What can a 108-year-old Turkish spa teach a company about customer experience? On the surface, not much: It's on a crummy little side street. It's grimy, at least compared to the swankier spas. Some days, you can't go in if you're male; other days, if you're female.
Then there are the ineffable rituals that are perfectly familiar, and perfect, to initiates, but off-putting, intimidating and alien to a newcomer. For starters, you have to pay the minute you walk in. And decide – before a chorus of whoever happens to be standing around – exactly what you want to buy, typically in front of the people who will be providing the service. And admit whether you need to borrow one of the bath's inglorious basterd blue rompers if you haven't brought your own swimsuit.
So what does this have to do with PR? Plenty. Direct contact with our clients' customers if our future, even if we're not there today. And contact goes far beyond words – to embrace the entire customer experience. This isn't a world of digital editing; it's essential to get it right, instantly. And to know in your bones that the customer "experience" goes far beyond words; in fact, the words resonate only when the whole experience – from browsing to purchase, and later, support – holds together .
The good news is that customers are fundamentally receptive. They're also craving information, especially with so many publications – which used to provide education – now out of the picture. And here's where this old-fashioned Russian spa can teach companies about customer intimacy: Give people the room to make it their own experience. Offer up choice, so customization is easy. Once they're in, don't hurry them; the experience is as long as they make it, and that's fine. Then, make them feel like you actually want them there. (Food is good for this, but so is attention, or conversation. Or, online, perhaps an interesting special offer.)
Create a few challenges – because every sociological study shows that that teams who struggle slightly to achieve a goal value it more. Consider the back-breaking placement that looks so easy to a client; involve them in the process, and the meaning and value is far more clear. Inside these doors, the hot rock Russian Room, at 200 degrees on the top shelf, is one kind of challenge. Getting beaten by oak leaves – $35 – raises the ante just a little bit more.
Then just leave them alone. Let them set their own course: Bake. Steam. Freezing dunk in the pool. Shower. Rinse. Repeat. And assume that your customers are a varied bunch, from hipsters detoxing after last night, to aging actors and models smearing clay on themselves, to the Eastern Europeans who monopolize the single-sex clothing-optional weekday afternoons, to co-ed bridal parties. So carry beer, and candy, seaweed salad, and borscht. And offer up the rooftop chairs for when it's all over.
Hang a few pictures of the so-called famous on the walls, so customers can feel like they're in the right social network. Say goodbye when they're rolling out the door, but pay more attention to those coming in. With luck, everyone will be back, for another $30 ticket, or maybe the buy-10-for -$210 instead. Value comes in so many different forms.
Amy Bermar is president of Corporate Ink.