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It’s All About the Experience
How to make sure every client encounter ends with a "Wow! That was great!"

You and your friends go to a nice restaurant, you have a glass of wine, your favourite dish from the menu and maybe a special dessert. You’re there for two hours, you have a wonderful time and the bill comes to about 250 bucks. Now ask yourself, what did you buy?

Was it the wine you could buy for 17 dollars or the 68 dollars worth of groceries? No, of course not. So was it the service of having that nice food prepared and brought to your table? Well, closer, but not really. Was it not having to do the dishes? Good point, but no, that’s not it either.

It was the wonderful time. You and your date and your friends bought the pleasant atmosphere, the friendly, attentive service, the beautiful presentation, the stress-free conversation, the happy feeling that – for two hours, at least – all’s right with the world.

You bought the experience.

I’m guessing you already knew this, even if you haven’t thought about it in those terms. But, while the nice-restaurant example is a pretty obvious one, the fact is that “buying the experience” goes way beyond that. It’s the new reality all across our economy.

It’s called the “experience economy,” a term that has been around at least since an article on the subject came out in the Harvard Business Review in 1998.

Here’s the thing, though: Those people and those businesses that have figured out that the economy is all about the experience are the ones that are succeeding and growing and attracting clients and setting new standards for what work and business mean today.

What does it mean for us? Let’s start by sitting back, clearing our minds of pre-conceptions, and asking ourselves five key questions:

  • What does the client expect, and how can we deliver it?
  • What can we do to go beyond the client’s expectations that will delight them?
  • What parts of our interaction does the client like, and how can we expand on that and make it even better?
  • What parts of that interaction does the client not like, and how can we make it positive, or make it easier, or do it for them – or cut it out altogether?
  • If we really can’t make it better, can we rethink the whole thing and come up with an entirely different model that will be a positive experience?

It’s not just restaurants – most of them get it, and those that didn’t get it are long gone. Hair salons had it figured out years ago. For boutiques and jewelers and high-end retail, it’s become almost a religion.

But it’s also financial services, or electronic communications, or servicing vehicles at the dealership or, yes, administering and delivering employee benefits.

There was a time not too long ago when 75% of Canada’s economy was manufacturing, mining, agriculture and transportation. Today, 66% of the economy is services, and 74% of jobs are in the service sector.

Service. Providing a service to people. Two-thirds of the economy. And what we do for a living. Also note that even sectors usually thought of as primarily non-service have an important service component. An important opportunity to provide a positive experience.

It’s really about building on the positives and cutting out the negatives. Taking the opportunity to provide a memorable, personalized service – less “Next!” and more “Good morning, Ma’am, how can I help you?”

We all know good service when we see it, and we all know bad service. But how do you describe it? I spent quite a bit of time online looking up descriptions of “good service” and there are quite a number of lists out there. I’ve boiled it down to what I think is the top six characteristics of positive-experience service.

Right now: This has to be the keystone of good service and a positive experience. When the client comes to you, he or she wants something; if you build your entire service system around the concept of, “Certainly, right this way,” you will not go far wrong. This applies across the board, top to bottom, from the person who answers the phone, to the person who greets you at the door, to the representative they meet with – and to the website designed to have the answers people are looking for.

Respect: It can be friendly service, helpfulness, good manners, polite responses, personal service, a smile, empathy – whatever. It all adds up to respect.

Attitude: If every single person in your organization understands that the client service model is “I’m here to provide a service to you and happy for the opportunity” and not “you are here to impose on my time and make me do work” then you’ve got it covered.

Knowledge: The person you put up front to talk to clients has to know what he or she is talking about, and has to have the answers or know where to find them.

Adaptability: Anyone who deals with clients has to be able to deal with every situation, every type of person, and every style of communication. The client is in a hurry or not, in a good mood or a bad mood, is happy or frustrated – it doesn’t matter, this interaction has to end with a happy client.

Goal orientation: The client comes to you and wants something (whether they know it or not, whether they can express it or not). It’s your job to identify what they want and make sure they get it, now, and that they leave happy.

We can all identify with the restaurant-as-experience example (which is why I used it at the start). But what does “experience” have to do with benefits management? Most of what we do is routine, right?

Not right. People expect routine. But every interaction is an opportunity to shine, and some of them are opportunities to go above and beyond. When we go to bat for a client, when I deliver the cheque to the hospital room and I hear six months later that the employer is still singing our praises, all the routine is out the window and only the experience is remembered.


There are a lot of financial facts to keep track of – here’s a handy sheet with the important amounts and dates to help you manage your finances: 2020 Financial Facts at your Fingertips.


If there is a topic that you would like me to write about, please email me at bill@penmore.com.

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