Customer Experience Design Before It Was Cool
Way before the term “customer experience design” was being used, Mike Wittenstein was learning first hand about how the physical environment impacts perception of brands and how exceptional service plays into a great customer experience.
Upon completing his graduate degree, Mike accepted an opportunity to work with his Uncle Sam, the founder and then owner of the Rifkin Travel Agency in Connecticut. At first glance, this didn’t look like the desired launch into the career of his dreams, but a great bit of what Mike learned there became foundational to his skill in customer experience design and customer experience management strategy today.
It was 1980 in Connecticut and from the outside, the Rifkin Travel Agency looked like any ordinary business. However, once you got inside it was remarkable. The interior elements were collected and positioned to tell a story about travel and adventure.
You walked in, and the first thing you saw was the wing of a DC-10 airplane.
Mike’s uncle had bought this airplane wing and had it sticking out of the wall. The wing became the counter where the phones sat along with brochures enticing travel to far-flung corners of the world. Your first experience inside the agency stirred visions of travel.
Then he’d have you come into his office. But, his office wasn’t a regular office. It was the captain’s quarters from a decommissioned steam ship. All of this was “designed” by Sam for his clients. The details of the environment were memorable and created a connection to the experience of travel.
IT DIDN’T END THERE
If you were newlyweds, Sam did something extra special. He created an experience for you that was not just about the honeymoon trip, but about the lives you’d be sharing together after the trip.
He’d lead you over to these French doors. He’d open them, and you’d see a wall with thirty or so different items displayed. Here were things that any newly-married couple would need: a dishtowel, oven mitts, an alarm clock, etc. Sam would tell the newlyweds, “Pick one.” They’d hesitate. After all, they hadn’t paid for their trip yet. But Sam would tell them, “Go ahead.” They’d pick an item or two off the shelf trying to decide the merits of one over the other. Sam would say, “Take both.”
It was easy to see that it wasn’t about the oven mitt or the alarm clock. It was all about connecting with the customer. And, that connection is an experience. Simply put, it was a great example of how customer experience design, both environmentally and experientially, can evoke strong and memorable feelings. An experience that you want to share with others.
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