Who hangs around longer: complacent employees or valuable customers?

In the world we live in it seems to be very easy to over-complicate things; to make a cottage industry out of lots of stuff.  Inside a large corporate recently I saw a project managed by several highly-paid people whose goal was to document all the organisation’s other projects.

So it’s not surprising that when people talk about customer experience there are some who roll their eyes and want to get back to their day-job.  It’s seen as interfering with running their bit of the business. Or it’s too expensive and “we’ve got more important things to worry about”.  They’re the ones who will say, “It’s ok, we’re making money, we’ve got customers, why do anything differently?”…042

Ian Golding wrote an emotional blog last month about why Ritz Carlton has the reputation and repeat business it does.  Yes, Ritz Carlton is at the premium end of hotel accommodation but the core of the experiences they offer is not expensive; it’s a mind-set and an attitude that’s as easily and as effectively adopted by a hotel chain as a telecoms business, utility or a local café.

The point is that not only does it cost very little, the flip-side is that leaving such basics untendered can cost huge amounts in revenue, profit and customer loyalty. Putting a poster on the wall, a powerpoint slide or a statement on the website proclaiming that “We put customers at the heart of everything we do” is easy.  It’s not easy to do but it’s not impossible either.

At the risk of being accused of being a grumpy old man take, for example, common courtesies.  A “Thank you” here and a “Please” there.  Are they a consistent part of our customer experiences? They often won’t feature in any journey mapping exercise because they are so basic.  Of course that happens all the time, doesn’t it?

I know it’s not the case for two very well-known food retailers.  One sets out its stall to “give excellent customer service with an emotional benefit that feels good and feels right”.  The other has “a renewed focus on the consumer …to achieve success”.  The reality though is somewhat different.

I live in an urban area where I’m lucky to have had these two chains within walking distance for many years.  Despite the high turnover of staff in that time, by and large the people have always been polite.  In both stores though, things have changed and increasingly the people there are rude and contemptuous.  They are not offensive, but there is the impression of complete disinterest.

Where once we would get “That’s £5.10 please” followed by “Thank you” as they hand me my change, I now hand over my goods and get an impatient look back.  Apparently, I’m magically supposed to know exactly how much I owe them without them telling me or moving the lottery cards stand out of the way so I can see the display on the till.  Having had to ask what I owe, the change is unceremoniously dumped into my hand with no comment, let alone it being counted out with a “Thank-you”.

Instead, I find myself saying thank-you to them, then cursing myself as I leave, knowing it should be them thanking me for paying their wages.

If it happened once I could dismiss it as someone having a bad day.  We all do and there are more important things in life to worry about.  However, to happen each time creates a real feeling of being treated with a lack of respect.

Contempt is a corrosive thing in any relationship.  If either side senses it exists, the going of separate ways becomes an inevitability.

As it happens, one of the big-four opened one of its local supermarket stores recently. It wasn’t needed and the arrival of one of the major players met lots of opposition.reputation

However, the local incumbents didn’t deserve the loyalty they thought they were entitled to and as a result I and many others choose the more corporate option.  Local people work in there too and they are every bit as polite and as professional as you want them to be. They say hello, smile and help make things quick and easy. Why would I choose an unpleasant experience over a friendly one?

So when it comes to designing customer experiences there are a couple of lessons here.  One, are we overlooking the things that are really important?  It doesn’t have to be complicated.

The second is that when a sceptical Operations, Sales or Finance Director asks how much it will cost to have better customer experiences there are a hundred such stories that show the cost of keeping customers can be pretty much zero yet the real cost of not having those basics in place is huge.

Unfortunately for the bottom line, complacent employees will out-last customers who would be loyal but who also have a choice. The not-so secret to the right customer experience is attitude – especially at the organisational level.

The role and challenges of the Customer Experience Professional

The varied and vital role played by customer experience professionals was put under the spotlight last week at the CXPA’s European Insight Exchange in London.

Attended by CX practitioners from Spain, Finland, France, Ireland and Zimbabwe as well as the UK the event showed that wherever we are, the expectations of what customer experience people can do for a business are rising just as quickly as consumers’ own expectations about what the business can do for them.

Mark Horsley, CEO of Northern Gas Network spoke with an understated passion about creating the right environment for his people;  allowing them to be heard, to flourish and to contribute in a way that gives customers better experiences.  Mark is CEO of an organisation whose customers have little choice and so could be forgiven for being more transactional than relationship-focused. Nothing could be further from the truth and it was refreshing to hear customer experience’s positive double-whammy being reinforced;  it’s not just about doing the right thing but a stronger, more certain business future will follow too.

It’s always easier said than done and even the many awards Northern Gas Network has collected have not come about overnight.  In that context, the CXPA event helped share challenges, solutions and lessons learned, providing valuable insights and much food for thought.

I was privileged to lead one of the sessions on the role of the Customer Experience Professional.  It’s a subject hounded by many questions.  How, for example, does the role change depending on how senior the person is or how mature their company’s CX is?  Is it about helping everyone to “get it” or about galvanising sceptical stakeholders behind a common goal? Is it about stopping the business making mistakes by bringing to life the reality of what it’s like to be a customer?  Or all of the above and more?

 

In searching for answers there were common, related themes including: driving a customer agenda can be a lonely place, it’s difficult to spur people into action when there’s no burning platform and the size of the task can be overwhelming.   The Insight Exchange provided some clues as to how might we overcome these challenges.

A lonely voice

It’s often the case that organisations who need a CX focus the most are the least open to change. Where the hard focus is purely on costs, revenue and operational metrics it takes a brave person to bring up the subject of emotions and the laws of unintended consequences.  Yet where that happens, the biggest positive changes can occur too.

The advice is to find peers who are of the same mind, who understand that by stopping the things that customers don’t value or by fixing the causes of niggles and complaints there are quick wins to be had.  I’ve seen it work at some of the largest companies in their sectors globally;  it’s not a Hollywood script but one person starts with passion, belief and a real customer understanding and before long people right across the business are sitting up and taking notice.  In the the early days it may take the form of chats in the coffee queue or creating a “Customer Experience Steering Group” but by being the catalyst, creating a movement from within and armed with proof of concept, the conversations at more senior level becomes much easier.

No burning platform

The ‘do nothing different’ option is very tempting in an organisation that is – possibly unintentionally – myopic and complacent.  They say: “We’re making money, we have satisfied customers and our employees know how their performance is measured.  Why change?”.

As a customer experience professional we can help them see things differently.  We can show them how expectations are changing and rising exponentially, driven by companies they interact with and read about in other sectors.  We can show them the true sentiment in the customer satisfaction surveys and how they are not measuring the things that customers say are now most important.  We can get under the skin of the employee survey to find out from those who know the processes best about how work-arounds and hand-offs are broken and are running inefficiently.

There may not be an obvious platform burning brightly but what company with an ambition for long-term survival would not want to extinguish and smouldering embers underground before it’s too late.

It’s overwhelming

The nature of customer experience means that as a way of thinking it can help pretty much every part of the business. Whether informing strategic decisions, helping to mitigate risks or defining brand promises, CX has a role to play and with it, a raft of desirable actions.

In theory at least, we have the ability to understand whatever we need to about our customers.  We can have as much data as we can process.  Some actions will require a quick conversation to tweek a process and some, like changing the culture, will be longer-term.  All though are necessary and therefore it can be a daunting prospect.

There were two suggestions here. Firstly, don’t try to do everything.  As with the burning platform, keep one eye on the bigger picture but use short-term quick wins to gain momentum and start changing things, little by little.  Not everything needs weeks and months courting stakeholders to prepare a business case.  The more people can see the positive impact the more doors will be easier to open.  The breadth of advocates will grow, more resources will become available and the right changes will happen.  Eventually it’ll just become the way the organisation does business.

The second, linked, point is the prioritisation process.  By understanding what touchpoints in a customer’s journey are most important and how well they are delivered, the focus straightaway is ensuring the areas that matter most are done consistently well or on stopping wasted effort where things are not valued.

 

The Insight Exchange was just that; swapping thoughts, ideas, lessons learned the hard way.  Many left inspired, many were reassured that they are already on the right lines and many headed back to the office with new ideas about tackling their biggest challenges.

What is clear though is that the true role of a CX professional goes way beyond most job description templates.  In an ideal world, customer experience people would do themselves out of a job when the business becomes self-regulating.  The good news, or bad news depending on how you look at it, is that on the whole we’ve a long way to go.  As co-Chairman Ian Golding put it, the day had the look of a counselling session given how significant the challenges and opportunities, in equal measure, are.

It’s what makes it such a compelling and rewarding profession.

 


 

Thanks for reading the post, I’d be really interested to hear what you think.  I’m Jerry Angrave, specialising in customer experience consultancy and professional development.  I’m a Certified Customer Experience Professional and an authorised trainer for the CCXP exam.   Do get in touch if you’ve any questions – I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718072, on email at [email protected] or on Twitter @JerryAngrave.

 

 

John Lewis, npower and Ford – in very different places with customer experience

 

Depending on the way you look at it, complacency is either the arch-enemy of customer experience or the reason it exists.  I’ve seen many a sceptical director shrug and say “Why bother? We’re making money so we must be doing it right”.

Yet while the heart of customer experience might be more a way of thinking than functional, the warning signs of where it’s going wrong can be very obvious and very tangible.

Take John Lewis.  Over the years it’s been one of our most celebrated brands, synonymous with straightforward, easy and helpful customer experiences.  And the partnership has seen the benefits in its commercial performance as a result.

So here’s a question:  out of 10, where 0 is rubbish and 10 is brilliant, what would you say JohnLewis.com scores on Trustpilot at the moment?  I know there have been a few issues of late but I’d have said 7s and 8s at worst.  Time to think again.

Based on over 2,000 customer reviews the average score as of this week is …..  1.4 out of 10.

 

john lewis 1.4

 

How and why did that happen?  Only those inside John Lewis know the answers but one suggestion is the outsourcing of its customer experiences.  Handing over your brand to a third party is no excuse, only a reason.  Outsourcing may promise hand-offs that are invisible to customers and a lower per-transaction cost.  However, without the controls to ensure consistency of the intended experiences the number of unnecessary contacts increase, the costs go up and customers’ loyalty goes down.  Years of goodwill being unravelled for all to see.

As with any customer measurement system, there are caveats and foibles.  But I wonder how many organisations would act differently if public metrics such as the Trustpilot score or Tripadvisor rating were more visible internally and part of the voice-of-the-customer mix.

Ironically, over in the energy sector, npower maybe further along the organisational self-awareness curve.  It’s often in the news for the wrong reasons;  scrapping its dividend payment, being fined £26m by Ofgem for failing to treat customers fairly and being told if things don’t improve they will be barred from selling their services.   And on the back of its results this week came the announcement that there will be a significant human cost with 20% of its workforce to be laid off.

With that news though came a plan, a two-year recovery programme.  So for npower, at least the reasons for its difficulties are known and it is trying to do something about them.  Lower wholesale energy prices, government obligations and a quicker than expected shift to renewables are to blame in part.  However, it is the self-inflicted broken processes and billing infrastructure that are driving many customers away.

I’m a customer of npower and of John Lewis.  For the people who work there and for my own sanity I really want them to come right.  Npower has plans but the signs are that things have a way to go.  For example, I recently received three identical envelopes in the same post.  Inside, three identical annual statements with identical supporting information notes – tripling the cost at a stroke and leaving me playing the spot-the difference, wondering if I’ve missed something subtle but vitally important.

npower statement

 

Do they know that’s happening? If not, why not?  But if they do know, wouldn’t a quick letter or email to explain that I don’t have to worry about missing something help?  It’s about knowing what the experience is like today and how it feels compared with what it should be like and having the appetite to do something about it.  Making things worse, the main call-to-action appears to be to switch suppliers so exactly what the statements mean and what I’m supposed to do next will have to be the subject of a call to their helplines…  I hope the recovery plan will be using lower customer effort as a measurement of success.

In contrast, the organisational self-awareness that Ryanair had prompted it to launch the ‘Always Getting Better’ programme.  The about-turn in being customer focused is bearing fruit in its forward bookings, load factors and customer feedback.   Meantime, motoring giant Ford meantime is also setting about the way it does things.ford wheel logo

Speaking earlier this year, Ford’s President and CEO Mark Fields talked openly about changing the culture to be more empathetic to its customers.  The mindset was no longer one of being a manufacturer or even a technology company but an innovative, user-experience company.   Ford employees are encouraged to challenge the status quo, to question tradition and to not take anything for granted.  They won’t get penalised in their performance reviews for trying something new;  the view is that succeed or fail, you learn.  And on digitalisation and data, Ford aims to identify the right experiences first then seeks the technology to deliver it.  Not, trip over itself to install latest IT systems just because it’s the latest IT system.

 

Very familiar brand names with varying degrees of organisational self-awareness.  It’s what shapes their customer experiences and as a direct consequence they will see very different results.

 


Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you found it interesting and thought-provoking.  I’d love to hear what you think about the subject so please feel free to add your comments below.

I’m Jerry Angrave, founder of Empathyce and an ex-corporate customer experience practitioner.  I’m now a  CX consultant and an official trainer for the CXPA’s professional qualification to be a CCXP. If you’ve any questions about improving customer experiences or CX professional development do please get in touch.  I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 or on email I’m [email protected]

To subscribe for future posts please send an email to [email protected]

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Poor emails undo all the good brand work

We talk a lot about delivering the brand promise.  It’s one of the most critical balancing acts in the business strategy.  On the one hand, a very clear proposition so that everyone understands what they need to do and how.  On the other, what it feels like as a customer to be on the receiving end of what they do.

They should, of course, be one and the same.  The true test of whether a brand has been delivered and safely reached its destination is what customers say to each other, not what the strapline says it should be like.  Stress-testing customer experiences reveals flaws elsewhere

Yet I share with you here three very recent examples of where a business has set out with good intentions but the execution has been inconsistent to say the least.  The brands as such have all have been ‘delivered’ into my inbox.

A membership organisation with global reach wrote to me about renewing my subscription.  They are a very well-known body representing professionals in business and were extolling the virtues of how much more I would learn about customer experience if I renewed.  They say – that is, what they want us to believe the brand is all about – they are there to help companies grow.

The reality of the experience was somewhat different.  They had already reminded me to renew a few months back, then apologised that they had got the dates wrong.  And now, with an invitation to spend money on renewing my membership the email invitation was from someone called No Reply.  Not personal, not helpful and hardly inviting.  All the good effort that goes into creating the brand promise in the first place, undone in a simple email header.  That’s a careless brand, not a global professional one.

I’m sure you’ve had others too like it.

Our attention spans are short and there’s no shortage of advice in writing compelling emails.

I had one email this week with a subject heading “Private invitation”.  It looked intriguing but then the opening line was “ Hey guys…I’m a little surprised you haven’t taken me up on this yet “ – it was from a training company whose brand intention is all about engagement, learning and development.  I checked and it was the first email I’d had from them.  The brand reality as I experienced it is simply arrogant and contemptuous.  Why would I now bother wasting more time and reading any further let alone respond. Meanwhile the Marketing and Finance Directors are wondering why their ROI isn’t looking good.

In a similar vein, another email arrives with the heading “Re: Our call tomorrow” .  At a quick glance scanning through emails that is one I ought to take a look at.  But no, it’s a sales pitch for an event, nothing to do with a call that I’ve set up with someone.  Presumptuos and arrogant again.  It makes me feel like they are trying to con me – and they did. I opened the email and so their click through rates will look great. But now far from believing they are as they say, the provider of the world’s leading conferences, my emotive reaction to their tactics just shot them in their foot.

 

Having a crystal clear brand proposition is essential. Sharing it with everyone around the business critical.  Organisations have competitors;  customers have both a choice and a voice. Having the governance to ensure that customers’ experiences match the intended ones should be treated as a matter of survival.


Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you found it interesting and thought-provoking.  I’d love to hear what you think so please feel free to add your comments below.

I’m Jerry Angrave, founder of Empathyce and an ex-corporate customer experience practitioner.  Since 2012 I’ve been a CX consultant and am also an official trainer for the CXPA’s CCXP exam.  If you’ve any questions about improving customer experience or CX professional development do please get in touch.  I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 or on email I’m [email protected]

ccxp and art

 

 

The future of airline passenger experience

The last two years have seen big steps forward in the airline passenger experience.  Some airlines doing great things in the name of creating a sustainable business. Others appear to be wedded to a get-rich-quick strategy.  So it’s not surprising that some have customers who help spread the good word while others feel they are been treated with contempt.  

 

But both make money, so which is more important – long-term survival or short-term P&L?  Different strategies for different airlines, but there is one common thread that is treated very differently: people. Or as they are known in some circles,“revenue generators”.

Last week I had the pleasure of once again being part of Terrapinn’s World Low Cost Airline Congress.  That the name of the event evolved this year into the Aviation Festival is testament to huge shifts within the industry even in the very recent past.Airline passenger experience

Only two years ago the mood in the airline sector appeared dark. It was distracted by existential challenges of economic pressures, merger activity and geopolitical forces.  Few were talking about customers let alone measuring what is was like to be one.  The focus remained on process efficiency, cost and short-term survival.

Forward a year and 2014 felt more positive.  It seemed that every conversation and presentation now contained reference to people, passengers or customers.  Yet while something customery needed to be done, it wasn’t entirely clear exactly what or how.

This year though, things moved on again with airlines and suppliers embracing the concept of passenger experience.  Maybe a more stable economy and lower fuel prices have helped move the spotlight.  But, so the theory goes, by aligning the business strategy, operations and partners with what customers value most, passengers will come back next time, spend more and tell their friends to do the same.

For airlines passenger experience is a sound business philosophy, neatly illustrated by two of the industry’s heavy-hitters.

 

Forward thinking for forward bookings

Ryanair has won awards for its “Always Getting Better” programme.  In a move unthinkable until very recently, Michael O’Leary put passenger experience at the top of his agenda when delivering the latest financial results to the markets. And CMO Kenny Jacobs talked last week about the focus on passengers going beyond an initiative to become a lasting cultural ethos.  It will move Ryanair from, in his words, being the baddest to the biggest and best.  Letting others make mistakes gives the airline what Jacobs, with a mischievous smile, calls its 4th-mover advantage.

It’s fair to say that over at Virgin Atlantic, they have enjoyed a longer history of benefiting from doing what customers appreciate.  That’s not to say they are taking their foot off the gas. Moving on from using Google Glass to enhance its experience for Upper Class passengers, the airline’s dispatch team are using smart-watches to improve efficiency of turn-around times and communication with customers.

They embody the test-learn-refine approach, happy to see where a new piece of technology might lead them.  If it’s down a dead-end route, so be it but without that culture they will have no foundation upon which to differentiate their experience or operations.

So in contrast to those who are doing some great things with culture and experiences, it was still a surprise to hear one airline doggedly beating the ‘grab every penny’ drum. To name them will serve little purpose but you will know them. I admire any organisation who has a clarity of proposition, though the explanation of their strategy sits less comfortably. To quote one of their senior executives: “We don’t look at what customers want. We look at what they are prepared to pay for”.

Least-cost processes and inflexible policies are then built rather than experiences. Meals (when paid-for) appear to meet approval but passenger feedback suggests that is a superficial and money-making priority compared with the things that should be a priority:  long queues at check-in, dirty aircraft and unfriendly staff.

This airline and many suppliers talk of passenger experience because it seems to be the fashionable thing to do rather than be a way of thinking.  The reality is that they already give their passengers an experience but because the driving forces remain revenue per passenger, operational efficiency and spreadsheets full of metrics, those experiences – whether deliberate or unintended – are not the ones that win favour.

Are they getting in their own way? Maybe it’s a deliberate, successful short-term strategy of survival and they will worry about next year, next year. Or will they see the balance that Ryanair are working towards as something to emulate?

Only they know the strategy, but passengers know what they’ll do next time.

 

What do passengers say to each other?

I’ve recently conducted some research into what passengers say to each other about airlines.  Increasingly, whatever we are buying, we look to see – and are influenced by – what the experience of other customers has been.  It’s no different when we choose which airline to fly with.too much effort

For this sector though, one factor shone through as being the biggest single reason why passengers rave about a particular airline or warn others to give them a wide berth; people.

Whether a positive or negative experience, a third of passengers cited the attitude and helpfulness of people as the reason for the good or poor experience.  In the positive camp, it was all about the cabin crew, attentive and friendly. When things went wrong however, it was people outside the aircraft who were at the root of the problems – ground crew, contact centres and service desks.  As passengers, we do not know nor do we care whether those roles are in-house or sub-contracted out. Whatever the clever strapline says, it’s the airline’s brand in their hands.

 

The future is already here

David Rowan, Editor of Wired magazine, proved at this year’s event that the future is not something that we can wait until tomorrow to get ready for.  Flying cars exist today.  Astronauts in the International Space Station are emailed instructions to make tools they didn’t know they’d need by using an onboard 3D printer. And tetraplegics can use brainwaves to guide a robot to help them drink.

Yet in 2015 we still have airlines with grumpy employees, slow and inflexible processes and scruffy aircraft.  Other markets outside aviation are moving fast and they are the ones who set our expectations as passengers about what a good experience should be like.  It doesn’t have to be “wow” or expensive;  if it’s empathetic it will be profitable.

There is clearly of a sense of optimism about the future for the industry and there are many airlines doing great things.  It’s a future that will be no less challenging but one where a genuine focus on passenger experiences will help secure a stronger future for load factors, revenue and forward bookings.

So for those who still don’t get it, beware the economic upturn because that will simply prise open the gap even further between the airlines that keep passengers, partners and investors coming back and those who simply run out of options. And passengers.

 


Thank you for your interest in this post about PaxEx.   I share these thoughts simply in the hope it will stimulate some thought about the consequences (intended and unintended) of how your business treats its own customers or helps others with their customers.

I’m Jerry Angrave, a Certified Customer Experience Professional, independent consultant and authorised trainer for the CCXP accreditation.  As founder and managing director of Empathyce, I’ve worked for or with organisations in the aviation and travel, retail banking, utilities, legal services and pharmaceutical industries across Europe and in New Zealand.

If you’ve any question on the post or on customer experience in general, please feel free to get in touch.  I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718072 or by email at [email protected]

 

 

 

 

Passenger experience: managing disruption without disrupting relationships

The delicate, reciprocal balance of any alliance between airline and passenger shifts dramatically when there’s a planned or unplanned change in schedule. One party very quickly becomes totally dependent on the other to get them through the next few hours.  It puts the relationship on a knife-edge with the stakes and expectations equally high.   

Get it right and we know the benefits of salvaging relationships that have teetered on the edge.  Get it wrong and research shows that the majority of people won’t even complain; they will simply take their contribution to load factor metrics elsewhere.  Abigail Comber of British Airways summed it up succinctly recently when she said: “The best products in the world are no good if they’re not delivered brilliantly”.Passenger experience

To have and to hold

The longevity of fulfilling relationships between people or between people and brands will not survive if, so we’re told, one party feels the other is showing it any trace of contempt.

Passengers travel for a reason.  Arrangements have been made with people at the other end. So where there’s a loss of certainty, it’s no surprise that anxiety levels rise. And while passengers accept that some delays are unavoidable, expectations are quite rightly very high that information will be timely and accurate and that action will be swift.

As passengers, we expect the airline to respond and communicate in a timely and relevant way.  We don’t know or, frankly, care whose responsibility it is.  What we don’t expect or want is any suggestion that the airline doesn’t know, care or acknowledge just how important and emotive the situation is to us at that moment.

How the airline responds has a direct consequence on how it makes people feel.  And that is what they will remember next time they come to choose who to fly with.

Seeing it from the other person’s perspective helps know what to say, when and how in a way that not only protects the relationship in times of instability but strengthens the bonds of trust for the future.

 

Expectations are always rising

How a passenger expects to be treated is not set by today’s airline or by other carriers who do things better. When they’re not being a PRN, the same people are doing business with, or are hearing about, a raft of other organisations each day.  They might be online retailers, telecoms providers or local cafes.  Some of them simply get the basics right every time, some do unexpected things we wish more companies would do, while others are horror stories to be wary of.

When there’s a problem developing we’ll hear about it on the radio, followed by an advisory to “Contact your airline for more information”.  Passengers expectations are changing though from “Ok, I’ll do that” to “They’ve got my details, why haven’t they contacted me?” and “What would have happened if I hadn’t just heard that radio broadcast?”.  In fairness, more airlines are taking a more proactive approach not least because automating the initial message reduces the cost of handling volume of inbound calls and frees up finite resource to focus on the passengers who need help the most.

Such are the expectations that the perception of the response takes on a sharper focus.  Consider the airline that sends an SMS inviting a passenger to book travel insurance through them but is silent when a flight has been cancelled.   A passenger can be forgiven for thinking “The airline had no interest in me other than getting me to spend more money”.  People do have a choice and so the consequences for airline and airport are predictable.

 

Your brand in their hands

The very nature of an airline’s business model hands over the delivery of many aspects of the brand and passenger experience to a third party.  In many cases it’s seamless but that’s not always the way.  Sullen gate staff and disengaged baggage handlers have the ability to throw away millions of dollars worth of brand building in an instant.passenger experience

Whatever the posters on the wall say about putting customers first, unless everyone in the chain understands why that’s important, how it will be delivered and how success will be measured, the nicely-worded platitudes are meaningless. The myopic focus on costs will prevail without a view of the consequences of that cost obsession.

Outsourcing the sensitive management of communications that are natural around disruption can be a sound commercial move but also requires high levels of understanding between airline and agency.  I spoke about the issue to John Milburn, general manager at Bosch Service Solutions who handle customer contacts for a number of leading global airline brands.

John told me: “Our client’s knows how critical it is to get the right information to the right people in the right way.  They take our agents to their in-house brand training facility to immerse them in their  brand and crucially allow them to experience what their passengers should expect ether flying economy or first-class, and – importantly – why. It means that when there is a problem our people can be highly empathetic, managing a relationship rather than executing a transaction”.

 

Frequency risks breeding complacency

According to Flightstats, in the 30 days to mid-August 26,300 flights were cancelled globally with 692,000 being delayed.  With an average 100 people on board, that’s the best part of 700 million people having their plans disrupted – in one month.

So with my passenger hat on, compensation rules aside, it’s not unreasonable for me to think that if something changes, the airline will be well drilled in letting me know important information.

Airlines can compete on costs, metrics and processing efficiencies but as Ryanair is discovering with its “Always Getting Better” initiative, there are greater commercial rewards to be found by paying more attention to the things customers are most interested in – and that includes communications at the most important times.  I wrote a blog just recently about how high up the agenda a customer focus is for the airline that not so long ago appeared proud of the contempt it shows passengers (read here).

It’s a trend that disruption management specialists 15below have also seen.  They report a rapid growth in the demand for its collaborative workshops that help airlines understand what it’s like to be the passenger, what they should do and how.

At a recent event in Dubai, 15below highlight some very telling facts, including that of the top 10 on-time performing Middle East and African airlines, 21% of their passengers are – over 8 million a year – are disrupted.

Yet the workshops reveal that while the intent in one part of an airline is good, significant barriers still remain.  Doing things on the customer agenda remains a contentious subject in many a boardroom in any sector, not just airlines.  If a business case cannot show an immediate ROI it won’t make the short-list.  The marketing and customer experience teams might be making the right moves and articulating the cost of lost customers.  But if the culture means their insight is not adopted by every other part of the business, the focus will remain on doing the wrong things really well.

IT understandably has a loud voice at the table and often wants to manage innovation and change in-house.  Falling into the clutches of its normal programme management governance and competing for resource around the business equally retains control over the time-quality-cost triumvirate and helps negotiate the portfolio of legacy and merged systems, but anecdotal evidence suggest it often slows things down too.  And that simply lets others get ahead.

 

The to-do list

15below has some sound advice (and a JetBlue case study here) to help airlines do things better.

First, planning with stakeholders and partners so whether ground staff or outsourced contact centre, they all have the same information and the right information at the same time.  For a passenger the only thing worse than no information is inconsistent information between gate, Google, contact centre and departure board.

Strike a better balance between automation and human communications.  Technology offers some fantastic opportunities for handling issues of scale. But airlines must also recognise when passengers need reassurance that comes from speaking with a person and not interacting with an algorithm.

Solving the problem before a passenger knows it exists is also a way to retaining passenger faith.  Making it easy to understand what’s happened, making it easy to talk to someone about their own specifics and having a ready-made solution in place takes a little effort but is immensely appreciated.

Proactive communications with those who are expecting the passenger such as hotels or family takes the experience to another level. Automated voice messages are more popular in the US than in the UK.  But calling at 2am or assuming that a passengers first language is English despite what they’ve already made clear is not right either, yet it happens.

 

The “So what?”

It is well accepted that there are three elements to the customer experience.  Did it do what I expected it to?, Was it easy? and How did it make me feel?  Research also shows it’s not an equal three-way split in terms of importance.  The memory of the emotional aspect from last time can drive upwards of 70% of decision-making for the next time.

So passengers are far less likely to buy a ticket from an airline that has previously showed them any degree of contempt, whatever the customer charter and brand promise say. The brand is what passengers tell others it is, not what the strapline says.  They have a voice and they have a choice.

Airlines who still see no reason to change or who don’t make the right changes will therefore get left further behind by those at the next gate or the next airport who do get it.

The stakes are high, the expectations are high.  It’s not just a relationship that’s under threat or about to flourish – by definition its also revenue, load factors and forward bookings.  And none of those want to be disrupted.

 


Jerry Angrave is a Certified Customer Experience Professional and consultant.  Managing Director of Empathyce, Jerry has worked for or with organisations in the aviation and travel, retail banking, utilities, legal services and pharmaceutical industries. 

Jerry will be chairing sessions a the AirXperience event in London in September 2015 – feel free to ask Jerry any further questions on this subject.

Making technology relevant to the passenger experience

(This post was created as a guest blog for Total BlueSky in August 2015)

The speed and breadth of technological change not just in the aviation world presents fantastic opportunities.  The challenge however, is to take advantage of the right opportunities not just the latest opportunity. Understanding the things that passengers value most helps prioritise where investment and resource is best focused.

“We need to think like retailers, we need to be more digital” is the rallying cry in many away-day strategic planning session. After all, the retail sector is often the first roll-out new technology and in stores, online and bridging the divide between the two. Passenger experience

On the flip side however, why not use technology to create an airline that retailers aspire to be like?

As passengers we are all also consumers in other markets.  It is those interactions when buying a coffee, returning an item bought online or getting our telecoms provider to explain the latest bill that set our expectations.  Replicating best practice creates nothing new and is soon overtaken.  Even mobile, Apple and contactless payment methods quickly become established. Applying the right technology to the right problems on the other hand is a winning strategy.

That however, raises a few questions, not least in the debate about using the latest tech because we can, or using the most relevant tech.

Should our planning horizon be months rather than three or 5 years? If mobile, beacons and wearables are the answer, exactly what is the question? And if technology is so good, why do airlines automate check-in for passengers in economy yet retain the personal touch for those in business class.

It might make processing more cost-efficient but if I’m using it for the first time or it’s not working properly I’ll still expect someone there to help me. It feels very transactional, all about barcodes and processing with no apparent desire for any kind of relationship.  If I fly business class one week and economy the next, I’ll be paying less but I’ll also remember how the different approach made me feel when I’m booking my next business-class flight.

So another question might be “Who is benefiting most from the technology?”.  Is it the airline or airport who can leverage the benefits of data, measure processes more efficiently and drive down operating costs?

Or is it the passenger, for whom technology makes it easier to do business than with a competitor and so they return more often, spend more and tell everyone else to do the same?

At an aviation conference recently I asked a fellow speaker for their views on where technology and passenger experiences meet. Will there be a time in the not too distant future, I wondered, when I won’t be able to fly if I don’t have a smartphone?  The immediate and enthusiastic response was an unequivocal “Absolutely!”.

Nothing wrong with ambition, but there’s a real risk of making the assumption that owning a smartphone means being willing and able to use it in the way that airlines want passengers to.

A large US carrier launched its lost baggage app with a big fanfare and indeed, it did shows where a bag was and how that compared with where it should be.  That’s not an inconsiderable amount of time, money and opportunity cost to develop technology that is unlikely to be at the top of a passenger’s wish-list.

As a passenger, I expect my bag to make the same trip as me.  I accept that problems happen and that bags do go missing or not make onto the flight.  BA’s recent problems at LHR Terminal 5 highlighted that all too well. But would I download an app and keep checking it when the chances of it going missing are slim anyway and I’ve got a hundred other things to do?

On a trip to Poland recently, my bag didn’t make it.  I went to the information desk and got things sorted. Having just landed in a foreign country late at night, the baggage reclaim area was not where I would have expected to try and connect to a new mobile network and rely on an app to know more than the people in the room.  I would still have gone to the information desk anyway.

I put it to the airline who had developed the app that its usefulness was there, but limited.  The response was that passengers always want to know where their bags are. Personally, I assume they’re where they are supposed to be but if you go to the effort of producing an app, I’m inclined to feel less confident and believe now that’s a frequent occurrence.

And, I was told, as people in transit can run through an airport quicker than bags can be processed, it’s good to check if your bag is going to make it or not.  We then fell into a debate about designing (unintentional) experiences where people have to run, whether they’re fit, have just had a hip replacement, have amplified anxiety and so on.

The point is relevance.

We hear headlines that people are “always connected”. They will be connected to the things that are most relevant to them and help them do what they want to do.  In the case of lost bags, I know the airline has my cellphone number – they’ve reminded me to check-in early and stock up on duty-free goods ­- and I know they can link the bag to its owner.  So if there is an issue why can’t they get in touch with me before I even know there is a problem and solve it.

The slightly introspective approach also manifests itself in the green, orange and red “How was it for you?” buttons that greet us after security, by the gate or exiting customs.

They give a score, an indication of satisfaction at the point of interaction and add to the wealth or metrics and data. What they don’t yield is a qualitative element; why did someone tap the green button with a smile or punch the red button in frustration?

Without that, how do we know what to change?  And as a customer, if I’ve already told you what I think, why should I bother telling you again when I get an email the day after travelling back?

Thinking like a retailer might be a step in the right direction and there is obviously a place for technology.  But what makes the technology a good investment is the mindset and culture that it’s nurtured and developed in.  For example, where everyone in the project team understands and can keep on top of how and why passengers and therefore the business will benefit.

London City Airport has a huge focus on technology but for the primary reason of making the travelling experience better.  From that, they know, will flow more passengers and more revenue.  And the results are testimony to that approach; passenger numbers are expected to exceed 4 million this year.  Customer reviews suggest it’s the kind of airport you hope your airline will fly to.  And commercially, the owners have just put the airport up for sale with an estimated price tag of £2bn.

Technology plays a huge part but I recall LCY’s chief executive Declan Collier keeping things in perspective about how it’s used in an interview with Forrester in 2013. He said “Customer experience is nothing without delivery, and in our business, our propositions stand or fall on the ability of our people to deliver them”.

Adding to the sentiment from New Zealand is Andy Lester, Chief Operating Officer of Christchurch airport.  Such was the devastation of the tragic 2011 earthquake that much of the city is yet to be rebuilt.  However, speaking in Barcelona about how the airport has got back on its feet, he said “We have a great opportunity … but if we think like an airport or think like an airline we won’t see things the way our customers do”.

Airlines have access to some amazing technology. Passengers have a choice about who they fly with. Understanding the two sides and bringing them together in the right way will create a winning combination.


 

Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you found it interesting and thought-provoking.  I’d love to hear what you think so please feel free to add your comments below.

I’m Jerry Angrave, founder of Empathyce and an ex-corporate customer experience practitioner.  Since 2012 I’ve been a consultant helping others understand how best to improve their customer experiences.  If you’ve any questions about this or any other CX issue do please get in touch.  I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 or on email I’m [email protected]

Thank you Jerry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jerry Angrave

CCXP LogoCustomer Experience awards judge

Proof that better customer experiences mean better results

If you’re looking for more evidence to show a sceptical stakeholder that better customer experiences mean better results, the recent wave of financial reporting yields a helpful trend.

Not so long ago, updates were all about how a business was coping with the headwinds of tough economic times, exposure to foreign exchange movements, provisions and restructuring costs.  By comparison, little was said about how a business was improving things for the element that generates the bulk of revenue – customers.

In what is emerging as a push-pull scenario, that balance is changing.  One the one hand, companies are doing some great things on the customer agenda and are rightly and proudly shouting about it.  They know they need to be very aware of how what they do impacts on their customers in order to survive, let alone thrive.

On the other hand, investors want to know more.  They too know the commercial value that comes from having more customers coming back more often, spend more on higher margin products and telling everyone else to do the same.   In considering the future value and predictability of the business, they also now want to know how things are being made better and easier for customers.

The back-story to this week’s results from low-cost airline Ryanair is a well-documented but great example.

ryanair investor pres

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary and CFO Neil Sorahan deliver the Q1 results FY16 to investors

A few years ago, despite a very clear proposition they were not liked.  People tolerated them to a point but their apparent contempt of passengers played into the hands of competitors like Easyjet.  Having managed the cost-base to the bare minimum the wavering of higher-value customers was a serious threat.

In response, the “Always Getting Better” initiative was launched with a view to stopping doing the things that irked passengers unnecessarily and to do what they value better.

In its latest results announced this week the airline confirmed it has 380 new aircraft on order.  It has one of the strongest balance sheets in the industry.  Load factors, margins and forward bookings are rising. And it flew over 100 million people in the last year.

But what really stood out in this week’s video briefing by Michael O’Leary was how high up the agenda customer experience now is.  Once not apparently even on the agenda, customer experience is given the spotlight right after the opening headline performance numbers and before an update on fuel hedging, the wider strategic view and financial details.

Not only is the renewed focus on customers having an immediate and beneficial impact, it also helps protect the business in future when the market gets tough.  Two years in to the Always Getting Better programme, it is described as performing “extraordinarily well”.   The increases in load factors and forward booking are, Mr O’Leary asserts, a sign that customers are responding positively to the programme.  And, we are told, that such is the strategic role now played by customer experience at Ryanair that the commercial interest in Aer Lingus is deemed no longer relevant.

 

greggs

Greggs’ focus on in-store customer experience pays dividends

Over in a very different sector, but citing the same focus on customers in its strong results this week, is UK food-on-the-go retailer Greggs.   Despite a 6% increase in sales, growth in its Balanced Choice range of healthy food options and benefiting from low inflation leaving more money in people’s pockets, it is not complacent.  Reporting its operational highlights to the market, CEO Roger Whiteside shares and celebrates what Greggs is doing to achieve ‘great customer experiences’ – one of the four cornerstones of its business strategy.

 

Elsewhere, the reverse is true.  Market analysts who see little growth potential or who are surprised by lacklustre results often cite brands being ‘out of touch’ with their customers and not being organised to serve them properly.

In Japan, Honda chief Takahiro Hachigo recently told markets about how he will rebuild the company following a wave of product recalls that has eroded trust and production targets that have left it with excess capacity in a mature market.  Mr Hachigo’s plan is not about aggressive growth for the sake of it or chasing headline target numbers.  The focus now is on understanding customers better to “deliver their dreams”.  Quite what that looks like remains to be seen, but paired with an ambition to “strengthen communication with people on the ground” the message to investors that it will be about organic, customer-led growth rather than an obsession with metrics, is clear.

 

Giving investors confidence in a predictable business was also the subject of an interview I did recently with Dan Moross of MOO.  The online printer of business cards and stationery enjoys rave reviews from customers, attracts top talent and is regarded by industry commentators as an exemplary start-up.

Key to it all though, is the culture where their people are given the tools, processes and permission to help their customers any way they can.  On a per transaction basis the margins might be shaved, but that is more than made up for in the greater volume of customers attracted by what they hear about MOO.  Are investors happy with that approach, I asked Dan. “Absolutely” was the emphatic reply.  Read that interview here.

 

The focus on customers is not the whole story for many companies.  But, not only is it giving them a good story to tell, investors want to hear how it will help them – and that goes for those sceptical stakeholders too.


Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you found it interesting and thought-provoking.  I’d love to hear what you think so please feel free to add your comments below.

I’m Jerry Angrave, founder of Empathyce and an ex-corporate customer experience practitioner.  Since 2012 I’ve been a consultant helping others understand how best to improve their customer experiences.  If you’ve any questions about the relationship between customer experience and financial strength or any other CX issue do please get in touch for a chat.  I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 or on email I’m [email protected]

Thank you Jerry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jerry Angrave

CCXP LogoCustomer Experience awards judge

How not to increase the customer experience scores

It’s “good news, bad news” time for measuring customer experience.   The good news is that some people have found really quick and easy ways to increase customer scores.  The bad news is that those creative solutions can be catastrophic for the business and ultimately the people themselves.fans

We’ll look at the reasons why it happens and the consequences in a moment.  Firstly though, I suspect we’re all agreed that for any organisation to improve it needs to measure the things that matter, not what is convenient.  They will use a combination of quantitative and qualitative feedback from customers and employees to influence the right change and investment decisions.

However, the pressure for better and better metrics can easily lead to gaming of the customer experience scores and measurement system.   The following examples are ones I’ve genuinely come across in recent times.  I share them with you to illustrate what can happen and to hopefully prompt a sense-check that it’s not happening in your business.

 

  • Misleading respondents:  Net Promoter Score and others like it have their place.  Each method has its own critical nuances that require a severe ‘handle with care’ advisory.  So what certainly doesn’t help is where those carrying out the surveys have been told to, or are allowed to, manipulate the scoring system.  In other words, when asking for an NPS (recommendation) number they tell the customer that “A score of 0-6 means the service was appalling, 7 or 8 is bad to mediocre and 9 or 10 is good”.  And hey presto, higher NPS.
  • Cajoling:  I’ve also listened-in to research agencies saying to customers “Are you sure it’s only an eight, do you mean a nine?  There’s hardly any difference anyway”.  Maybe not to the customer there’s not but it’s very significant in the final calculation of the score.  Or, in response to a customer who is trying to make up their mind, “You said it was good so would that be ten maybe, or how about settle for nine?”.  More good scores on their way.
  • Incentivising customers:  the Board of a franchised operation couldn’t understand why its customer scores were fantastic but it’s revenue was falling off a cliff.  It turned out that if a customer wanted to give anything other than a top score in the survey they were offered a 20% discount next time they came in-store in return for upgrading their score to a 9 or 10.  Not only that, but the customers got wise to it and demanded discounts (in return for a top score) every other time in future too as they “know how the system works”.
  • Responses not anonymised: too often, the quest for customer feedback gets hijacked by an opportunity to collect customer details and data.  I’ve seen branch managers stand over customers while they fill in response forms.  Receipts from a cafe or restaurant invite you to leave feedback using a unique reference number that customers understandably think could link their response to the card details and therefore them.  Employee surveys that purport to be anonymous but then ask for sex, age, length of service, role – all things that make it easy to pinpoint a respondent especially in a small team.  So it’s not surprising that that unless there is been a cataclysmic failure, reponses will be unconfrontational, generically pleasant and of absolutely no use at all.
  • Slamming the loop shut:  Not just closing it.  It’s the extension of responses not being anonymous.  Where they are happy to share their details and to be contacted, following up good or bad feedback is a brilliant way to engage customers and employees.  But I’ve also seen complaints from customers saying the branch manager or contact centre manager called them and gave them a hard time. Berating a customer for leaving honest feedback is a brilliant way to hand them over to a competitor.
  • Comparing apples with potatoes:  It’s understandable why companies want to benchmark themselves against their peer group of competitors or the best companies in other markets.  It’s easy to look at one number and say whether it’s higher or lower than another.  But making comparisons with other companies’ customer scores without knowing how those results are arrived at will be misleading at best and at worst make a company complacent.  There are useful benchmarking indices such as those from Bruce Temkin whose surveys have the volume and breadth to minimise discrepancies.  But to compare one company’s NPS or Satisfaction scores in the absence of knowing at what point in the customer journey or how their customers were surveyed can draw some very unreliable conclusions.
  • Selective myopia:  Talking of benchmarking, one famous sector leader (by market share) makes a huge fanfare internally of having the highest customer satisfaction scores of its competitors.  Yet it conveniently ignores one other equally famous competitor who has significantly higher customer scores.  The reason is a flawed technicality in that they have identical products, which customers can easily switch to and from but one operates without high street stores (yet it makes other branded stores available to use on its behalf).  First among unequals.
  • Unintended consequences:  a leadership team told me that despite all the complaints about the service, its staff didn’t need any focus because they were highly engaged.  The survey said so.  However, talking to the same employees out on the floor, they said it was an awful place to work.  They knew what was going wrong and causing the complaints but no-one listened to their ideas.  They didn’t know who to turn to so they could help a customer and their own products and services were difficult to explain. Why then, did they have such high engagement scores?  Because the employees thought (wrongly, as it happens) that a high index was needed if they stood any chance of getting a bonus so they ticked that box whenever the survey came round.  The reality was a complete lack of interest or pride in their job (some said they would rather tell friends they were unemployed) and no prizes for guessing what that meant for customers’ experiences.

    A downward spiral – the consequences of gaming customer scores

 

Of course, metrics are necessary but their value is only really insightful when understood in the context of the qualitative responses. The consequences of getting that balance wrong are easy to understand but the reasons why are more complex.  That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be addressed.

The damaging impact of the complacency comes from believing things are better than they are.  If a number is higher than it was last time, that’s all that matters, surely.  Wrong.  The business risk is that investments and resources will continue to be directed to the things that further down the line will become a low priority or simply a wasted cost in doing the wrong things really well.

What’s just as damaging is the impact the gaming has on people.  The examples I’ve mentioned here are from some of the largest organisations in their respective markets, not small companies simply over-enthusiastically trying to do their best.  Scale may be part of the problem, where ruling by metrics is the easiest way to manage a business.  That is one of the biggest causes of customer scores being over-inflated;  the pressure managers put on their team to be rewarded by relentlessly making things better as measured by a headline customer number, however flawed that is.

It’s a cultural thing. Where gaming of the numbers does happen, those who do it or ask for it to happen may feel they have little choice.  If people know there are smoke and mirrors at work to manipulate the numbers or if they are being asked to not bother about what they know is important, what kind of a place must that be to work in? The good talent won’t hang around for long.

For me, beyond being timely and accurate there are three criteria that every customer measurement framework must adhere to.

  1. Relevant:  they must measure what’s most important to customers and the strategic aims of the business
  2. Complete: the measures must give a realistic representation of the whole customer journey, not just specific points weeks after they happened
  3. Influential: CX professionals must be able to use the qualitative and quantitative insights to bring about the right change.

As ever, my mantra on this has always been to get the experience right first then the numbers will follow.  I’d urge you to reflect on your own measurement system and be comfortable that the scores you get are accurate and reliable.

It’s also worth asking why would very good and capable people feel they had to tell a story that sounds better than it is. Leaders and managers, your thoughts please…

 


Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you found it interesting and thought-provoking.  I’d love to hear what you think so please feel free to add your comments below.

I’m Jerry Angrave, an ex-corporate customer experience practitioner and since 2012 I’ve been a consultant helping others understand how best to improve their customer experiences.  If you’ve any questions about customer measurement or any other CX issue do please get in touch for a chat.  I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 or on email I’m [email protected]

Thank you Jerry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jerry Angrave

CCXP and a judge at the UK Customer Experience Awards