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The First One to Commit to the Experience Wins

This week I’m visiting a client in Hartford, Connecticut. I needed a taxi from my hotel to the client’s location. Easy enough. The hotel bellman grabs a taxi from the street and I’m on my way. As we drive, the cabbie makes small talk: where are you from, how long are you staying, the weather, all that. Then he asks, “Do you have a ride to the airport tomorrow?”

Now, any of you that travel frequently for business will attest, this is not uncommon. This exchange usually ends up with you casually taking one of the cabbie’s business cards and him telling you, “Call me if you want a ride.” Usually, we don’t call. Why? Because it’s easier to go down to the lobby and grab a cab that’s already there.

This is where the story gets a bit different. When we got to my destination, this cabbie did, indeed, hand me his business card – but then he said, “I’ll set it up for you.” He asked for my first name, my cell number, and the time I’d like to be picked up. “You have my card. Unless I hear differently from you, I will pick you up at 6 a.m. at the hotel.”

I’ll come back to this story in a moment. First, I’d like to point out that it reminds me of the trouble many businesses have getting content-driven experiences into the hands of customers. The client I was visiting was struggling with the idea of gated versus ungated content. The internal debate was, “What kind of content should we require customers to provide information for before we give them access?” This question isn’t just relegated to marketing. My friend and CMI Creative Director Joe Kalinowski had a recent interaction he had with an Apple store. He called to see if a particular battery was in stock. Before they would answer the question, they asked him to provide detailed information to “verify him.” Yeah, you heard that right – they’re GATING the information of whether a product is in stock!

Similarly, last week, I went to the website of a software company that I use for music production. To retrieve the technical documentation, I had to “prove” that I owned that product by putting in the serial number and my personal information. Even if I didn’t own the product, what damage could I have done by viewing the manual?

When businesses focus on the experience, they often default to extracting value from people before they commit to providing value to them. As I told the marketers at my client, if we want to create an engaged subscriber/lead/opportunity, why not give audiences the valuable experience and THEN ask for their information so that they can receive future content just like it. Yes, it might reduce the number of conversions. But think of what it tells you when people do say yes. Why not give away the technical documentation, the manuals, and the detailed specifications? Do we really have a good reason for hiding that content behind a registration? Maaaaaaybe the answer is yes, but let’s at least ask ourselves the question.

Now, we come by our you-give-first mindset honestly. That’s how most business transactions work: customers get the product or service – the value – only after they hand over their money. It’s rare that you pay after you’ve received the value, although some businesses do work that way. Imagine giving your order to a waiter in a fine-dining establishment and him returning with your first round of drinks – and the check – saying, “If you’ll please pay up, I’ll put your order in.” Weird right?

Another business that is structured with the value due from the customer at the end is the taxi business. And that brings us to the conclusion of my story. This morning I received a text from the cabbie at 5:50 a.m. saying he was outside the hotel. “Take your time,” he said. When I went outside, he greeted me, put my bag in the car, and away we went. I paid him, as usual, at the destination.

It’s a subtle thing. It’s just a taxi ride, after all. But here’s the thing. I wanted to pay him. I wanted to give him a big tip. I wanted to keep his business card for my next trip. He had anticipated my need and arranged to take care of it. He had driven to the hotel, refused other possible fares, and waited for me to come out. He had provided noteworthy service before asking anything of me, trusting that I wouldn’t fail him.

He had committed to providing value first.

What would happen if you did the same with your customer’s experience?

Photo Credit: Flickr user Lee Turner

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