Understanding Customer Experience: Lessons from a French Anecdote

July 10, 2024
# min read
Paradigm Associates LLC

By Dan Elliott

I was reading—no, I was "scanning"—through an internet forum the other day where people were discussing the places they had traveled. One gentleman emphatically claimed France, particularly Paris, was the rudest place he had ever been. This caught my eye. Not because I hadn't heard that before—we've all heard that before—but I was curious to see what the internet mob had to say.  


One of the first responses struck me. It said that a simple "Bonjour" upon entering an establishment would likely go a long way in altering future interactions. As they pointed out, shopkeepers see their establishment as their home, and to enter their home without so much as a simple greeting is considered extremely rude. That's certainly understandable. Another point was that French waiters consider it rude to constantly interrupt you with questions about whether you need more water or bread or if everything tastes okay. Instead, they believe you are there to enjoy your company, conversation, and the atmosphere. We Americans are rushed and waving our arms for more bread.


So, what does this have to do with customer experience? A lot. In the anecdote above, we see a divergence of understanding and expectations. Much of it is indeed based on cultural differences, but there are blind spots that can be learned from.


Now, let's turn the spotlight on your own business. How would you define your customer journey? What insights do you have about this journey, and how well do your staff's attitudes and actions align to provide the best possible support to the customer along this journey?  Most importantly, have you ever experienced what it's like to be a customer of your business?  If you have never done so, call anonymously into your business's pre and post-sale sides and see what that experience is like. How are you greeted?  Are you put on hold, and if so, how is that experience?  Is the music or message system clear, pleasant, and at an appropriate volume?  Hopefully, it doesn't repeat, "Your call is important to us…," because after 20 minutes and hearing that for the fifteenth time, not only is it not believable, but it feels wholly insincere.


As you can see, the customer experience goes well beyond customer service, which only begins after a customer has become a customer. The customer experience starts when a customer becomes aware of a need or a problem and discovers your brand.

Once they discover that need or problem, your potential customer begins to research you and evaluate other options. They engage with your website and online content, read your reviews and literature, and compare benefits. In the case of retail, this is where digital marketers have convinced you to capture their digital vitals - email and cell number - so you can begin an immediate and relentless follow-up campaign. Ask yourself: do three emails and two texts over the next three hours really help your customer in the buying process? If so, great. If not, what would?


Assuming your customer decides to do business with you, how does that internal handoff happen between sales and finance? Is this a seamless customer experience, or is it the equivalent of going from a warmly lit waiting room with comfortable chairs, hot coffee, and magazines to a brightly lit and sterile examination room?


Once the customer receives your product or service and starts using it, what support and resources are available to ensure a smooth start? Will the customer require ongoing training, support, and resources to maximize the value?

How do you continue to engage with your customers? Do you have loyalty programs or exclusive offers? Do you have a means of collecting customer feedback that goes beyond Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys to understand changing needs and improve your product or service?


The story about the gentleman's experience in France illustrates a critical lesson in customer experience: understanding and aligning with customer expectations. In the anecdote, the man perceived French shopkeepers and waiters as rude, not realizing that a simple greeting like "Bonjour" could significantly improve his interactions. Similarly, in restaurants, the French waiters' behavior—viewed as inattentive by Americans—is intended to respect the customer's space and enjoyment. This expectation divergence underscores the importance of understanding and meeting your customers' needs and preferences.


Consider how well your business understands and meets customer expectations. Are there areas where simple adjustments could enhance the experience? By viewing your customer journey through the lens of understanding and expectation alignment, you can create a more cohesive and satisfying experience for your clients. Just as a simple greeting can transform interactions in Paris, minor but thoughtful adjustments in your approach can significantly enhance the customer journey and deliver long-term client value to your business. 

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