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Exclusive Interview with Normalynn Cutler, President & Owner of Cutler Enterprises

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normalynnNormaLynn Cutler is the President and Owner of Cutler Enterprises (since 1991). Cutler Enterprises is an innovative branding group creating signature events, public place making, brand identity through all media, and creative consultancy to companies and municipalities. Fresh Juice Global has worked with NormaLynn and Cutler Enterprises on numerous marketing, brand development and digital promotion projects. We are proud to present the first-ever interview with Neal Lassila (CEO of Fresh Juice Global) and the talented NormaLynn Cutler.

Neal Lassila: What inspires you to achieve such a high level of success when it comes to customer experiences?

NormaLynn Cutler: My philosophy of business no matter what I’ve been working on is: Anything worth doing is worth doing to the max! I think that the inspiration is circular and the logic in it is circular. Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than seeing real people enjoying something that we’ve created and brought to fruition. It just makes you want to make the next thing better and more imaginative. It’s actually exciting.

Neal: Other than the experiences you’ve generated, what else have you seen out there that superiorly engages the customer?

NormaLynn: Apple is where the highest bar is set because their in-store experience bangs on every single, solitary level. The Genius Bar is a genius idea because it makes people hopeful knowing that their device will work again. This changed the whole paradigm of customer service from being remote, to being immediate. The service people walking around the store with their iPhones let you know that you won’t have to wait long and they can provide help in a nano-second. This is why their sales are so high. I call the way Apple designed their space, “The incredible lightness of being in their space.” That’s the truth. Their stores are well-lit, gorgeous, tactile, light in color, and feel like tech environments without being sterile. Their bricks and mortar delivers on the promise of their brand.

Another narrower focused brand (as opposed to Apple who appeals to everyone) that superiorly engages the customer is American Girl Place. Even though the target audience is somewhat narrow (for young/tween girls and their parents or grandparents), the multi-tiered concept offers interactive engagement. Girls can spend an entire day there getting a haircut, shopping, eating, and even seeing a show there. As the child gets older, she usually will want more and differently themed dolls, so it’s a repeatable experience, which is very important.

Neal: How important is it for you to stay engaged with customers?

NormaLynn: If I didn’t, I’d be out of touch. Not only is it important to go see new things, it’s just as important to revisit what you’ve done. Then you can sense what is still relevant, or what needs to be tweaked. I try to revisit concepts we have fulfilled at least twice a year to evaluate their timeliness and ensure that they are still fulfilling their original aspiration. Some things will need to change and some things are timeless. For example, “Space Mountain” [roller-coaster at Disneyland] will be timeless for generations, but “Pirates of the Caribbean” [another ride at Disneyland] was dated and needed a complete overhaul. Especially after the movie came out, the ride had to reflect the more layered vision of the film’s promise.

It is also important to keep in contact with customers, and I have two tiers of customers. The first is my customer, the owner or manager. The second is the customer of my customer. One thing no one ever talks about is the delicate balance of working towards these two different purposes. It is important to keep in contact with both levels of clients to adequately guide your primary client to achieve exactly what they want and need to make their customers happy.

Neal: What is the biggest struggle that you or other companies in your industry are concerned with when it comes to a great customer experience?

NormaLynn: Repeatability. I think that’s a big one. There is the one and done idea, where you go to a place and you’ll never need to go there again. If the décor, products or service aren’t intriguing, customers/guests won’t have a reason to return. For example, I went to one restaurant done in a “Jetsons” motif. The food was okay and the decor was fun, but once you’ve seen it, that was enough. If the food had been better, I might have gone back for seconds!

Even if you try a place twice, if the experience gets stale over time, it’s bad for business. When you start getting fans that want to come back time and time again, like Apple, you have a “lovemark” as opposed to a “brand.” [“the future beyond brands lovemarks” by Kevin Roberts, CEO Worldwide Saatchi & Saatchi.] Some examples of the differences are between Apple (lovemark) and Dell (brand), or Nike (lovemark) and Converse (brand). Fans rave about lovemarks and want to be part of everything they create. They feel an affinity towards lovemarks, and believe that those companies truly know them. They design products, experiences, and foods that their fans will love, seemingly instinctively.

The other big issue companies face is that the consumer is so well informed. Maybe over-informed. Social media, information and current knowledge are so accessible that it’s hard to keep up.

Overall, the availability to all this information and the accessibility to one another make it more difficult for companies to stay current. The ONLY thing that stays constant is the human condition. What makes people, people? Even though there may be permutations or technology that can layer on us, basically we still hurt when our heart is broken, ache as we age, get excited when a friend unexpectedly shows up, etc. Therefore, it’s crucial that you design with your own viscera. If it touches people inside their hearts, that’s what brings back customers time after time. Create addictive experiences, so when people think of what to do or where to go, they think of your offering. Give them a kick and a greater desire to repeat the experience.

Neal: What is your methodology when it comes to social networking?

NormaLynn: I’m old enough to remember when social networking was just for futurists and people were talking about it possibly happening one day – but not in our lifetime. But here we are! To actually typify what we do exactly at this juncture as methodology is to suggest there’s more science to it. Obviously, Facebook is the anomaly amongst most social media. It connects everyone, not just by pictures, text, or articles, but through everything in one place. But there are also very specific subsets in social media that target specific niches like sports or photography. Social media is free right now so why wouldn’t we target all of the platforms? It doesn’t take long to post, therefore, you should post to all of them. Furthermore, you will touch more people, and you may even bring new people. It’s just common sense.

Neal: How important is maintaining a customer experience and how often should it be changed/updated?

NormaLynn: A poorly maintained ‘anything’ starts to feel dated, even if it’s not. Regularly considering the superficial basic question, “What does it look like?” is imperative. There is nothing worse than going into a theater where something as simple as a light bulb is out. It sends a message that those people don’t care, they’re lazy or not watching their space. You can’t let a store, venue or portal start malfunctioning or looking sloppy. However, most people will say, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” If that were the case, Starbucks would be outdistanced by other coffee shops. Starbucks didn’t have tables and Wi-Fi in the beginning, but they didn’t wait until something was broken to change their design. You have to be “fixing and fine tuning” things all the time, we think.

Most companies should foster a culture of aspiration within all their employees. They should want them to make everything better. There’s an opportunity for a method to get everyone in the company to feel like a team member. Employees at Disneyland are called “cast members,” and Starbucks’ employees are called “crew members.” Yet, even with that title, they aren’t necessarily encouraged to share their ideas. In many companies, the ideas come from the top, but numerous times the best answers come from the lower tier front line – because those are the people dealing with the issues.

I think the most important thing in any company is human capital. You need to encourage all of your staff members to be more than they are, and to provide their ideas. As long as their ideas don’t interfere with the whole vibe, they should at least be entertained. The vetting of employee ideas takes effort and time, which oftentimes (publicly-held) companies don’t want to spend, but that’s how they lose their edge. Ideation, conceptualization and brainstorming usually only happen in the top tier office. We should all start listening to our front line teams more often.

Ideally, companies would create a way to upload ideas and give credit to their people so they are encouraged to do more. Once you shut people down, and you stop their dreams and aspirations, they are left with just a job. Your brand will begin to lose touch and traction if there is no “ownership” of the brand at all levels. It does take a village and a team of people. How much better is it when you go to a place like an Apple store and everyone is in the same good mood, happy to be there, and they feel like they’re making a contribution to your wellbeing, as well as to their company? There’s a saying, “If a person has a good experience, they tell one person. If they have a bad experience, they tell ten people.”

Neal: What is one piece of magical advice you could give to your readers?

NormaLynn: Always lead with your humanity. If your heart is in the right place, your brain will follow. Experience is not an intellectual thing, it is a heartfelt thing and a gut thing. Lead with your heart and great ideas will come. And if you work where you want to work, you will feel fulfilled.

Another example is when we did the rollout for the Bentley GT Coupe. They invited me to visit their factory in Crewe, England. The driver who picked me up from the train station had been with the company since high school and absolutely loved his job. His wife also worked there, and his kid couldn’t wait to graduate so he could work there as well. I wondered why these people were so excited to work at an automotive plant! When I arrived at the factory, it was obvious. It was not only pretty on the outside, the inside was so clean, you could eat off the floor. And it wasn’t like a car assembly line you typically see where everything is automated. I then knew why everyone wanted to work there so badly. To honor and encourage every member of their staff, each employee got to sign their name on everything they made, leaving their imprimatur on each vehicle. The women would sew their names on the back of the leather before the last stitch on the upholstery, the wood is signed before the last piece is secured, and so on. There was no ageism, both men and women worked there, and the walls were covered with motivational Henry Royce (of Rolls Royce) sayings. People did not want to retire. This company is smart because they listen to their people and let them “take visible ownership” of their work!

Successful companies put humanity into their products. Turning employment into a meaningful experience for the employees themselves (as well as the customers) can be a game changer. It’s food for thought.

Never lose the edge of being a “guest” yourself so you can respond instinctively as you experience new ideas. Try to experience your business as a guest and see what happens. Say, “How am I being treated here? How well do they know me? How many touch points have they connected with me? Did they surprise me?” Surprise is the key to magic, in my humble opinion. Keep in touch with the magic within yourself.

Neal: Thank you NormaLynn! Your inspirational knowledge and marketing solutions provide incomparable advancements in the evolution of creating unique customer experiences!

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