Thursday, February 17, 2011

Delight Your Customers

After giving a presentation on building premium media experiences up in Seattle earlier today, I'm sitting in SeaTac airport right now on a lengthy delay due to bad weather in San Francisco. I'm flying Virgin America, and the folks at the desk let us know that our 7:00 flight will likely be delayed until 10:20 due to weather. However, since the weather could change at any moment, the flight may take off at any time, and we should check in every 15 minutes to make sure we don't miss the flight. So, that means that not only is my flight delayed for 3 hours, but I'm stuck in the boarding area.

The agent (who I later learned is named Angie), also announced "Please check in every 15 minutes – we'll do everything we can to notify you if the departure time changes." I rolled my eyes at this statement – how many times have I heard airlines promise to do "everything they can" for me, when they actually mean they'll do absolutely nothing for me? Feeling a bit snarky, I walked up to Angie and told her that I'd like to go get some dinner at a restaurant in the airport. I asked her whether she would send me a text message if the departure time changed. She replied, "I can't text you, but I'd be happy to call your cell phone!"

I was floored. Perhaps I'm too jaded an air traveler, but it's so rare to hear a high-level promise like that from an airline and actually see people on the ground follow through on it with such personalized service. I happily went on my way to a nice relaxed dinner, and despite the nasty delay that will get me into SFO after the BART stops running, I feel like a very happy customer right now.

One of the greatest advantages that small companies in insurgent positions in the market have over their larger competitors is the ability to discard far-reaching policies and bureaucratic edicts. Instead, these smaller, more agile organizations can empower their employees on the ground to adapt to the situation at hand, and just do whatever it takes to delight each customer they encounter. These type of organizations understand that the best marketing mechanism they posses are the daily interactions they have with each of their customers. To quote Cake, these organizations "use a machete to cut through red tape".

I like to think that when we at Vertigo interact with our customers, we take a very similar attitude towards the way we work. Not being bound by the restrictive rules typical of a larger organization gives us the freedom to experiment with new approaches that make sense for each client, whether that be a new architecture, unusual support hours, or a design process that eschews the usual conventions. As an organization constantly on the leading/bleeding edge of new technologies, we're always trying to strike a good balance between breaking new ground and finding an efficient way to put our best practices into place on a larger scale. To me, the key is to preserve the ability of each project team to adapt to the circumstances of their particular client's needs, while still making use of established patterns wherever possible to save time and add polish to existing features.

Hats off to Angie and to Virgin America for continuing to serve as an example for nimble, small organizations who win by delighting their customers!

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