The future of airline passenger experience

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Forward thinking for forward bookings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What do passengers say to each other?

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

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

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

 

The future is already here

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Making technology relevant to the passenger experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The point is relevance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

Thank you Jerry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jerry Angrave

CCXP LogoCustomer Experience awards judge

Proof that better customer experiences mean better results

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

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

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

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

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

ryanair investor pres

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

greggs

Greggs’ focus on in-store customer experience pays dividends

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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


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

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

Thank you Jerry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jerry Angrave

CCXP LogoCustomer Experience awards judge

How not to increase the customer experience scores

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

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

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

 

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

    A downward spiral – the consequences of gaming customer scores

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

Thank you Jerry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jerry Angrave

CCXP and a judge at the UK Customer Experience Awards

Little things versus Wow customer experiences

Having real coat hangers in the wardrobe of a hotel-room might not make a Wow customer experience or a Moment of Magic.  But, it’s a great illustration of how small things can make a big impact.Wow customer experiences

Stakeholders often baulk at the idea of improving customer experiences for fear that it will cost more, it will force employees to do jobs they are not targetted on or it will require new, complex processes.  But those customer experience sceptics would be reassured by an example set by Marriott’s Renaissance Monarch Hotel in Moscow.

I’d been invited there to speak at a conference about customer experience.  Always keen to observe and learn, I developed a real liking for the hotel and its people but at first couldn’t put my finger on exactly why.  Yes, it was very nice but there was no fanfare, no obvious “Tad-dah!”, nothing forced. It just worked.

It became apparent that there was simply a series of little things that were personal and relevant when they needed to be.  None of them are costly, none of them distracting for the employees and no complex systems involved.  They could be done just as well by a 7-star hotel in the sun or a draughty backpackers in the rain.   Here’s what I mean:

  • It goes without saying that the people had the right attitude.  They were attentive, engaging and helpful. They could spot this Brit a mile away and had their English reply to my awful attempts at Russian ready.  A smile costs nothing yet its absence (we won’t go into the airport experience here…) can be so costly.
  • Whatever training they have, it is effective.  Everyone who worked there had a genuine desire to help their guests, something that was epitomised in the name badges of the front-line team – they were all called “Navigators”.  Maybe a bit cheesy but whatever the label, the intent was authentic.
  • I was joined at the event by Customer Experience Specialist and fellow CCXP Ian Golding.  After our speaking sessions, Ian and I had the opportunity to jump on the metro for a couple of stops to visit Red Square and the Kremlin, places I never thought I’d be.  The guy behind the hotel check-in desk was very helpful in giving me instructions and directions.  In that, there was nothing special but just as we headed off, he produced a business card and said – in English – “Here. If you get any problems or have any questions, here is my number. Call me and I will help you”.  In an unfamiliar city and with limited time to get back and catch a flight home, that was reassuring. I wondered how many hotel staff in the UK would afford a foreign guest the same level of respect.

    Our experience, made better by the hotel

    A gratuitous selfie experience, made easier by the hotel’s people

  • For too long, wi-fi connections in hotels have been used as an income generator and treated as a cost centre for which customers must pay.  At this hotel though, not only was the wi-fi free (again, nothing particularly special there) but what was very helpful was that the connection remained valid for the full 24-hour period even after checking out.  They know that many guests will continue to remain in the hotel and it actually encourages them to do so in order to have breakfast, hire meeting rooms or take lunch.
  • It’s often said that a company’s true approach to its customers and employees is revealed by the state of the toilets.  These were spotlessly clean as you’d expect but what I didn’t expect was that the urinals were filled with ice to reduce odours and maintain the cleanliness.
  • And those coat hangers?  Actually, it’s not about the coat hangers themselves; its about what it says.  To me, it says “Welcome, we trust you, have a nice stay”. Compare that with the message you feel you’re getting with those hangers that can be removed but have no hook and are therefore useless anywhere but that (often just as expensive) hotel room. To me, that shouts out “Ha! Gotcha! Thought about nicking it did ya? Well we don’t trust you so we’re not going to risk losing the cost of one hanger every now and then just so you can feel at home”.

These little things make a big difference and for little cost.  I have no connection with Marriott Hotels Group other than I am occasionally fortunate enough to be put up in one.  But the point here is not about the hotel;  it’s the food for thought that it gives about how other companies across very different markets might take the same approach. Forget searching for that contrived “Wow!” moment and understand the little things that are really important to your customers.

The ironic reality, of course, is that the combination of getting simple things right and executing the basics well every time gets close to being a “Wow” experience anyway.  They are the things that make us feel like someone understands us and is on our side.  It’s not much to ask but means such a lot.  We’ll be a lot more forgiving if something does go wrong but the real commercial benefit is that we’ll tell everyone else about it and when we can, we’ll come back.  I hope I do.

Let me know what you think.


 

If you have a customer experience issue – strategic, cultural or tactical – that you need a hand with, or if you’ve any questions about this blog post do let me know.

I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 or email [email protected].  ja speaking

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

Jerry Angrave, CCXP

 


 

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


 

Gaming the customer experience measurement system: why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Jerry Angrave


 

 

 

 

 

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

Voting for customer experience, one small step at a time

The build-up to this week’s election in the UK has been rooted in uncertainty. If the media reports are to be believed, no single party has been persuasive enough to win over the backing of a majority for the changes they believe in. Time will tell.  It also provides topical food for thought about the role of the customer experience professional in influencing change.

 

For those leading and managing customer-led change it can be a daunting prospect. Understanding what to do and how to do it is one thing; convincing others is quite another. Metric-obsessed stakeholders, divisions that operate  with seemingly no common objectives and teams that should but don’t talk to each other are just some of the regular barriers.

Finding a little, genuine, inspiration is hard to come by. Books, budgets and “We put customers first” posters don’t change things.  People, attitudes and belief do.  And more often than not the biggest changes start with the smallest steps; people sharing their passion.books people

In my job as a customer experience consultant I get to meet many people who are pushing the agenda forward with one hand while having to pull the organisation along with the other. One example in particular stands out.

A global organisation that generates annual revenues in excess of $40 billion became complacent about its big numbers.  Unintentionally, it put increased competition and disenfranchised customers into its blind spot. Cutting margins to sell more and aggressive M&A activity only mask the underlying issues. But the passion of one of its 75,000 employees is bringing about a huge change, one that is making the company redefine and renew relationship with customers it thought it knew so well but in reality was clinging on to them by a thread.

How? Rather than try and change everything all at once, a series of small steps is leading to a giant leap compared to where they were. One individual, armed with passion, knowledge and evidence about what an authentic focus on customers can achieve commercially.  He engaged people close to him and showed how customer experience thinking can help them achieve their own objectives. He initially built a small group of highly engaged people at all levels who then in turn shared the belief about what the right changes could bring with their stakeholders.

From there, the engagement spread using sometimes brutally uncomfortable customer feedback as the catalyst. It’s just the start, but that company is changing its own culture, it is actively immersing its employees across many countries in customer experience and revising its activity plans.  If an organisation has personality, this one is showing real signs of the passion and belief of the individual who started the change.  It is starting to bring about the right changes effectively and efficiently rather than doing as much “stuff” as it can in the hope that a proportion of it lands ok.

One voice, with real belief can make massive changes with the momentum it creates. One other timely example comes from this week’s election.   The political colours of my home town Cheltenham have at various times been Conservative blue or Liberal yellow. But not the red of Labour. Having lived there most of my life I cannot even remember seeing a red poster stuck in the front window of any house at any election. Until now, due to the passion and belief of one person about doing what he believes is the right thing.

DSCN0724

The party is irrelevant; the change it represents is significant

Paul Gilbert is CEO of a successful management consultancy showing in-house lawyers around the world how to fulfill their potential and how to be better business people. But this week, Paul also steps up to be counted as the Labour party’s candidate to be Cheltenham’s MP.  As an aside, his politically agnostic post here about why voting is about us rather than a specific party is well worth a read.

This is not a blog to promote one party over another.  It is about having the confidence in doing what is right that leads to the first small signs of change.  Even Paul would admit that based on past performance the party HQ statisticians will say a victory is highly unlikely.  But in a population that looks in one direction he has managed to get some to look at things in a different way. It started with one small step; to simply talk about what he believed in and why.  His generous, self-depreciating approach hides one of the sharpest minds and the empathetic way he communicated made people sit up and take notice. As a result, he became a parliamentary candidate for the town and such is his passion that strangers are now happy to advertise to the world that they will vote for him.  Don’t get me wrong, we are not about to see a political upheaval.  The signs appearing might be few in number and small in size but they are a metaphorical sign that as daunting as changing other people’s own beliefs may be, it is possible.

In the coming days and weeks we may hear a lot more about the Citizen Experience as the election events unfold. In the meantime, the rest of us don’t need to convince a whole country that voting for customer experience is the right thing to do; if we share the passion and belief, big changes can start to happen, little step by little step.

What are your thoughts on leading the very beginnings of change?

Jerry


 

 

 

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.

 


 

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