own photos – and throughout the tour, the guides would pause and say – “if anyone wants to take a photo at this point, please do” – and would make the time available for that – even pointing out the best angles for the best shot… Possibly the shop didn’t sell as many photos or postcards as it might have, but there’s no doubt that personalised photos from everyone in the group would be shared with family and friends, with perhaps more storytelling than would occur with anonymised and mass produced postcards.
The whole visit was a joy... and is easily the standout tour of my life – so far.
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