As you plan your holiday movie-viewing schedule, make room for the classic film, “Miracle on 34th Street” (the 1947 original, not the inferior 1994 version.) Not only is it a terrific and heartwarming movie, but it also contains inspirational lessons to remind you what customer experience is and why it matters to your brand.

Early in the movie, a Macy’s executive instructs his department store Santa (who may or may not be the real Kris Kringle) to push the toys that Macy’s has in stock. However, when a child hops on his lap and asks for a toy that Macy’s does not carry, the Santa tells the child’s mother she can get the item for a reasonable price at a Macy’s competitor. The mother expresses surprise at the recommendation, and Santa replies, “The only important thing is to make the children happy.”

The woman seeks out the store manager–who is about to fire his well-intended employee–and says,

“I want to congratulate you and Macy’s on this wonderful new stunt you’re pulling. Imagine, sending people to other stores… Imagine a big outfit like Macy’s putting the spirit of Christmas ahead of the commercial. It’s wonderful. I never done much shopping here before but from now on, I’m going to be a regular Macy customer.”

And there is your CX lesson from the 70-year-old movie: Dedicate your brand to doing what is right for your customer, and they will notice, trust more, and become loyal.

Scene from movie

“From now on, I’m going to be regular Macy customer,” the astonished mom tells the equally astonished Macy’s exec.

This may sound pollyanna to those responsible for delivering aggressive financial results every quarter, but this isn’t just the stuff of movies. Employees going above and beyond to surprise customers drive far more awareness and engagement than the vast majority of brand-created content, posts, and videos. Maybe you saw the post about a McDonald’s employee helping a disabled customer by cutting his food (416,000 shares). Or the Southwest flight attendant who carried a fussy baby (431,000 shares). Or the Walmart employee who got on the floor to allow a shaky, elderly customer to lean on him (521,000 shares). These small acts of kindness resonate with people who have become accustomed to being treated by brands like wallets and not human beings.

While it is great having the occasional employee willing to take the time to do something meaningful, human, and out of the ordinary, the challenge for brands is to scale this sort of customer focus across the entire organization. Too many companies frame this only as a hiring and training challenge–find the right people and train them right, and customer centricity will improve. And they’re correct, those efforts can have a positive impact, but at the core, customer experience is a leadership issue.

In each of the cases cited above, employees took time away from something their bosses wanted them to do to assist customer–a restaurant employee cutting a disabled customer’s food isn’t mopping the floor and a retail employee helping an ill customer isn’t stocking shelves. And don’t get me started on the loss prevention, risk mitigation, and legal issues–carrying around a customer’s baby on a crowded plane, are you kidding me? This is why some of the most inadvertently viral things brands have done is to punish employees who go out of their way for customers, such as the home improvement store employee fired (then rehired) for chasing down a suspected child kidnapper (2.6 million hits on Google).

Once again, “Miracle on 34th Street” shows us the way. In the film, R.H. Macy himself must fend off his annoyed Advertising Department (the paid media folks responding angrily to the selfless act of an employee), saying,

“I admit this plan sounds idiotic and impossible. Imagine Macy’s Santa Claus sending customers to Gimbels, but gentlemen, you cannot argue with success. Look at this. Telegrams, messages, telephone calls. The governor’s wife, the mayor’s wife, thankful parents expressing undying gratitude to Macy’s. Never in my entire career have I seen such a tremendous and immediate response to a merchandising policy. And I’m positive if we expand our policy we’ll expand our results as well.  Therefore, from now on, not only will our Santa Claus continue in this manner, but I want every salesperson in this store to do precisely the same thing. If we haven’t got exactly what the customer wants, we’ll send him where he can get it. No high pressuring and forcing a customer to take something he doesn’t really want. We’ll be known as the helpful store, the friendly store, the store with a heart, the store that places public service ahead of profits.”

And therein lays the business wisdom of “Miracle on 34th Street.” Earning loyalty and word of mouth is not done with individual acts of bravery where employees must decide to set aside the short-term expectations of their jobs; great customer experience comes from great leaders who make customer satisfaction an organizational imperative.

Do good, make a difference, and people will reward you. This is not just some silly contrivance from a fictional, old film; there is science to it, as well:

  • Havas Media Labs Meaningful Brand Survey finds that “75% of us expect brands to make more of a contribution to our wellbeing and quality of life, yet only 40% believe brands are doing so.”
  • Interbrand’s 2017 brand study found that “Top Growing Brands understand intrinsically that brands start and end with people… Everything they do is deliberately built around customers’ needs and desires and delivered through unique experiences. They also invest in their people internally—many of the Top Growing Brands have been recognized for their culture, workplaces, initiatives and causes, and dedication to their employees.”
  • A recent Weber Shandwick study found that “Nearly one-half of consumers increasingly buy from companies that make them feel good and happy (46%) and that care about their well-being (43%).”
  • The latest Edelman Trust Barometer Study concludes there is a crisis in trust and that “institutions must step outside of their traditional roles and work toward a new, more integrated operating model that puts people — and the addressing of their fears — at the center of everything they do.” How? The top way a business can build trust is to treat employees right, followed by offering high-quality products/services, listening to customers, paying its fair share of taxes, and putting customers ahead of profits.

As you plan your customer experience strategies for 2018, think of “Miracle on 34th Street.” Do you know what your customers want, need and expect, and are you dedicated to providing that? Do you measure your brand and employees’ performance based on how customers feel or do you only reward efficiency and profit? If you don’t want to end up on your customer’s naughty list next year, consider how to balance your inner customer-focused Santa with your revenue-focused Advertising Department.

Or, as Kris Kringle says in “Miracle on 34th Street”:

“Oh, Christmas isn’t just a day. It’s a frame of mind.”

So is customer experience, Mr. Kringle! So is customer experience.

1 Comment
  1. December 14, 2017 at 9:19 am
    Pauline Ashenden says:

    I totally agree Augie – and now with social media, doing the right thing for customers spreads fast and safeguards your corporate reputation. We’ve put together some ways you can put the customer first in this Eptica blog post inspired by your piece (and the film itself!) https://www.eptica.com/blog/putting-customer-first-christmas

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