Want customers? Just make your sh*t work

Ari & Jessi at MIS

Me and Jessi Wortley Adler at MIS

How do you make a customer’s experience with your business so great that they want to keep you a part of their life and even promote you to their friends and family? Make the customer experience about what the customer needs instead of about what you think the customer wants.

I started thinking about this after I attended the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR race at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday. The subject moved to the front burner of my brain again after I heard about Steve Jobs resigning as CEO of Apple.

What do a race car track and a technology company have in common? They have fans — not just of the product they are selling but of themselves. They, and a couple of other companies that come to mind, have figured out what their customers want but also give customers what they need, which turns them into fans.

Let’s start with MIS. I’m not a big fan of NASCAR races and I had heard tales of long traffic backups getting into and out of MIS over the years. So, when I landed a couple of tickets for my wife and I to attend the Pure Michigan 400, I was more excited for her because she is a big NASCAR fan. I, on the other hand, was anxious about surviving the event and figured I’d probably just suck it up and enjoy the day for Jessi’s sake.

Now, granted, I called in a favor and was able to get access to areas not all fans get to visit. But my initial experience at the MIS website for visitor information and traveling in and out of the facility were the same for me as they would be for any customer. And that’s where MIS really shines. For example, the track has worked closely with government officials to improve ingress and egress with dramatic changes to traffic patterns. This has resulted, according to track officials, in dropping the time required to exit the track area from between five and seven hours down to about an hour and a half.

MIS logoAt their website, you can find all kinds of information, including a fan guide and 3D map of the facility. The Grand Stand Gate Policy on what fans can bring with them also is a big selling point. In most places these days, fans are treated like security risks, with the ability to carry anything with you to an event being severely curtailed. Instead, MIS understands that fans are going to spend hours there and they are going to have stuff with them. You can bring coolers, bags and equipment in with you. Sure, there are size restrictions, but they are quite generous. I especially liked the picture MIS put in its guest guide of what a fan carrying everything allowed would look like, to give you a better perspective on how to stay within the rules.

My point here is that MIS has figured out what fans want — to see a NASCAR race in Michigan. But they’ve also figured out what they need — the ability to get home at a reasonable hour, the ability to carry food, drink and other paraphernalia with them throughout their visit, and the need to feel like they are understood and appreciated.

Apple logo

Apple products come to mind when I think about this sort of customer experience, too. Sure, thanks to Steve Jobs we’ve seen the company grow over the years and become a leader in cutting-edge design and performance. But in addition to figuring out what people want, they’ve also figured out what we need. We need computers, tablets and smartphones that make life easier, not more complicated. Perhaps the best explanation of why someone can so easily become a fan of Apple I’ve ever heard is, “Their sh*t just works.”

That’s all we want as customers and we don’t want to have to struggle with your product or you.

I mentioned earlier that a couple of other companies come to mind when I think about this concept. When I sat down with pen and paper (yes, I still use those!) to force myself to think of top companies or products that I use and would recommend, Amazon.com and Evernote got jotted down immediately.

Amazon logoAmazon.com is still one of the easiest places to go if you want to search for and buy a product. The last time I was on that site to buy something, it took less than 10 minutes from the time one of my kids said, “Hey, it’s on sale!” to receiving an email telling me my order had been received and was being processed. My shopping experience was easy, even though I was paying with a combination of a credit card and rewards points. I got what I wanted — a good price on a product. But Amazon.com also gave me what I needed — simplicity and speed.

Evernote logoEvernote is a fantastic product for keeping all those notes, receipts and other forms of minutiae with you and synchronized across multiple devices. It’s one of my favorite companies because they give me what I want — a way to easily keep track of the many scattered bits of information in my life across the many technology platforms that I use. But they also give me what I need — an easy user interface, speed, and a continually improving product that keeps pace with what I want (sometimes before I even know I want it).

So the next time you have a brainstorming meeting about what you and your colleagues can do to bring in more customers or keep the ones you have happy and coming back, consider the basic desires everyone has. We want to be appreciated and understood. We want  a rewarding experience and we don’t want a big hassle on our hands to get it.

In short, whether you produce widgets or provide a professional service, just make your sh*t work.