Did City Link’s customer reviews predict failure?

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

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

Being aware of the changing environment is key to survival

Being aware of the changing environment is key to survival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

 

Assessing the shape of customer experiences

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

 

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

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

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

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

The three elements are inextricably linked.  In other words,

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

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

Customer experience evaluate

 

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

 

Customer experience evaluate

 

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

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

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

Customer experience assessment

 

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

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

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

 

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


 

 

 

Customer experience in the boardroom

Corporate change leads investors to rethink the potential for future income streams.  But, by putting customer experience in the boardroom, can it improve that decision-making process?

 

This week has seen some significant corporate activity in the UK.  BT is making a play for the mobile market by talking to O2 about a return to its fold;  Harriet Green made a surprise departure from Thomas Cook that sent its shares tumbling;  And the East Coast Mainline rail franchise is coming out of public hands and into a combined Stagecoach and Virgin operator.

To make sense of these moves, we generally look to the stockmarket to see whether it’s good news or not.  Fund managers crawl through a jigsaw of balance sheets, management profiles and annual reports to predict how this latest change will affect a company’s future cash flows, profitability and dividends.  Within seconds, the outcome of that opinion is reflected in the share prices of those directly – and indirectly – involved.

There is though, a missing piece in that jigsaw and a critical one at that.  I would say this wouldn’t I, but it’s the opinion of the customer. Why?  A couple of reasons jump out.

Firstly, it is the customer who is going to be handing over the money that creates the revenue that underpins the profit that delivers the dividend.  They can answer some very telling questions: How will these changes affect what they do? What else has it prompted them to share with others that will influence a wider audience?  Why do they have the perception (whether rational or not)  they do?

The answers to many of those questions arguably must provide a better forecast of a company’s future value.  At the very least, an indication of what is going on at that front-line of that company.  Or, early warning signs that having the strongest of capital ratios doesn’t necessarily mean that customers will come, come back, spend more and tell everyone they know to do the same.  Here’s some examples of reactions this week; they have been selected to illustrate the point about underlying issues but have all been in the public domain.

 

BT and O2

 

That last line about changing provider sums up the issue nicely.  Investors might be seeking the short-term profit but customers play the long-game, the implication being that investors will eventually lose as customers do have a choice.  Two interdependent but not always aligned views.

 

 

Stagecoach Vigin win east coast mainline

 

The EastCoast rail franchise focus has been on the winners, yet other operators who were unsuccessful also get caught up in the conversations.

 

 

Thomas Cook

 

Secondly, these key stakeholders can just as easily be shareholders either directly or by association. They are just as informed, just as quick to pass judgement and, at the end of the day, are the ones who will determine whether the stockmarket called it correctly.

 

Investors are in the business of forecasting the future.  So should they be better at listening to customers as if they were in the boardroom?  Should they seek greater reinforcement or challenge to their investment decisions from the very people who will deal in reality, not predictions?

 


 

 

The best and the worst of customer experiences

In Europe this week, the travel industry provided me with two quick stories that illustrate the best and worst of customer experiences.

The first was a perfect example of ease and empathy.  Having been at an event in Brussels where rail operators were showcasing some great case studies on how they are using customer experience thinking to create better and more profitable organisations, I needed to return to the UK a few hours earlier than expected. Somewhat ironically for being at a rail conference I was flying so headed to the BA customer desk in Brussels airport.  At that point in time my expectations were low;  at best there would be extra cost and hassle, and that was assuming there was room on an earlier flight. Still, I needed to get back so took a deep breath and asked what could be done. Less than two minutes later, I was checked in on a flight that (luckily for me) left in 45 minutes.  No cost, no judgement, no hassle.  Just smiles and when I asked if there was a catch, there was a real sense of “No, you wouldn’t have asked if you didn’t have a need to change, it’s just what we do”.  From a customer experience perspective, it was one that allowed me to do what I wanted, it couldn’t have been easier and it took away a whole heap of anxiety about not being where I needed to be.

Contrast that then, with an horrendous experience I was told about earlier that same day.  It concerns a European rail operator whose trains operate across borders and therefore has an added layer of airport-type security as part of its boarding process.  On this particular day there was a delay in processing people (an awful expression, but that’s for another blog, another day).  With departure time rapidly approaching a call went out to try and fast-track passengers but that was not sufficient.  The train left on-time, with some passengers left behind to get the next one.  Even those who had managed to board the train had been in a state of stress and were now perplexed and angry that fellow passengers had been stranded.  According to on-board staff at the time, it was not a one-off event.  Just as concerning was the suggestion that, while any disruption is ideally avoidable not least because of the costs and logistics involved, the enthusiasm to leave at the scheduled hour whatever the circumstances was driven by keeping on-time departure metrics high.

The lesson is clear and yet is as old as the hills; if we measure things without the context it is meaningless.  There is a board of directors somewhere looking at the on-time departure figures thinking “Aren’t we giving our customers a great experience!”.

And yet with a little empathy, open lines of communication between stakeholders and a smile, things can be so much better for the business because it’s better for the customer.  Good and bad experiences will get shared; the good ones are not always about money but they will make more money in the long-run.  The bad ones however will always be about cost and end up being very costly.  For me, I’ll fly next time for sure.


 

 

 

Mapping the journey of Mapping the customer journey

(This was first posted as a guest blog for Custerian)

If an organisation has customers, by definition it also has a customer experience whether it realises that or not.  May as well make it the right one, then.

To fix the problem, much faith is put in mapping customer journeys.  Done properly they are powerful tools but there is also a significant risk that without applying “customer experience” as a way of thinking, the customers’ way of thinking, experiences can remain process-driven, unmeasured and somewhat unintentional.

For example, if you were lost in a city needing to be somewhere else quickly, you probably wouldn’t walk into a shop and rely on the first map you see to tell you exactly where you are, where you need to go and how to get there.  Chances are, it either won’t tell you or it will give you what you later learn to be misleading information, making the whole situation worse.

Finding the right place to start the journey mapping

Finding the right place to start the customer journey mapping

In the same way, the mapping of a customer’s proverbial journey cannot be done in isolation.  Sure, we can pick what we think is the most obvious issue to map and we’ll see some results.  But that is like me going surfing with an ironing board. It would work, but only to a degree.

As someone who mapped customer journeys as a practitioner in the corporate world, and now as a consultant working with a variety of organisations, all too often I see the enthusiasm to map a customer journey trample the need to put the journey into context.  The result is that we either get a linear process map or a nicely drawn graphical journey that everyone admires but, well, that’s it.

Hence the need to map the journey of mapping the journey.  There are three key stages, which might be labelled design, doing and delivery.  In each of those stages are a number of events and without proper thought for each, the middle stage that most organisations jump to – the “doing” – is potentially rendered a waste of time and resource.

So, how do we stop that happening?  Let’s look briefly at each stage.

Design: before setting out to map a customer’s journey, be absolutely clear that it’s the most important one for you and your business.  Gather the insight that will tell you what customers value most, what is most critical to the delivery of your customer strategy and how well you do it.

Then, make the scope as narrow as possible.  If you have four customer types, six products, five channels, ten things that people might be contacting you about, you very quickly get into having hundreds, if not thousands of permutations for journeys.  Pick one of each, the most important ones and do one at a time.  Anything more than that will take additional time and get in the way of findings becoming genuine insights.

Doing:  when it comes to the mapping itself, it’s time to get forensic.  Talk to your customers and your employees about what it’s really like;  the process map won’t tell you that your customers think your people are rude, yet your people don’t get why customers can’t follow the process.  Think like a customer; what does it say if when you put a customer on hold, there is no on-hold music.  First touch resolution metrics for complaints but no mechanism to put right the root causes.  Little things, they all add up.

Effective journey mapping relies also on having the right employees involved.  People are keen to tell their story to someone internally who will listen.  Every organisation has people who know their way around the systems, what the causes of unreported customer niggles and gripes are and where money is being wasted through the efficient processing of things that don’t matter.  Have them on the team and tap into them.

Today’s customers will readily share the story of what it was really like

Delivery:  even with the best journey map in hand, it is meaningless if there is not an improvement framework into which it can be plugged. Having robust governance in place to take insight from the mapping and prioritise it alongside all the other issues competing for the same resource is essential.  Cross-functional participation is also essential, and not just from the customer-facing areas.  Finance, Legal, HR and IT all have their own role to play too.  That needs strong influencing skills on the part of those leading and managing the customer agenda especially where there is no direct authority, but their interest and input will help themselves as well as you – and the wider business.If not, money will float out of the door on initiatives and projects that fall short.  A brand campaign for a telecoms company promising “We give you back time” will have little in the way of ROI when customers have to wait an average of 20 minutes to get through to the call centre.  A train operator relying on business travellers and commuters will lose customers to the car and video conferences because realistically these days they can’t work on a train without wi-fi.

In a highly task-oriented world then, where it’s all about outputs, tick-boxes and providing evidence for scorecards the thinking around journey mapping can easily take a back seat.  But this is one journey where those driving the agenda need to be firmly in the front seat, at the controls, aware of everything around them and taking everyone with them.

Customer experiences highlight the danger of businesses taking relationships for granted

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

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

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

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

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

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

To illustrate the point let’s take two examples.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do aviation investors need better sight of the passenger experience?

This article, written by Jerry Angrave, first appeared in the BlueSky blog for Terrapinn ahead of the World Low Cost Airline Congress held in September 2013

There’s no doubt that airlines are having a tough time at the moment for reasons that are well documented.  And, in common with many other industries, it’s also fair to say that some are handling the situation better than others.

Investors can therefore be forgiven for asking “Why is that?  Why do some cope and adapt while others make hard work of it?”  Searching questions, for which answers and reassurance are sought.

Understandably, at times of commercial pressure the message to employees, investors, partners and regulators has to be as positive and realistic as possible.  That inevitably means keeping a spotlight shining firmly on costs and revenue streams and on unlocking strategic value in the organisation.  When it comes to reporting past results and future plans, much of the communication then becomes metric-oriented to prove that it’s working.

Yet that potentially myopic focus is only telling part of the story that stakeholders want and need to hear.  Increasingly, investors looking to judge the long-term value of an organisation are demanding more visibility of the link between what it was like to be a passenger today and how that affects where tomorrow’s revenue will come from.

Alongside the numbers, future profitability lies in the ability to make flying with a particular brand an experience that doesn’t give people any reason to look elsewhere next time.  It doesn’t always have to be the proverbial “wow” experience; at the very minimum though, it does need to be one that plays to what passengers value and what they see as value for money.

In recent weeks there have been financial reports and strategy papers from airlines where I’ve seen little or nothing about the deliberate management of what it’s really like to be a passenger.  If that’s intentional, so be it.  But, when today’s passengers are having dinner tonight and sharing stories about what their journey was really like, giving the impression of not caring about what they say and how it makes them feel doesn’t seem right.

It’s an obvious thing to say but investors know that they will only get their money back with a yield on top if passengers keep spending, irrespective of what measures are reported.  Selling landing slots, achieving 100% on-time performance or reducing mis-handled bags by 1% will count for nothing if the things that passengers value most at every touchpoint – a helpful employee attitude, clean aircraft or good information when there’s a schedule change, for example – do not enjoy the same level of attention.

Perceptive, qualitative insights help shape what needs to be done differently for passengers but metrics have their place here too.  In a recent blog, one of the father-figures of the Net Promoter Score (NPS), Fred Reichheld, made the point that such a measure is a “useful gauge for investors”.  The score is predicated on being a proxy for how likely someone is to recommend a brand to others and, implemented in the right way, it is indeed a useful tool.  In my view NPS has its limitations, but not without reason are external stakeholders asking for visibility of such measures to increase the reliability of their assessment about the core health of a business.

Wider economic evidence about the relevance of a focus on customer experience came recently from Watermark Consulting in the US.  They studied the performance of organisations in the S&P 500 over a five year period and found that those who led in terms of customer experience programmes enjoyed a 22.5% return.  Compare that with a 1.3% drop for the index overall and for those who lagged behind on customer experience, their return was down by 46.3% over the same period.

I get that the commercial stakes are high and that it’s critical for investors to know that the right financial and strategic choices are being made.  But I do believe they would feel even more reassured about debt financing abilities if the messages about revenues, costs and alliances were balanced with the articulation of robust customer strategies and effective customer experience programmes.

Some airlines will no doubt be doing this already; there’s an old piece of career advice along the lines of “Do a good job and let people know you’re doing a good job”.  So maybe, it’s not just about showing that the financials are being managed effectively.  At the very least, investors deserve to have a line of sight to the impact that an airline’s commercial and operational decisions will have on what their passengers think, say, do and spend in future.
Jerry Angrave
Managing Director, Empathyce
Customer Experience research and advisory services
[email protected]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Current Accounts - how will they evolve?

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

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

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

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

What happened to our Brand? It dropped through the gap between Customer Service and Customer Experience…

Which has the bigger impact on the bottom-line:  ticking the boxes for slick customer service or having customers feel and behave as you intended?

There’s nothing new in saying Customer Service isn’t the same as Customer Experience but I’m often asked if it matters that much.   It should matter, very much.  Fortunately (or rather, unfortunately) there’s no shortage of examples that show why.

Imagine if you will, a high-level meeting within a large passenger rail franchise discussing latest performance figures.  “How were our customers last month?” someone asks, eventually.

“Well, it’s all looking ok” comes the response. “100% of the trains left and arrived on time and every train was fully staffed to help our guests.  Passenger numbers were up, especially on the peak-time trains and yet we coped with no additional costs of extra capacity.  Customer satisfaction was down a few notches at 20% but that’s probably just a statistical anomaly in the calculation again”.  And so on.  The meeting closes with no further action points, happy that everything is, pardon the pun, on track.

The service picture (the bits they are looking at) is shaping up well but there are always two sides to every story.  So in that same month, what did it really look and feel like to be a passenger.  One passenger (yours truly) had the same experience on many occasions…

I leave the jostling of a rush-hour underground system behind and step into the main-line terminal concourse.  Phew.  It’s been a long day, I’m tired, I left home well before dawn and now because my meeting overran, I’ll miss putting the kids to bed.  Not much I can do now though.  I had a seat reserved but it was on the train that left a while ago.  Still there’s one every hour and I’ve got a flexible ticket so I’ll go grab a coffee and get the next one.

Hang on. Coffee will have to wait.  It’d be nice to wind down this time in the evening but I’ve a gauntlet to run.  Like anticipating the lights of a grand prix start, I – and it seems several hundred others – are taking up a position of stealth.  We need to be at just the right place where we can see the platform number ‘revealed’ so that when the swarm of flailing jackets, cartwheeling suitcases and over-size man-bags makes a bolt for it, we’re right at the front.  The prize?  A seat.  It’s a very basic expectation, it’s not much to ask, but it’s not guaranteed.

Mind the gap between Service and Experience

The platform’s called and suddenly it’s like the whole All Blacks squad is chasing down a loose ball.  Work shoes are not meant to be run in.  It’s frantic and all very undignified.  Once on board, pause to put a bag in the rack overhead and you’ll find someone’s jumped into your seat and then, conveniently, they grow selective hearing and the manners of a potato.

The result?  I paid a premium price to travel at peak time and to have a degree of flexibility.  Yet I (and many others) have to stand in a draughty, noisy doorway near a toilet for the first hour or so of a two-hour journey.  This often happens but we all agree they don’t respond to complaints and so our collective plans to use a different route and franchise next time quickly take shape.

I won’t go on.  Back to the meeting then.  The point is that ticking the boxes of customer service is fine to an extent as long as they are the right boxes.  Nonetheless, the brand and P&L will be seriously undermined if that’s not done in the context of knowing – in a timely manner and being prepared to do something about it – how what happens makes customers feel and behave; how that writes the story they will tell about their brand experience.

As they say, whatever the intention, whatever the strapline offers, the brand is what the brand does.

Jerry Angrave
Customer Experience Consultant
 
+44 (0) 7917 718 072
www.customerexperience.uk.com
[email protected]
 
Jerry Angrave helps business leaders plan and deliver Customer Strategies, design and execute customer experience programmes and provides coaching and personal development tools for those charged with leading and managing the customer agenda.  These services are borne out of real-world know-how in running teams of Customer Experience professionals and Customer “champions” in large complex businesses. 
 
Twitter – @IdealExperience
LinkedIn – http://uk.linkedin.com/in/improvecustomerexperiences
 
 

The emotive price of “Wow!!” vs “What??”

Low headline prices.  It’s a familiar scenario in many industries, forced on companies trying to prise open the gap between revenue and costs by generating greater volume and more loyalty than their competitive peers.  At the same time, there is a relentless pursuit of bringing innovative products, differentiated propositions and “Wow!” moments to market.

But looking at the reasons why customers say “I’ll never, EVER use them again” – and advise others to do the same – is rarely because of the price or perceived value, but almost always about service.  Or rather, the lack of it and the consequences for how that made them feel.

Looking at consumer reviews recently as part of a research assignment, it’s clear the extent to which a lacklustre experience is a destroyer of value, much more so than a low price creates it.

As ever with research, there are caveats.  Telecoms, airlines, banks, utility companies – and no doubt many others – all have their good guys and bad guys.  And in self-generated reviews online, the tendency is to get polarised opinions.

Recently I studied a random sample of 200 reviews across a variety of industries where the customers were not only scoring zero, 1 or 2 on a satisfaction or advocacy scale but they were adamant that their relationship was over.  Of those 200, the future behaviour of 189 (94%) was directly attributable to the service they had.  94%!

Often it’s about causes of frustration – “You what??” – and the lack of (expected) basics rather than the absence of a “Wow!!” moment.  It’s an emotional thing and it’s easy to see why.  However, for the business, the root causes would not cost a fortune to do in a more constructive way or avoid completely.  For example, the reasons cited by these customers included:

“It was only a 2-hour flight but there were relentless announcements and pressure selling of scratch cards and ‘Win a trip to Las Vegas’ competitions.  Not relaxing at all.  Very unpleasant”.

“All the staff looked tired and as if they didn’t want to be there”.

“They don’t get back to you when they say they would and when they eventually do, you get a different answer each time.  Honestly, how hard can it be?” 

With the small exception of a handful of reviews, each articulated at least one negative emotion.  I know that getting metric-driven operations teams or a target-focused sales force to make changes based on how they make customers feel is a huge cultural challenge, but it can be done.  The brand is, very much, what the brand does and how it makes customers feel.

Brand loyalty?  Getting harder all the time.  After all, customers are primarily loyal to their wallets and to their own well-being.  If the same focus and resource that was put on pricing and yield management was given to the customer experience, businesses – at relatively little cost – will be able to increase revenue and reduce costs by getting customers to come back simply because of how they are treated rather than how much the widget costs.

Jerry Angrave
Customer Experience Consultant
 
+44 (0) 7917 718 072
www.customerexperience.uk.com
[email protected]
 
Twitter – @IdealExperience
LinkedIn – http://uk.linkedin.com/in/improvecustomerexperiences