For many years, business was assumed to be “staid” or “proper”. Certain dress and behaviour was appropriate for outside the office, and never to be seen inside.
While the distinction between professional and unprofessional behaviour (thankfully) still exists, businesses have begun to open up to the distinction between “inappropriate” and “just plain fun.” Those businesses that do embrace their humourous and playful sides have begun to realize significant customer loyalty and even pricing benefits.
The growth of the tech startup world, as well as companies like Southwest Airlines in the Herb Kelleher days, made working fun and even immature. Companies had foosball tables, nerf guns, even kitchens with beer and whisky.
However, it was always important to have a serious face, at least vis-a-vis the customer. After all, business is a serious business.
Now, even that is changing, as companies have realized that, as Dan Ariely (“Predictably Irrational“) would put it, customers are irrational.
For a rational customer, all that matters is the right product for the right price, along with confidence in a company’s ability to deliver that product or service in a reliable fashion. That rational combination no longer is sufficient. It remains necessary, but it will not close the deal. Emotions close the deal. When customers have a positive feeling towards the company – once the minimal service reliability requirements are met – then the deal can be closed. A “happy customer” used to mean one whose rational needs had been met. Nowadays, we realize that a “happy customer” is one who also is actually made to feel emotionally happy.
Two examples illustrate the case.
I have been coming to the Tysons Corner, VA area for clients for several years on a regular basis. Although much of my business has shifted recently into other locales, I still do head there a few times a year.
In those years, I have consistently stayed at the same hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn Tysons Corner. Are the rates there good? They are decent enough; Tysons is an expensive area. Is the hotel fancy? No. The beds are comfortable, the rooms are nice and clean and well-maintained, but the pool is small and jacuzzi rarely is hot enough for North Americans (Australians would disagree). What the hotel does have is a naturally friendly and welcoming staff. It is not affected, it is not a structured friendliness like in most hotels. It is a personal warmth. I return there, and recommend the place to others, because I am a happy customer.
Over the last few years, a number of airlines have begun to have fun with their customer-facing activities. Ironically, these are highly regulated activities, and regulators, as anyone who has dealt with them knows, rarely have a sense of humour about anything.
First was the flight safety video. Pretty much no one watches them. Then, back in 2012, Air New Zealand released its “Middle Earth” safety video, which managed to meet all regulatory requirements, while still being fun in a customer-facing activity. If anything, the enjoyable video has led to more passengers watching the videos, thus meeting the very purpose of the safety briefing.
I do not believe that people ever actually sought out safety videos to watch on YouTube before, yet the Air New Zealand video has over 14 million views!
This past week, I flew Brussels Airlines on a medium-haul flight, just under 5 hours. Upon arriving to my seat, I found the following pillow:
Even better was the air sickness bag. Unfortunately, the picture did not come out, and I cannot find one online. The side of the bag said something like:
Here are things you could do with this bag:
- Put in trash and keep our plane neat
- Store your valuables
- Doodle on it
- Or, use it if you get ill, but we really hope you don’t!
The airlines are required (and want to) make sure you know you have the bag to use if you get sick. But why not have fun at the same time?
The last, and best, is the “Rackham” airplane. Hergé is a Belgian cartoonist famous for his Tintin comic books. The “Rackham” is the a shark-painted submarine used in one of his books.
Behold, the Rackham:
Someone at Brussels Airlines realized that making the flying experience fun – where else can one relate that they were on board Tintin’s Rackham – and entertaining puts a smile on the customer’s face and encourages their return.
Whoever said business couldn’t be fun?