Closing the loop on customer service

I recently took my 6-year-old son to the Ringling Brothers Circus and was really impressed with the focus on the customer. Buying tickets from Ticketmaster was comparatively easy (though the nanoseconds you have to actually make the purchase could be extended), and printing out your tickets ala airline e-tickets was great, but the really impressive stuff happened upon arrival.

While we were in line to get into the arena, we passed the essential “guy selling programs” (I’m sure there’s an official title for this, I just don’t know what it is). We bought one ($7 as I recall; not cheap, not expensive: good price point) and instead of the usual take-your-money-enjoy-the-show moment he paused, looked directly at my son and me, and said “I hope you enjoy the show” with real earnestness (and, it seemed, sincerity).

A long time ago, when my then-girlfriend and I frequented a very small restaurant called the Fallen Angel, the maitre d’ there (Geoffrey: a late-20s, tall young man with a closely-cropped beard. Left to become a horse trainer. Go figure.) had a gift for not simply putting people at ease and making them feel welcome, but making it seem as though his total focus was on that moment, and on you. He took only an extra minute with each customer, but that minute of focus added disproportionately to the dining experience. This Circus Guy was like that.

And in our program was a “customer experience card” that he took another moment to ask that we fill out, so that they could continue to make the circus a better experience.

I was impressed enough with this single experience to note it, but the same thing then happened inside, when we bought the inevitable Circus Toy (one of those fiber-optic light things that twirls around. Yes, I’m a bad dad, I gave in.) and the young lady selling it did the same thing: she took a moment, focused on us, hoped that we enjoyed the show, and gave us another customer experience card.

Inside, a bit of customer experience genius. No matter where your seats are, for one hour before the start of the show, you are free to wander around the three rings, mingling with the performers, getting autographs, petting an elephant, watching jugglers, and in a way, being part of the circus. The whole evening was magic for my son, and for me.

The only thing I later wondered about was, why not close the loop? You have my email, you seem to really want me to have a good time, you want feedback, why not send me an email thanking me for attending, attach or embed a small survey (4-questions: Rate the experience, what did you like best, will you come again, would you recommend the circus to others) and give me some incentive to return next time the circus is in town (and here are those dates).

The lesson: close the loop. Remind people what a good time they had. Make it easy to do it again. Make customers evangelists. And keep your fan base not just happy, but engaged.