Friends advised us against heading out to Torre Del Lago to take in an opera at the annual summer Puccini Festival. Yes it was a great location, a gorgeous outdoor stadium theatre on Torre Del Lago lake, built right next to the villa where Pucinni lived and composed throughout most of his life. But… it was too hot outside. There were lots of bugs from the lake. The airplanes from nearby Pisa airport were noisy. Worst of all, if it rained they would cancel - no refunds. At around $150 a ticket (for the good seats) this was a big risk to take. But this was Italy, this was Puccinni, this was Tosca. We couldn't resist. The evening turned out beautifully, not too hot, no bugs, no loud airplanes. We had a wonderful dinner on the grounds of the theatre and at 9:15 were eagerly waiting in our seats.
The problems began a third of the way through Act 2 when my daughter turned to me with a look of dismay and a raindrop on her face. Not even 10 seconds later the conductor was signaling for the performance to stop.
We all dutifully filed in to the theatre lobby underneath the stadium to stay dry and see what happened.
After about 25 minutes the rain stopped. We were treated to an incredibly atomospheric Act 2, as rumbles of thunder and crashing lightening surrounded the theatre while Tosca bewailed her fate and, at the climax of the scene, murdered Scarpia.
Just as Act 3 was about to get underway, it happened, the skies opened up and, as my daughter said, Thor decided to come and see the Opera. It wasn't just rain, it was a deluge. We went to wait in the theatre lobby but knew it was a lost cause when we saw the orchestra musicians all packed up and milling around.
The theatre was far from the parking lot and it was impossible to go outside, so the majority of the audience, (those who hadn't given up and left) were stranded in the theatre lobby.
By this time it was close to midnight. There were no seats in the lobby, we were tired, grumpy from the canceled performance, had an hour drive ahead of us. We just wanted to be in our beds. Evening not going so good.
At around half past midnight, with no signs of the storm slowing, we decided we must find a seat. We wandered toward the front of the theatre lobby just as the staff rolled out a piano and announced that the performers would like to sing for us to help the wait. Luckily, we were in the right place at the right time and ended up standing 2 feet away from the International Opera stars, Warren Mok and Oksana Dyka, as they graciously finished the majority of Act 3 - standing in the lobby next to a piano.
It was a truly breath-taking experience.
This is a great story that we will tell to anyone considering Torre Del Lago - regardless of the heat, bugs and airplanes.
Your customer's need good stories.
In the connection economy it is stories that we share. We share them constantly, globally, within seconds of them happening. With the tools we have today nothing is forgotten. One good story can hang around for years on the internet, re-surfacing and being re-shared, giving your company piles of good will. The downside? If you don't give your customer's stories to tell, they might just make up their own - which could turn out to be a nightmare experience.
So how do you give your customers good stories? Here are 3 suggestions to get you started:
1. Turn customer problems in to opportunities
The return policy on the Puccinni Festival tickets is clear. If it rains, the opera is off, no refunds. Even though the policy is clear, it still hurts. What customer would cheerily walk away from a $150 purchase saying, "oh I know we didn't get what we paid for, but it's policy"? The Puccinni Festival, and I suspect they have a lot to thank the performers for, didn't fall back on policy and let it go. They took a huge problem, an audience of hundreds stranded in their theatre in the middle of the night, and made it an opportunity. A unique, once in a lifetime experience. When you are faced with a customer problem think about how you could turn it in to something to give your customers a good story.
2. Give your customers something unexpected
In today's world of lazy, "it all your fault really" customer service - providing something unexpected is not difficult. I once called Fisher Price looking to find out which of their products included a very specific "Little Person" (Emily HAD to have Michael) and the customer care agent said "oh don't worry we will send you one" - and put the little toy in the mail, no charge. I have told that story a bazillion times and was a die-hard Fisher Price customer after it happened. How much did it cost Fisher Price? Probably about $5 (mostly in postage).
Giving your customer something unexpected could be as simple as what Fisher Price did for me, or as complicated as what Mortons did for Peter Shankman.
The unexpected always creates a story.
3. Give your customers someone unexpected
Everyone on the planet likes to feel important. They like to feel, valued, they like attention. Giving customers someone unexpected is easy (it just takes time), and gives your customers great stories. I used to answer every customer care call for Emily Rose (still answer during the Holiday period) and many a customer has said to me, "oh Lisa-Marie I didn't expect to get to talk to the owner!" *Note - just because you don't think you are a big deal, doesn't mean your customers don't - they don't know you are sitting unshowered in your pajamas after having just spent the last half an hour sobbing over the fact that your revenue for the week so far is $17.99). Jason Fried stills answers the phone is his office and (in his fabulous book Rework) credits this habit for the growth of his company. If you have the opportunity, why not be as smart as Richard Branson and make an "in-person" appearance.
When you give your customers a good story you have given them a gift. Good stories are hard to come by and in the connection economy there is a lot of competition for telling the best one. You give someone a good story and they will shout it from the rooftops. The story will spread over social networks where it will exist forever, and perhaps re-surface, and it will be told again and again.
Why not give your company the challenge of giving someone a story, every day?
*Photo by Anyul Rivas