3 ways Les Schwab is nailing the customer experience…and how you can too!

As I was driving in to work at the Masterworks office last week, I suddenly felt my car start to shudder. Before I knew it (and after the least skillful tire change you can imagine), I found myself sitting in the waiting room of my local tire repair shop.

While I was killing time playing games on my phone and reading mindless BuzzFeed articles (Don’t judge. I know you do it too.), I noticed that Les Schwab had put some effort into improving their waiting room experience since the last time I was there. In addition to the customary television and instant coffee, they had installed a free cellphone charging station. And it was no ordinary cellphone charging station. (Which would have been great by itself!) It was a charging station powered by a car battery.

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Genius! Even though I didn’t end up needing to use the charging station myself, I was struck by how helpful this simple addition could be for someone who was unexpectedly spending their day waiting for their car to be repaired. This is a great example of customer experience design.

We can all learn a few important lessons about improving our customer experience from our friends at Les Schwab. What exactly did they do differently?

1. They LOOKED at their entire customer experience, not just the parts they are known for.

If I asked you to tell me what Les Schwab does, free cellphone charging probably wouldn’t make your top 10 list. I’d also venture to guess that you won’t see it featured as a major brand differentiator or a selling point for potential customers.

However, for the person who walked in with a dead cellphone needing to call their spouse and make sure that it was OK to spend hundreds of unplanned dollars on new tires, that charging station might have upgraded a onetime customer to a lifetime customer. There are no unimportant parts of your customer experience. Everything, down to the tiniest detail, oozes your values to your supporters. Nothing can afford to be overlooked.

YOU can ask: “Where are the unexpected opportunities to make our supporters’ lives better?”

2. They ASKED: “What kinds of needs do our customers have that we’re not currently addressing?”

The easy thing to do here would be to try anticipating the needs of your supporters yourself and just making the changes you think are helpful. There’s nothing wrong with that. I try to make sure there are a couple extra rolls of toilet paper in the bathroom when we have guests over because it’s a given that people will need to use it at some point.

However, I would guess that somewhere along the line, one of the higher-ups at Les Schwab said, “Here’s a crazy idea. Our customers sometimes sit in our lobby for hours on end. Why don’t we ASK THEM what would make their experience more enjoyable?” At the end of the day, you are not the best-equipped person to say what would give your supporters a better experience with your organization. They are.

Additionally, by targeting a scenario that is often a bad experience (waiting around for hours to pay a bunch of money for repairs that you don’t want with money that you might not have), Les Schwab was able to start transforming a negative brand association into a good one.

YOU can ask: “Are we talking to our supporters and asking how we can improve their experience?”

3. They MET THE NEED in a way that reinforced their brand: car services + neighborly helpfulness.

It still would have been helpful to have the charging station even if it wasn’t being powered by a huge car battery. (Not nearly as cool but still helpful.) But the fact that they went the extra mile took it from a good customer experience to a good brand-building customer experience.

On their website, Les Schwab says that they want to be “like a hometown neighbor—reliable, valued, trustworthy.” By meeting a real need of their customers in a way that was unique to them, they created a meaningful experience that is likely to “stick” in the minds of their customers. Hopefully it will trigger good feelings the next time those customers are in a scenario where they need some neighborly car repair assistance.

YOU can ask: “Are we looking for ways that are unique to US to meet our supporters’ needs?”

I’ll leave you with a simple challenge: this week identify one way to improve your supporters’ experience with your ministry. It doesn’t have to be a giant change. Even the smallest experiences add up and can make all the difference.

(To jump-start your ideas with some practical examples, read this excellent post written by my friend Mark: The Donor Experience Is in the Details)