Imagine this: You walk into a store to buy an item and as you are checking out you notice the cashier has folds the receipt in a fun way before handing it to you. You like how she does it; her hands are swift, she is smiling. You smile too and feel wowed by her lighthearted way of wishing you an awesome day.
As you’re collecting your purchase, you notice her colleague folding a receipt in exactly the same enjoyable-to-watch manner. You walk away wondering if the employees were just having a good day or if the folding ritual was by design.
When shopping at another branch where the ritual is repeated with the same enthusiasm, you realize it’s by design. You begin to anticipate it each time you shop at one of the brand’s stores.
That’s how some customer-centric brands apply the science of rituals to reinforce their brand essence and message with their customers. Well-designed and popular brand-specific rituals are virtually impossible for competitors to imitate, no matter how similar or even superior their own products may be. Think of the name writing ritual on your coffee cup at Starbucks. You would find it strange if a Starbucks barista didn’t ask your name. This is a Starbucks ritual and any brand that does it is just an imitation.
Rituals depend on employee buy-in
The secret to the success of these rituals depends on employees: The extent to which they believe in the brand, understand the purpose of the ritual and the desired impact, and are clear about their role as key stakeholders in its success. The ritual itself then becomes an authentic manifestation of employees’ belief in its purpose, understanding how it creates a unique customer experience and makes a memorable impression on the customer. Designed carefully, these rituals are a visualization of being customer-centric while building an emotional bridge between employee and customer.
I once worked with a brand to design and implement a bespoke ritual system to delight customers, which then went on to become the brands signature way to connect all their destinations together and strengthen the uniqueness of their offering.
To succeed, it was important that employees internalize the purpose of the ritual, connect it to the organization’s vision and values, and make it their own. Only with proper training and a robust communication plan to integrate it in the organization culture, did it “stick” with the employees – which is a prerequisite to catching on with customers – and subsequently scale up and become sustaining.
Proper KPIs were put in place to measure the impact on customer experience and employee engagement. Data from the measurements was used to fine-tune and improve the program and provide insights about the correlation of engagement and the customer experience.
Ritualizing brands is a great way to offer consumers the chance to interact with a brand experientially. The outcome can be a deep, abiding relationship that customers build with the brand and which becomes an integral part of their experience. That’s how some brands transcend a product or a service to become cult-like. Think Disney and Starbucks.
Organizations that succeed in this are not just focused externally, but internally as well and with equal levels of intent and emphasis. Rituals can be one of the most powerful tools such organizations use to:
- Engage the employees with the brand and the customers and build an emotional connection
- Tune in to the organization’s existing culture, beliefs, and behaviors
- Create a greater sense of “team” with the employees, and fuel their passion for supporting the brand
- Instill empathy and customer centricity as attributes of the organization culture as employees develop a better understanding of customers’ behaviors and emotions
- Develop a strong sense of ownership as employees understand the purpose and the role they play
- Instill a strong appreciation culture as employees are recognized for their contribution and rewarded for it.
Brand rituals can be a deep source of competitive advantage provided they are consciously and purposefully integrated into the organization culture and embedded in the employee experience and not only in the brand strategy and execution.
A great quote by Muriel Barbery from her novel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, reads:
“When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things. Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?”
It is a beautiful description of how even a simple ritual, captured in one single moment, can have an influence on us.
Does your brand have its own customer rituals? How does your organization culture enable their execution externally?