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

Gaming the customer experience measurement system: why?

The credibility of customer experience is at risk from employees who game the measurement system.  They are motivated to play the system because their performance management reviews depend on it. We can dismiss it as a by-product of the organisation’s ‘culture’ but cultures are made up of people and people allow it to happen –  especially when everything is about the number and not why the number is what it is.

Where employees feel compelled to make things look better than they really are, bad commercial decisions will be made or good ones will be deferred, based on what is effectively false evidence.give us a 10

It’s a crucial issue but one that is often hidden behind the internal rhetoric that proclaims “We put customers first”.  Unfortunately there are many examples of gaming the customer measurement system and here are just some of those I’ve come across in recent times.  They show that if the focus is on a headline number and not the qualitative insight, the competitive advantage and lower costs the measurement is supposed to generate will never materialise:

  • The leadership team believed they had good employee engagement because the scores in the survey said so. However, in one-to-one conversations with the team on on the floor, employees said it was a dreadful place to work.  Some would rather tell friends they were unemployed than say who they worked for.  But when the survey came round, they ticked the top box because they thought (incorrectly as it turned out) that a high score for the company was a key metric in determining whether or not they had a bonus at the end of the year.
  • Contact centre agents asked customers for a Net Promoter Score (NPS) on the basis that “A score of between zero and three is atrocious, between four and eight is not very good and a nine or a ten is good”.
  • A car retailer couldn’t work out why revenues were down but advocacy scores were high. Because they were incentivised to have high NPS results, franchises followed up purchases with a courtesy call and request for a net promoter score. Customers were actively encouraged to give a top score, in return for which they would get a discount off a service or tyres.  And when customers booked a car in for subsequent services, they took the initiative and demanded the lower price in return for giving higher scores.
  • A large multi-brand, multi-channel organisation announced internally that any salary rise at the end of the year was conditional on a increase in customer scores. Immediately, behaviours changed.  There were requests to the reporting team to remove scores from certain journeys because they weren’t good, to change the weighting of different elements making up the overall score and complaints were received from customers who were put under pressure to increase the scores they had already given.
  • Stressed and insecure managers, looking to give their bosses what they want to see, tell their team “This is the story I want to tell, go and find the evidence”.  Meanwhile, the reality of what is happening to customers conveniently goes unreported.

There will be more, but I would urge you to reflect on your measurement system – if it could be manipulated, how might that be and how can I find out?  Are your findings and influencing skills exposed to a challenge from the board about their credibility? And so on.  But the bigger question has to be “Why?”.  What is it about the way the company treats and rewards its people that is effectively weakening decision-making, costing more and handing the advantage to competitors?

I spend my working life advising organisations that they should not chase the number.  It’s important but it’s not the end-game.  Measure the right things, understand what it’s telling you and change what needs changing; but never chase the number for the sake of it. It drives all the wrong behaviours and causes more harm than good.  My mantra : Get the experiences right and the number will look after itself.

If you’ve heard about examples of how the numbers can be manipulated and how that then affects decision-making, please share your thoughts!

 

If you’d like to know more about measuring the right customer experiences or how I might be able to help with any other aspect of customer experience do please get in touch – I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 or email [email protected].  ja speaking

Thank you, I hope you found the post interesting and thought-provoking, and please feel free to add your own views below.

Jerry Angrave


 

 

 

 

 

Passenger experiences and what they say to each other

Airports and the people who use them want different versions of the same thing from the passenger experience.  Whether we’re transiting through one or managing one, the common need is for it to be efficient.  But this research report into what passengers tell each other about good and bad experiences shows that the way customers define efficiency is not always the same as how airports measure it.

  • The ideal passenger experience is in airport that simply does what it’s supposed to and in a pleasant environment
  • The consequences of long queues, inadequate facilities and the wrong staff attitude are what make people use a different airport next time
  • An airport’s obsessive focus on processing efficiency risks doing the wrong things well and needing to spend resource on fixing self-inflicted problems

 

The gap between what airports think and what passengers think is a crucial one.  All the while that metrics are being collated and analysed, if they are the wrong ones, airports will be oblivious to why passengers are exercising their choices and voices.  In Barcelona last year, Andy Lester of Christchurch airport summed it up well when he talked of rebuilding after the 2011 New Zealand earthquake and observed

“If you think like an airport you’ll never understand your customers”.

We’ve seen recently a flurry of airports celebrating bigger passenger numbers and new routes with new airlines.  Yet their customers react with a sigh because many of those airports are already at or beyond passenger numbers that make going through the airport a tolerable experience.

At the risk of generalising, airports aim to get as many people through the airport as possible, as efficiently as possible.  It needs to be done in a way that means they can spend as much money as possible, come back as often as possible and tell everyone they know to do the same.  If it moves (that is either people or bags) they can barcoded, processed and measured.  How many get from A to B in as little time or at least cost becomes the primary, sometimes, sole focus.  All of which makes good operational sense, given the complexity and challenges of running an airport in a way that airlines will be confident is using.

But what are passengers concerned with and what is their version of what efficiency means?   Kiosks with red, orange and green buttons greet us everywhere to ask how the service was.  While that allows an AQS metric to be reported and tracked, there is no qualitative, actionable insight let alone allowances for mischievous kids or cleaners tapping away as they pass.  However, the travel industry is blessed with no shortage of customers willing and able to give their feedback – and that in turn creates a vast reservoir of insight not only for customers choosing an airport but for the airports to tap into themselves.

From that readily available information I’ve researched to see what customers said to each other about what makes an airport good or bad.  Using feedback on airports left at the Airline Quality / Skytrax review site I organised over 750 descriptions behind why passengers gave an airport a score of 9 or 10 (out of 10) and then 0 or 1.

Passenger experience key findings:

Where there were positive experiences, 98% of the comments can be summarised into one of two areas; either that it worked or that it was in a nice environment.  That might seem obvious, and to a large degree it is.  However, if it is so obvious then why are passengers still telling each other about cases where it’s anything but efficient?

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What is it that customers tell each other when they write about the passenger experience?

The negative experiences were more fragmented in their causes, being about the function of the airport building, how good the processes in it are, staff attitude and information.  What is clear is that a bad experience is significantly more negatively emotive than good experiences are positive. The core expectation is that everything will work as it’s meant to.  If it does, great.  But where it falls short, the consequences are commercially harmful, as typified by this message:

“I intend to avoid any lengthy stay in this airport again even if it means having to pay more to fly direct – it’s worth the price to keep your sanity”

 

In summary:

One:  55% of the reasons for a good score were simply about it being “efficient”

Airport experiences do not all have to have a Wow! factor.  First and foremost, passengers just want everything to work.  It’s a truism that without the basics in place being done well and consistently, a Wow! becomes a Waste of Work.

A noticeable number of passengers used the word “efficient” in their reviews, by which they were referring to things such as (in order of how often these were mentioned)

  • there was almost no experience, in that everything worked as it should
  • when they needed to interact with staff, the response was courteous and helpful
  • getting around the airport was easy because of good signage and easily accessible information
  • they didn’t have to wait long on arrival to collect bags and head on the next leg of their journey
  • getting to and from the airport was easy, with good connections and acceptable parking charges

 

Two:  43% of the reasons for a good score were about a nice airport environment

The most efficient, effective, high-tech and innovative processes will all have their business-case ROI ruined if the environment in which they operate makes people feel like they are being treated with contempt.  Often that happens unintentionally but if the value-exchange is one-sided, there is only so long a customer will put up with it.  Chances are they have spent a lot of time and money on this trip, they are by definition not yet where they want to be and anything that is perceived as not making their journey any easier will count against the airport.  It puts into context why people value a pleasant environment, the most common specific examples of which included:

  • shops were relevant, toilets were sufficient in number and the general facilities laid on were good
  • everywhere was kept clean and tidy
  • the layout was spacious with plenty of comfortable seating
  • the atmosphere throughout was one of calm, bright and quiet
  • good wi-fi connections were cited but this is increasingly sliding down the food-chain to be a basic expectation; its absence being more of an issue than its presence.

What do they say when the experience is a good one?  Here are some examples:

 “It’s clean. It makes you believe they are aware of their customers’ health and wellbeing”

“If you have the option to use this airport, it is a great choice”

“It never lets me down”

 

Three:  48% of the negative reasons were about the facilities

Where customers were giving airports a score of 0 or 1, the biggest gripe was that the airport couldn’t cope with the volume of passengers.  The resulting slow and uncomfortable journey through the airport creates frustration and anxiety.  It’s made worse by the fact that as passengers we not unreasonably expect airports to know exactly who is going to be in the airport each day and to be prepared.  Other consequences of the over-crowding included poor seating, a dirty and gloomy atmosphere and poor choices of food and drink.

It’s for these reasons that an airport celebrating a rise in new passenger numbers might want to acknowledge and address the concerns of existing customers at the same time.

 

Four:  28% of the negative reasons were about processes

For passengers, security, immigration and baggage handling fall into the category of processes that should just work every time. Where they do, it’s fine, but where they fall short, they can have a significant impact on influencing whether a passenger will choose that airport again.

Slow moving queues, duty free goods being confiscated in transit, poorly translated instructions and slow baggage reclaims were among the specific processes that riled customers. Again, it becomes emotive because these are all seen as avoidable inconveniences when we experience other airports who can and do get it right.

 

Five:  13% of the negative reasons were about staff

As a generally compliant travelling public (and I accept there are exceptions, such as when peanuts are served in bags), going through an airport can be a daunting experience even in the best of terminals.  The one thing we hope we can rely on is that when we need to interact with another human being there will be a mutual respect, a helping hand or at least clear instructions so we can indeed be compliant. Airports go out of their way to train staff and yet the evidence is that many are still failing.

Rude, unempathetic, incompetent, unhelpful, deliberately slow and uncaring are just some of the ways staff were described.  Any organisation is dependent on having good relationships but where one side feels they are being treated with contempt, it becomes a very deep scar to heal.

A customer wrote about their disappointing and surprising experience at one of the largest US airports where there were

“Miserable, nasty employees, barking and screaming at customers as if they were dogs”.

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Good news – plenty of seats. Bad news – information boards positioned too far away beyond the moving walkway

 

Six:  11% of the negative reasons were about information

It’s an area airports have focused on and with a good deal of success.  Making passengers more self-sufficient and having employees being better at handling questions has benefits for all sides.  But there are still airports where having the right information at the right time in the right place is still elusive;  more specifically, passengers concerns around information was that either there was none, it was inadequate, it was wrong or it was confusing – all frustrating when we live in a world dominated by technology and information.

 

So what?  Why is it important and what does it tell us?

  1. Poor experiences make people choose other airports next time.  Passengers’ expectations are not only set by what it was like last time, but by how other airports do it and by their interactions with other companies they deal with in their day-to-day lives.  So where things don’t meet the basic expectations, not only does that impact on revenue for the airport there is also a commercial consequence for airline partners.  For example, some passengers said

“I usually fly Delta but will now try to avoid them – to avoid Atlanta”, and

“Because of this airport I will never fly Etihad again”

 

  1. Depending on which piece of research you read, anything between 75% and 95% of customers are influenced by what others say.  Any robust customer strategy will have at its core a clear vision of what the experiences need to be in order that passengers will think, feel, do and share as intended.  Many organisations now build into their customer journey mapping a stage specifically to address the “I’m sharing what it was like” issues.

 

  1. An obsession with metric-driven efficiency and processes that work for the airport’s operations team but not for passengers creates blind-spots as to what will help drive non-aeronautical revenue.  Customers themselves recognised this by saying

“All of time put aside to shop was spent queueing”, and

“They have allowed way too many people to use this place. Cannot be good for business as nobody has time to spend any money in the shops or bars”

 

Declan Collier of London City Airport reinforces the point about the dangers of process focus, task orientation and metric myopia when he talks about being “in the people business” and that the fortunes of LCY will “rise or fall on the ability of its people”.

For example, last year I questioned the fanfare for an app that tells passengers where their lost bags are.  I accept that bags go missing but as a passenger, whether I’ve a smart-phone and free hands or not, I’d prefer to have seen the investment directed to not leaving me feeling awkward and helpless standing by an empty baggage carousel.  However, I was told by a large airport hub that the rationale was that it would mean transiting passengers could run for their connection without having to worry about collecting bags that weren’t there.  I was told that yes, running is part of the expected experience and my concerns about what that is like for my confused mother or my autistic son fell on deaf ears.  I was told I don’t understand airport operations and they’re right, I don’t.  But I do understand what it’s like to be a passenger.

 

  1. The best airport experiences don’t need to be expensive, complex or high-tech.  Think what a difference just having engaged, helpful and friendly staff makes – and that doesn’t take a huge piece of capex to justify, just a degree of collaboration with employees and third parties who have the airport’s brand reputation in their hands.

 

  1. One observation in the course of the research was that the high and low scores often applied to the same airports. That has to be a concern and worthy of investigating;  why can it be done so well at times but not at others?  How come all the effort and pride can create advocates some of the time but at other times is just handing passengers to competitors?

 

Final thoughts on the airport passenger experience

These days, people do not expect a poor passenger experience.  The bar is climbing higher and in simple terms that just means doing the right things well.  Earlier this year, writer Alastair Campbell travelled through Terminal 2 and sent this tweet to his 285,000 followers:

LHR tweet

Unsurprisngly, Heathrow’s social media team proudly retweeted it to a similar number of their followers.  Within 15 minutes, this positive message was shared with well over half a million people.  And all because the experience was simply – and “amazingly” – smooth and quick.  Nothing more complicated than that.

It’s not just about giving customers the right experiences every time.  To make an airport efficient for passengers as well as managers it also needs to avoid giving the wrong experiences, ever. The commercial consequences are riding on it.

Passengers know that as well as anyone.  So if there’s one message, then it is that the airport and its brand is only as good as people tell each other it is.

 

I hope you find this report useful and interesting but email [email protected] or call me on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 if you’ve any questions or comments – I’d love to hear your views.

Thank you,

Jerry Angrave

 


The job of the customer experience manager

The need to improve customer experiences has been around since cavemen traded rocks for fish.  And as our understanding of complex customer experience issues has grown, so too have the opportunities for those moving into leadership and management roles.

Having credibility to influence change is at the heart of the job.  But in reality, it can sometimes feel like ours is a lonely customer voice at a crowded and loud business table.  Therefore to be a successful customer experience practitioner isn’t just about being good at what gets done;  it’s every bit about how it’s done too.

 

The good news is that business leaders are more empathetic.  They know the impact on customer experiences of how they think and act.  It’s important because it means they are making things better – and stopping things getting worse – for their customers and balance sheets.  Job done?  Not quite.

customer experience manager

The job of the customer experience manager

The bad news is that despite the evidence it works not everyone, sees it that way.  As a customer experience professional, we therefore need to be increasingly influential with those making the decisions.

Beneath the shiny veneer of perfect customer experience platitudes is a real world that’s arguing with itself;  relentless short-termism in one corner and profitable longevity in the other.  Sometimes, indeed often, the two protagonists are in neighbouring departments.

One CEO recently told me, in front of his team, that getting customer experience right “couldn’t be more important”.  And yet a few days later when it came to making strategic decisions, it was all about taking (not necessarily the right) costs out.  The customer’s voice was not being sought, let alone listened to.  And as a result they will continue to do the wrong things well and see managing exceptions as the norm.

It’s a stark reminder that despite the proof that improving customer experiences creates better commercial outcomes, many business people remain wedded to traditional scorecard metrics, processes and tasks.   They don’t get it, they may not want to get it or their boss won’t listen even if they do get it.

Maybe that’s our fault as customer experience professionals because our own approach has not been empathetic enough.  We believe in it passionately because it works, we just need to convince the sceptics.  It’s only part of the role, but a huge part nonetheless.  And so, from my time as both practitioner and consultant, here are ten themes that I know makes our role more effective.

  1. Hunt out your stakeholders – sounds obvious, but map the web of people (not departments) who intentionally or unintentionally make the customer experience what it is.  Whatever their level, whether they’re front-line / back-office / central support or external third parties, they should all be on your list of people you want onside.  Prioritise them, pick them off one-by-one, stay close to them and then get them collaborating with each other.
  2. Build your army – chances are you can’t bring about the right changes on your own.  You need pockets of supporters, advocates in all corners of the business who will help open doors to those stakeholders and tell you what the real challenges are.  They might spring up from the most unlikely of places but people who express an interest in what you do and why you do it are invaluable.  They’re our equivalent of finding a rare Gauguin painting at the back of the garage.  Take them under your wing and they will become the veins through which the oxygen of customer experience will flow into the business.
  3. Listen to understand – make time to understand what stakeholders see as their role in the organisation, what their objectives and challenges are and why they have the issues they do.  Observe carefully;  their most important and personal motivation is often revealed in an off-guard comment or in general conversation about the state of the nation.
  4. Make it matter to them – help them look good. Use what you hear to show specifically how better customer experiences can make their job more effective.  Show how having the right experiences can help them get a better result in their own personal and team objectives.  Give them early warning nudges over a coffee rather than surprise them in the Board Room.  Let them take the credit for being more customer-centric (your boss will know it’s you who made the difference).
  5. Map their journey – if we want to see how we fit into a customer’s world and create the right responses, we map their journeys.  Why not do the same with internal customers too?  It makes conversations much more empathetic and less adversarial.  And it’s not just about their role per se – if you are inviting them to a workshop, how can you position it and present it in a way that guarantees they turn up and contribute?
  6. Invite them in – take any opportunity to show or reinforce the customer strategy.  Have your compelling and targeted “How Customer Experience makes our business better” material handy at all times, especially in your head.  Show them customer journey mapping visuals, build a physical mock-up of a customer’s world.  Host a regular customer experience forum where you get senior people from all your stakeholder areas to share their perspectives.  Create “Customer experience for non-customer experience people sessions” to help spread the word.
  7. Make them empathetic – use real warts-and-all feedback to show them what it’s like to be on the receiving end of what they do.  Remind them that they are a consumer in their own lives.  Get them to think like a customer.  Ask them how the experiences they deliver compare with other organisations in other markets they deal with.  After all, those are the ones pushing the bar of our customers’ expectations ever higher.

    Find ways to help them help themselves

  8. Talk their language – keep it commercial.  Relate using the vocabulary of what matters to them.  Link customer experience to revenue, costs, efficiency, loyalty and margins.  And despite the fanfare around the subject, don’t start the engagement of a sceptical, process-focused but key stakeholder with “Can I talk to you about customer emotions?”.  Eyes will roll and you’ll lose them before you begin.  You know how emotions fit in the bigger picture so that can come later.  Much better to say something like “I’d appreciate your thoughts on how what we do now drives what our customers do next time”.
  9. Lead by example – be proactive and be responsive. Get a reputation for having the clearest, most unambiguous emails and reports. Little things go a long way – always turn up for meetings on time, keep promises, return calls and show an interest.  I’m indebted to David Hicks of Mulberry Consulting for a great example – my answerphone message promises to call back asap but “certainly within 3 hours”.
  10. Keep the momentum going – stay on the look-out for quick wins and use them as proof of concept.  Provide updates, share successes and relay stories of what others in other markets are doing.  Be the one to create an engaging company-wide forum focused purely on customers.  And invite yourself to talk with colleagues around the business at their team meetings.

 

There will be more ways so it will be great to hear what you think.  How do you influence and manage your customer experience stakeholders?

One last thought.  To see people, attitudes and companies change for the better as a result of what you have done can be the most rewarding job in the world.  In fact, it then no longer becomes a job.  So stay true to what you believe.  Expect progress to be slow but up the ante by planning to be quick.  Whatever happens though – and I thank Churchill for his words of wisdom – Never give up. Never give up. Never ever give up.

 

Jerry Angrave

Certified Customer Experience Professional – a practitioner and consultant on the strategic and tactical ways to help organisations improve their customer experiences

 

 

 

 

 

Customer experience without trust is costly

The new challengers in the energy market must be thanking the so-called “Big 6” for making their job easier.  A report just out by Which? shows the polar extremes of customer satisfaction, much of it driven by trust.

On the satisfaction scores, the smaller companies such as Ecotricity, Ovo and Good Energy are over 80%.  With nPower at 35% and Scottish Power at 41% none of the larger legacy retailers nudge above 50%.

Making matters worse for them, less than 20% of customers trust their suppliers.

Why can one group get it so wrong and others get it right?  Only the internal workings of change programmes with workstreams that don’t talk to each other, customer impacts seen at best as an afterthought and metric obsessed planning meetings can answer that.  But while companies like nPower are working hard to hang on to  what they’ve got, the challengers are welcoming new customers in with open arms.

It may be their way of thinking.  If those who run the Big 6 think and act like an energy company they may be missing the point.  Ovo Energy for example has a culture where they are a tech company, a retailer and then an energy supplier.  Subtle, but huge differences.

And what do we mean by trust?  As in any thriving relationship it’s emotive and essential.  Where one party shows contempt, whether perceived or real, the damage is often irreversible.

So little things add up. Making what should be simple enquiries or transactions difficult have consequences. Customers want their questions answered when they call in, not to find they’ve been routed through to the wrong department by an overly-eager IVR.  They want agents to call them back when they said they would and they want to be able to understand their tariffs and bills.  Business customers have different needs from residential yet a lack of empathy is all too often apparent.

Getting the employee experience is vital here too.  If they’re not proud to be delivering the customer experiences they are asked to, the lack of connection shows.  I’ve spent time with one of these companies where employees said they would rather make something up than tell people where they worked.

Reports like this latest update from Which? show the trend of shifting to new players continues. But it’s been doing that for some time and little seems to be changing.  Maybe we should change their label to the “Running out of energy 6”.


 

Customer experience and lawyers

United Airlines threw a new perspective into the debate about where responsibility for customer experience sits when it handed accountability to its General Counsel.

 

In an unusual move, United has brought customer experience and lawyers together by putting its General Counsel in charge (reported by Gary Leff).   The airline has a habit of being in the media for its unharmonious relationships with guitar playing customers, monks and even its own employees.   To pull the airline off the bottom of the customer satisfaction tables and into a position where customers rave rather than rant certainly needs drastic action.  Customer experience and lawyers under the same wing – a piece of corporate brilliance and a shrewd commercial move or a temporary holding position for an internal hot potato that nobody wants to catch?Customer experience and lawyers

True, the role of GCs and their teams is changing as the stakes have become higher. The economic turmoil of recent years coupled with increased regulatory demands has turned up the volume of the legal voice in the Board Room.  Their plate is already overflowing with the need to advise and keep the business ethical so should that also include managing customers’ experiences?  Like every other part of the company, Legal needs to have input and be kept informed.  At a practical level though, legal teams may not be closest to customers on a day-to-day basis and therefore best qualified to determine the nuances of what it should be like to be a customer.

I’ve seen companies who have the same director in charge of IT and Marketing.  Operations directors often pick up the customer experience reporting lines, as do those leading the Marketing  agendas.  Where silos exist and presumably more oversight is seen as a motivator for greater collaboration, many businesses also make one functional director accountable for the customer experience in another unrelated function.  The legal, risk and compliance teams already have a big say in how things are run, for sound commercial reasons.  At the other extreme though, having such a specialism in charge of customer experience creates a perception that it’s necessary because the experiences are so awful that the legal team are going to be integral to it anyway.

Whose role is it?  In this case, only United can answer that.  It’s a question we shouldn’t have to ask though.  Customer experience – doing the right combination of things for customers and the balance sheet – is what a business is about.  It’s a way of thinking and collaborating, it’s not an agenda item on one person’s monthly report back to the Board.  But if no one else will pick it up, maybe an empathetic and disciplined legal team are as good as any to run with it.

 

Did City Link’s customer reviews predict failure?

Customer experience reviews are a rich source of information for companies wanting to improve.  They also contain vital signals for companies needing to survive.

On Christmas Eve, the UK parcel courier City Link delivered itself into administration.  A few days later on New Year’s Eve, the absence of anyone wishing to pay the right price to pick up the pieces dealt the final blow.  The company collapsed and took with it the jobs of over 2,300 people.  Timing – whether delivering parcels or news – would sadly not appear to be one of their strong points.

Being aware of the changing environment is key to survival

Being aware of the changing environment is key to survival

Could they have seen it coming?  Maybe they did, but it sends a message to other companies that the early warning signs of trouble and what needs to change are not hidden away in an elusive, impenetrable vault.   Customers themselves are a reliable barometer of the pressure a business is under.  A quick look back at City Link’s customer reviews in the months and weeks leading up to the company’s failure should have set alarm bells ringing far beyond learning about niggles and gripes.

Take what was being said on Trustpilot for example.  There, just under 1,300 customers have taken the time and trouble to share their thoughts.  69% of them gave a 1-star rating;  22% gave 5 stars.  So while some things were being done right, there was clearly a dangerous groundswell of very unhappy customers.

Scores are one thing;  more telling is the level of negative emotion that customers talked about.  Over two-thirds of their customer reviews were not just people with a complaint;  the depth of emotion about their experience was raw and they made sure other customers knew about it.  Other review sites are available but if you want to read what customers said on Trustpilot about being on the receiving end of the wrong customer experiences, click here.

In short, the problem was not that customers felt underwhelmed by the lack of any “wow” experiences.  Of greater concern was the lack of basic expectations – unmet promises, conflicting information and being treated with contempt by rude staff.  Things that are arguably not hugely expensive to put right, but all of which created a lack of trust and customers warning other customers not to use them.

City Link was owned by a private equity firm who will have had a clear idea of what they wanted in return for their investment.  It’s not my money that’s at stake so I’m not in a position to pass comment on the business decisions and focus.  But, those reporting on the collapse cite operational efficiencies and intense competition as key reasons for the demise.  And while neither issue is insignificant it will be rare to find a business that doesn’t share the same challenges.  Worse still, customers have been shouting about the solutions from the pages of review sites.

I’m privileged to work with a variety of organisations across a variety of markets and countries.  It’s also my job to learn from others who are pushing the bar higher or dragging the bar up to where it needs to be to survive.  I see three factors that are common in many cases, and with City Link here too.  One: detail. People talk about surprise and delight, exceeding expectations.  Nice idea, but “WOW” stands for a complete Waste of Work and cost if the basics are not in place.  Two:  consistency.  Those basics need to work time after time, whoever, wherever and however the experience is being delivered.  Three: listen.  Customers are saying what can, and needs to, improve.

So as we finish our reflections on last year and head into the new full of ambition, maybe first up on our 2015 to-do list is to make sure we’re listening properly and acting on the right things that will ensure there is a business for customers and employees to come back to.

 


 

 

Assessing the shape of customer experiences

To assess customer experiences is to embark on a complex but profitable journey.  The desire to make improvements is compelling and yet the starting point and finish line are not always obvious.  The Customer Experience Triangle concept has been designed to help shape the thinking that makes planning easier and direction clearer.

 

Is your Customer Experience Triangle a perfect 10-10-10?

Whatever the customer experience, it can be deconstructed into three key, interdependent components:  functionality, accessibility and emotion.  Three simple dimensions to quickly assess how good – or not – an experience is.

As customers, we do this subconsciously when we do business with a company;  it’s important because the result affects whether we’ll do the same again.

As customer experience professionals, it’s a powerful way to understand how well we do the things that are most important to our customers and our business. It then becomes a structured and visual way of thinking about where the priorities, investment and resource should be focused next.

The three elements are inextricably linked.  In other words,

  • Functional: was the customer able to do what they needed to do?
  • Accessibility: how easy was it?
  • Emotion: how did it make them feel?

Fellow CCXP and Custerian colleague Ian Golding writes excellent customer experience reviews using this as the basis – do make time to check him out at ijgolding.com.  The premise is that the whole experience is a combination of the three elements.  It might look something like this, where the sweet spot is in the middle.

Customer experience evaluate

 

If we take the concept a stage further it becomes a very useful tool to assess how well we do the things that really matter – and therefore show where the focus for what to do next lies.  To assess each element in its own right and against the other two, we can use another simple visualistion of the same three dimensions.

 

Customer experience evaluate

 

By giving each element a score, the customer experience starts to take shape.  We, our colleagues, customers and stakeholders will all have a view.  Indeed, customers surveys are finding answers to these questions more useful than surveys that have metric-focused outputs.  The scale, radiating out from the centre, can be whatever works for your business, but may for example be

  • Functional:  1 (not as expected)  >  5 (as expected)  >  10 (better than expected)
  • Accessibility:  1 (huge effort)  >  5 (ok) >  10 (very easy)
  • Emotion:   1 (Angry)  >  5 (satisfied)  >  10 (elated)

The best result is when the shape is the largest, equilateral triangle possible:  10 out of 10 for each. That means that none of the critical dimensions can be improved upon.  If it’s anything smaller or skewed, we have a clear visualisation of where there is room for improvement.  Here are some examples, with what customers might say and what might be done:

Customer experience assessment

 

The Customer Experience Triangle TM concept can be overlaid with a metric to track the progress of improvement activity over time.  In reporting schedules, it holds people to account for change.  Rather than sharing one generic headline number around the organisation, a score of say 3-7-5 (for function – ease – emotion respectively), immediately points to areas that are in need of improvement.

However, the real value in this approach is in organising the thinking and in the visualisation of what to do next.  Without using it to drive change, it will be just a vanity project.  In the same way, a score is a nice-to-have but that’s not the ultimate goal – as I always say, get the experience right first and the score will take care of itself.

So as a new year looms over the horizon I hope this gives you some food for thought about how to get your customer experiences in shape for 2015.  The perfect 10-10-10?

 

(The Customer Experience Triangle is subject to Trademark and Copyright,  Jerry Angrave, UK, 2014)


 

 

 

Are we talking the right language of customer experience?

Many customer experiences simply happen because when it comes to the attitude and processes, we hear people say “We’ve always done it this way”.  And if it works today, why not?  Well, for a start things could be so much better.  Maybe – and I’ve often seen – things aren’t actually working in the way your customers want.  The consequences of complacency are huge yet that word rarely, if ever, makes an appearance on the “risks and issues” log.

There’s an equally risky parallel in the language of customer experience; the risk being that we have all adopted the phrases and platitudes over time to the extent where if we’re all thinking the same way, having the right and differentiated customer experiences will be so much harder to achieve.  I’ve written before on the need for differentiated experiences from differentiated thinking.

For example, in a workshop where you have people from Operations, Marketing, Sales, Finance and Legal teams, many of them will be seeing this stuff for the first time.  They might be cynical, they might be enthusiastic but they need to hear and understand with absolute clarity the words being used.  Here are some examples, with some suggestions where the vocabulary could be different in order to get people in the right mind-set to bring about better outcomes. They’re not going to become mainstream and you will have your own thoughts, but the idea is to avoid the risk of undifferentiated stakeholder experiences because the language being used internally is itself undifferentiated

 

Customer Experience or Customer Memorylanguage of customer experience

To talk about “experiences” has become commonplace and inevitably perhaps, it is diluted in its impact.  To those keen to pile in, it suggests that our focus should be mostly just on the “what happens”.  Our thinking becomes limited to the very functional aspects of what we do because that’s the tangible bit.  Yet we know that what affects the likelihood of someone coming back to us next time, spending more more often and telling everyone else, is what they recall when they’re about to do that – their memory about how easy it was and how it made them feel.  Another post looks at that “customer memory” in more depth.

 

We need a customer journey map for that! or We need a customer story for that!

This often-heard comment in meetings is followed by someone retrieving a linear process map to use as what they see as an acceptable alternative.

To create a customer journey still implies a simple A-B set of interactions but the very use of the word “journey” still suggests a functional, linear approach.  What we need to know and create is the story that a customer will tell someone else.  We’re all people, we’re all customers;  when we do business with a company or go to a restaurant we don’t consciously set out to go on a “journey” but what we then think and talk about in terms of what it was like becomes very much a story.

 

The end-to-end journey or From last time to this time to next time

Having an end-to-end journey helps fit with the logical side of our thinking.  Conveniently, it also fits the left to right concept that is perpetuated by PowerPoint and Excel.  I’m guilty, I’ve created loads in my time but it still is not reflective of how our customers – or us when we’re going about our daily lives – really think about things.  Maybe we need a pyschologist to really create accurate representations of what it’s like to be a customer.  But while I’m all for keeping things simple, end-to-end still suggests a definitive start and finish point.  If we really want to understand our customers then we need to think way beyond those boundaries.

 

The voice of the customer or What people think

Talk to a room of people about the “voice of the customer” and there are sage nods and chatter about feedback surveys.  Again though, it risks limiting the understanding of what we’re really driving at here. It’s not just about hearing what our customers are saying, it’s about understanding why people think and feel the way they do.  It’s also not just about sharing what customers think, it’s very much about our own employees too.  After all they are the ones who are making the the experience what it is and are often the ones who know what to fix. However, no-one has listened to them or has acted on what they said because business leaders are focused solely on turning the “voice of the customer” into a higher net promoter score.

 

I have the privilege of working across a variety of markets with talented people in all sorts of organisations and with an infinite number of challenges.  One common theme though, especially when people are going on their own personal journey of customer experience familiarity is that the language becomes a proxy for leadership of the customer agenda.  Giving it the clarity and relevance it deserves, thinking about it differently to your competitors who are reading text-books and listening to career consultants will give you the differentiation your organisation needs.

 

 

 

 

For improving customer experiences I’d rather have Right Data than Big Data

On my first day of my first proper job in the UK they called me “New York”.  Not because I was energetic, intriguing or that I never slept but because, when it took me a while to understand what was apparently an hilarious corporate joke, I was – in their words – “five hours behind”.

And many (very many) years later, so it seemed with my understanding of what has been given the label of Big Data.  I see it written about everywhere, something that self-proclaimed experts talk of as the latest critical key to a sustainable business.  However, I seemed to have missed the briefing about what exactly it was and why it was apparently so vital to our future existence.  The cynic in me was muttering about new clothes and Emperors but also part of me didn’t want to miss out, just in case…

Recently then, I was looking forward to catching up with the rest of the world and be able to converse like an insider when it comes to the subject of big data.  Within the space of a week, I had the privilege of chairing a retail analytics event in London and speaking at a conference in Barcelona on creating efficient airports through a focus on customer experience.

What was clear from both is an insatiable appetite for more data.  What is less clear is whether the ability to capture and analyse more and more information is generating the contextual knowledge that businesses need to bring about the change their own business plans demand.

Never before have we had this amount of information available at our fingertips.  True, it means that where once we relied on modelling and forecasting from a small amount of transactional data, we can now reduce the risk by removing the need for so many assumptions.  But does that automatically mean we have the right knowledge to support our business and customer strategy?

For airports, efficiency is everything but that can come dangerously close to putting passengers’ real needs in the blind spot.  Research I’ve carried out shows that customers in an airport put cleanliness, friendly staff and clear signage at the top of the list of the things they value. And yet, they rarely make it to the Exec team’s dashboard.  People do have a choice and they do go to the next airport if their expectations is one of an experience they are no longer prepared to tolerate.

It is unfair to single out airports; many organisations in many markets become (admittedly sometimes unintentionally) very metric-led.  Balanced scorecards thrive on them but it easily drives the wrong behaviours.  Vendors at the airport conference proclaimed that their products offer – and I quote – “first-class passenger processing”.  There was a sense that if it moves it can be processed, if it can be processed we can bar-code and measure it and if it can be measured we can create more metrics to grow our pile of data.

Take, for example, the “How was it for you?” array of good / ok / bad buttons having just gone through airport security.  It’s data in the making but on its own, apart from regulatory reporting, for what real purpose?  If 100% of people hit the red “It was bad” button, how can the airport know what to do differently without any supporting qualitative information?  Depending on how you look at it, while this piece of data adds to the big picture, it is either a costly activity with little return or a missed opportunity as the infrastructure is there anyway.

In the retail world, the amount of transactional information is certainly impressive.  One Turkish supermarket chain had made a huge success of it.  What is worrying though, is the apparent disconnect between all this data and business improvement.  When I asked the retail analytics delegates what value their work adds to the business, there were puzzled looks and absolute silence.  Slightly surprised, I then asked how they would respond if their CEO asked how the data they present helps achieve the business plan.  Eyes down, awkward shuffling and more silence.

Does this mean that in our relentless surge to generate bigger and bigger data because we can, not only are we making it more difficult to sift out the right information but that we’re losing sight of why we’re collecting any information in the first place?

A piece of research just released talked about the gap between companies’ intended customer experience programme and their lack of effective implementation.  One reason may be that the quest to understand everything about everything and to amass oceans of data has overshadowed the importance of having the skills to find the right information and how to be organised to then do something about it.

There was another corporate saying that took me a while to understand.  It was the one about “Don’t boil the ocean”.  We couldn’t anyway back then but metaphorically, maybe now we can.

That said, just because we can, still doesn’t mean we should.

 

 

 

 

Would changing the name from Customer Experience to Customer Memories make us better prepared?

We have Customer Service;  it’s what companies do to or for their customers.  We have Customer Experience;  you could say it’s what it’s really like to be on the receiving end of the service.  Done the right way though, understanding all that gives us powerful information.

Yet there is also a risk that our focus on the here-and-now can give us a distorted view of the very thing we’re trying to improve;  the likelihood of our best customers coming back, spending more and telling everyone else to do the same.

When we’re about to buy something, it’s basic human behaviour to recall what it was like last time and then to decide whether or not we go ahead or go somewhere else.  We dip into our memory bank to make the right decision, based on what happened back then and what we’ve heard and learnt since then.

But as far as organisations are concerned, I’ve seen that over the last few years the focus has been increasingly on the experience or service that is given to a customer today, more so than the impact that last experience has when it comes to the next purchase.  There are subtle, but important, differences.106

The point is, when we’re about to choose, use, buy or sign-up, it’s our memory that will determine whether we stay “loyal” or we try elsewhere.  Customer advocacy has its place, don’t get me wrong.  But while the wow factors were front of mind when I did that customer survey the day after I last had anything to do with the company, twelve months on I might have a stronger recall of the lacklustre service I’ve had since.

The term “Customer Experience” has served markets very well in raising the bar of how businesses treat their customers.  But internally, organisations have struggled and still do so today with what Customer Experience is.  Is it a new fluffy label from Marketing for what everyone knows as Customer Service?  Or a strategic way of thinking? Absent any real customer-based, cross-functional objectives “We do that already” is a common riposte, along with “It’s too expensive” and “Where’s the benefit?”.

Every organisation has a customer experience whether they know it or not and that may be one of the reasons why it doesn’t get the attention internally that it deserves.  Giving a jolt to the system and talking about influencing Customer Memories demands a different perspective; the future poking a stick at the past.  It’s like asking “What can we do that will increase the chances of you buying again?” instead of “What should we have done that would have prevented you from being really hacked off?”.  A story about horses, gates and bolting comes to mind.

Arguably, the higher the value of the purchase the less frequently we buy and therefore by definition, the time between one purchase and the next can be significant.  I’m no psychologist, but even if it’s a more regular or ad-hoc purchase I know our memories and perceptions change over time.  I might have had a hassle-free experience and at the time was a real fan, but if I’ve since heard other stories or there’s been a change in my circumstances, my attitude or needs may be completely different.  That customer feedback I gave last time is no longer relevant but unless the company asks me again just before I choose next time, they will be acting on the wrong information.

Whether we’re renewing an annual contract, buying a holiday, a car, clothes or using professional services, at that specific point in time the thing that determines what we do next is what our memory tells it was like last time;  not how likely we were to recommend the company to someone else one day after we last did the same thing.

In the name of Customer Experience, organisations understandably have an insatiable appetite to canvas opinions within days, minutes or even as it happens.  That information is used as a proxy for brand strength and to forecast the likelihood of repurchases.  But if that repurchase is weeks, months even years away, how accurate can it be?  It’s obviously easier to ask a customer how it was just after they’ve been in touch as there is a definitive trigger point for feedback.   Just because the timing of the next interaction is harder to predict though, that shouldn’t stop us seeking such valuable information.

It seems to make sense then that we should, in addition or as an alternative, track what a customer feels and thinks much closer to the point at which they make their next decision.  We would still keep the metric-obsessed folk happy with a quantitative score in answer to a question such as “Based on what you remember about last time, are you likely / not sure / unlikely to use us next time?”.

Importantly though, we would also still get the gilt-edged qualitative information about what can be reinforced at that pre-purchase point in time and not afterwards when it might be too late.  And it would still be the case that if we get the experience right, the metrics will look after themselves, not the other way around.

It’s great to see customer strategy and customer experience being discussed in the Board Room.  In the main however, there is still a focus on what customers say just after purchase or the “experience”.  By the time the customer is in a position to make a choice next time, the things that drive that new decision may be very different and are purely in the memory.

And I for one would give ten out of ten for tapping into that.

 

Whose role is it anyway? The organisational side of Customer Experience

The philosophy behind customer experience has been around since cavemen first traded a club for a spear.  It was simple then, as it is now.  If you didn’t like who you were buying from or you felt they were getting more out of it than you, you’d probably get your own back by inventing the wheel or going to see who’s in the next valley.

Maybe because we’re better at evolution than revolution, many organisations today are shoe-horning that basic concept of customer experience into an existing model.  And while there are companies who regularly get a mention for making us feel good about doing business with them, many more have reinvented that wheel only to have it spinning, making very slow – if any – progress.

There are generally three types of organisational approach to tackling customer experience;  add the responsibility to an existing team, create a new team or have a culture where everybody is accountable.   The benefits of customer experience are buried beneath a duvet of repeated platitudes so I won’t cover those here, but the unintended pitfalls of each are worth a quick look.

Add customer experience to an existing team

Done in the right way it can be highly motivating to be asked to take on more responsibility, especially if it’s to lead and manage something like the customer agenda.  A bigger challenge but a bigger profile too.  Usually, it will be complementary to the role that team already carries out – Marketing, Customer Service or Complaints for example.

But rarely will the existing responsibilities be pegged back and often the measures by which performance will be judged are an extension of what the objectives are already.  The consequence is that while the ambition is there, the reality is that the day-job still takes priority.  At best, the specific skills and way of thinking that are needed to run a customer experience programme evolve from what is there already.  At worst, the team gets a pasting in their performance review because what the CEO expected isn’t delivered.  Rather like their customers’ experiences.

Create a new customer experience team

Surely the watertight answer?  Not always.  For the individuals involved, being part of a new team is exciting in its own right.  Being part of an organisation that is putting its money where its mouth is, even better.  It’s a great opportunity and if – and that’s a big if – the top-level sponsorship is visible and solid, the opportunity to influence others to do the right thing is inspiring.

Yet teams can easily become a victim of their own success if they let it.  The creation of a bespoke go-to resource that is going to lead the customer experience charge carries an inherent danger that others think they are absolved of the responsibility.  That mind-set is exaggerated if performance measures across the organisation don’t change to be in sync either.

Without the right leadership and engagement of peers, the team quickly finds they are picking up everything and anything to do with “customer” on behalf of the business.  They get to handle complaints, they run customer service weeks, they monitor and report on compliance outcomes and they get drawn in to police programmes and projects.

Individuals who are given the customer experience roles from other parts of the business often remain task-oriented, keen to impress and be busy.  So will they have the inclination, confidence or authority to learn specific customer experience skills? To follow what is being said about them and their competitors in social media and to develop reciprocal relationships with internal and external partners based on mutual understandings?  Or will they settle for linear process maps rather customer journeys?  Report to their boss that the call-centre manager won’t carry out a quick survey at the end of calls because it adds to the average handling time metrics?

Strong governance, inclusive of every part of the business from reception desk to board table is the key.  Working to the same priorities that everyone else is, knowing what the latest brand campaign is all about, understanding each other’s challenges – it’s nothing new but its effective adoption by many ranks naively low on the corporate ‘to-do’ list.

Have the right culture

The good news is that whether they know it or not, every organisation already has a customer culture.   The bad news is that it’s not always the right one.  Even worse, some are unable to articulate which it is, good or bad.

In the same way that we shouldn’t need complaints departments, a well-led customer experience department should do itself out of a job.  It’s not a function, it’s a way of thinking and a strategic tool that makes the business more efficient;  driving out duplicated and superfluous costs and focusing resources of the things that matter most to the health of the company and repeat business from more of the most valuable customers.

Delivering on the strategic plan, whether it’s to stabilise, grow or transform a business takes much more than a poster on the wall that proclaims “We put customers at the heart of everything we do!”.

What does the right customer culture look like?  That is up to you, your brand and your leadership style.  But as they say, what’s on the inside gets reflected on the outside.

If your people have little understanding of what the business is doing and why, if they are applauded for following processes rather than doing what’s right for the customer and if they talk about their competitors more than their own brand, then maybe the time is right to step outside.

Join the others looking in, see what they see and do something about it – before they head off to the next valley.

Customer experiences highlight the danger of businesses taking relationships for granted

The sage advice “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you” needs no introduction but it clearly infers that one party is more needy than the other.

It’s a sentiment that’s always been true in a commercial context since the earliest days of trading.  In today’s world though, while the business side is becoming increasingly reliant, the experience they present in search of short-term results can push their customers away rather than bringing them closer.  What’s worse, is that it’s especially magnified – not to say ironic – when the hand that’s doing the feeding has made a commitment, with the inevitable result that the business gets dropped and the customer turns away to move indifferently on.

The very mention of a “relationship” conjures up different meanings to different people yet it is a ubiquitous byword for underpinning success.  Our focus on customer experience, on what it’s really like to do business, is helping to explain why that potential misunderstanding can have serious consequences.Customer Experience vs Customer Service

Let’s be honest, it is really only the organisation that wants or even talks about the proverbial relationship.  The P&L and share price are much more dependent on their customer than the other way around.  At its core, it means that the client simply plays along until a better offer appears or they have reason to suspect a lack of value, trust or respect.

What is intended by one party as a commitment to be in it for the long-haul can be seen by the other as an opportunity to take advantage of, worrying about tomorrow, tomorrow.  Harsh?  Well, customer experience feedback is showing that even where – or because – a client does commit, they are made to feel that the business is a bit too needy, being greedy, embracing the relationship with the grace of a pick-pocketing bear-hug.

Whether necessitated by the economic environment, organisational complacency or driven by the personal short-term agendas of those in charge, there are signs emerging where such conditions serve only to increase the likelihood of a customer choosing an alternative next time, defeating the point of a business creating the relationship in the first place.

To illustrate the point let’s take two examples.

Firstly, legal services.  There are many law firms and other B2B companies who are exemplary at managing their client experiences and will do so for a long time.  There are some however, who, having worked hard to win a new contract, will try to extract as much revenue from that arrangement as quickly as possible because it might not be there in three years when it’s due to be renewed.

Patently, that short-term approach of ignoring what clients really value – things like charging hourly rates for what should be fixed-price work, showing a lack of understanding and having nasty surprises or a lack of information on invoices – is a self-fulfilling prophecy and will actually make sure the client will not renew in three years.  At best there won’t be a happy exchange of testimonials and worse, the client may pull the plug before the contract expires and explain why to all of their contacts.

Secondly, rail operators.  One would think that securing a fixed-term franchise is great news, and it should be.  A foot in the door for all those future contracts too.  But reading passenger reviews of one particular rail company in the UK reveals evidence that one person’s short-term is another’s long-term.  Investors rightly expect a return on their investment but those behind the franchise operators may have tipped the balance in extracting so much jam today that they now risk having no bread and butter tomorrow.

If their trains are filled with more people than there are seats, is it because their passenger experience is so good or because there’s a coach missing as a result of cheaper but longer maintenance schedules?  Or, that they don’t care about charging full price to stand for an hour in a draughty, noisy place?Mind the gap between Service and Experience

For some, the basic but unmet needs of reliability and cleanliness are still objectives and talking points for franchises rather than being the norm.  And, despite broadband wi-fi being available everywhere from my local café to an Airbus A380, we were told yesterday that rail companies in the UK should be able to offer wi-fi by 2019.  I know that’s more of a capital-intensive offering than getting staff to smile but still, 2019?

So, while some operators have fans rather than passengers, why is it that others are failing?  The word on the seats about this one major operator is that service has not improved noticeably since the franchise began – there are still broken doors on carriages and paid-for extras don’t materialise.  Even worried staff are saying everything’s on hold until (if) it is renewed, due in a year.  It’s easy to see how even just an ‘ok’ service then in turn breeds a shared cynicism;  it is also believed, rightly or wrongly, that a key metric in that renewal pitch is on-time arrivals – something that’s easy to achieve high scores on if you’re also in control of the timetable.

We know that with the right experiences, customers will choose to come back next time and it is that – the accumulation of many very short-term affirmations – which gives longevity to what businesses see as the elusive relationship.

So even where a contract, commitment or lack of choice exists, the company being fed would do well to act as if there is no long-term nature, no assumption about next time.

Their customers don’t make rash assumptions or see it that way;  what they do see is that on the other end of the hand that is doing the feeding they also have a pair of legs, ready to run at the first sign of a bite to a more appreciative recipient…

Luxury or productivity? The question of value for Business Aviation’s customer experience.

FBOs and charter airlines are in a strong position to capitalise on the belt-tightening consequences of recent economic conditions.  That’s providing they are able to articulate their value in a meaningful way. 

Value, to paraphrase, is in the eye of the beholder. Understanding what that means in reality and then being organised to do something about it puts companies on track for that competitive edge and long-term growth and stability they need.

Focusing on customers is nothing new.  In designing and implement customer strategies, there’s no shortage of advice on why that’s a good thing.  But the piece that’s often missing is how to use it in a way that creates real business benefits.

Here are some tips that go some way to plugging the gaps.

Customer journey mapping

“We need a customer journey map for that” is a common call that’s heard in workshops aiming to lift the levels of customer service.  Unfortunately, what gets put on the table is just as often a linear process map, an operations manual or a sales checklist.  They give a starting point but little in the way of direction.

A good journey map is itself a means to an end.  It will give everyone a common version of what it’s really like to be a customer.   It points to where effort and resource needs to be focused and it provides others across the business with critical information about how best to achieve their own individual goals.  Most importantly though, it forms the platform of knowledge on which future decision-making is based.

It is therefore the output and what is done with it that counts. There’s no golden rule about what the map should look like, it must simply work for your organisation in a credible way that tells the story of what the opportunities are and why.  The tighter the scope the better.  For example, a forensic look at the tablet-based booking process for a high-value, regular customer or the welcome experience for a new-to-business-aviation client will yield more actionable and effective insight than a one-size-fits-all approach.

Understanding the customer’s perception of what happens every step of the way, set against what should happen and what drives value for the business, will flush out detailed commercial considerations.  What does good look like?  How do we compare? What does this customer (or customer type) really value and how well do we do it?  What are the unintended consequences? If we’re over-delivering in an area that the customer doesn’t see as a priority, can we save costs there?   And so on.

With robust leadership and governance, the journey map makes sure the right activity is prioritised, the right people are held to account and the right measurement programme is in place to perpetuate improvements.

Wanted: to know what our customers tell each other that they don’t tell us

Today’s customers will sit down to dinner tonight with family or colleagues and share a story or two about their flight(s).  It would be great to be a fly on the wall but with the journey mapping having created pre-meditated and dependable experiences, when the chairman asks if we know what they are saying not only can we answer “yes”, but we can also articulate how that is adding value to the business.

Commercial benefits

Business aviation is no different from many other markets in that standing out from the crowd is increasingly as difficult as it is necessary.  But for those who place a spotlight on getting things right, the commercial benefits are as much non-financial as they are financial.

Collecting first-hand evidence of what works for customers and their own internal stakeholders back at their office shapes strategic as well as tactical decisions.  It means the weaknesses and inflexibility of commercial aviation alternatives can be articulated to best effect. It helps recognise how much competitors might include video conferencing.  It flushes out how customers want to pay and reveals insights for lobbying airport owners and regulatory policy makers.  Such knowledge also ensures all activity across the company is working to the same priorities and that marketing investment isn’t wasted when something other than the brand promise is delivered.

While business aviation has to navigate around a plethora of political, regulatory and infrastructure issues, it also wrestles with the issue of perception.  For many clients, the economic climate has put cost management at the top of their agenda yet brands and communications targeting corporate accounts still ooze indulgence rather than productivity advantages.  That’s fine if the chosen target market is the luxury seeker, but a sceptical programme director overseeing an urgent M&A project will only let the team fly privately if the broader economic benefits for the business case are clear.  Therefore, getting to understand the customer and their own organisation is essential for business aviation companies who can then provide the right information that makes that business case uncontested.

Diverting finite resources for an even greater customer focus might take some persuading for metric-driven stakeholders.  The translation therefore of customer measurements such as the net promoter score (NPS) and of customers’ emotionally-driven behaviour into real money makes the case forcefully.

Medallia’s research into NPS – the popular measurement tool which asks customers how likely they are to recommend your business – shows that on average, those who are willing to be an advocate are worth 30% more than those who are not.  The Temkin Group also showed that promoters are five times more likely to repurchase than detractors.

A joint piece of research between Forrester and Watermark Consulting tracked the correlation between organisations that had a customer experience focus and their stock-market performance.  In that five-year period, the S&P 500 market index dropped by -1.5%; companies on the front foot with customer engagement increased by +22% while those dragging their feet fell by 46%.

Traits of successful FBOs and charter airlines

Somewhat unhelpfully, successful FBOs and charter airlines come in all shapes and sizes.  Some brands make a feature of being loud and brash while others go about their business quietly, but very effectively, keeping well under the radar.

The one thing they all have in common is good people.  Flat fee options, in-flight connectivity that replicates being in the office and a highly responsive service will count for nothing without the right people. They understand what the company is all about, they know what it needs to do day-in and day-out to succeed and they are energised to accomplish at least that on a daily basis.

Steve Jones, Managing Director, Marshall Aerospace said of their success: “In the last year it’s all been about accumulating a strong team and so far it has been more about building expertise than building things”

Thomas Flohr, Chairman of VistaJet which regularly has 20-25% revenue growth, bypasses the fractional model – “We tore up all the old conventions and designed a revolutionary business model focused entirely around our clients. What they wanted. What they needed. We’ve never looked back.”

And earlier this year, Rizon Jet said that its awards were due to a “Dedication to fantastic customer service….it’s not just the facility, but the people that make the difference”.

Organic business growth

Organic business growth

A further illustration of how customer service can trump price came in the AIN FBO survey – Americas 2013.  Customers were asked to cite the most important factors when choosing an FBO:  85% said good customer service, the top answer.  And the top reason for avoiding an FBO? 71% said poor customer service.

Another common factor of successful businesses is having the right customer feedback programme.  In X-Jet’s own words, “Truly we do live for that con­nection with the customers and we’re constantly seeking feedback on how we can do things better”

Lessons from other industries

Markets outside business aviation are also finding that the bar of expectation is rising all the time. As law firms are discovering to their cost, the world around them has changed and in their clients own lives they are interacting more and more effortlessly with a host of other organisations through an array of devices and channels.

Apple is a regular contender for exemplary customer service.  That’s not surprising with the focus it has on recruiting the right people for its brand, the focus it has on customer empathy rather than selling and on evoking the right emotions.

In March this year, Marriott headed the Temkin Group rankings once again for a hotel brand’s customer experience.  Like Amazon and NetFlix, they create relevant personalisation and make it easy to do business with.  They focus on the things their customer value, whether it’s helping the procurement team choose Marriott over a cheaper alternative down the street or tracking down lost luggage.

Many of these results stem from having (read: “allowing”) its people talk directly with customers.  These organisations also have strong leadership for a clear customer strategy that is shared and understood by every employee.

Conclusion

Companies in the business aviation market are not on their own in needing to articulate their real value to existing and new customers.  But for those who get it right, delivering what is valued most and what is seen as value for money, customers will reflect that they made the right decision, their organisation will benefit and they’ll tell everyone.  And that’s invaluable.

Customer Experience at the Board table: a voice, a vote or a veto?

Everyone seems agreed that, like the complaints department, in theory the real aim of an in-house customer experience team should be to do itself out of a role.

I say that because if every decision made by an organisation strikes the right balance between what its customers value and what drives the corporate value, then there is no need for anyone to champion its cause.  It’ll just happen.  It’ll just be the way things are done.

Until then however, those leading and managing the customer agenda need the skills and credibility to get people talking to each other, to demonstrate unequivocal proof that customer experience doesn’t leave money on the table and to be accountable for ensuring that the right things are being done in the right order.  Not only does that have to happen across the width of a multi-functional structure but from the very top down.

Recent corporate evolution has seen Boards grow more upright Evolution of Progressas they respond to what’s going on around them and the discovery of how interdependent the executive team is.  The finance chief, risk head and company secretary have pretty much always been at the top table; HR took its place when team-building and balanced scorecards came of age along with the decentralisation of its core services;  to keep up with Sales, the Operations and Marketing divisions then were invited in.  And more recently, general counsel – traditionally the gatekeepers at the end of the corridor – are being brought much closer in to the running of the business.

As a result, for a customer experience leader there is intense competition around the Board table for attention, time and resources.  But it is essential for that person to be able to go toe-to-toe with everyone in the senior team; not because they want to win their argument and look important but because they will genuinely have customer insights that will make the decision-making process more effective.  Of course, there will be personal agendas all around the table as individuals try to be seen exerting their influence on cash-flow.  However, predicting the commercial impact of customer behaviour based on what the corporate strategy needs can align and prioritise decisions as well as take out costs that are duplicated or that are not valued.  Absent that guidance and customer strategy, the risks and unintended consequences quickly turn into unnecessary but costly issues.

Having a voice that is heard and listened to is a great start and a large number of companies are heading down that path.  Going a step further is having a vote, helping to ensure that things are done for the right reasons and that at the very least, the real-world customer impact has been given due consideration.

But better still, is for those in charge of ‘customer experience’, whatever the size of team, to have the right of veto on decisions that affect customers directly or indirectly – for the organisation’s own long-term good.  There are few people who work right across every function and who also have the opportunity to be the one who gets them all in the same place.  Even fewer know what shutterstock_87641005it’s really like to be one of their own customers and how that affects what they do next time.  That knowledge needs to be used to its full competitive advantage.

Having a unilateral right of veto might seem a bit extreme but if we are all agreed that in an ideal world a customer experience team would not be needed, that is effectively what the organisation would evolve to do, naturally and instinctively.

The Omni-Channel Experience, shaken or stirred: right concept, wrong name?

Any time, any place anywhere – it’s the right one.  Who knew that the now decades-old yet iconic Martini ad campaign was forming the basis of what is now tagged as the Omni-channel experience.

The concept is exercising many brains right now.  We know that in an ideal world we need to give an easy, reliable and considered experience however, whenever and wherever our customers and clients demand it, whatever device they are using.  But from the people I’ve spoken to recently about the subject, the bigger question is “How?”.  It will be hard to find anyone who resists the fundamental theory behind an Omni-channel experience, but in practice how do we get the people leading divisional teams within an organisation to talk with each other and to establish practices that benefit each other, the customer and company P&L?

It may be semantics, but the label “Omni-channel” therefore seems to simply exacerbate the current problems and internal challenges rather than help overcome them.  It implies that channels can still function in the way they always have but they simply need to be joined up more effectively.

Legacy systems, behaviours and organisational structures won’t get changed overnight but for me, ticking the “Omni-channel” box is a false ending.  In part it’s because, in determining what our Omni-channel strategy should be, the use of the word “channel” still suggests that the focus is on what an organisation can do with its front-line structure and resources rather than be led by how customers want to do business.  If the latter is the starting point, working back to today’s capability will surely bring about better outcomes than the inside-out approach.

To have an effective Omni-channel strategy needs a clarity of purpose that extends beyond the channels themselves.  Customers deal with a brand as a whole and that therefore needs all the parts of an organisation, whether customer-facing or not, to function as one.

That takes strong leadership and it needs people with the right skills to influence sceptical stakeholders and adapt metric-driven scorecards. But the effort is worth it – there is a good reason why the Martini principles have endured for so long.  They are the right ones.

Jerry

 

 

The Customer Experience message; a victim of its own success?

Over 23 million variations on a theme.  At least, that’s how many links you’ve access to if you put “Definition of customer experience” into Google.   There are only 3 million more links to “Definition of humanity”.

So it’s not surprising that to engage the corporate leadership team or those of a sceptical, short-term disposition in the importance of customer experience, it needs the clarity of a flawless diamond and the long-term vision to match.  Anything less will not secure the ongoing resource and mindset needed.

I’ve seen many in-house customer experience teams who, despite best endeavours, focus nearly all their efforts on internal priorities that could, and realistically probably should, be dealt with by other teams  – ‘customer care’, ‘customer service’, ‘compliance’ and so on.  But at least they can say “We do customer experience” .Customer Experience

Much has been said about how reliant customer experience programmes are on managing emotions.  Yet influencing a room full of cross-functional  executives to change their own objectives to be based around how they make customers feel will at best be daunting, at worst a very short session.  Nonetheless, making sure that root causes of complaints are stamped out and that the commitment to service standards are being maintained are certainly the minimum any enlightened organisation should strive for.  But that’s not customer experience, that’s running a business efficiently.

So this dilution of what customer experience really means and the ability of its champions to articulate that clearly puts it – and therefore the advantages it brings – at risk of becoming a victim of its own success.   The concept of Customer Experience is nothing new, so absent an absolute recognition of how it can help individuals, teams, departments and the organisation overall, there will still be dismissive conversation barriers such as “We’ve done all right so far”, “Yeah, heard of that, everyone’s doing it” and “C’mon, it’s just a fancy name for customer service”.

If Customer Experience is to demonstrate its true value and contribution to the bottom line it needs to keep up the momentum and avoid an unconscious drift into complacency.  Those leading the charge need – more than ever – to talk the language of other business divisions, debunk myths and make it matter to every person.

For those championing the virtues and outcomes of a disciplined approach to customer experience, the challenge is to engage in a way that makes it clear that what the business does collectively today will determine what its individual customers, clients, passengers or patients will do tomorrow.   It has to be about the right experiences, the ones that work in tandem to create the best, balanced outcomes for the business and the people who buy what it sells.

Customer Experience has proved to be a great discipline and catalyst for many companies to improve their commercial performance.  But the label risks being over-used, misunderstood and not telling the full story.  It’s not about the customer experience per se – it’s about how the right experiences will make customers want to choose us again and spend more next time.

As for the search for a definitive platitude about what customer experience is, I think that misses the point.

In the same way that corporate objectives and recruitment policies are individual to an organisation, so too is Customer Experience.  It’s not a department.  It’s cultural and therefore key to what it means for them and their customer strategy.

It’s only my opinion, but without continued effort behind landing the right messages to the right people, without a clarity of purpose matched by strong leadership, the tentacles of metric-driven, short-term objectives will creep back up the pecking order and we’ll wonder why we have to search so hard for good customer experiences again.

The Circular Economy and the Customer Experience

The world is full of great ideas the size of a planet but unfortunately, that’s how most of them stay – just ideas.

For some time now though the Circular Economy has been proving itself as an exception to the rule.  This inspirational initiative is changing the future of the way manufacturers make and service companies sell.  But for their customers and clients, it also means a different way of doing business, something that history tells us must not be overlooked.  In explaining the nature of the new consumer generation, Micha Kaufman at Forbes summarised it neatly by saying “The product itself is not important, only the experience that they contain”.

The creation of the Circular Economy 100 is the latest testimony to the vision and effort that has secured the support and imagination of governments, business leaders and innovators around the world.

Led by the genuinely inspiring Dame Ellen MacArthur and her foundation team, the principles of the Circular Economy have already been adopted.  Moving beyond ‘simply’ cutting carbon emissions and recycling glass into aggregate, some notable and diverse organisations such as wear2 and Maersk Line are effectively starting from scratch; building new processes so that what they make is made to be made again;  the Cradle-to-Cradle approach.  And what are seen as product-oriented companies are looking at how they move to a service / relationship orientation by selling the benefit rather than the product – washing machines for example, where consumers pay by the cycle while the manufacturer takes responsibility for the machine’s upkeep and replacement.

To have brought an idea on this scale from conception to execution is nothing short of phenomenal.  It takes enlightened people, enlightened organisations to change the rules of thinking in a way that will generate significant commercial benefits as well as reducing the enormous and shameful waste that plagues our planet.

Inevitably however, the success or otherwise of the Circular Economy is dependent on an acceptance by clients and consumers that they too must change the way they interact.  And so at this early stage of maturity, organisations have a unique opportunity to ensure, right from the start, that what they build and how they deliver it creates intended, consistent and profitable customer experiences.

The lessons of history teach us that one of the reasons why there is so much focus on customer experience today is because organisations are trying to force-fit new demands on top of old-style business models.  Markets are littered with examples of operational processes that were built for efficiency but that lack the flexibility and personalisation their customers expect.

So much time and effort is being spent investigating root causes of complaints, customer contacts that go under the spreadsheet heading of “failure demand” and simply the need to get the basics right.  And for others, it’s worse.  The focus is way out on the horizon to the extent that the rocks under their feet go unnoticed.  I’d much rather an airline communicate with me when there’s a delay than spend time and money developing an app that just tells me my bags are on the same flight.

Organisations would normally relish the chance to start with a relatively blank piece of paper and design around the customer but they may not have the resources or (yet) the appetite.   In the search for commercial sustainability and market differentiation however, the advent of the Circular Economy is a fantastic opportunity for those businesses who can, to think beyond the implications for its own processes and to genuinely build around what it will be like to be a customer. How will what they do make their clients feel and behave next time? What will their customers say to their family and friends over dinner tonight about what it’s been like to do business with them? And how can they use those experiences to generate more, high value customers?

The circular economy is about the huge economic, commercial and environmental benefits from making things now that can be remade later. But while the focus is understandably about innovation and operational processes, that effort will risk being wasted without the understanding and then the execution of the right customer experiences as an integral element of the design process.

It’s an exciting future but it also has to pay attention to the detail of the end-user experience, lest we go round in circles again.

Customer Experience surveys, metrics and a question of confidence

Far too often we see that organisations have a heavy, sometimes over-reliance on metric-based surveys.  In a way it’s understandable;  partly it’s about feeding the target-driven performance culture and partly it’s to have as much information as we can at our fingertips because that, in theory, makes strategic decision-making more robust.

So it was intriguing to read the latest headline about the rising confidence levels of UK businesses.  The UK Business Confidence Monitor index “stands at +16.7, up from +12.8 in Q1 2013, suggesting GDP will grow by 0.6% in Q2 2013”.

I wish to take nothing away from its credibility, accuracy and the expertise of those who know much more about economics than I, but it means, er, what exactly? Well, delve a bit deeper and the trend is confidently portrayed as being a proxy for future economic growth, of higher levels of borrowing and investment.   I’m no Smith, Keynes or Friedman but on the face of it that sounds like good news despite the fact that we may also conclude that the appetite to take on more debt is weak and fragile customer demand is still a problem.

Armed with just that though, if I was to present to the Board of UK plc, I’d fully expect them to say “And just what is it that you want us to do next?”.

It’s often the same when it comes to finding out what it’s really like to be a customer or client.  In the Business Confidence Monitor, the question that respondents are answering is “Overall, how would you describe your confidence in the economic prospects facing your business over the next 12 months, compared to the previous 12 months?”.   In consumer and employee surveys the equivalent questions might be “How likely are you to recommend us?”, “How do you rate our service” and “How satisfied are you?”.

All good questions in their own right, and also trying to predict future behaviour.  But while metrics will show a trend, on their own they don’t show why the trend is what it is, and therefore what it is likely to be in the coming weeks, months and years.  What’s more, depending on sample sizes and other mechanics of the survey, the reliability of the numbers comes with its own confidence factor of plus or minus x%.

Absent clear comments as to why respondents gave the reasons they did, there is a vacuum of context.  That means, as with so many metric-based surveys, that translating the information into knowledge upon which valuable decisions can be made still remains elusive.

I’ve always said that if organisations get the experience right first, the metrics will look after themselves.  Base analyses and decisions on the numbers alone and without any context, trends will simply continue to happen whether they’re known to be the right ones or not.

In that, I have every confidence.

_______

Thank you for your interest and for your time reading this blog.  I’m Jerry Angrave and I provide Customer Experience research and advisory services, most recently to the aviation, transport and legal services sectors.  If you’ve any comments or questions, do let me know, either through the blog, by email to [email protected] or feel free to call me on +44 (0) 7917 718 072.  There’s also more information at www.empathyce.com.

Do we, and banks themselves, have the appetite to change current accounts?

The Post Office announced today that it is to launch a current account into the UK market, supplied by Bank of Ireland.  It will therefore go some way to allaying the Office of Fair Trading’s fears that because 75% of the market is sewn up by just four banks – Lloyds, RBS, Barclays and HSBC – the restricted choice is not good for competition.  post office atmBut, what will customers make of it?

Current accounts are notoriously sticky, perpetuated by the perceptions of how difficult it is to change and lack of differentiation.  Research by JD Power says that switching is more likely to be triggered by a change in a customer’s circumstances such as a new job, marriage or moving home, than by the attraction of special fees or by suffering bad service.  So it’s no surprise that, according to MoneySupermarket, eight out of ten people have no plans to change in the next 12 months.

So is another current account the answer?  Is the reason why there’s so little switching because it’s the “Same old same-old” rather than a different new?

To paraphrase Bill Gates, we don’t need banks or even bank accounts.  Rather, we need an easy, efficient way of allowing us to exchange money for goods.  Earlier this year, the Payments Council reported that over 90% of our transactions are for a value of under £25, making the adoption of contactless payment technology ever more attractive.

With a branch footprint that is larger than all other banks combined, the Post Office sees that as an opportunity to go back to more personalised, community banking.  But time will tell whether it’s a reliable point of differentiation in today’s channel-agnostic world.

A quick look at a recent survey by Which? on how bank accounts are rated shows that three of the top four – First Direct, Smile and the One Account – do not have a high street presence.  Tellingly, the fourth, the Co-Operative Bank, is not one of the ‘big four’ either.

At the other end of the scale, reaffirming that price is not the be-all and end-all, Santander scored the lowest despite having the highest interest rate on credit balances.  So the challenge, for customers to decide if they should switch and for providers to offer the right value, is not insignificant.

But that may be changing.  Choice is growing and with it the opportunity for new entrants to clear away the complexities of fee charging structures, to start with new technology that gets the basics right every time and to position themselves to take full advantage of the more stringent switching mandates coming into effect later this year.  The energetic Metro Bank is opening new branches and getting good reviews from its customers and – literally – their dogs too.  The purchase by the Co-Operative Bank from Lloyds Banking Group of a ready-to-go operation made up of customers, accounts, staff and branches is also drifting to a conclusion.

And two others to watch.  In the background, the shy but highly effective Handelsbanken.  With 150 locally-focused branches, a decentralised decision-making philosophy and a belief that banking is about customers and not products, the Swedish bank has quietly created greater, genuine loyalty among its customers, a stronger reputation in the markets and a higher average profitability than its competitors.

In the United States, Simple has created an invitation-only banking proposition that is making a few C-Suite Executives sit up and take notice.  Being purely technology-based doesn’t create lasting differentiation but its attitude is hard to replicate by established banks.  There are no fees, the revenue is generated by the spread between asset and liability pricing.  Their call centres are very light on scripting, encouraging conversations rather than transactions – humanising the experience again.  Their debit cards arrive presented as a gift, not tucked inside an A4 tri-fold covered in barcodes.

Meanwhile, back in the UK, current account providers are seeing the revenue generated from an active account reducing.  The OFT calculates a fall from £152 per account in 2008 to £139 in 2012.  So what’s the appeal for those wanting to play?  The real opportunity lies in the ability to use the account as a foundation for deepening the relationship, otherwise known as “selling more products”.

That’s where the likes of the Post Office may be able to grab an advantage;  to make the most of their face-to-face interactions, building trust and empathy that do lead to additional sales and revenue, just in a less adversarial way.  One of the biggest gripes about banks is that every time we are in touch with them, it seems they are always in a rush trying to sell us something.  It’s probably not without reason either.  Highly complex algorithms have been trawling through vast data warehouses as they carry out their propensity modelling.  In a thirst to meet balanced scorecard objectives, they generate more sales leads than the front-line can handle.

Current Accounts - how will they evolve?

The writing on the wall for current accounts: how, will they evolve?

What that looks like to a customer is, hopefully, what the new entrants can avoid.  It’s ok to get what’s labelled as a customer service call saying “I’m just ringing to check that everything’s ok?”.  But when it’s followed by “Ah, sorry to hear the kids are playing up right now, but would a personal loan be useful so you can all go on holiday?” that’s not very helpful.  What’s worse, is when I say “Actually, yes, I want to talk about that duplicated direct debit last month, which no-one has contacted me about” and I’m told I have to call someone else about that.

Evidence suggests that most providers are still heavily reliant on looking to transactional current accounts in order to create relationships.  More of the same isn’t really a sharp enough stick with which to poke ambivalent and inert customers into switching.  But for some, innovation based on having an absolute understanding of what it’s really like to be a customer and what they are looking for will see them evolve from same-old to different-new before their competitors.

And when banks change their current account, that is when we’ll change our current account too.

Remove unintended barriers to the intended email Customer Experience.

It’s an inconvenient truth that in promoting the use of email as a contact method, it is surprisingly easy to leave the wrong message.

I’m not talking about the content here, there’s plenty of focus on that.  The issue is about the realities of the customer experience when there has been a lack of thought given to the subject heading and the email address itself.

We wouldn’t set out to create an intentional experience that deliberately stops customers from being able to get in touch with us.  Not least, we wouldn’t want to be the one having to explain it to the Board.  And worse, it’s an uncomfortable conversation to have to justify it to a customer who is trying to turn to us for help.

Surely that doesn’t happen in today’s hyper-competitive, customer-hugging commercial world?  But it does, very much so, and in the process undermines all the good work created by the brand investment, employee engagement programmes and those posters on the wall proclaiming “We put customers at the heart of everything we do” (whatever that means..).

Here are three examples of where it can go wrong.  To give them context, the first one has a customer’s perspective providing the commentary:

I’ve had an email from “DoNotReply” – how do I get in touch?

Bought my tickets online. It all went well, it was easy and the people were friendly. But in the confirmation email I had there were a couple of things that weren’t quite clear and so I wanted to check some of the details. Problem was, it was from [email protected]— so I wasn’t sure what to do. There was no other way of contacting them apart from links to “Subscribe to our newsletter”, “You might also be interested in these services” and so on.  I’ve never had a good experience with their call centre either.

I went back to the company website and looked for the “Contact Us” page but knew I’d have to explain all the information again. Turns out it wasn’t a freephone number so I sent a message using one of those forms. All I’ve had back is a note saying I’m a valued customer and they’ll get back to me in three working days. I’m still waiting.

If they can send me an email, why do they make it so hard to reply to it?

 

And the point is?

Stopping people replying to automated messages might seem like an operational efficiency but there’s going to be a greater cost in, at best, handling the additional enquiry or at worst, losing the business next time. To get an email from DoNotReply isn’t very friendly language. You’re effectively saying ‘Hey you. Don’t even think about replying. Ha. We’ve got your money so we’re off trying to seduce more new customers like you”.

Either put in place a mechanism for routing emails that do come in or provide an obvious and easy alternative. By their nature, automatically generated messages that fit a template are more likely to generate enquiries from customers whose lives are not governed by templates.

You get the drift. The second and third points follow in the same vein so I’ll rattle through them.

Dear “Info”, who are you, really?
When our customers or clients put the effort in and choose to go to our website, ideally we want them to get in touch. That’s why we have a Contact Us page. How many times have we read that we only have one chance to make a first impression; that it’s the first seven seconds where people make up their minds about us?

So it seems at odds with that if the first contact we offer them is a highly impersonal [email protected]— or [email protected]—. It can also be at odds with what the brand promises everywhere else on the site about being customer-focused. Whether your customers are buying a book or chartering a luxury business jet, it’s got to be reassuring for the customer to think they are sending a message to a real person. Simply changing “[email protected]” to, say, “[email protected]” makes it so much more engaging.

I know you’re here somewhere…
Linked to the two I’ve mentioned, this one’s about customers being able to find your emails later.

Chances are that during the life of your relationship a customer will want to get in touch. And if they’ve got an account number, membership reference, a password reminder or simply want your email address, it’s very likely they’ll look up an old email from you. We all do it, and the first thing we’re likely to do is to sort our inbox messages by sender.

However, the name of the company is often elusive. Instead, we have many messages from “Customer Services”, “Info”, “NoReply” to name but three very generic addresses. We want it to be easy for people to get in touch with us and we don’t want to give them a reason to give up searching or risk going elsewhere. It’s therefore well worth thinking about using an appropriate name that will appear in the customers inbox where they expect it to.

You may have all these and more covered, in which case that’s great. But if there’s any doubt, check it out. It won’t take long and if it starts a conversation between you and your colleagues about what needs fixing and how, that’s got to be better than the alternative “Please explain” conversation around the Board table.

Interested to hear your views, thank you.

Jerry

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Jerry Angrave
Managing Director, Empathyce Customer Experience
www.empathyce.com | [email protected]
+44 (0) 7917 718 072

The feedback on Customer Experience feedback

The process of gathering the right, usable customer feedback needs to be treated every bit as much as any other key touchpoint in the Customer Experience journey.

At a time where barely a day goes by without our customers being asked to give comments about at least one brand or another, it’s more important than ever to make sure that our survey is quick, clear and easy.

It’s not so long ago that when we were asked for customer feedback, we were happy to oblige; flattered that our opinion was being sought, happy to think we were helping make a difference.

Nowadays though, we are faced with a relentless torrent of surveys, a deluge that is at serious risk of diluting our willingness to spend time and effort understanding complex questions, giving subjective scores and thinking of constructive responses.

And so not only do feedback programmes have to work harder to unearth the actionable insights, the very mechanics are under the spotlight too. Calling customers on a Sunday afternoon, asking customers in-store to go online and leave feedback when they get home or sending “How did you get on?” survey forms at the time of the booking rather than after the holiday will at best garner lacklustre responses. At worst, it will damage relationships, brand reputation and the quality of decision-making.

For want of a better phrase, the “survey experience” should be understood and managed just like any other touchpoint in the customer journey. Particularly for service industries, it can be one of the few tangible points of contact. Make it a point of difference, not a nuisance.

I recently needed a roadside breakdown patrol to breathe life back into my car. Job done, and stood in the icy cold wind, I was asked to take a quick survey. The questions were supposed to be about my experience but in essence were really an audit of what they knew already; how long did you wait, did you need towing, did the patrol do a battery check and so on? When it came to the “how likely are you to recommend?” question, there was no “Why do you say that?” follow up.

“They never ask us what it’s really like to be out here” the patrol guy said, frustrated that although it will look like the metric-based targets will be safe, the fact that the call centre got my location and phone number wrong, keeping him and me out in the cold for longer, will pass “them” by.

The more customers give feedback, the more discerning they will become. Anything that makes them feel like it’s not worth it or that it won’t be listened to will be ignored. A wasted opportunity.

Already, we see that over 80% of unhappy customers don’t complain, they just choose a competitor next time. So knowing what it’s really like to be a customer is as precious as the willingness and ability to act on it.

We just need to make sure that when we draw people in to give us feedback, we don’t push them away as a result.

Jerry Angrave
Managing Director
Empathyce, the business of Customer Experience

+44 (0)7917 718 072
https://www.empathyce.com
[email protected]
@Empathyce

The (not-so subtle) differences between Customer Experience and Customer Service

You can see it in job titles, department names and in strategic planning sessions;  the terms Customer Experience and Customer Service are used liberally and are freely interchangeable.  Not surprising then, why I’m often asked “What’s the difference?  Same thing isn’t it?  Does it matter?”.

There’s a big difference.  And, if the future strength of the business is at stake, yes it does matter very much.  Of course, good Customer Service is essential – in essence that’s about what you offer and do for your customers or clients today;   Customer Experience meanwhile jumps to their side of the fence and understands how what you did today will affect what they do tomorrow.

All the “wow” and “magic moment” boxes of Customer Service may be ticked but without knowing what it really feels like to be a customer, a focus on Service alone and not Experience exposes a brand to unintentional consequences, oblivious to the real emotional and functional impact an action or a change will have on a customer.

So over the last few weeks I’ve tried to illustrate the point, using real-life situations to bring to life the key differences.  For example:

Customer Service is about what we do for our customers today.  Customer Experience is about what our customers will do for us tomorrow.

Customer Service is getting a geolocation text message in an airport. Customer Experience is being more concerned about hunting for a baggage trolley and then being charged a non-refundable £1 to use it.

Customer Service is what you say to your customers today.  Customer Experience is knowing what they say about it to family and friends over dinner tonight.

Customer Service is a brand promising “Here when you need us”.  Customer Experience is being charged to be put on hold when you call them.

Customer Service is practical; Customer Experience is memorable. 

Customer Service is having six ticket desks in a cinema foyer.  Customer Experience is seeing the long queue because only one is open and going for a meal instead.

Customer Service is sending a “Dear Valued Customer” letter.  Customer Experience is thinking “If I’m so ‘valued’ why don’t they use my name and why do they sign it just ‘Manager’?”

Customer Service is like leading a horse to water.  Customer Experience is the horse thinking “Nay, I was about to order a take-away latte”.

Customer Service is a polite builder. Customer Experience is them hosing down the driveway every day and giving neighbours dust sheets for their cars. 

Customer Service is a retail store being decorated for Christmas. Jolly. Customer Experience is a frustrating queue at the checkout because three staff are “busy” decorating. A priority? Humbug.

Customer Service is being given a feedback form. Customer Experience is “Blimey, the same questions about the same one-night stay from FOUR different sources?”

Customer Service is a bistro providing baby high-chairs. Customer Experience is being able to move it and set it up with one hand.

Customer Service is offering a more personalised service at a premium price. Customer Experience is then that sinking feeling when told to email “info”@…

Mind the gap between Customer Experience and Customer Service

Customer Service is having a reception desk. Customer Experience is how you feel about the business when the receptionist doesn’t smile or make eye contact.

Customer Service is a shiny new online help service.  Customer Experience is being perplexed at getting no response, or finding out it’s only open 9-5.

And so on.  You get the idea. Feel free to share your own examples – there is no shortage of them in day-to-day life…

______________
Jerry Angrave
Managing Director
Empathyce, the business of Customer and Client Experience
 
+44 (0) 7917 718072   |   [email protected]   |   www.empathyce.com
 
Empathyce helps business leaders and their teams to get the most out of their Customer and Client Experiences.  The business improvements as a result can include better decision-making because there’s a clear Customer Strategy; less duplication and better investment / resource allocation by acting on the right feedback and insight; better employee and stakeholder engagement by showing them what it’s really like to be a customer; and better financial results by giving robust governance to prioritise acting on the things that are creating – and destroying – the most value.
 
Twitter – @Empathyce
LinkedIn – http://uk.linkedin.com/in/improvecustomerexperiences