Vincent Van Gogh had a controversial history. He cut off his ear and gave it to a prostitute, although he later did not recall doing it. Van Gogh failed as a missionary to a poor coal mining community in Southern Belgium, and the church fired him. He was so aware of his insanity he admitted himself to a psychiatric hospital. In his lifetime, he only sold one painting for about400 francs. And died by suicide at age 37. What a resume, right? Don’t judge an artist by his vita.
Van Gogh was a genius. He painted over 850 paintings, 200 in his last year of life. Several of his paintings have sold for over $100 million each. The current Van Gogh Immersion Experience is getting rave reviews in every major city it has played, triggering a Van Gogh revival. Critics rank him among the five best painters who have ever lived. His magical words, not just his amazingpaintings, inspire fresh perspectives and stimulate profound insights.
Pretend your organization has an okay, not great, customer experience. You rarely get customer complaints, but you never get accolades either. Impressed by the genius of Van Gogh, pretend you could hire him as your customer experience consultant. What would Van Gogh recommend?Below are his poignant words as powerful principles reflecting his probable perspective.
Innovation Trumps Excellence
“Normality is a paved road,” wrote Van Gogh. “It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it.” The popular “paved road” in today’s world of customer service is value-added excellence. This view holds that if you deliver excellent service—on time, accurate, reliable—with a value-addedexperience that exceeds customers’ expectations, you can capture their heart and wallet.Service excellence is doing the right things right—precisely what customers expect. And, whilevalue-added is to be lauded, exceeding customers’ expectations elevates their expectations rightalong with your addition. As a result, you risk ultimately running out of room.
Van Gogh would suggest “flowers on your road.” That means adding ingenuity to your excellentoffering. Customers today look at expressions of innovation as a symbol of survival, not just a strategy for success. The adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is today a recipe for failure. Customers examine your pilots, beta tests, experiments, and trial balloons as a clear signal you are constantly growing. Stop focusing on value-added and zero in on value-unique. Put on your “flowers” lens and inspect every component of your customers’experiences. What is fascinating, whimsical, enchanting, heart-stopping, or entertaining aboutthe experiences you create for customers?
Remarkable is in Detail Management
Van Gogh wrote, “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” Themasters of detail management are often found in high-end products and services. Steve Jobsobsessed over the package that housed a new iPhone, even the sound the box made when opened.The chairs in a Bentley automobile dealership are fashioned from the same leather as the carseats; the desk on which papers are signed at purchase is constructed of the same burr walnut found in the automobile’s dash and steering wheel. Bentley looks for subtle ways to give customers subtle congruence between the appointments on their motorcars and all aspects oftheir showroom experience.
High-end brands can be great role models for how all can better “major in the minors.” Such brands recognize there is an unspoken communication with the subconscious mind of customers. An affluent customer might be more able to identify elusive minutiae —gilding on achair, thread count on a hotel bed sheet, or the style of a club pro. But even a blue-collar worker enjoying that long- saved-for special occasion evening at a swanky hotel can sense detailextraordinaire when he senses it, even if he can’t detail exactly why.
Memory-Making Comes from Orchestrated Magic
“I would rather die of passion than of boredom,” said Van Gogh. Customers today wantexperiences that stimulate, captivate, and amaze. They adore enchantment. The brass railing at a Disney theme park is polished in the middle of the night, so guests never witness it being cleaned. The five-star Las Brisas Acapulco hotel cuts the grass after hours with manual clippers and engine-free push mowers so guests never hear the unpleasant sounds of maintenanceunderway. Guests experience the effect and marvel at the magical process.
A part of service magic is that it always strives to happen at the right time. Voila! It is never late or early. It is in sync with other time-bounded events that surround the experience. Waittime, for example, is carefully managed to ensure customers do not experience it as a wait.Niccoli’s Roof, a five-star restaurant in Atlanta, presents guests with the chef’s special appetizerand later a taste of the chef’s preferred vodka, all complimentary fillers to help patrons remain charmed as their meal is prepared.
Great Experiences Are Uniquely Sensory
Van Gogh’s mantra was, “One must work and dare if one really wants to live.” Applied to a great customer experience, it entails creating a unique, sensory experience that features the rare,unusual, forbidden, or challenging to get. However, their use is synchronized with the overall experience. Flowers throughout the Mansion on Turtle Creek, a five-star Dallas hotel, don’t all look like they came from the local nursery; some look like they came from a faraway jungle. A fruit plate at the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles might contain passion fruit, unique figs, or cumquatslices. Art experts rave about Van Gogh’s innovative expansion of the yellow color spectrum inhis sunflower paintings.
The Spa at Cap Juluca Resort in Anguilla, BWI puts a special fragrant plant (like bougainvillea petals) in the bath before a massage. They blend the same scent into the oil used by the masseuse and put petals in the bottom of the guest’s locker so the unique fragrance is “worn” by theguest after they leave the spa. Sewell Village Cadillac in Dallas purchased costly bathroom wallpaper at his automobile dealerships. Customers in the service waiting area enjoy fresh-brewed designer coffee, delicious pastries, leather couches and classical music. The showroom is lit by giant glass chandeliers that reflect off a floor meticulously polished every evening. The customer’s impression is generalized to everything about their experience, including the meticulous care of their vehicle.
All this enchanting, enriching, and elevating might sound pricey or way too over the top. Van Gogh would suggest you start somewhere and pilot. Van Gogh wrote, “What would life be if we had nocourage to attempt anything?” He often painted the same scene repeatedly until he had the colors,blend, and spirit just right. Google Van Gogh’s self-portrait. You will discover he painted 32 self-portraits, always experimenting with every feature of painting—colors, brush strokes, angles, shading, etc.
Creating a customer experience is fundamentally a performance, just like an artist at work. Itstarts with knowing and valuing customers’ needs and expectations. Being good at these coreelements are today as much a table stake as a palette and brush to a painter. Masterpieces comefrom bold demonstrations of creativity and passion. “Your profession, wrote Van Gogh, “is notwhat brings home your weekly paycheck, your profession is what you’re put here on earth to do, with such passion and such intensity that it becomes spiritual in calling.”