If you watched the Academy Awards last night, you saw one of the best examples of customer service you're likely to see all year. If only we could hire Steve Martin as a store greeter.
The Oscar ceremony is the ultimate retail showroom for Hollywood. The business owners (studios) have their employees (movie stars) greet their customers (viewers) and showcase their products (movies).
The more we're entertained during the telecast, the longer we'll watch, the more we'll remember and the more we'll talk about it the next day. The resonant impact of this great "customer service" is higher movie ticket sales, DVD rentals and ratings, plus powerful image branding of stars, directors, movies, studios and the entire industry.
What can business owners learn from the great customer service model that is The Academy Awards?
First, blow customers away from the beginning.
There have been some lame Oscar openings - big production numbers featuring dancing furniture, loooong monologues by Billy Crystal. The ratings in these cases usually bomb. But most of the time, Oscar show producers hook viewers right away, with big lights and big music and lots of star shots and sharp humor - the 10 second rule applies, just as in retail.
Hollywood, for us non-star types, is a fantasy world where famous people make lots of money enjoying privileged lifestyles the rest of us can only dream about. While the reality may be less idealic (Marilyn Monroe, River Phoenix, Francis Farmer, etc) the brand demands puttin on a happy face - which is why you'll rarely see a shot of a frown during the Oscar telecast. And if a non-smilin star suddenly notices a camera pointing their way, their face will immediately light up. I'm a star! See how happy I am that you're watching?
If only retail employees would adopt this same philosophy (sigh)
The Oscar ceremony is (for the most part) a non-stop romp of visually stunning grandeur and plush orchestral magnificence. It leverages the best of what is possible in cinema into a tour de force experience for viewers. And while it may have steadily lost viewership over the years, the Academy Awards show does exactly what great retail stores should do - create an overwhelming sensory experience for the audience.
The entire Academy Awards telecast is one big drawn-out drama, scientifically researched and carefully choreographed to generate maximum viewership and interest. The exact time and order of each Oscar awarded is strategically designed to build on the previous one. Each award given is a little more important than the last - an emotional upselling to the viewer that guarantees they'll hang around until the end.
In the hands of the skilled, great retail is delivered in this same fashion, with flair and panache and dramatic build-up, until the customer simply won't settle for anything less than the best of what you've got. As I tell trainees over and over, everybody sells the same stuff. Customers come for the show.
Fifth, keep it moving.
Long Oscar acceptance speeches are akin to an employee rambling on about the advantages of electronic ignition vs. pull start. The longest Academy Awards acceptance speech, a nearly six minute dirge delivered by the bloviating Greer Garson (after receiving a Best Actress nod for her performance in 1942's Mrs. Miniver) soon led the Oscar committee to impose a 45 second limit - which is now strictly adhered to, except at the end of the show, when the biggest awards of the night are handed out...
...which brings us to the final point. Waiting to announce the Best Picture, Actor and Actress awards until the end of the telecast is kinda like grocery stores putting the stuff we need most in the very back of the store. We may not like it, but in the end we'll still walk all the way past the produce and garbage bags of "Best Sound - Foreign Animated Documentary" to get to the end of the candy aisle, where Sandra Bullock just won her first Best Actress Oscar.
Jonnie Wright is the President and CEO of The Buyosphere, a customer service training, marketing and recruiting company based in Des Moines, Iowa.
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