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.
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.
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.
- Relevant: they must measure what’s most important to customers and the strategic aims of the business
- Complete: the measures must give a realistic representation of the whole customer journey, not just specific points weeks after they happened
- 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].
CCXP and a judge at the UK Customer Experience Awards
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.
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.
- 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].
Thank you, I hope you found the post interesting and please feel free to add your own views below.
Jerry Angrave, CCXP
By applying a little customer experience scrutiny to traditional segmentation models we see their limitations. Being more empathetic with real people rather than grouping customers with similar profiles helps turn successful short-term activity into a differentiated, more profitable and sustainable business.
When creating a segment there is by definition an assumption that we can find round pegs to put in the round holes we make. We profile customers into a group that allow us to predict that they will respond in the same way to the same messages. They have similar behaviours, similar lifestyles, similar needs. And, by and large, that approach works – but it could be so much better.
The principles of customer segmentation have been the bedrock of marketing activity for decades. They are used to design new customer experiences and spawned an industry where sales leads are now created scientifically by analysing vast amounts of data in the name of customer lifetime value.
The problem is therefore two-fold. On the one hand, traditional approaches to segmentation risk retaining an inward-looking business-centricity around one question: “How can we sell more?”. Secondly, segmentation models are easy to replicate by competitors and are therefore not driving the differentiated and better experiences that are key to business survival.
That step, to move beyond the same segmentation principles as our competitors requires a different perspective; that of the customer experience and therefore – not surprisingly – the customer.
Whichever segment a customer falls into, and let’s remember while reading this that we’re all people and we’re all customers, it is irrelevant when we’re dealing with a company. What matters to me as a customer is that I get done what I need to quickly, easily and in a way that makes me feel I would do it all again if I had to.
Today, it’s much less about how many kids I have, which postcode I live in, whether I run my own business, what products I’ve bought previously or how I spend my spare time.
As people we all have life going on around us when we interact with a business. It is the one small window a company has to make the right impression. I’ve worked in and with large corporates where there is (sometimes unintentionally) a real belief that the customer’s life revolves around them.
There are over 525,000 minutes in a year. More than half a million of them. And with many companies we do business with, they are only getting a handful of the most precious of commodities that we possess. As customer we want to make the most of them, get things sorted when we need to and move on. By their actions, the impression many businesses give is that customers are never far away, that customers will amble into their world, drift around their processes and then tell everyone how great it was. That’s not the real intention but that’s often how it feels.
How do we move things on from a business driven by segmentation to one that thrives by giving the right experience? One way to really understand what it’s like to be a customer is to (get the CEO to) become a customer and stress-test those experiences and show what it can really be like. For example:
- Go without sleep for 24 hours then try and buy your product or ask a question. You’ll soon find out how easy things really are
- Five minutes before an important meeting ask someone to look for the number and make a ‘quick’ call to your own business with what should be a straight-forward query
- Ask someone, or put yourself in the mindset of someone, who has depression, recently had a close family bereavement or struggles to comprehend instructions and feel the impact of unempathetic employees, processes that treat people like widgets or a myopic quest to close the sale at all costs
- Walk into one of your stores knowing that you’ve only got a couple of minutes left on your parking ticket, tell the employee and see what happens
- Try to use your products and services while sat on your own in a wheelchair. Then try it with a blindfold on or one arm tied behind your back.
- Give each of the directors a task that a customer might do and make them do it irrespective of their schedule within the next 24 hours – it’s only what we as customers have to do.
I wrote recently about how companies can learn from those with physical or mental disabilities. Organisations will see a benefit in all their customer experiences and therefore commercial results by stretching the thinking to understand better the world of customers who have, or care for those who have, disabilities.
It’s the same here. Some scenarios may rarely happen but the point is that taking a genuine customer perspective and building experiences, processes and communications around that rather than limited segmentation models, experiences that work at the margins will be brilliant at the core. It shows where the weaknesses are and where opportunities for making the right changes lie.
The insights that get flushed out help bring the reality of what customers experience to life for those who need to see and hear it. A great example I came across recently was a customer experience lead who wanted to drive the message home about the difference between what the brand promised and the appalling wait times in the contact centre. Her Executive meeting started then immediately and to the surprise of all present was put ‘on hold’. She played a recording of the music customers hear for the average time they hear it when they try to call to buy, or need help. Uncomfortable? Yes. Brave? Absolutely. Impactful? Without question. And in the kind of scenarios we’ve talked about here, even more effective at inspiring change.
It’s a bit like shooting for the stars if you want to get to the moon. Segmentation will take a business so far. But building experiences based on genuine empathy will ensure that when customers need you most, or simply they interact on a routine basis, there’s a much greater chance that the way it’s done will keep them coming back and telling others to do the same. And that’s what it’s all about.
If you’d like to know more about this or 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]. My background is as a CX practitioner in the corporate world. That’s the foundation for me being an empathetic customer experience consultant. I also run workshops and speak about customer experience at events across Europe. I’m a Certified Customer Experience Professional and a judge at the UK Customer Experience Awards.
Thank you, I hope you found the post interesting and thought-provoking, and please feel free to get in touch or add your own views below.
Jerry Angrave, CCXP
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The environment in which we go about about our daily lives tends to be a familiar one. For better or worse, we generally know what to expect. We have in-built mechanisms to signal the presence of the unexpected and the absence of the expected.
It’s the same for our experiences as customers. I want to highlight two very recent examples in the interests of showing what is possible and what should be impossible. Let’s start with the latter, a situation that should never be allowed to arise.
The coastline at the most south-western tip of Cornwall is stunning and so to find a bistro-cafe right on one of the glorious sunny beaches seemed like holiday-time well spent. It wasn’t cheap but staff were friendly, the coffee was fresh and the setting was picture-perfect. The kids insisted we went back the next day to try a different flavour of ice-cream and given the previous day’s experience, their pleas fell on receptive ears. Except it was like a totally different place. Some staff were the same but others were different and yet the atmosphere was decidedly rushed, we felt we were an inconvenience, the coffee was awful, staff were moaning about each other and worse, the ice-cream counter was closed for no apparent reason. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, what had been a little piece of heaven became – in a sense intentionally – a little piece of hell overnight. The next day it might have been good again, who knows. How can that happen?
Faith was then restored a few days later back at home. To have a serious problem solved that I didn’t know I had was one thing but for it to be solved by a company I had no relationship with was another altogether. A soft tap on the front door just as we’re heading to bed isn’t how most customer experience stories begin but such was this one. Utility company Wales & West had been called out to a suspected gas leak in the area and in checking where gas might track, had discovered a small leak at the front of the house. At no cost and no hassle the friendly and empathetic engineer repaired the problem quickly, kept us informed throughout and then went back to his team dealing with the original issue.
Two very different experiences but both unexpected. One left me bewildered and frustrated, the other grateful and impressed but the lesson to us all is that both were controllable and both have a lasting, if polar opposite, impact.
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 offer 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.
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.
This research post is about which companies have used customer experience to turn their brands into favourite brands, and how that happens. I am delighted to have co-authored it with Ian Golding, hugely renowned and respected customer experience specialist. The piece here is therefore also at his blog ijgolding.com where he has built a rich library of customer experience insights. To paraphrase what one of our top brands says, if you like this you’ll like what Ian has there too.
Ian introduces the research findings:
As I quite literally travel the world talking, listening and working with individuals and organisations who have an interest in Customer Experience, I am regularly asked who the world’s ‘best’ Customer Experience brands are. ‘Who is good at CX?’ is a pretty typical question. It is a good question to ask and one that I can most certainly answer ‘in my opinion’. However, having been asked the question so many times, rather than me just citing my opinion, I thought I would go a significant step further and ask as many people as possible for their opinions.
In January 2015, I conducted an independent survey of people across the world to find out who their ‘#1′ Customer Experience brands are and most importantly WHAT makes them their #1. In this blog post, I am delighted to officially reveal the findings of the research. Some of the findings may surprise you……some of them will not. What you can be certain of is that the findings are likely to provide validation of the things that are the most common reasons for these brands ‘delighting’ their customers.
Customer Experience is not just for the big, bold brands
The first big surprise for me was that 94 different brands were mentioned as people’s #1 Customer Experience brand in just over 200 responses . It is fascinating and encouraging to see that great Customer Experiences are not exclusively the preserve of those with huge budgets. Many of the companies named by respondents are small, independent businesses who share a similar mindset with brands we’re more familiar with. What is not a surprise though is that the top four favourite brands accounted for 40% of the responses. We’ll find out later why it is that the same brands keeping topping this kind of poll, but first, let me acknowledge the top 10 #1 Customer Experience brands coming out of the research:
Other well-known brands such as Emirates, Premier Inn, Argos, Airbnb, USAA and Sky all received endorsement as a #1 Customer Experience brand. In the interest of balance, some of the names mentioned by respondents that you are less likely to have heard of are as follows:
- Sixthman Music Festival Cruises
- Dutch Bros
- Discount Tire
- Hatem Shahim (a barber’s shop!)
- Dyreparken i Kristiansand
- Spear & Jackson
- Container store
Different countries and a variety of industries – the sheer number of organisations receiving a mention suggests that there are many doing something right – the question is – what exactly are they doing that warrants a customer such as you citing them as their #1 Customer Experience brand? Before we find out, let us just have a quick look at the commercial performance of the top 10 CX brands coming out of the research.
The right customer experience is commercially rewarding
The sheer mention of ‘Customer Experience’ and ‘Customer Centricity’, is still often greeted with a rolling of the eyes by those who are more focused on sales targets, operational efficiency and tasks. The irony though is that the former makes the latter much more successful. And it’s no coincidence that each of the top 10 brands has recent performance milestones to be proud of:
- Amazon Q4 14, net sales increased by 15% over Q4 13
- Apple 39.9% profit per product (3 months to end Dec 14)
- First Direct Moneywise “Most Trusted” and Which? Best Banking Brand
- John Lewis profit before tax up 12% in 2014 vs 2013
- Disney Earnings per share up 27% in year to Dec 2014
- Air New Zealand Earnings before taxation up 20% in H1 15 vs H1 14
- Mercedes Revenue increased 12% from 2013 to 2014
- Starbucks Revenue rise 13% in Q1 FY15
- BMW 7% increase in vehicle sales in Jan 15 vs Jan 14
- Boden Shipping 12,500 parcels each day
Pretty powerful stuff. Is it just a coincidence that the brands you are saying are the best at Customer Experience all seem to be faring pretty well on the commercial front? It appears as though all of the brands that are ‘great’ at Customer Experience share common characteristics – in fact the research identifies 13 common characteristics that are the reasons WHY these brands are #1 in your eyes. Lets us have a look at the ‘lucky’ 13!
These organisations have common characteristics
I wanted to know what it is that your favourite brands do to make them your #1 at delivering consistently good Customer Experiences. I asked for up to three reasons from each respondent and received 575 comments. Following verbatim analysis, 13 categories were identified, each distinct but interlinked. They were, as follows (with the percentage frequency they appeared):
- Corporate attitude 15.9
- They’re easy to do business with 14.9
- They’re helpful when I have a problem 11.4
- The attitude of their people 9.4
- Personalisation 8.0
- The product or service 8.0
- They’re consistent 7.5
- The way it makes me feel 6.3
- The way they treat me 5.1
- They’re reliable 4.4
- They do what they promise 4.2
- They’re quick 2.6
- The technical knowledge of their people 2.3
We will look in more detail at what we mean by each of these in a moment but to view at any one in isolation would risk limiting what is being achieved by these organisations. This diagram shows how interdependent each area is in aligning with the corporate attitude and ultimately organisational goals and the very purpose for why the business exists:
So what do the most favourite companies do, exactly?
Focusing on these attributes is what moves companies from fighting a rear-guard action to fix issues of their own making to creating a compelling a sustainable brand for the future. It also means that customers are increasingly exposed to better experiences as they go about their daily lives and that’s important because it keeps nudging the bar of expectations higher. This is why the brands that do these things are ones that people consider to be the very best at delivering consistently good Customer Experiences. Digging deeper into each of the 13 areas we can build a picture of how the companies who get it right control the way they do business.
1. Corporate attitude
It’s another way to describe organisational culture and it underpins everything that happens to or with a customer. More specifically, in the words of those who responded to the research, companies who have the right attitude:
- put people before profits and non-human automation
- know they’ll make more money in the long-run with this approach
- test all experiences thoroughly (to eliminate unintended consequences)
- listen and demonstrate they understand their customer
- pay serious attention to detail
- empower their staff to makes decisions and act straightaway
- stay true to their values, admit when things go wrong and fix them
- ensure their staff are fully trained and informed
- recruit for attitude and alignment to brand values
They also said: “…they treat each customer as we would a guest in our home” and “…they balance customer obsession, operational excellence and financial rigor”. Almost every other category is a sub-category of this one; it shows how important the right culture is.
2. They’re easy to do business with
It’s obvious to say a company should be easy to do business with and yet that’s not always the case. What respondents meant by “easy” included:
- there are no barriers in the way for doing what a customer needs to
- it’s simple to get information, purchase and use the product
- needs are anticipated and catered for
- customers don’t need to repeat information
- they can switch from one channel to another with no impact on progress
- products can be returned or fixed with minimum effort on the part of the customer
- they are available when and where customers want; they can be reached without waiting and won’t limit the hours of their support functions to office hours if customers are still using their products and services all day every day
- they are proactive in taking responsibility, eg finding products at other stores and having them delivered
- customers have no objection to self-service because it has been well thought through
- information is presented in a timely, clear and relevant way
3. Helpful and understanding when I’ve got a question
Being easy to deal with is critical when a customer needs help or simply has a question. On the assumption that good companies do respond (a recent Eptica survey found more than 50% of online inquiries go unanswered), helpful companies are ones who:
- listen to understand before acting
- give a customer the feeling that they are trusted and respected
- will provide an answer and additional, relevant help
- provide certainty and manage expectations about what will happen next and at each stage
- empower employees to make decisions
- resolve issues first time and quickly
- have employees who are happy to give their names and direct contact numbers
- preempt problems and solve them before customers are aware
- fix customers’ mistakes without blame or making them feel awkward
- follow-up afterwards to check everything was sorted and is still as it should be
- are not afraid to apologise when they get it wrong
4. Attitude of the people
Individual employees who are interacting with customers become a proxy for the brand. If they demonstrate the wrong behaviours the damage can be hugely expensive but getting them right does not cost a huge amount of money. Most often a function of the corporate attitude, the most appreciated characteristics are:
- being courteous and friendly
- a positive, “I’ll sort it” attitude
- they are good at listening
- it’s obvious they care about, and are proud of, the product/service
- they are professional and not pushy
- they are helpful and proactive
- they are genuine and humble
- they smile
- hey are engaging and interested in the customer
- they have personality, not a corporate script
- they are patient
- they show respect for their fellow colleagues
We are all individuals and like to be treated as such. Having “big data” was seen as the answer but as these companies demonstrate, it’s not only more important to have the right data and do the right things with it, but it’s also linked again to corporate attitude. Those who get the personalisation right:
- understand, anticipate and are proactive
- keep customers informed with relevant information
- shows they listen and act, not just collect feedback
- create a relaxed environment because a customer’s needs fits neatly into what they are offering
- create a feeling of respect, that they care and have “taken the time to know me, to make things easier for me”
- make it feel like dealing with a person where there’s a connection, not just a transaction
- allow their customers to control the degree of personalisation in terms of frequency and content
- remain flexible and adaptive to the circumstances, not scripted
6. The product or service itself
Making it easy, personal and rewarding will be wasted effort if the core product or service doesn’t live up to expectation. At the end of the day, your business has to have something of value to the customer to sell! When it comes to products and services, the #1 Customer Experience brands are those who:
- the right mix of choice, relevance, quality and innovation
- well designed, so it is easy to get it to do what it’s supposed to
- quality is complemented by relevant innovation, not technical innovation for the sake of it
- obsessive about the detail
- paying as much attention to secondary products, such as food on airlines
- good at turning necessary evils into compelling attributes – Air New Zealand’s legendary on-board safety briefings, for example
- adept at keeping up with, ahead of and shaping basic expectations
As customers we like certainty and predictability. It means that the decisions we make carry less risk because we can confidently trust the outcomes. It also demonstrates stability of, and a shared understanding of, strategy. For our respondents, consistency is about experiences that:
- look and feel the same
- can continue easily wherever, whenever and however
- match or build on the positive expectations created last time
- have continuity in not only what happens but how it happens; tone of voice, quality, different locations, store or franchise, people and processes, performance
- provide the same reliable answers to the same questions
- integrate with other services
8. The way it makes me feel
Emotions are a function of how good the other two cornerstones of Customer Experience – function and accessibility – are. How they were made to feel, whether intentional or not, is what people remember. Being the personal consequence of most if not all the issues covered here, it is what drives our behaviour about whether or not we will do the same next time and tell others to do the same. If people think they are part of something special, connected to a company that lives by like-minded values, they will FEEL special. And as human beings, we appreciate that. Survey espondents cited a number of great examples:
- “get on an Air New Zealand flight anywhere in the world it already feels like you’re home”
- “the packaging increases the anticipation when opening a new product” (Apple)
- “interactions with employees don’t feel like processes out of an operating manual”
- “there is (the perception of) a genuine relationship; it’s not just about them selling every time they are in touch”
- “they make me feel as if I’m their only customer” (Land Rover)
9. The way they treat me
At the root of how we feel and therefore behave is often down to how we are treated. Good and great companies have experiences that:
- demonstrate respect
- show an empathy with customer needs
- don’t do things like asking a customer to repeat information if handed from one colleague to another
- keep customers posted on feedback they’ve given
- recognise their customers both by staff individually in-store and organisationally
- have a consistency of treatment even when not spending money in-store
- create relevant retail environments so that customers feel they are treated as if they are somewhere special
- develop meaningful loyalty programmes that acknowledge past purchases and reward future ones
- are not patronising in tone
10. They’re reliable
Not surprisingly, reliability is cited as a key attribute. Although we simply expect things to work as they did last time or as it was promised, we probably won’t get too excited if that is the case. However, the consequences of it not happening will result in additional time, effort, inconvenience and sometimes cost to the customer; not what a brand would want to be blamed for. There are some markets where the mere hint of a lack of reliability in its truest sense has serious consequences for a brand. More generally, reliable customer experiences are ones that
- give confidence and a level of trust that what we ask for when we buy is what we get; there are no nasty surprises
- understand that they are key to repeat purchases and advocacy. No-one will put their own reputation on the line to recommended any brand product or service that is unreliable
11. They do what they promise
Again, this is a character trait we appreciate in friends, family and colleagues and it’s no different when dealing with a business. It can be seen as a subset of “the way they treat me” but it is also critical at a strategic level too; the brand is what people say it does and so that has to be consistent with what it’s promising, just as its employees need to keep their own promises to customers too. There’s a real financial benefit here too where unnecessary and costly rework can be avoided. How many enquiries coming into the business are because “You said you’d get someone to call back”, “You said you’d send me a copy of that statement” or “Where’s my fridge, I’ve had to take the whole day off work and there’s still no sign of it”. Customer experiences that do what they promise:
- live up to the expectations they set
- have employees that do what they say they will do
- do it all consistently
- fix it quick if they fail
- are good at managing expectations
As customers, time (alongside money) is a commodity we trade with. A company who appreciates the finite and precious nature of it will create a distinct advantage. In today’s everything-everywhere-now life it’s not surprising that speed is an issue. Expectations are rising all the time where customers interacting with other brands see what can be done. Quick customer experiences are ones that:
- move at the right speed for customers
- show respect by having have good reaction times once a customer has initiated part one of a two-way activity
- manage expectations, so if it’s not “quick” as defined by customers there are also, no disappointing surprises
- are not just focused on speed of delivery but are quick to answer the phone, flexibility to find ways around rules and respond to questions
13. People knowledge
Having people who are technically competent with their product knowledge is another character of top brands. Companies that possess employees like this have an invaluable asset who are:
- able to translate the concerns and questions
- able to articulate complex issues in simple language
- are not patronising
- are proud that their knowledge can help someone else
There is no shortage of good and great experiences to learn from and they bring favourable commercial results to the companies that do have them. They don’t have to be high-tech out-of-this-world experiences; simply knowing what the basic expectations are should not be that hard and delivering them well time after time should just be the norm. This independent research also shows that it’s a combination of characteristics that matter, not one in isolation. That said, experiences, customers and balance sheets are always given an essential boost where having the‘right attitude’ is the common thread running right through the organisation.
A huge thank you to all those who participated in this research – without you giving up your valuable time and insight, I would not be able to share such valuable output.
An even bigger thank you to my friend and colleague, Jerry Angrave. Not only has Jerry co-authored this post, he also conducted the detailed analysis of the research results. A brilliant CX mind, he is also one of the most genuine Customer Experience practitioners I have ever met. You can read more of Jerry’s work at empathyce.com – I strongly encourage you to do so!
… and thank you to Ian too. I hope you found the post interesting but if you have any questions or other brands who you think should top the list, do get in touch. We’ll also shortly be looking at the opposite side of things and what customer experiences turn brands into our least favourite so watch this space!
Jerry Angrave | [email protected] | +44 (0)7917 718 072