HUMANS ARE AWESOME
Written by: Hanadi El Sayyed
Imagine this. You walk into a store to buy an item you came for, and as you are checking out you notice that the cashier has her really fun ways in folding the receipt and handing it to you. You like how she does it, her hands are swift, she is smiling. You smile too and feel wowed by her light-hearted way of wishing you an awesome day and her hope to see you again. You feel happy to have experienced this subtle moment. And as you’re taking your bag, you also notice that her colleague handling the customer next to you folded and handed the receipt in exactly the same ‘enjoyable to watch’ manner. You walk away wondering was this just the employees having a good day or is it by design. It’s actually both because next time you visit the same store or another branch, you experience the same moment again with exactly the same excitement delivered by employees. It’s almost ceremonial. You enjoy it every time.
That’s how some customer-centric brands apply the science of rituals to reinforce their brand essence and message with their customers and with intent. Well-designed and popular brand-specific rituals are virtually impossible for competitors to imitate, no matter how similar or even superior their own products may be. Think of the name writing ritual on your coffee cup at Starbucks. You will find it very strange if you walk into any Starbucks and the barista doesn’t ask your name. For the foreseeable future, Starbucks will keep socializing new generations of coffee drinkers with this ritual. This will always remain a Starbucks ritual and any brand that does it is just an imitation.
The secret to the success of these rituals with customers goes a layer deeper than the activity itself and the underlying purpose with which the ritual is created and the psychological impact it has on customers externally. It originates internally with the employees, the extent to which they believe in the brand, understand the purpose of the ritual and the desired impact, and are clear about their role as key stakeholders to its success. The ritual then itself becomes an authentic manifestation of employees believing in that purpose; understanding how it creates a distinguished customer experience; and finding it meaningful to leave a memorable impression in the customers’ minds. Designed carefully, these rituals are a visualization of being customer-centric while building an emotional bridge between the employee and the customer.
I once worked with a brand to design and implement a bespoke ritual system to delight their customers at their destinations, which then went on to become their own signature way to connect all their destinations together and strengthen the uniqueness of their offering. The specific brand elements we decided to ritualize required we go that layer deeper. To the Employees. To succeed, it was important that employees internalize the purpose of the ritual, connect it to the organization vision and values, and make it their own. With proper training and a robust communication plan to integrate it in the organization culture, only then it became possible to make it stick with the employees – which is a prerequisite to making it stick and catch on with customers – and subsequently scale up and sustain the effort (as the organization continue since then to evolve it and embed it in its employee experience). Proper KPIs were put in place to measure the impact on customer experience and employee engagement, and data from measurements was used to loop back to fine-tune and improve and provide insights about the correlation between both.
Ritualizing brands is a great way to offer consumers the chance to interact with brand experientially. The outcome is a deep, abiding relationship that customers build with the brand and that becomes an integral part of their lives. That’s how some brands transcend a product or a service to become cult-like. Think Disney, Starbucks, etc.. That said, organizations that succeed in this are not just focused externally but internally as well and with equal levels of intent and emphasis. This is one of the most powerful tools such organizations use to
Brand rituals can be a deep source of competitive advantage provided they are consciously and purposefully integrated into the organization culture and embedded in the employee experience and not only in the brand strategy and execution.
A great quote by Muriel Barbery from her novel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, reads “When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things. Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?”. It is a beautiful description of how a ritual, no matter how simple it may be, can have an eternal influence on us captured in one single moment.
Does your brand have its own customer rituals? How does your organization culture enable their execution externally?
Hanadi El Sayyed
Hanadi El Sayyed has 18 years of experience as a Leader in Human Resources. Her career includes key HR leadership roles and professional consulting with large regional organizations. Her experience ranges from partnering with business to drive business strategies to ensuring the realization of organizational people visions through the development and implementation of future driven, fit for purpose HR practices.