Customer Experience: plan for failure

Customer Experience

Customer Experience: understand the feedback and know what to do when things happen that are not supposed to

Some people are in the wrong job.

If you get into conversation with an airline pilot, you might ask such searching questions as:  “What’s it like to be entrusted with hundreds of lives but remain anonymous?”, “Who was your worst passenger?” and “Do windscreen wipers work at 600mph?”.  One question you won’t ask, and I’m fairly certain of this, is “Do you design customer experience strategies?”.  But I think you should and here’s why.

Pilots are very good at doing what they are supposed to – flying an aircraft.  Most of the time, on the ground or in-flight, things go as planned.  And we’re reassured in knowing that they’ve also given a lot of thought to what happens if things don’t go smoothly.

Every day we see examples of very good services and customer experiences, but more often than not these are designed and built for the standard, perfect customer where nothing goes wrong.  We see many things that are not designed to accommodate anyone whose circumstances do not conform to that ideal.   In the development stages, I believe it falls under ‘project creep’, ‘out of scope’ or another type of excuse.  So unwittingly, a lot of effort is designing into the process a good chance that it will make customers frustrated, anxious or confused.  I’m guessing that’s not what most brand promises intend.

Take ATMs (Automated Teller Machines) as an example.  They’re easy to use, located everywhere and are increasingly multi-functional.  You can tell that someone has thought about what it’s like to stand there and use one.  They are regularly part of our lives and generally they function well.  So, plenty of customer service boxes ticked. Great.

But then, a real-life customer turns up and things start to unravel as illustrated to me very recently.  I was sat in a café out of the pouring rain and watching the busy world go by when across the street a car pulled up.  The driver was getting hassle from impatient drivers behind but edged the car neatly back into a parking space.

A thirty-something woman jumped out and got soaked while she put on her coat and searched for loose change. She then ran to pay for the parking, set up a collapsible buggy with one hand while holding her baby’s bottle with the other.  The baby woke and cried as mum carefully made sure her treasure was warm and dry.  Phew.  All done.

First stop – the cash machine.  Ah. Turns out, it wasn’t working.  Helpfully though, the nice people at the bank had prepared for that and there was a message on-screen in the right font and colours reading “Sorry.  Out of order”.  Not very helpfully, that was it.

Mum’s morning was over before it began.  Inside the branch, there were long queues – not good for a tired mum with a tired baby.  This was a small town and the nearest cash machine was miles away.  Despondent and frustrated, mum went back to the car with no cash, soaked up even more rain as she fastened a howling baby back into its seat.  Oh, and there was now a wasted parking ticket.

Now correct me if I’m wrong, but if the engines on an aircraft stop working, the airline doesn’t shrug its shoulders and just put a “sorry” message onto the in-flight screens.  It thankfully doesn’t happen very often but there are obvious consequences if the problem isn’t addressed.  The consequences of an ATM outage for the bank may not be life-threatening but it too has consequences as the mum’s day demonstrates.  And think about how it made her feel, how it affected her day and what she now says to her friends about the bank’s brand promise to go that extra mile for every customer.

Learning from the pilot’s training, we could improve things.  For example, firstly, mapping the customer journey wouldn’t end when the ‘out of order’ message is shown. We’d seek creative answers to questions like “What’s the real impact of that message on our customer?”, “What role does the ATM play in their day?”, “What other information can we give, what else can we do to help from within the branch?” and so on.  Like the pilot on the flight deck, we’d make sure we had reliable and timely feedback to act on.

At least we wouldn’t make our customer feel ignored when it’s us who have created the problem.  They will expect an undifferentiated, standardised process to work – that’s not going to create “wow” moments.  But it’s when those processes reveal their flaws or come up against the irregular nature of people’s lives that there is an opportunity to surprise and delight, to exceed expectations and to not lose customers unnecessarily.  It’s not about relying on a “How to complain” leaflet.

When things go wrong, customers will appreciate it most if the consequences have been well thought through and there is a helpful solution.  Just ask the pilot’s customers.

Jerry Angrave

Customer Experience Consultant

Customer Experience: expectation vs examination

There’s a sign on the door of my local pharmacist that catches my eye every time I go past.  It reads: “In here, customers come first”.

And why wouldn’t it?  The manager or head office has given the store a boost with a simple 5-word promise.  It deliberately raises the expectation of a great customer experience and gives customers a warm, positive feeling of anticipation as they walk in.  It shows, doesn’t it, that employees here are publicly committing to offering something special.

You even start to wonder if, in their own small way, the first agenda item in their daily morning huddle is their customer strategy: “How will we make our customers feel and behave today?”

But hang on.  Why wouldn’t they put customers first?  Is there a successful business (with integrity) anywhere on this planet that didn’t realise it can’t survive without customers.

Customers expect, experience, then examine, sometimes sub-consciously, sometimes with friends over dinner.  So with expectations raised, I once stepped over the threshold into the store.  Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I ignored the fact that the reason I kept seeing the sign every time I passed is because the door is always firmly shut, even in the heat of Summer.  I should have seen that in itself as a sign of things to come.

The reality of the experience brought the high-flying expectations back down to earth with a huge belly-flop.

The store layout was confusing and wrongly signed (“Ah”, said an assistant, “Sorry, we moved everything around last week”).  The small counter was multi-tasking as a point of purchase, an enquiry desk, an order taker and an appointment maker for the head pharmacist.  Oh, and a gathering point for the staff, who were all averse to making eye contact or smiling at customers, and who were more concerned with swapping notes about the best way to make a sponge cake.  I could go on, but you get the point.

On examination and reflection, maybe I might have been more tolerant if the sign hadn’t been there; if it hadn’t raised my expectations.  I might still then have got frustrated but shrugged it off.  That’s the bit that gets me though – do they really think they are rivalling Apple for the execution of flawless in-store service just because the sign says so?  And surely the staff must conveniently turn a blind eye to the promise when they go to work in the morning.

It’s so very true: the brand is what the brand does, not what the sign on the door says it should. To me that door will always be shut.

Jerry Angrave

Customer Experience Specialist and Consultant