How does Starbucks get away with charging four bucks ($4.00) for a cup of coffee when there's plenty of good coffee for a lot less all over town? Everyone thought Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks, was crazy to consider pricing his product that way. But Schultz recognized that he wasn't really selling coffee—he was selling a particular customer experience of which coffee was a centerpiece, but not the sum total. He delivered an exceptional memorable experience that included status, luxury, warmth, connection, and community. He delivered a “Contagious Customer Experience” - an experience that people responded to and were more than willing to pay for, even at $4.00 a shot. This was also an experience so memorable, pleasing, and enjoyable, that customers attempted to convert everyone else to enjoy that experience as well.

A company's service experience is the mental imprint that gets planted in a customers' head after they have experienced a company’s service. Like a tattoo on the brain, it's what the customer thinks of when they see your ad or drive by your location; it's the feeling they have of you. A contagious customer experience is an experience so powerfully positive and unique that your customer feels compelled to spread the word like someone who has been “born-again.”

In the battle for customer loyalty and profit in today's competitive business world creating that kind of experience can catapult you way ahead of your competition. The Starbucks contagious customer experience started with a very cool environment full of comfortable cozy chairs that makes you feel like you're in somebody's living room. The smell of robust coffee wafts through the air, hip music plays (but not too intrusively) on the PA, thought-provoking reading materials are scattered about, the menu is built to be tailored to your personal preferences, and friendly, well-informed staff are on hand, often with free samples of new products. All of these factors create a space where customers naturally connect—either with each other, or perhaps just with their own thoughts. Starbucks doesn't sell coffee; they sell a special experience. Starbucks knows that you must brand how you sell, not just what you sell.

Most businesses totally miss creating any type of contagious experience. They think customer service starts and stops with just servicing what they sell. They forget that how they sell is what can create an exceptional experience that gets deeply imbedded in the minds of their customers. Creating a contagious customer experience is like taking your customers on such a remarkable journey that they want to keep traveling with you again and again and again all the time recruiting new people to come along.

There are many opportunities to create a remarkable, memorable, and sustainable customer experience, recognized by your buyers and embraced by your employees. Most businesses have three stages of contact where they can create a contagious customer experience: before customers buy, while they buy, and after they buy. Start by mapping out all the points of contact that customers have with your brand. At each point, put yourself in the customer's shoes and consider their experience. For example, do your customers call you? Visit you? Are all phone calls answered and forwarded in real time? Is your receptionist welcoming and truly remarkable? Do you meet them at a trade show? Does your presentation there make them say, "wow"? Do you follow up every contact within 24 hours? Do you use retail, Internet, or direct sales? Is your web site easy to navigate? Do you do something special for your best customers at least once a year? Do you have experiences that are about giving value, not just about selling? At all points of contact with customers, do you create experiences that appeal to as many of their senses and psychological needs as possible?

At every point in the buying process, these and similar questions can help you consider what your current customer experience is like, and from there, you can begin to implement the elements that are most likely to elevate you to that rare air called a contagious customer experience. In addition, don't forget that your employees are the true "customer service apostles"-have you built an customer-centric mantra that inspires them too? The media, too, can be cultivated to become cheerleaders for you customer service experience.

Starbucks customers don't buy coffee; they buy a special experience of luxury, warmth, connection, and community all served up in a cool and hip environment. In fact, the imprint of that brand is so strong that some Starbucks customers will pay $4 for a cup of coffee from the drive-through, even when they can't participate in the actual experience itself! Make sure that your customers have the same kind of powerful moments in the buying process with your product or service, and soon they will be telling everyone they know that wouldn’t think about buying anywhere else.

Author's Bio: 

George Ludwig is a recognized authority on sales strategy and peak performance psychology. An international speaker, trainer, and corporate consultant, he is currently the president and CEO of GLU Consulting. He helps clients like Johnson & Johnson, Abbott Laboratories, Northwestern Mutual, CIGNA, and numerous others improve sales force effectiveness and performance.

Though it's George's strategies and processes that help corporations increase productivity and performance, it's his tremendous energy and dynamism that spark the transformation. Again and again, clients remark on his amazing ability to unleash human capacity and inspire men and women to break out of their comfort zones. The result is a whole new type of salesperson.

His customized presentations teach achievers to make stunning advances in their lives. From helping salespeople realize cherished dreams to helping corporations exponentially accelerate revenue streams, George Ludwig leaves audiences and individuals empowered, emboldened, and clamoring for more.

George is the best-selling author of Power Selling: Seven Strategies for Cracking the Sales Code and Wise Moves: 60 Quick Tips to Improve Your Position in Life & Business. He’s also a columnist and frequent contributor to Entrepreneur magazine, Investor’s Business Daily, Selling Power, and numerous business radio programs. Having gained a reputation as a thought leader in his industry, he is frequently interviewed for trade publications and newspapers.