Lessons From The Overlook: Give Customers Subtle Nudges

Note: Lessons from The Overlook is a monthly update on lessons learned from owning a vacation rental property in the Southern California mountain town of Idyllwild. It's a hands-on opportunity to apply some of the techniques I advise my clients to use. You can find past updates here.

There are certain things at The Overlook that require an explanation.

For example, guests need to know how to connect to the WiFi network, operate the television, or follow the checkout procedures.

Sally and I have seen other vacation rental properties take various approaches to this type of guest communication. Some post large signs throughout the house that are unsightly and feel a little unfriendly. Others bury the information in guest books that people rarely read. Still others rely on long-winded instructions sent via email prior to arrival.

We've chosen a communication strategy that we hope is a little better for our guests—the gentle nudge.


The Problem with the Hard Shove

To understand the gentle nudge, it's helpful to consider the hard shove.

Many companies take this opposite approach with their customers. It often involves a large, unfriendly sign. Here's an example from a convenience store:


It sometimes involves a small, unfriendly sign, like this one in a frozen yogurt shop:

This restaurant used multiple, unfriendly signs to greet customers:

All of these felt like a hard shove. These signs were all erected in an attempt to combat a problem that someone in management did not like. The signs are universally unfriendly and make customers feel unwelcome.


The Art of the Gentle Nudge

There are a few principles we follow to give our guests gentle nudges.

Principle #1: Appear at the moment of need. A good nudge appears unobtrusive until a guest needs it. Then the nudge suddenly appears to help.

For example, pine sap is a fact of life in the mountains. Go outside and there's a good chance you'll get a little sap on your shoe or on your fingers. So our guests are likely to be thinking about pine sap removal as they enter the house.

Hand sanitizer gets sap off quite easily. So we've stationed bottles by the front and back doors and put a small label on each one.


Principle #2: Get to the point. A good nudge gets straight to the point. Customers really won't read anything that's too long.

We put up a sign with WiFi instructions right over the kitchen counter. Getting online is one of the first things many people do when they enter a vacation home. Many people will beeline it to the counter to put down their stuff when they arrive, so we put the WiFi sign there.

The challenge was our first sign was too wordy and WiFi instructions were buried in the middle:

We learned through guest feedback that the sign just blended in to the scenery. Keep in mind that guests have just arrived and they are distracted. So we made a new sign with clearer wording. We'll see how this one works.

Principle #3: Guide people to the next step.

We provide a television, DVD player, bluetooth speaker, and even the ability to connect to your Netflix account via our small media center.

It would be unsightly to post the instructions for all of these on outside of the media cabinet, so we opted for a smaller sign leading people inside. There, our guests will find instructions along with the remotes for each device.

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One small thing to note is a nudge doesn't necessarily need to be a sign. It can be anything that gently points your customer in the right direction. 

For instance, we recently put power strips underneath the beds in two rooms. Neither of these rooms has an outlet conveniently located next to the bed. We plugged alarm clocks into the power strips to make it easy for guests to find the power and for guests to unplug the alarm clocks (some guests do this to darken the room).


Find Your Nudges

Gentle nudges can give your guests a more frictionless, enjoyable experience.

The key is to see things through your customer's eyes. Experience your product or service the way a customer would. Observe how customers interact with your product or service. Listen carefully to feedback.

I'll be the first to admit we haven't figured everything out yet. It is a constant, ongoing process to adapt to customer needs. Then again, that's part of the fun!

Domino's Brilliant Pizza Emoji Ordering Plan Needs Work

Domino's has always been about easy pizza.

Founded in 1960, they built their reputation on a 30 minutes or less guarantee. That lasted until 1993, when a jury awarded $79 million to a woman whose car was struck by a delivery driver running a red light.

They've long been a staple on college campuses. My school had a deal with Domino's where you could order pizza using your meal plan. My nutrition took a serious hit.

Domino's recently upped their game by unveiling their Domino's AnyWare program. It allows you to order pizza via a multitude of innovative channels:

  • Text
  • Tweet
  • Smart TV (Samsung)
  • Your car (Ford Sync)
  • Smart watch
  • Voice (through the Domino's app)

The concept is brilliant.

Domino's is trying to make it as easy as possible to order a pizza. The most talked about option is the ability to order a pizza by either texting or Tweeting a pizza emoji.

Unfortunately, the execution seems to be a bit bumpy.

In May, Khushbu Shah published a post on Eater called I Ordered Domino's With a Pizza Emoji and It Took Three Hours.

Shah detailed a painstaking process of setting up an Easy Order account and then having to place an initial order before being able to order with an emoji.

Even when that got sorted out it didn't quite work.

You could be easily blame Shah's experience on a few growing pains for a new service. Lessons learned and that sort of thing. After all, Domino's operates 11,900 stores around the world and delivers more than a million pizzas each day.

Something's bound to go wrong once in awhile, right?

Fast forward to last week. Gigi Peccolo published a post on the OneReach blog detailing her experience trying to order a pizza via text. 

Peccolo's experience was remarkably similar to Shah's. It was painstaking, counterintuitive, and filled with several seemingly unnecessary steps. She thoughtfully included screenshots on her post so you can see the back-and-forth.

It's obvious that a phone call would have been much easier.

The concept is great. It's just strange that three months go by from the Eater post to the OneReach post and not much has changed in the process.

Finally, there's an unintended consequence of ordering pizza via Twitter. People will know that you're ordering pizza.

The big danger for most of us is this may attract a few unexpected house guests. If you're Bryce Petty, the New York Jets rookie quarterback, you might take a little flack for ordering Domino's in New York.

The trouble with magic metrics

Executives like the idea of using a single magic metric to evaluate customer service because it’s so simple. “Do well at this,” the thinking goes, “and you’re doing well.”

Unfortunately, the real magic happens when you start peeling back the layers of your data to find out what’s really going on. If you look carefully at so-called single score metrics like the Net Promoter System, you’ll realize the score is just a starting point for evaluation. It’s the underlying analysis and continuous drive to improve that’s really important.

For example, a few months ago I blogged about my experience with Verizon’s Global Traveler Program. I’d rate my likelihood to recommend their service as a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10, but this rating doesn’t reveal that my score is really a sum of good, great, and poor experiences. A closer look at experiences like mine is needed for Verizon to clearly understand how to make their service truly exceptional while cutting down on costly calls to technical support.

Not All Promoters Are Loyal
I really enjoy reading the Wall Street Journal. Their informative articles help me stay on top of the news I care about while their style really captures my attention. I follow them on Twitter to get the latest updates on their news coverage and I consider it a plus when I stay at a hotel that provides free copies to their guests.

So why did I recently cancel my subscription?

Simply put, subscribing to the Wall Street Journal had become a hassle. You could classify me as a “Promoter” if you used a Net Promoter System because I would certainly recommend that you read their news coverage. However, I’d give the Wall Street Journal low marks on the amount of effort required to subscribe to them via my iPad.

Customer Effort Score
One of the latest magic metrics to gain popularity is called the Customer Effort Score. It essentially gauges how easy or difficult it is to do business with a company. According to research published by the Corporate Executive Board, Customer Effort is a better predictor of loyalty than a Net Promoter Score.

Reducing effort is where the Wall Street Journal could have saved my business. I subscribed via my iPad because I liked the promise of reading the paper wherever I went and getting updated content throughout the day. However, they frequently released updates to their iPad app, which meant that I couldn’t read the paper until I performed the update. This got more and more annoying until I finally decided the price of the subscription wasn’t worth the extra effort.

Ironically, cancelling my subscription also required more effort than necessary since the only way to cancel a subscription is to call. Their website states this is for security reasons, but the truth is they want to take one more shot at keeping your business by making you speak to a retention specialist.

So, just make things easy, right?!
Not so fast. Let’s compare one of my favorite examples, McDonalds vs. In-N-Out Burger. Getting a burger at McDonalds is relatively easy. The drive-through line moves pretty quickly and most orders placed at the counter are delivered almost instantly. On the other hand, there’s always a wait to get your food at In-N-Out.

If we judged the two by Customer Effort alone, McDonalds would win hands down. The problem with that assumption is that you’d then be stuck with a McDonalds hamburger which consistently scores poorly in consumer taste tests. As legions of devoted In-N-Out fans will tell you, getting a tasty In-N-Out burger served by a cheerful employee in a clean store is absolutely worth the extra effort.

There Are Three Kinds of Lies
One of my favorite quotes is from Mark Twain:

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

My take-away is data can be very useful, but it can also obscure the truth. Customer service metrics like Net Promoter Score or Customer Effort Score are fantastically useful tools, but achieving a certain score should never be the ultimate goal.

If all you want to do is achieve a certain Net Promoter Score, I can show you a dozen tricks to make that happen. For instance, one enterprising store manager at the Gap offered a 20% discount in exchange for a 10 on their Net Promoter survey. That will certainly improve the score but not necessarily the service.

The most successful companies first ask, “How can we do better” and then find the right data to help them continuously improve.