customer experience

4 Ways to Turn Gas into an Unforgettable Customer Experience

If you have ever driven down Texas highways; chances are you have seen a Bucc-ee’s.  Bucc-ee’s not only has a Texas sized presence (the largest store is over 68,000 square feet with 120 fueling stations), but a Texas sized winning customer experience.  What can a gas station teach us about creating a winning customer experience?

1. Keep Your Bathrooms Clean

Bucc-ee’s bathrooms are clean.  They are very clean!  One of the 1st steps in creating an unforgettable customer experience is developing what the customer experience vision is.  The customer experience vision should highlight different touchpoints.  Bucc-ee’s created an initial differentiated product around a clean ‘touchpoint’ (pun intended) and then promoted it on many of their clever billboards: “The top two reasons to stop at a Bucc-ee’s: number 1 and number 2” and “Only 262 more miles to Bucc-ee’s…you can hold it!”

Nordstrom’s department store once recouped a refund for a tire, the department store never sold tires.  A guy walked into the former Fairbanks, Alaska, Nordstrom department store with two snow tires. He walked up to the tire counter, put the tires down, and asked for his money back. The clerk, who’d been working there for two weeks, saw the price on the side of the tires, reached into the cash register, and handed the man $145.  This has to be one of the greatest customer experience stories of all time.  Whether it is an urban legend or not is somewhat irrelevant.  When people hear that story; they believe it is plausible for Nordstrom to provide that superior customer service because that is their core customer experience differentiator.

Identify your initial core customer experience differentiator then develop a blueprint for the entire organization.  The touchpoints must be compelling to the customer and link to the overall brand promise.  For Bucc-ee’s, it’s a clean seat; for the Nordstrom’s it’s relentless customer service.  A single breakdown in the customer experience touchpoints will lead to a break down in the overall customer experience vision.  Remember, ‘sticky’ toilets will not lead to ‘sticky’ customers.

2. Invest in the Beaver

The Bucc-ee’s logo is a cute beaver with a very large overbite.  Go to any Texas college campus and you will see co-eds wearing Bucc-ee’s shirts.  How did a gas station become so cool?

The easiest thing for companies to copy is your product itself.  Anyone reading this can go open a gas station with clean bathrooms.  That is not what makes the Bucc-ee’s story so compelling.  It is those secondary and tertiary benefits that are almost impossible to replicate.  In Bucc-ee’s case it is the way they promote their brand and deliver on the brand promise.

Bucc-ee’s made the customer experience a critical part of their brand and then advertised it on all the Texas highways.  Mile after mile you see Bucc-ee’s signs advertising the great experience.  Then when you see the 100s of cars exiting to have the experience; you stop even though you don’t need gas! The experience matches the hype!  Those bathrooms really are clean!  We are almost conditioned to be expected to be lied to by marketers so when the billboard actually matches the experience; we become loyal.

I really want a Yeti cooler.  I’m not quite sure why I want a Yeti cooler.  People tell me the ice stays in them for weeks, but I can’t think of a time that I needed ice longer than an afternoon.  I see bumper stickers, hats and T-shirts that tell me I need one…My wife recently received a Yeti tumbler from work.  She is definitely the most generous person I have ever met.  She seriously has the biggest heart.  However, when I asked to use her ‘precious’ I thought I was going to be tackled by a 5ft professional wrestler.  She thought it was best to take her Yeti tumbler to work to keep the conflict low and I have not seen it since.  What in the world?!

No doubt Yeti has an exceptional product.  What makes Yeti different is they have learned to invest in the brand of the experience.  They have a compelling product experience that matches the hype and create violently passionate customers.

I find many companies, especially in the B2B world, are willing to invest millions in a great new product or service experience, but then hesitate to invest thousands in the promotion of the brand.  A majority of a company’s market cap is determined by intangible assets so firms need to invest in the beaver!    When the hype matches the experience, you will create loyal customers.

3. Create Beaver Believers

Organizations need to have the proper balance between employee engagement and customer satisfaction.  Interactions with an employee who is not engaged or satisfied can lead to a break down in the overall customer experience.  Bucc-ee’s pays its cashiers $12-$14/hr and team leaders $14-$17/hr.  Bucc-ee’s has identified that the higher wage for that type of employee will lead to better engagement with the company and an outstanding experience for the customer.  Every interaction with their employees is a positive experience.  The employee is now a beaver believer.

Culture is the soul of every organization, which is reflected in how the customer is treated.  Chik-fil-a is another company known for their outstanding customer experience.  The experience starts and ends with their employees.  When my family was eating there a couple months ago, my son accidentally knocked over a large frosted lemonade all over the floor.  The Chik-fil-a employees were there in an instant cleaning our mess with a smile, replacing our drink without being asked to do so, and even sending over the cow mascot to make my son not feel bad.  When we said ‘thanks’ they responded as their culture is taught to each employee with ‘my pleasure.’   

Recruit employees passionate about the customer experience culture to engage your customers in the experience.  Create an employee training plan, content, and delivery methods developed to teach business processes and policies associated with customer experience.  Align customer experience quality measures into performance reviews, recognition, promotion, bonuses, etc.  Make your organization beaver believers!

4. Sell Them Beaver Nuggets

Many of the products Bucc-ee’s sell is an experience by itself.  The retail store they operate, has a sea of people waiting buying the best Yeti coolers, candied jalapenos, endless isles of popcorn, tie dye Bucc-ee’s t-shirts, beef jerky for days, and of course the famous beaver nuggets.  For those that haven’t had the pleasure, beaver nuggets are sweet corn puff snacks that Bucc-ee’s sells by the truck load.  Many of these items are branded with their beaver and have a cult following.  Each product aligns to their overall brand promise and the experience with the product itself contributes to the loyalty of their customers. 

Walt Disney is another company that does this so well.  A couple of months ago, we made the mistake of taking our kids to Disney.  Now, my daughter won’t go anywhere without her Mickey and Minnie Mouse toys.  She is so passionate about watching the Mickey Mouse club on our Kindle that she has been known to cry for an entire road trip if we don’t give in.  She sings “Let it go” over dinner and has been known to not take off a pajama shirt with the Little Mermaid, Ariel on it for a fresh shirt unless we are trading for another Ariel shirt.  Disney has managed to create a unique experience with every product under their brand and also made parents lives a little more miserable at the same time (but we still pay for it with a smile).

Think about the other products your company sells outside the core offering.  Do they align to the overall brand promise and experience?  A truly compelling customer experience will have your customers doing the ‘hot dog dance’ for ALL your products and services.

Accept the fact that your product is the easiest thing for your competition to replicate.  What are your company’s secondary and tertiary benefits?  The customer experience is something your competition will see you executing on, but when done correctly; they will not be able to replicate it.  Keep your bathrooms clean, invest in the beaver, create beaver believers, and sell them beaver nuggets to truly have a differentiated customer experience.

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About the Author

Mike Francis

Mike Francis is the president of The Coffee House Group which specializes in transforming companies from product centric to customer centric.

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