When the sales experience falls into, rather than bridges, the gap

Depending on your definition of a customer, their experience starts well before they actually buy anything.

It might be what they’ve heard from others or what they’ve seen in the news. But if the brand comes knocking on their door that first impression is also a critical experience. Many get it right because it’s based on a real empathy with those they are trying to engage with.

However, it’s not always the case. Absent a clear customer experience strategy, what we think do as a business often looks very different when looked at from the customers’ perspectives.

 

For example, if any CEO is wondering why their Sales teams are not getting better results, maybe a quick look at how their initial engagement makes yet-to-be customers feel will give some big clues.

The quotes below are all real examples I’ve had in my inbox just this last week. There are others and I’m sure you’ll have your own ‘favourites’.

They are not trying to sell me something I don’t want. In fact, I could be interested. Just not with them. If I was ever asked for feedback about the Sales experience (a rare thing indeed), it might go along these lines:

  • Putting “Our 9am meeting” in the subject heading doesn’t spur me into replying out of panic.  Sorry to burst your bubble Sales folk, but changing it to “Our 10am meeting” in the follow-up really doesn’t make any difference either.
  • Saying “I’ve tried to reach you” is just lying – technology is quite good these days so I know if you’ve tried to get in touch as often as you claim. And when your colleagues use the same line every week, several times a week, it becomes very transparent.
  • Gasping “I can’t believe you’ve not signed up yet” and “I’d hate for you to miss out” is at best patronising and lacks any sincerity.
  • What’s more, should I be interested a reply to the email will go into a generic mailbox, not to the person who is (presumably) trying to create a relationship. It just shouts even louder about how you really don’t care if I get back in touch or not.

Does somebody seriously believe this type of approach is going to create an experience I want to repeat, share and pay a premium for? If these companies had any genuine interest in what I do and how they might help me achieve success, they’d look at their Sales activity as a meaningful experience not a bullying, volume-led, can’t-really-give-a-**** transaction.

I often come across businesses who fear the Sales team always over-promise because of the way they are rewarded. They then disappear off the face of the planet while everyone else tries to rally-round, clearing up the mess to deliver something close to an unrealistic promise.

On the flip-side, maybe the Sales team is frustrated that everyone else can’t keep up. Maybe they’re just doing what they’ve been told is best. But to create a first impression experience that is confrontational, misleading and deceitful creates no trust, no relationship. No commission.

They say the experience on the outside reflects the culture inside and they’re right. In the middle of a busy day, to be on the receiving end of these type of messages says heaps about what it must be like to work there. No clear strategy, just a numbers game where some very talented people will be wilting under the stress.

Intended or not, what they are saying to me is that it’s clear their focus is just on revenue, not on me as a potential customer. They don’t care if I buy or not, there are plenty more fishes in the sea. Friend and colleague Ian Golding wrote about a similar mindset very recently in this blog.

These companies are not some anonymous outfit in a far-off land that’s acquired an email list; often they are large, global businesses who should know what they are doing. These companies will make some money for sure but that short-term approach breeds complacency and stores up problems for down the line.

If they applied a dose of customer experience thinking they could, however, make a whole lot more money. If only they didn’t push their potential customers away before they’ve even got close.

 

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Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you enjoyed it and found it thought-provoking.  

I’m Jerry Angrave and I help people in Customer Experience roles do what they need to do. I’m a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional), a CX consultant and am one of a handful of people globally who are authorised by the CXPA to train CX professionals for its accreditation.

Do get in touch if you’ve any comments on the blog, any questions or are interested in training or consultancy support.

Thank you,

Jerry 

[email protected]   |   www.empathyce.com   |   +44 (0) 7917 718072

Poor emails undo all the good brand work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


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

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

ccxp and art

 

 

Making technology relevant to the passenger experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The point is relevance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

Thank you Jerry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jerry Angrave

CCXP LogoCustomer Experience awards judge

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

Three effective open questions to ask customers

Organisations have an insatiable appetite for customer feedback and with good reason. Asking effective open questions, however, is easier said than done.  Customers are being asked several times a day what they think and with our customer hat on we all know what that feels like.  It’s therefore commercially vital that the questions we ask in those surveys make it easy for customers.  And yet one of the most popular questions used today is also one of the most difficult to answer.

There are variations in the wording, but to ask “What’s the one thing we could do differently?” would appear to be a good starting point.  It is certainly better than nothing or simply focusing on the scores.

Its flaw however, is that it’s a question that has been transposed from the performance management frameworks of corporate HR departments.  Back in the day, my boss and I would seek the views of my peers and stakeholders (my “internal customers”) on what I should do more of, do less of and do differently.  They all knew me well and they knew what I should be trying to achieve in the context of the culture and company.

Giving customers the same line of questioning assumes that they live and breathe the brand, its operational limitations and regulatory mandates day-in day-out.  It assumes that they know what the business and its purpose is all about and that they know what the limitations or ambitions of the company are.  They don’t, and in fairness I see many companies where the employees struggle to articulate the purpose and customer strategy, let alone their customers.

It’s a little ironic therefore that at the very time when we’re trying to find out about our customers, this question is all about us.  At best therefore, it seems an unfair question to ask customers to comment on things they are not familiar with.  At worst, customers will try and second guess or make assumptions of their own. Responses might give a sense of direction and indeed, some qualitative context is better than a void, but either way there are other questions that will produce better results.

Here are three effective open questions that might give your feedback programme better insights:

 

What would you say to a friend about what it’s like to do business with us?

The first one here is a question I always urge my clients to ask.  It gets straight to the root of what a customer feels.  It’s easy for them to relate to as the starting point for their observation is familiar ground.  It’s personal, empathetic and is asking for the whole truth, however uncomfortable that may be to hear.   Of course, the follow-up question “Why?” is on hand if extra colour is needed but often this simple question generates rich insights on its own.

 

What do you think our employees would say about you?

I’m indebted to Piers Alington of Feedback Ferret for sharing this one and is a brilliant litmus test of the real culture versus what the leadership team believe it to be. It also strikes at the heart of what it feels like to interact with a business.  Ordering the widget might have been easy, the product might work as it is supposed to but if there’s even a hint of contempt or lack of understanding – issues that silently send customers to competitors – this question will flush that out.

 

If you had 2 minutes with our CEO what would you say?

Jamie Ziegler of Convergys reminded me of this searching question in a CXPA forum recently.  It really focuses the customer’s mind on what’s important and reaches out to either end of the spectrum of what’s brilliant and what’s terrible.  As Jamie says, it also creates a human connection.  It increases the sense that the feedback is listened to and passed on, something that is a welcome change from the clinical nature of most surveys.

 

If we are going to the effort of creating a survey, getting buy-in for an internal governance framework to act on the insights and we are going to get the most from a customer’s limited attention span, the questions need to work really hard to be really easy.

There will be other great questions to ask – let me know your thoughts so we can share those too!

 


If you’d like to know more about getting the right type of feedback or how I might be able to help with any other strategic or tactical aspect of customer experience do please get in touch – I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 or email [email protected].  I’m a CX consultant with a real-world background, I run workshops and speak about customer experience at events across Europe.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, CCXP


 

British Gas and United: learnings from their customers with special needs

Understand where customers and companies meet

Understanding what happens when customers and companies meet

Companies who treat Special Needs customers with genuine empathy, supported by internal engagement and education, not only do the right thing but see benefits for all their other customer segments too.  There are two contrasting stories here about how companies deal with the same type of customer in completely different ways; the differences being understanding and communication and clear answers to “Would you buy from us again?”.

There is no upper limit on how strongly I feel about how organisations should really understand their customers; and for personal reasons, even more so when those customer have special needs.  Those people have conditions that may not necessarily be visible but are nonetheless extremely real for them and the people they are with.  They see, and interact with, the world in different ways and a company that is genuinely customer-led will get it.  Others will try to shoe-horn round pegs of customers into the square pegs of their processes and wonder why – or worse, not realise – they do more damage than good.

This is not just about it being the right thing to do.  Companies can be so much more efficient and profitable with the right thinking and attitude. And for those companies saying it’s a customer segment too small or complex to worry about, neither the planning nor delivery is expensive but can be so rewarding in many other ways.  Elite athletes and leadership gurus say that we need to exaggerate what we are trying to do and stretch our imagination if we want to get anywhere near our goals.  If you want to fly above the clouds, shoot for the stars.  The brilliant thing about people with special needs is that they can teach us so much about ourselves, put what we see as the norm into perspective and really challenge the way we do things.  If we get it right for them, we get things right for most other people too.  I wrote more about that in a blog on customer experiences for people with special needs last year.

I’m highlighting two very recent examples here to illustrate what an unintended (to give them the benefit of the doubt) lack of empathy looks like compared with one where they have it sorted.

United Airlines were once again in the headlines this week for less than good customer experiences.  According to the headlines a pilot made an emergency landing and had police officers remove an autistic 15-year old girl and her family – because she had been displaying behavioural signs that most autistic people do. I’m not privvy to the facts and I have every admiration for pilots who get me home safely and are making life and death decisions day-in day-out.  However, the airline knew about the girl’s condition, the family had let them know that before flying.  Flying with an autism is a brave thing to do, for the family aswell as the child.  That anxiety-filled experience would have started as soon as planning the trip began.  People with such conditions rely on routine, on understanding what will happen step by step and can live moment-by-moment so if certainty and boundaries are absent, any emotion becomes amplified.  Autism isn’t a rare condition and for me, the airline and crew should know that and be able to respond accordingly.

So being in a state of heightened anxiety, maybe just about getting through life emotionally and probably not having had a good night’s sleep for years, how must they have felt at being ‘responsible’ for diverting the aircraft and delaying others while trying to keep calm and the situation under control?  How must they feel to have police officers escort them off the plane? How did the airline then help them cope with the unplanned visit to another destination when they are so dependent on routine, familiarity with the environment and certainty?

From a personal and a commercial customer experience perspective I would love to understand what happened and what the airline did. The airline itself says “The United brand vision is more than just words on paper. It is shaped by every aspect of our customer and co-worker experience“.  Very true.  The brand is what customers tell each other it is.

Other airlines know it’s an issue and deal with it well.  Even Los Angeles International Airport now lets customers with special needs pick up a discrete sticker badge to wear, so that staff can be quicker to anticipate issues and help when it’s needed.

Continuing on that more positive note and with the other example, it was refreshing to see that a switch can be flicked to send a company into a different mode when they know they are dealing with someone with special needs.  A British Gas engineer came to service my boiler at home. He was very polite and got on with the job quickly, leaving with a message to say all was well.  I then left for a meeting and returned later that afternoon to discover that not only was there no hot water, there was no water coming out of the hot taps. That’s not a great scenario heading into tea-time and bath-time for the kids.  I rang the helpline, who told me I could not have an engineer out until tomorrow at the earliest.  Things were not looking great, feeling that I am now having to pay for their mistake.  “Really?  There’s nothing you can do? You’re leaving us with two kids and no hot water?”.  “Sorry, I’ve checked again but no.” was the reply.

I’m lucky to live in a country where we take fresh and hot water for granted and there are bigger problems people face day-in day-out.  But at that point in time I was concerned – my son has special needs that mean he needs a wash each day, something he can’t do by himself.  And like the position the girl on the plane found herself in, without the routine and at the tired end of the day, things were now predictably going to be stressful and unpleasant.  I mentioned it in passing to the lady on the helpline, thinking out loud and not to get any special favours but just because I wanted her to know the consequences of their actions. “Special needs?” she asked. That changed things immediately. She asked about the condition and then for what they call “vulnerable” customer, all the stops were pulled out. “It won’t be a problem, we’ll get it sorted tonight. Leave it with us”.  Sure enough, an engineer rang back and was able to talk me through fixing the problem – the previous engineer had left a valve closed, which needed turning 90 degrees to open it.  Simple. All sorted, over the phone.

I appreciate what British Gas did in the end and am grateful the evening remained calm.  But I couldn’t help wondering why they keep that process tucked away for vulnerable customers when it’s what any type of customer needs if they are in a predicament, especially one created by the company in the first place. That will remain the prerogative of their commercial decision-making.

But in one of many sectors where differentiation is sought as much as it is a necessity, the companies that show their employees how to genuinely understand customers will be the ones who get more people coming back, spending more and telling others to do the same.  By paying attention to those with special needs, the treatment of all customers will benefit.  The companies that don’t will simply have all the wrong headlines and wonder why their customer base and profitability is shrinking.

 

If you’d like to know more about this subject 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 can be contacted by email at [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

There’s no need to measure customer effort

Do we need to measure customer effort? The presence of any effort should be enough to set alarm bells ringing.  Knowing a score out of 10 or tracking a percentage may give KPI-focused colleagues a degree of comfort but that can also be an excuse to defer remedial action on the basis that “It’s not as bad as it could be, yet“.
Customer effort

If it feels wrong it probably is

Measurement of the right customer experiences in a way that fuels a rolling programme of improvement is, of course, essential.  To measure customer effort is to monitor one of the symptoms of our customer experiences but it is nonetheless very challenging to get right.  Setting up reliable and timely surveys can be a complex task but by changing the mindset there is another option for organisations looking to head down the customer effort path: simply believe that any effort is too much effort.  And the biggest clues about whether there is too much effort are often much closer than we think.

When we’re ill we don’t need a thermometer reading to tell us we have a temperature.  When it rains we don’t need to know how many millimetres fell to tell us we got soaked.  And we don’t need a metric to tell us that a customer experience is more effort than it should be.  We know when things are wrong, we have the signs and we build the processes; we don’t need to measure it to know it’s there.

Customers will tell us about the causes of complaints, niggles and gripes.  The operations and IT teams will be asked to build manual work-arounds.  Processes to fix recurring issues are created.  I recently worked with a software manufacturer who took real pride in helping customers when things go wrong or happened more slowly than expected.  What they hadn’t grasped was that the reason they had to bend over backwards all the time was because their original proposition was flawed and made it a real chore for their customers to do business with them.

If there is an element of effort then there is already a problem. It doesn’t matter what the scale or metrics say. If things could be easier for customers then there are commercial decisions to be made. Why is not easier? Are we happy to put customers through that and keep our fingers crossed that it is not, or will not become, a competitive disadvantage? A company that doesn’t bother to put the effort in itself will simply transfer that effort to customers with inevitable consequences.

By way of example, I recently flew from London to Warsaw to speak at a customer experience conference. I was impressed with the airport, Heathrow’s relatively new T2. It was quick and easy, clean and friendly. It didn’t need to be any more than that.  I got lucky on the flight too, a new 787 Dreamliner which was half empty. So far so good. It reminded me of Amazon’s perspective that the best experience is no experience. Zero effort.

Measure customer effort

Good news – suitcase is found. Bad news – zips broken, padlock missing and a whole heap of effort awaits

But when I went to pick up my bag from the luggage carousel it wasn’t there. The world has greater problems on its mind but for me at that time, late at night and with no clothes for my presentation in the morning other than what I stood in, it wasn’t what I needed.

I accept (but I shouldn’t) that bags do go missing.  But lost bags are obviously a highly regular occurrence judging by the way the process and form-filling swung into action. The very presence of that process should be mirrored by an experience that is empathetic and minimises the impact on the passenger.

There were no instructions though about what happens next, no empathy to the position I’m in.  Next morning I present my keynote in the same clothes but at least have an opening story at my and the airline’s expense.

Maybe the problem is that there are too many stakeholders, or rather a lack of communication between them.  When I returned to Heathrow the next night it took an hour to drive just to the exit of the main terminal car park. The security guys explained that the cause was roadworks on the access roads, which happen every night at the moment and so too does the ensuing chaos.  If the people who have an impact on the customer experience talked to each other they wouldn’t need to ask me how my parking experience was and they could manage expectations at the very least.

Fast forward a few days and my bag is returned home. My relief was short lived as the lock had been prised apart.  The zips are damaged beyond repair, the padlock is missing and the bag has obviously been opened. I contact the airport but get no apology, just a reply blaming the airline and a link to the airline’s contact details. Except that it’s a list of all airlines who fly out of that airport and the contact details are simply their web addresses.

Thus starts a lengthy process to try and find out who I need to talk to, how I can contact them and what information they need from me. The airline I flew with has an invalid email contact address on its website that bounces back. Not helpful.  There are then so many processes and “ifs” and “buts” that I’m now feeling like it’s too much effort to make a claim.too much effort

They shouldn’t need to measure the customer effort.  There is enough evidence internally without having to ask their customers what they are like to do business with.  They shouldn’t need to because they have designed processes that – sometimes unintentionally – put more effort onto the customer. And that should be an alarm bell ringing loudly enough without the need to know how many decibels it is.

As far as my bag is concerned, I might decide to give in and put it down to a bad experience because it’s neither time nor effort well spent.  Cynics might say that’s what they want, to make the experience so difficult that people don’t bother.  It will keep their costs down after all and keep the wrong processes working perfectly.

However, what I can do with virtually no effort at all is to choose another airport / airline combination next time.  For them, that’s a lot more costly.

 


 

Take away ad


 

Customer Experience – what’s your problem?

What’s your problem with customer experience? Or, to put it another way, what is it that gets in the way of designing and implementing an effective customer experience strategy?

 

Such customer experience problems were the source of much debate recently when I had the pleasure of hosting the Empathyce TakeAway event in London. There were no presentations, those who attended set the agenda; we simply had rich and highly relevant conversations around the room where everyone could ja speakingoffer their insights on addressing others’ issues and get feedback on their own.

It was interesting to see further validation that whatever the sector there is a thread of common issues. My co-host for the day was good friend and customer experience specialist Ian Golding – we were joined by people who worked in B2B and B2C (or, more accurately, P2P: People to People) from markets that included aviation, travel, property development, communications, legal services and social media. And yet there was hardly a single issue that was the preserve of only one market.

Top of the list and driving everything else was culture. Especially, the gap between how customer-centric organisations tell their stakeholders and employees they are and what they are in reality. A big part of a customer experience professional’s role is to influence where there isn’t direct authority but in an ideal world that wouldn’t need to be an issue.  Having the right culture removes the need to influence others in the organisation who either can’t or don’t want to see beyond their process, metric or product focus. It’s easier said than done, it can be a lone voice to start with but is absolutely critical to any success.

Another hot topic is the conundrum created by the tension between personalisation and digitalisation. As a consumer, we want timely and relevant information but we also don’t want it cross a line into being intrusive, noisy and over-bearing. However, as a business we can be seduced by the promises of efficiency that digitalisation, self service and big data can bring. Technology allows us to make things incredibly personal, but it must be the customer’s definition of personal, not ours.

I also can’t remember a time when breaking through internal silos and aligning everything wasn’t a concern. And yet getting people in the same company to collaborate, to understand each other and to work to the same priorities remains a significant challenge. It’s another sub-set of the culture issues; there’s no point in having a customer experience team working their socks off to champion the cause if in another part of the business teams are motivated and rewarded by the ticking of non-customer boxes.take away and maxi 026

Talking of which, measurement is always a fascinating subject. Using the right type of measurement, tracking the right thing, understanding what the results are saying and sharing them in a way that brings about the right change are all customer experience fundamentals. Again, despite all the customer-rhetoric, especially in metric and process driven organisations, there always remains the risk, often a reality, of obsessing about the number at the cost of knowing what is making the numbers what they are.

Armed with endless mugs of coffee and delicious food at the fantastic (and thoroughly recommended) Wallacespace, we continued to share experiences and views on how companies address these issues and more; the psychology of queuing and its false economy of processing efficiencies, capturing and doing something about the niggles and gripes rather than just focusing on complaints and the use of social media and gamification to nurture customer engagement.

What is your problem? The issue I’ve touched on here only scratch the surface so I’d love to hear what your most pressing customer experience challenges are or how you’ve seen others overcome.

Wherever possible I’d urge you to talk to others outside your business, outside your market.  Chances are, whatever you are dealing with someone, somewhere will have some helpful thoughts.  Forgive the plug but we’ve had some great feedback about the Take Away event so if you’re interested in attending one of the next ones there are more details here.  Ian Golding is alway worth listening to about what makes good or bad experiences, what to do next and how to make the right changes so have a look at his blog over at ijgolding.com.

 

Of course talking about it is only the beginning. The real benefits start happening and problems start disappearing only when there is action; the right action.


 

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?

021

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)


 

 

 

Improving customer experiences: when WOW! stands for Waste Of Work

In seeking a point of differentiation, the creation of a Wow! moment in the customer experience is an admirable strategy.  But whatever makes us say “Wow!”, what is more likely to be the differentiator is all the basics being done well and consistently.

 

The reasons why we as consumers switch between companies is rarely because of the absence of anything that “delights and surprises” us.  It’s much more likely to be because of smaller things, the cumulative impact of niggles and gripes that we expect to be done right.10434205_s
It’s easy to see why organisations are seduced into the idea of creating powerful emotional connections;  ones that that drive memories to keep customers coming back, spending more and telling everyone they know to do the same.  However, Wow! moments are not an automatic ticket to differentiation.

 

For example, when travelling through an airport, my research shows that people simply want them to be clean, friendly, easy and calm.  Only then will we start to worry about self-drop baggage check-ins and architectural aesthestics.  Travelling by train, I just want somewhere to park my car, somewhere to park my backside and some wi-fi.  Pouring billions of pounds into taking 10 minutes off the journey can wait.

 

So one – or even several – Wow! moments doth not a customer experience make.  Especially, when focusing on the emotive aspects comes at the cost of being functional or easy.  Often it’s because companies use technology for technology’s sake; there are personal agendas at work or there is an obsession with process efficacy and metrics.  The telecoms company I’m with recently provided a perfect example.

 

I’ve been a customer of theirs for years.  I really like them and their people. They create “fans”, sponsor major events and have an edgy but professional brand. It works and so I rarely have anything contact with them.  Except in the last two days, where I had two different experiences, both of which made me say “Wow!” but for the wrong reasons, based on a lack of the basics.

 

Firstly, out of contract I wanted to see what my options were before I look around for a new handset and tariff.  On their website, in the phones and tariffs page there is – hidden, well down the page – a “How to buy” number. In the IVR I’m asked for my number and whether or not I’m an existing customer wanting to upgrade.  I am, so assume I’m through to the right place.  Nope.  When I’m connected the agent fumbles around and has to pass me to the “new sales” team.

effort

All I then hear is the noise of a busy office – people chatting loudly to customers and to each other.  Eventually, I hear a timid “Hello?”.  I make my presence known and the agent launches into the prepared script as if that was a perfectly normal way to start.  I go through the request again and ask what the tariffs are for a particular handset.  There’s a long pause, the sound of keyboards being tapped and then I get a confusing deluge of text, megabite and minute options.  I ask the difference between two different handsets.  More clicking and rambling answers.

 

I’m asked if my account with them really is out of contract.  I thought if anyone should know, they should.  To be certain, he gives me a number to text a keyword to.  We wait with baited breath for a message to come back.  “You ain’t got nuthin’ yet?  Oh, you need to write the keyword in capitals, sorry”.  I try again and again I get nothing back. We struggle on but when he asks if I can call back in 15 minutes my patience runs out.

 

I know this particular company can do better, a lot better.  We rate customer experiences on three dimensions;  how easy was it, did it do what I set out to achieve and how did it make me feel.  On none of those levels did the company score well at all, the effort amplified by the fact that it should have been so easy.

 

The next day, coincidentally or not, I received an invitation from them to become part of a customer panel. “Help define our future, we want your thoughts on how we can work better for you” and so on.  It’s nice to be asked, so I clicked the email link to join. I get taken to a pre-qualification web page.  Am I male/female? Date of birth? Which region/postcode do I live in?  All of which they know already, surely. Then I’m asked my household income and nature of my business.  Having gone through all that I then get a message pop up to say they already have too many people like me so they don’t need my views:
response
What a waste of everyone’s time, it didn’t make me feel particularly warm to the brand and I’m curious as to why they would push away someone who is happy to help them. Such is life.
 
I wish those in the board room who sign-off the high-cost Wow! investments that few are asking for could experience the customer journey of the low-cost, invaluable basics being done badly for so many.  These are basic expectations, the bar of which is rising faster than the bar of Wow! expectations.  The irony is that a customer experience with all the basics in place, done well time after time creates more differentiation, more loyalty and itself becomes the “Wow!”.

 

Jerry Angrave
Founder, Empathyce
+44 (0) 7917 718 072
@Empathyce

Will thinking like a retailer improve customer experiences?

“We need to think like a retailer”.   Really?

In listening to those who are looking to improve customer experiences, I’ve heard two very different opinions from the aviation industry this year on where the aspirations lie.   The airline: “We should think like a retailer who happens to run a fleet of aircraft”.   The airport:  “If you think like an airport you’ll never really understand your customers”.   As a passenger, I know which way of thinking I’d rather be on the receiving end of.024

To those organisations in any industry who aspire to think like a retailer (code for “sell more”), I have a suggestion.  Why stop there?  Why not have the aspiration to make your customer experiences so easy, consistent and cost-effective that it is the retailers who are the ones who look to you and say “We need to think like them”?

One of the biggest challenges we see in creating a truly customer-focused business is the lack of clarity among employees about the overall strategy.  Or, a brand that creates expectations but then has little robust structure to deliver what it promises.  Whatever market we operate in, an aspiration to improve is of course admirable.  But we need confidence in our own business model.  Surely, we don’t want to give our employees the impression that we don’t back ourselves so we’re going to act like someone else.  That message, intended or not, isn’t what will drive the right behaviours and engagement.

It’s a similar risk with searching for and emulating best practices carried out by competitors.  In reality, it’s never that straightforward but if we replicate what they are good at we will, by definition, only be the same as them.  And in today’s world, we need to be different and distinctive.  The bar of expectations is rising relentlessly so yesterday’s best practice quickly becomes today’s norm.  And it’s not always about the “Wow” moments – getting every basic element right every time is, for sure, a best practice that others will aspire too.

I hear a lot about the need to think like a retailer and I applaud the intent.  Retailers have some great experiences but they have a lot of very average ones too.  Yes, they sell stuff and most organisations are looking for ways to increase revenues.  But I’m still firmly of the view that while we can learn from others, it is critical to aspire to get the customer experience right for our own business first.  In doing so, we then become the one that everyone else looks to as the role model.

 

Differentiated customer experiences require differentiated thinking

Organisations waste time, money and effort if their approach to creating differentiated experiences is based on the very undifferentiated “Let’s walk a mile in our customers’ shoes”.   Inspiration for better and more valuable experiences comes from those who experience things differently.


 

When teams set out to map customer journeys there’s often a familiar reminder of the need to “Put ourselves in our customers’ shoes”.  Assuming that the journey being mapped is a strategic priority and there is an ability to act on the findings, it’s a concept that’s logical and, to a degree, works.

However, that very familiarity is also its Achilles heel.  If we and our competitors are looking at things in the same way, the chances of creating differentiated experiences with undifferentiated thinking are not looking good.  In the journey mapping workshop, everyone nods and agrees that it’s the right thing to do but exactly what it means and why it’s important can get lost in the enthusiasm of being away from the day-job and amid the swarm of post-it notes.WallaceSpace

It’s all good and valid work, but it’s highly likely to produce a sanitised and generic version of the journey.  Putting ourselves in customers’ proverbial shoes cannot tell us what our customers think when they are in their own shoes;  however hard we try, it will still be us pretending to be them.

Even if we create a perfect vision of what the journey should be, by starting with us as a proxy for the customer, by the time any innovation has found its way through the corporate filters of business cases, project scope alignment and demands for “What’s the ROI?”, what were great ideas become diluted.  Had the vision been a little more ambitious and creative to start with, our diluted outcome would be stronger for it.

And so for those who want to take things a step further the approach needs to be stretched.  When we learn to negotiate, if it’s for a 5% budget increase we will probably try starting with +8%.  Swimmers train with weight-belts, motor-cyclists are taught to stay focused on the vanishing point of the road and not to stare at the front tyre.  It’s that thing about reaching the moon by shooting for the stars.

There is one group of people to whom we can turn to for inspiration in so many ways, including here.  They are ordinary human beings who live with some kind of mental or physical condition that we tend to label as having a disability or special needs.

In the UK, over eleven million people have a limiting long-term illness or an impairment of some kind according to the Government. It’s not unreasonable to assume that each of those individuals has at least two people who have been through the emotional highs and lows with them and sacrifice a lot to help them get through their daily lives.  Even if we rounded the numbers and said that 30 million people – nearly half the UK population – are affected, the chances are that we all have such customers. Next time you think a customer is over-reacting to not getting a call back as promised, it might be because they’ve been up all night trying to calm an apoplectic 12-year old who is unable to talk and explain what the problem is.

To help those mapping out customer journeys, adopting the persona of a typical customer type is a step in the right direction.  But, by seeing things from the perspective of someone who interacts with the world in a very different way, it can really sharpen up the process.  Take, for example, a team who wants to make the airport experience better.

The type of hand-drier in the toilets might not seem to be a particular issue.  But for someone with autism, hyper-sensitive emotions and a need for predictability, loud and sudden noises created by the blast from the current wave of dip-your-hand-in driers can at best be deeply distressing.  Creating a situation where your customers run among other customers, screaming and with their hands over their ears is, I’m sure, not an intentional experience. But there’s also a financial impact;  I know people who avoid one major airport for that very reason.

Addressing that particular issue also creates a calmer environment for everyone, something that is high on the list of unprompted things that passengers of all abilities value. Those anxious people who go on a fear of flying course do so because they thought it was the flight, not the airport, that would be stressful.differentiated

Many companies will proclaim they want to make things easy for their customers.  And people will quietly tolerate the niggles of call-centre on-hold messages or staff who close up their shop five minutes before time.  If we’re journey mapping by putting ourselves in our customers’ shoes, those are things we might not be bothered by and so we unintentionally assume our customers won’t either. But, look at it from the perspective of someone with depression, who has taken days if not weeks to build up the courage and mental energy to call only to be told to wait even longer;  the stroke sufferer who wants to ask a simple question but has problems speaking and being understood.  Or, the parent who can’t remember the last night of unbroken sleep, when they last woke up without being woken up and what life was like before washing bedroom walls became a daily task.  Many employees in a call-centre or retail space may not have had the life-experience of interacting with people for whom living independently – or living at all – is a major achievement.  Surely if we made things easy for them, everyone else benefits too.

Another example.  A common gripe is the ability to understand the bills we get, especially from utilities. I was with an energy-company client recently listening to customer calls and had to stifle a chuckle when the exasperated customer declared “I’ve a master’s degree in physics but I don’t understand this bill”.  Imagine then, what it is like if you have any kind of mental disability or a condition such as dyslexia.

Likewise, if a toy gets delivered and it’s the wrong one, do we assume that people will see it as a minor inconvenience and so we’ll be ready when they call up for a replacement.  Or, because we acknowledge that a parent or carer might have to explain that to a distraught child using Makaton sign-language, we fix the process that causes the problem in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many companies doing small and discrete things that make a big difference.  To provide a balance, Manchester airport publishes a guide specifically for those with disabilities and their carers; Birmingham airport has staff who will recognise signs in body language that suggest something is not right and they’re trained to do something about it. Monarch is replicating the London 2012 Games Makers training for its staff.

There are altruistic and – because of the world we live in – commercial reasons for taking this approach.  But, if we stretch our customer thinking in a different way to our competitors and we design journeys around real people, not the processes we force them through, empathy and ease translates smoothly into a better business for everyone concerned.

Thank you, let me know what you think.  And if you’re interested in helping to improve customer experiences for people with special needs, please join my group over on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/groups/Improving-Customer-Experiences-People-Special-4583395/about.

 

 

Creating the right customer experience is all about leading by example

To have any credibility when talking with others about how “customer experience” can improve a business, it’s an obvious understatement to say that leading by example – understanding their issues and what they value – is imperative.

And so hosting an event on the subject, quite rightly, sets the bar of expectations very high.

That’s the position Ian Golding and I were in this week in London when we held Custerian’s seminar on “Your journey to map their journey”.  In its simplest form, the aim is to share our knowledge about the strategic, operational and tactical side of customer experience so that attendees know what to do next, why and how in order to bring about quick but lasting change.

We always say that the right customer experiences and obsessive attention to the basics helps create the holy grail of differentiation – it was time to put our money where our mouth is and do things a little bit differently.WallaceSpace

In the week leading up to the seminar, I spoke with each delegate individually.  I wanted to understand more about their motivations for attending, why now was the right time, what their challenges were and what they wanted out of the day.  It meant that the seminar would only cover relevant ground.

A similar discussion happens in the weeks after the seminar;  I speak to, or visit, everyone who attended (with their teams if it’s appropriate) and talk about how they are getting on implementing what they learnt within their organisation.

But for the day itself, the last thing we wanted was a “turn up and be talked at” windowless conference in the bowels of an obscure hotel somewhere.  We’ve all been there and we all don’t like it.

Our location of choice was WallaceSpace in Covent Garden.  It’s an old chandelier factory but has been turned into the most fantastic venue – light and airy, calm but funky, relaxed but professional.  We could have found somewhere else, but our basic expectations are for a good environment in which people can learn and be thought-provoking.  Windows, fresh coffee, an energetic vibe, sofas for break-out sessions and friendly staff are not much to ask but are a lot to be without.  If they did an NPS survey on our delegates and us, they’d be getting 9s and 10s.me talking

At a pace everyone was comfortable with, we explored the Why, What and How of mapping customer journeys.  Why is customer experience important to a business strategy?  Attendees were shown the consequences of having – and not having – prioritised activity based on creating a clear line of sight from what the customer experience should be, though the customer strategy, brand strategy, business objectives and to the reason the business exists in the first place.

What do we do next? The middle section was the nuts and bolts of journey mapping; about proven methods, robust frameworks and reliable measurement to give fact-based insights about what needs changing.  And the final piece, How do we make change happen? looked at how to be organised with the right governance structure and examples of how companies are working internally to bring their customer experiences to life.

Yes, I’m blowing our own trumpet a little but it’s coming from a position of genuine pride in how we do what we do and not sales-led arrogance.  The feedback we had plays a better tune anyway, and so here are some of the comments (and not just because of the moleskin notepad and sweets we provided!)

“Enthused. Educated in a practical approach”  SD

“Excited to go back to base and spread the word”  RS

“Informative and a clear, concise strategy and framework on how to map the customer journey and the importance and benefits of doing so”  HT

“Content – spot on. Learned some great tips & techniques to help me embark on my own journey”  DH

“Felt inspired by the knowledge shared. Allowed me to think about the bigger picture and generate ideas”  GF

 

Did we lead by example? Well, these comments suggest we got a lot of things right but we’re also very aware that there’s always room for improvement as that bar of expectations edges ever higher.  The proof will be in the way of thinking and in the ability of these customer experience practitioners to go back to their office and understand the journeys they themselves and their company are on;  to understand the journey their customers and colleagues are on and then to talk with authority and credibility within and across functions to bring about the change their organisation needs.

And not least, there’s a huge opportunity to be recognised as the one who is the catalyst for creating greater value from having the right customer focus; not a bad conversation to have in the year-end performance reviews.

We’ll be running the seminar programme again soon so tell us if it’s something you’d be interested in.  But also let us know what you think about the best and worst events you’ve attended and why. It will be great to hear your thoughts on leading by example.

Jerry

+44 (0) 7917 718 072

www.empathyce.com

 

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…

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.

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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.

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