Former Hard Rock Training Guru: Create An Experience That Causes Customers To Fall Madly In Love With You

Businesses must personalize, customize and individualize the customer experience to differentiate their service and create a true emotional attachment, said Hard Rock International's longtime training leader.

Former Hard Rock International training and development leader Jim Knight said Monday that companies should seek to have the end user fall madly in love with them, since organizations that are capable of developing emotional bonds with their customers avoid having a transactional experience. Knight spent 21 years as a Hard Rock International executive and is the author of "Culture That Rocks."

"It can't be middle-of-the-road vanilla ice cream," Knight said during XChange Solution Provider 2018, hosted by CRN parent The Channel Company. "People need a little bit of chocolate in their life. They need different."

[Related: Retired General: You Must Understand 'Values In Use' To Truly Reshape Your Company's Culture]

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Companies should deliver an experience that turns their customers into advocates and evangelists for a brand, said Knight, who pointed to Zappos and Seattle's Pike Place Market as unconventional examples of places that have created a loyal following. To do that, businesses must employ people that go out of their way to create moments that customers won't forget.

Creating a memorable culture requires buy-in from the entire organization, Knight said, and not just the folks in the front of the house.

"People crave differentiation," Knight said. "You know it and I know it. We've got to find a way to serve it up."

Many organizations get distracted and miss what should be the low-hanging fruit for any business, according to Knight. He said companies should be obsessively focused on three questions: Are customers coming back? Are they spending more money? And are they going to talk about you?

"If I cannot get to those three, I have not created a memory," Knight said. "I have not created a moment."

Unique people are the key to culture and creating unique experiences, Knight said. Businesses should seek out employees that are customer-obsessed and responsive, demonstrate a sense of urgency and attention to detail, and follow up to ensure that the end user feels genuinely cared for.

"You want people that are unapologetically authentic," Knight said. "You want them to bring the thunder. You want them to think different."

Customers only talk about awesome companies or the ones that aren't, Knight said, and usually don't even mention the ones in the middle. And if end users aren't talking about your business, Knight said a competitor is going to come along and leapfrog you.

Environment, atmosphere and service philosophies you can't get anywhere else are the building blocks for better, nontransactional relationships, according to Knight. He said too many companies miss the point by obsessing over the product and not taking into account the totality of the experience that occurs.

"Service trumps product, price, convenience and theme," Knight said. "It always does, and always will."

Manuel Villa, president of San Antonio-based Via Technologies, appreciated Knight's focus on culture being the byproduct of who a company employs rather than something that's solely created by the executives.

Via Technologies has well-defined core values focused around doing the right thing and investing in people, and Villa said he wants to ensure that new employees are buying into this vision. Hiring workers who don't share Via's values can be a very expensive mistake, according to Villa.

"The culture is the people," he said.