Who hangs around longer: complacent employees or valuable customers?

In the world we live in it seems to be very easy to over-complicate things; to make a cottage industry out of lots of stuff.  Inside a large corporate recently I saw a project managed by several highly-paid people whose goal was to document all the organisation’s other projects.

So it’s not surprising that when people talk about customer experience there are some who roll their eyes and want to get back to their day-job.  It’s seen as interfering with running their bit of the business. Or it’s too expensive and “we’ve got more important things to worry about”.  They’re the ones who will say, “It’s ok, we’re making money, we’ve got customers, why do anything differently?”…042

Ian Golding wrote an emotional blog last month about why Ritz Carlton has the reputation and repeat business it does.  Yes, Ritz Carlton is at the premium end of hotel accommodation but the core of the experiences they offer is not expensive; it’s a mind-set and an attitude that’s as easily and as effectively adopted by a hotel chain as a telecoms business, utility or a local café.

The point is that not only does it cost very little, the flip-side is that leaving such basics untendered can cost huge amounts in revenue, profit and customer loyalty. Putting a poster on the wall, a powerpoint slide or a statement on the website proclaiming that “We put customers at the heart of everything we do” is easy.  It’s not easy to do but it’s not impossible either.

At the risk of being accused of being a grumpy old man take, for example, common courtesies.  A “Thank you” here and a “Please” there.  Are they a consistent part of our customer experiences? They often won’t feature in any journey mapping exercise because they are so basic.  Of course that happens all the time, doesn’t it?

I know it’s not the case for two very well-known food retailers.  One sets out its stall to “give excellent customer service with an emotional benefit that feels good and feels right”.  The other has “a renewed focus on the consumer …to achieve success”.  The reality though is somewhat different.

I live in an urban area where I’m lucky to have had these two chains within walking distance for many years.  Despite the high turnover of staff in that time, by and large the people have always been polite.  In both stores though, things have changed and increasingly the people there are rude and contemptuous.  They are not offensive, but there is the impression of complete disinterest.

Where once we would get “That’s £5.10 please” followed by “Thank you” as they hand me my change, I now hand over my goods and get an impatient look back.  Apparently, I’m magically supposed to know exactly how much I owe them without them telling me or moving the lottery cards stand out of the way so I can see the display on the till.  Having had to ask what I owe, the change is unceremoniously dumped into my hand with no comment, let alone it being counted out with a “Thank-you”.

Instead, I find myself saying thank-you to them, then cursing myself as I leave, knowing it should be them thanking me for paying their wages.

If it happened once I could dismiss it as someone having a bad day.  We all do and there are more important things in life to worry about.  However, to happen each time creates a real feeling of being treated with a lack of respect.

Contempt is a corrosive thing in any relationship.  If either side senses it exists, the going of separate ways becomes an inevitability.

As it happens, one of the big-four opened one of its local supermarket stores recently. It wasn’t needed and the arrival of one of the major players met lots of opposition.reputation

However, the local incumbents didn’t deserve the loyalty they thought they were entitled to and as a result I and many others choose the more corporate option.  Local people work in there too and they are every bit as polite and as professional as you want them to be. They say hello, smile and help make things quick and easy. Why would I choose an unpleasant experience over a friendly one?

So when it comes to designing customer experiences there are a couple of lessons here.  One, are we overlooking the things that are really important?  It doesn’t have to be complicated.

The second is that when a sceptical Operations, Sales or Finance Director asks how much it will cost to have better customer experiences there are a hundred such stories that show the cost of keeping customers can be pretty much zero yet the real cost of not having those basics in place is huge.

Unfortunately for the bottom line, complacent employees will out-last customers who would be loyal but who also have a choice. The not-so secret to the right customer experience is attitude – especially at the organisational level.

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