Are there customer experience lessons to be learned from the circus?
Yes, the circus, of all places!
I took my kids to see the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (aka The Greatest Show on Earth) over the weekend at the Honda Center. The boys are about the age that I was when my parents took my siblings and me to the circus. It’s one of those memories that has stayed with me, and it’s an experience that I knew I wanted to share with my kids some day. Well, that day came. And the boys said it was the Best. Day. Ever! They didn’t want it to end – and wanted to go again the next day. There were lions, tigers, elephants, dogs, cats, ponies, llamas, donkeys, clowns, high-wire acts, dancers, shaolin kungfu fighters, and dragons… o my!
And there were pooper scoopers.
“You saw what?” you say. Yup. Let me tell you about pooper scoopers. Honestly, it’s a long-standing family joke and probably one of the reasons that my circus experience stuck with me as long as it did. Warped? Yes. But listen, I grew up on a farm; being a pooper scooper is just part of farm life. So when I was a kid, and we saw those guys and gals cleaning up after the horses and elephants on the show floor, well, my dad dubbed them “the pooper scoopers.” (It was long ago. Trust me. He could well have been the person who coined that phrase. LOL.) And there it is. Three days ago, I proudly passed on that term to my own kids.
Now, I know you’re thinking, “How on earth does that relate in any remote way to the customer experience?” Yea. I don’t really have to repeat the fact that I can find a CX story in anything, do I?
I was amazed. No, it wasn’t the shaolin breaking sticks and metal blades on their heads. Or the guy on a motorcycle on the high wire, spinning around like a top. Or the woman who was hanging upside down and holding – by her hair! – another woman who was spinning on a hoop. Or the eight motorcycles in the steel ball, going round and round and round. (OK, those things amazed me, too.) But the things that really amazed were everything that went into creating the experience.
As my kids sat and watched the show with their mouths wide open, I watched the show, too, but I also watched the things happening behind the scenes right in front of our eyes. My kids probably never noticed this stuff, and that’s exactly how it’s meant to be.
The entire show was cleverly orchestrated so that nothing ever detracted or distracted from the actual experience. I’ll get back to the pooper scoopers in a moment, but here’s what made the experience.
- Communication. Right before the show started, there were announcements designed to set the stage and to set expectations. The announcer warned about the darkness, i.e., for your safety, don’t get up and walk around when the arena is completely dark, about strobe lights, and about the smoke that would be used during the show being non-toxic.
- Engaging the audience. The actors in the show, from the clowns to the shaolin, kept the audience engaged and involved, whether that meant clapping, cheering, yelling, or singing.
- Leadership. The ringmaster did what ringmasters do: not only did he keep the audience engaged, but he filled the voids, made introductions for upcoming acts, sang, and kept the show moving along.
- Teamwork and precision. It was very clear that, regardless of performer type, i.e., animal trainers, shaolin, trapeze artists, clowns, etc., the groups all worked together to ensure not only each other’s safety but also the overall quality of the experience for their guests.
- Customer service. Even the concession sales inside the arena were well planned. The concession workers only walked the aisles before the show and during intermission, so as to not get in the way of viewing the show (and for their own safety). During intermission, we were on a mission to find cotton candy, but concession sales in the outer arena were backed up. We walked back to our seat area and waved down a concession worker in the next section. He was polite and motioned that he’d come our way after he was done with his current customer. In the meantime, another worker come up our section with cotton candy and was already prepared with change for a $20 bill.
- Focus. It was apparent that they wanted to ensure the focus was on the entertainment and not on the scene changes that were happening in front of our eyes. Whenever there was a set change, the lights went down, screens went up to mask the lower portion of arena; images and video danced across those screens, and the action moved to a different area of the arena, whether it was in a different ring or high above the arena. It was so well orchestrated that, if you didn’t know it, it all happened magically before your eyes.
So, what about the pooper scoopers, you say. Well, they are absolutely the unsung heroes of the circus! I would equate these men and women to the shelf stockers, janitors, and other behind-the-scenes staff in your organization. Their roles are not glamorous, but they are mission critical. Not only did they scoop the poop but they also set the stage, modified sets, and were like puppet masters for some of the acts. The really cool part is that they were dressed in black so as to not distract from the show. With a black floor and a darkened arena backdrop, these men and women were barely visible. They made the experience magical. Who are similar unsung heroes in your organization?
And finally, to further support that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey is focused on the customer experience, they asked for feedback. Upon entering the arena, we were handed all kinds of cards and brochures. Among them was a card that read, “We are all ears! Please call us with your comments.” They provided phone numbers to call to provide feedback. (My only recommendation: offer other modes to provide feedback, too.) The back of the card reads:
“We hope your experience with us reveals our excellence in performance, product, and service. We are so confident in our products that we guarantee your purchase for two years. We greatly appreciate the feedback we receive from our guests. Your comments are always welcome! Please call our number 24 hous a day or write to us at: xxx.”
From a CX perspective, could this really be the Greatest Show on Earth?!
Men who drive sharp bargains with their customers, acting as if they never expected to see them again, will not be mistaken. They will never see them again as customers. People don’t like to pay and get kicked also. -P.T. Barnum