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When the sales experience falls into, rather than bridges, the gap

Depending on your definition of a customer, their experience starts well before they actually buy anything.

It might be what they’ve heard from others or what they’ve seen in the news. But if the brand comes knocking on their door that first impression is also a critical experience. Many get it right because it’s based on a real empathy with those they are trying to engage with.

However, it’s not always the case. Absent a clear customer experience strategy, what we think do as a business often looks very different when looked at from the customers’ perspectives.

 

For example, if any CEO is wondering why their Sales teams are not getting better results, maybe a quick look at how their initial engagement makes yet-to-be customers feel will give some big clues.

The quotes below are all real examples I’ve had in my inbox just this last week. There are others and I’m sure you’ll have your own ‘favourites’.

They are not trying to sell me something I don’t want. In fact, I could be interested. Just not with them. If I was ever asked for feedback about the Sales experience (a rare thing indeed), it might go along these lines:

  • Putting “Our 9am meeting” in the subject heading doesn’t spur me into replying out of panic.  Sorry to burst your bubble Sales folk, but changing it to “Our 10am meeting” in the follow-up really doesn’t make any difference either.
  • Saying “I’ve tried to reach you” is just lying – technology is quite good these days so I know if you’ve tried to get in touch as often as you claim. And when your colleagues use the same line every week, several times a week, it becomes very transparent.
  • Gasping “I can’t believe you’ve not signed up yet” and “I’d hate for you to miss out” is at best patronising and lacks any sincerity.
  • What’s more, should I be interested a reply to the email will go into a generic mailbox, not to the person who is (presumably) trying to create a relationship. It just shouts even louder about how you really don’t care if I get back in touch or not.

Does somebody seriously believe this type of approach is going to create an experience I want to repeat, share and pay a premium for? If these companies had any genuine interest in what I do and how they might help me achieve success, they’d look at their Sales activity as a meaningful experience not a bullying, volume-led, can’t-really-give-a-**** transaction.

I often come across businesses who fear the Sales team always over-promise because of the way they are rewarded. They then disappear off the face of the planet while everyone else tries to rally-round, clearing up the mess to deliver something close to an unrealistic promise.

On the flip-side, maybe the Sales team is frustrated that everyone else can’t keep up. Maybe they’re just doing what they’ve been told is best. But to create a first impression experience that is confrontational, misleading and deceitful creates no trust, no relationship. No commission.

They say the experience on the outside reflects the culture inside and they’re right. In the middle of a busy day, to be on the receiving end of these type of messages says heaps about what it must be like to work there. No clear strategy, just a numbers game where some very talented people will be wilting under the stress.

Intended or not, what they are saying to me is that it’s clear their focus is just on revenue, not on me as a potential customer. They don’t care if I buy or not, there are plenty more fishes in the sea. Friend and colleague Ian Golding wrote about a similar mindset very recently in this blog.

These companies are not some anonymous outfit in a far-off land that’s acquired an email list; often they are large, global businesses who should know what they are doing. These companies will make some money for sure but that short-term approach breeds complacency and stores up problems for down the line.

If they applied a dose of customer experience thinking they could, however, make a whole lot more money. If only they didn’t push their potential customers away before they’ve even got close.

 

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Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you enjoyed it and found it thought-provoking.  

I’m Jerry Angrave and I help people in Customer Experience roles do what they need to do. I’m a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional), a CX consultant and am one of a handful of people globally who are authorised by the CXPA to train CX professionals for its accreditation.

Do get in touch if you’ve any comments on the blog, any questions or are interested in training or consultancy support.

Thank you,

Jerry 

[email protected]   |   www.empathyce.com   |   +44 (0) 7917 718072

Why wouldn’t we make customer experiences easy?

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at an event about how to nurture a customer-centric culture. One of the key issues I referenced is that too often we have a gap between the sky-high corporate ambition (such as “to be the world’s best customer experience company”) and the lower-altitude commitment to making that a reality.

We see the consequences of that misalignment regularly. Just in the last couple of days alone I’ve experienced a tale of two cultures. Two very simple questions put to two organisations with two very different results.

I’m sharing them in the hope that one inspires and the other prompts us to ask ourselves, “Could that happen in our business?”.

Firstly, my bank. I had a general enquiry about one of their processes. A client bounced a cheque on me so the bank had automatically represented it. When it was returned the second time I was charged for the pleasure. So, I wanted to know what the bank’s policy was on how many times they would represent the cheque (and therefore how much I’d be charged too).

Their brand proposition proudly talks about wanting “to help businesses thrive…to help people realise their ambitions”. But they’re one of the world’s biggest players anyway and as I had a simple question my expectations of a quick response were high.

My problem though was not that I didn’t get an answer. More, it was ridiculously difficult to ask it in the first place.

My first attempt started after 10pm and the helpline was closed. Fair enough, though people managing their own businesses necessarily tend do the admin at either end of the day. I resorted to the FAQs on the website but after much trawling there was nothing relevant . The LiveChat was not live either.

So next morning I called back. The IVR route made me enter my branch sort code number. Then I needed to type in my account number followed by my date of birth and two digits from my security PIN. For some reason I then had my balance read out automatically. Twice. Topped off with a declaration about the difference between the balance and cleared funds.

I then had to navigate three further levels of IVR options before listening to the on-hold music for five minutes. Then someone picked up the call.

At that point they very helpful. The question was answered inside a minute. Added to the time I’d spent the night before though, the effort to get that point was disproportionate. I only hope they measure customer effort rather than, or aswell as, overall advocacy otherwise things won’t change.

Compare that with my second experience the same day. Next week I’m chairing sessions on passenger experience at the Rail Festival in Amsterdam. I was wondering how I get from Schiphol airport to the city centre by train. So, when a reminder about my flight popped up on my KLM app with a very clear ‘Contact Us’ button I sent them a quick question via Twitter (I could choose which messaging platform to use).

I sat back and carried on with my evening. Twelve minutes later, I had a response from the airline pointing me to where the rail ticket office is inside the airport. Sorted, with very little input from me.

But more than that, after only nine minutes, a delightful lady who runs a company helping law firms in Holland intervened and forwarded my request directly to the rail company, NS. They too then quickly confirmed what I needed to do.

Not only were the airline and rail company right on top of things, one of their own customers was willing to help another. I was very grateful but also intrigued about why she’d done that. She told me the motivation was that she is very proud of the Netherlands and wanted to help anyone who was visiting her country. Her intent was not so much to help the airline or rail company directly but subconsciously had confidence the issue would be resolved quickly.

And indeed, I’d had a swift response. But beyond her wider motive I thought about rail passengers in this country. If we happened to see a message from someone coming to the UK and they’d asked the airline about rail travel here, would we put our own reputation on the line by trying to help out? Would we be so confident that the rail operator would pick up the baton so quickly and easily? Hmmm.

 

They say the experience on the outside reflects the culture on the inside. If it feels like wading through treacle to get answers to simple questions then that business is more than likely carrying excess costs. If it’s easy for customers there’s less processing and support needed from the business. Unnecessary complexity also does nothing to support the wider brand promise; quite the opposite. If the reality of the experience is working against the expectation so much of the Marketing budget is wasted.

It’s easy to set sky-high ambitions but as CX professionals we need ensure there are no gaps between them and what it’s really like to be a customer. As KLM and NS have shown, if it can be easy, why wouldn’t it be? We already know that better experiences mean customers will come back more often, spend more and tell others to do the same. And if that then makes customers feel willing and able to help others customers too, that’s got to be a win for everyone, surely.

(Oh, if you’re interested, in the UK a bank will usually represent a cheque four times. Some though apparently will keep representing many more times, conveniently charging you each time. Be warned!).

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Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you found it thought-provoking.  

I’m Jerry Angrave and I help people in Customer Experience roles do what they need to do. I’m a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional) and am one of a handful of people globally who are authorised by the CXPA to train CX professionals for its accreditation. I founded Empathyce after a long career in CX and Marketing roles and am now a consultant and trainer. 

Do get in touch if you’ve any comments on the blog, any questions or are interested in training or consultancy support.

Thank you,

Jerry 

[email protected]   |   www.empathyce.com   |   +44 (0) 7917 718072

 

 

Lessons in how to embed Customer Experience

At the recent CXPA networking event in London hosted by Pen CX, the world of the CX professional was thrown into the spotlight. I wanted to share thoughts from two of the presenters, who reminded us of some of the practical yet vitally important things we need to do to bring about the right change.

First, Ali Lawrie, Head of Customer Experience at Akzo Nobel, owners of the Dulux paint brand among others. Ali talked about the challenges of bringing the customer agenda to the fore in a B2B organisation which, understandably, has had a keen focus on technical product development and the sales supply chain.

A lesson she’d learned early on was to not underestimate the time it takes to win stakeholders round where they have their own priorities. Perseverance and resilience are essential qualities of the CX practitioner.

It’s time well-spent though and an investment that pays dividends. Getting the attention was also helped in no small part by demonstrating the reality of today’s experience using customer verbatims.

To see a metric that says customers are waiting three minutes for a call to be answered may not be a catalyst for instant transformation.  But hearing the direct impact on the customer, who might be an architect about to see a key client or a hospital property manager reaching out for some quick advice, expressed in their words with the emotion that goes with it, is infinitely more powerful.

Furthermore, it can show how a company’s brand and advertising is potentially being wasted because the experience does not deliver the promise of (a variant of) “We put customers first”. It’s a valuable and necessary conversation to have with the Marketing team.

Journey mapping provided many of the insights for Ali and those exercises also created six key stages of the experience, each now represented by an icon. Bringing to life the customer experience is at the heart of an effective CX programme and so the more visible it is the better. Sharing the icons and explaining the stages now references any activity to a specific part of the journey, has helped engage and involve colleagues and makes communications clearer.

Empathyce

Your CX momentum will take off, eventually

Creating a stronger business by using Customer Experience thinking will not happen without complete engagement right across the business. To engage not just those who are customer-facing but also those who are back-office or in management roles is a big stretch for many fledgling CX teams,.

So Ali’s advice is to spread the message and create movement from within through the extended use of CX champions – finding people from all parts of the business who take an interest, want to be part of the movement and see it as a good development opportunity. They will be the eyes and ears of CX inside and across the proverbial silos.

Mike Bellis of Pen CX and formerly of Pfizer, then reflected on how he changed his approach to win people round. “I started by highlighting issues that were affecting customers and trying to get them fixed, but this was seen as creating new problems within the organisation rather than trying to fix those which were perceived to be there already”.

As this approach wasn’t developing very much engagement, Mike quickly changed tack. The new approach was to understand internal stakeholders’ issues first and then show how a focus on Customer Experience could help overcome them. Before long he was everyone’s best friend. The momentum grew as colleagues from around the globe came knocking on his door for his methodologies and thinking.

 

Anyone who works as a CX professional will know how hard these things are to do. It’s therefore reassuring to hear that with persistence they can still make a difference.

As Mike Bellis summarised, “In principle, Customer Experience is simple. It doesn’t mean it’s easy though”.

Thanks to Ali and Mike, also to Neil Sharp of Pen CX for organising and hosting the event.

If you’ve any thoughts on what can be done at a practical level to help a business become more customer-centric, please share them!

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Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you found it thought-provoking.  

I’m Jerry Angrave and I help people in Customer Experience roles do what they need to do. I’m a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional) and am one of a handful of people globally who are authorised by the CXPA to train CX professionals for its accreditation. I founded Empathyce after a long career in CX and Marketing roles and am now a consultant and trainer. I give CX professionals the skills, tools and confidence to be the ones to drive their Customer Experience efforts forward.

Do get in touch if you’ve any comments on the blog, any questions or are interested in training or consultancy support.

Thank you,

Jerry 

[email protected]   |   www.empathyce.com   |   +44 (0) 7917 718072

 

Keep customer journey mapping sessions on track and effective

Facilitating a customer journey mapping session for the first time can be daunting.  However, assuming you’ve invited the right people from across the business, and those who said they’d come do turn up, you should have an audience eager to get involved. Make customer journey mapping effective

Even so, your collaborations have to work hard and show that the time is well spent.  In your workshops some people will feel they can’t be seen not tapping away at a keyboard.  Others will have to duck-out half way through to take a call and there will always be at least one who is there because they’ve been told to but have no idea why.

In the opening segment of this three-part series I looked at ways to get buy-in from sceptical stakeholders.  The next and final instalment will suggest what to do with the ‘map’ once it’s been created.

This second piece therefore is about keeping your journey mapping workshop on track.  It’s easy to get derailed so asking the right questions, documenting the answers and making it an enjoyable experience for those taking part are central tenets of any journey mapping session. Here though, are five more suggestions for making sure your time with others is going to generate compelling insights and position you as the go-to person for customer experience.

Firstly, we need to be really clear about exactly who is doing what and why.

#1 Personas

To improve an existing experience or design a new one we must have genuine empathy with those on the receiving end of what we do. Traditional segmentation approaches that give us Millennials, socio-economic groups or B2B vs B2C are helpful but only to a degree.  Generational Marketing for example, assumes that everyone born around the same time will follow similar behaviours.

For an organisation wedded to metrics, processes and projects, commoditising customers in that way may feel more comfortable.  Yet it fails to highlight that we’re dealing with real people who interact with us because of real needs and wants. They have different motivations, hopes and expectations. And there are real, personal consequences if we get it right or not.

By bringing customers to life as a person not a segment, we can show the rest of the business what’s most important to them and why in a more meaningful and engaging way. Give the persona a name, draw a picture of them or a day in their life. Take time to discuss what they think, say and do.

We’re talking here about customers but the mapping exercise can – and should – be done equally for employees delivering the experience, stakeholders and partners to empathise with them too.

 

#2 Prioritise

Chances are you’ll identify  a number of personas, all of whom have the potential to go on many different journeys with you. We can’t do justice to journey mapping by trying to do everything at the same time so we need a focus and a clear scope.  Multiply the number of personas by the products or services they’re buying, the number of reasons they are interacting and then by the channel permutations and the number of possible journeys can quickly be measured in the hundreds if not thousands.  Which one to map?

Some will jump out more than others especially where there are burning platforms.  Others will emerge as you go along;  a touchpoint can be drilled into in more detail to become a mapable journey in its own right.  But as far as possible, choose one persona doing one thing and stick to it; have a crystal-clear scope for this journey and plan to deal with the others later.

The journey maps will then highlight the things are most important to your customers. They will show how well you do those things – if indeed they are measured – so you know how well (or not) you do the most important stuff or where you’re wasting effort.

You’ll end up with a long list of ideas but they can be organised so you focus on protecting the important things that are done well, pounce on the significant experiences that are done badly and stop doing the costly work that customers don’t value.

 

#3 Stay in character031

It’s one of the most essential elements of journey mapping yet it’s also the easiest to fall foul of. Short of asking customers directly (more of that in a moment) the only way to truly see things from their perspective is to act and think like them.  The personas you’ve created will guide you.  Take on the persona and pretend, role-play their interactions.

If you’re facilitating the session watch out for comments like “Yeah, but the reason why we have to do it like that is because ….” and “The customer doesn’t appreciate that what we have to do is…”.

We are not creating a process map.  When the team is in full flight it’s very easy to revert to the day-job. Just for the avoidance of any doubt, I repeat.  We are not creating a process map.  Quite the opposite:  we need to know what it is like to be on the receiving end of our processes.

An effective discipline here is to use “I… “ statements.  In other words, use their language not yours.  When the sticky notes are flying onto the brown paper, use phrases like “I’m choosing” or “I’m paying” rather than “Browse website” and “Purchase” respectively.

 

#4 Customer in the room…eventually

A valuable by-product of journey mapping is that cross-functional teams get to know their own business better.  By all means share the ins- and outs of what you do, it’s a great – and from what I see an all-too-often unique – opportunity to do so.

But while those conversations nurture internal understanding, they are not always ones you’d feel happy having in front of customers.  For them to hear that their premium-priced service is actually quite fragile and held together with string and tape isn’t great. Or, that one part of the business really doesn’t know what the next bit does.

It’s the main reason I advocate that customers only get the opportunity – and they must at some point – to validate and iterate the journey once you’ve agreed the starting point internally.

On the flip-side, where you are mapping “What could the future look like?” scenarios, having customers’ input and creativity coupled with successful design-thinking and ethnography is as essential as it is priceless.

 

#5 Start/Finish points

Unless you magically happen to burst into someone’s life the instant they think they might need you and then disappear forever just as quickly when you’ve got their money, the traditional end-to-end thinking can be flawed.

From a customer’s perspective, it won’t start with the initial enquiry.  More likely, it will begin with an event in the customer’s life that triggers the need or desire for the first or next interaction.  It’s best to start where there is no current or active relationship with the brand as it will then become clear how what you do fits in with their life, not the other way around.

The final end point may equally be a shade of grey but one thing every journey should have is touchpoint under the heading of “I’m sharing my experience”. It may be during or at the end of the experience but if nothing else, it forces the team to think about where a customer might tell the story of their experience, however unstructured, usually once it’s over.  If that’s not plugged into the current feedback system and usual reactive surveys, there’s one action to add to the list already.  I wrote about that specific issue in a separate blog here.

 

So journey mapping is an incredibly insightful tool but it must be done effectively and with discipline if it’s to yield the results that will drive a business forward.

The final instalment in this three-part series about customer journey mapping will look at what should happen next.  In the meantime, if you’ve your own suggestions on how to ensure journey mapping is working hard for you I’d love you to share them.


Follow Jerry Angrave on Twitter @jerryangrave


Thank you.  I’m Jerry Angrave, a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP).  I’m a Jerry AngraveCX consultant with an extensive corporate background and also specialise in professional development for those in customer experience roles.  Feel free to contact me with any questions – by email to [email protected] or by phone on +44 (0)7917 718072.  More details at the website www.empathyce.com.

Disabilities teach us how to improve everyone’s experiences

It can be hard enough doing business with a company sometimes, let alone if we have some kind of physical or mental disability.  However, people who interact with the world in different ways can teach organisations a lot about creating the right customer experiences for them, other customers and – ultimately therefore – the balance sheet.

Having travelled a lot recently and spoken at aviation conferences I’m look at it here from an airport’s perspective.  The principles though apply to any sector.

The World Health Organisation says: “Disability arises from the interaction between people with a health condition and their environment.”  Airports control the environment passengers are in and therefore it’s within their gift to minimise the impact of being disabled.

After all, whether we’re a hard-working employee always on the go, someone of restricted mobility or a carer with an adult who has a learning difficulty,  we all want pretty much the same thing.  Last year I researched what passengers said to each other about going through an airport.  The 800 comments I reviewed on Skytrax showed they simply wanted it to be quick, easy, calm, clean and friendly.  Any ‘Wow!’ factors can wait until the basics are in place and happening consistently.

Airports are under immense pressure to perform efficiently and focusing on customer experiences is key to the game plan.  However, we also know that rising consumer expectations are outpacing the rate at which better experiences are being delivered.

By understanding what it’s really like to travel with a disability, not only does it make the experience better for the people who need it most but it also stretches the thinking to improve things for all passengers.  And, if doing the right thing needed justifying, it’s great for an airport’s revenue and cost lines too.

It is, of course, about doing what’s right, but there is a real-world commercial context that this sits in.  Inevitably there will be some who remain to be convinced, worried about the impact on their processes, operational efficiencies, costs, metrics and compliance scorecards.

Sceptical stakeholders can draw comfort from a number of studies that show how better customer experiences lead to better performance.  For example, Temkin Group’s study of 10,000 consumers showed that 81% of advocates are very likely to buy again; only 16% of unhappy customers share the same intent.   At AeroMexico, a one-point change either way in their Net Promoter Score had a $6m impact on the bottom line.  And in the UK, Papworth Trust says two-thirds of disabled travellers would travel by rail more often if it were easier.

Designing experiences and employee training for the right customer outcomes can take many forms.  One tool that’s often used is customer journey mapping.  The key is not to simply document processes but to create a springboard from which commercially successful and empathetic experiences can be made and measured.  We should think about passengers as being real people rather than fitting the generic segmentation stereotypes of “business travellers”, “families” or even “PRM”s.  The maps will then help share internally what it’s really like to be a passenger and what it should be like, through keen observations and a rich understanding of travellers’ motivations, expectations, fears and hopes at each stage of the journey.

 

I’ve a 13-year-old son with Fragile X, a learning disability on the autistic spectrum.  We’ve had awful and wonderful experiences at airports.  At Birmingham International for example, we found employees at the gate who took everything in their stride.  They were not perplexed at all by Charlie’s flapping, his strange vocal sounds or his lack of social understanding about how a queue works.

There are other airports we will avoid purely because of the noise from hand-dryers in the toilets.  To Charlie, they burst into life as a monstrous 90dB howl.  It scares him and makes him highly anxious in the days leading up to the flight and while we’re at the airport.  So those airports are now off the list of choices, for us at least.

The way he deals with sudden noise is to make his own commotion.  It will trigger a meltdown that will see him go through a cycle of angst, anger and distress.  It’s a sequence that we can rarely break into, hence why it’s to be avoided if at all possible.  He won’t process instructions to “calm down” but he will eventually come out the other side very upset and very apologetic and will want to know people are there for him when he does.

It can be an uneasy time for everyone. At Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport however, if a passenger has an episode in the security lanes the queue management tapes are quietly moved to redirect other passengers away. They leave nature to take its course rather than make things worse by ushering the person out of the way in the hope that no-one noticed.

Physical disabilities are easier to recognise, yet this can still trigger inappropriate responses from airport staff.  US daytime-TV host Meredith Vieira, whose husband has multiple sclerosis, talks about the times when he uses a wheelchair at an airport rather than a cane.  Suddenly people talk to her, not him.  “It’s like he becomes invisible,” she says.calming-dog

Recognising the potential for unpredictable behaviour is not easy.  It’s great therefore to see initiatives such as a downloadable butterfly image for carers’ smartphones at Liverpool airport and wristbands at Manchester.  They send subtle signals to trained employees that there may be untypical behaviour ahead.

Likewise, the unobtrusive lapel badges at Los Angeles and the dementia champions walking the floor at London Gatwick.  Calming therapy dogs are another great example where everyone, not just those with a disability, benefits.

Emotionally and physically, many will be running on empty.  They may not remember when they last had a good night’s sleep.  They may have been in and out of hospital for countless operations.  They may have lost loved ones who had undiagnosed conditions.  They may spend their days helping others go to the toilet or prevent them from self-harming.  They may see the world in very different ways to us.  They may feel they are always being judged and continually need to apologise.

Their best experiences are therefore ones that simply work and have no friction in them.

Such circumstances put everyday niggles and frustrations at the airport into perspective.  Inflexible policies that prevent common sense prevailing, unhelpful attitudes and rushed environments that are not respectful make it one more challenge to endure.

Get it right and they become valuable advocates.  Get it wrong and they are unlikely to have the time or inclination to let you know.  They might tell their friends if they have the energy but they will almost certainly choose an alternative airport next time or simply stay at home.

 

Speaking at the Passenger Terminal Conference in Cologne earlier this year, Craig Leiner, transportation co-ordinator with Natick Community Services Department, said: “When we get it right we make people’s lives better; when we get it wrong we make their lives harder.”  The message is clear: don’t be the straw that breaks their back.

The stakes are high for all concerned.  But if airports and the partners they outsource their experiences to have a deeper understanding of people with a disability, everyone profits.  Even Ryanair, once thought of as being very ‘anti customers’, acknowledges that its Always Getting Better programme is turning better experiences into higher revenue, load factors and forward bookings.

Creating the right environment where interactions are easy and calm suits pretty much everyone.  People with a disability of some kind help expand our thinking about what those experiences should be like.  In the UK, a fifth of the population has a disability and estimates put their spending power at over £200bn.    It’s therefore an opportunity not an obligation.

Lord Blunkett, chair of easyJet’s Special Assistance Advisory Group, summed it up neatly in Cologne when he said: “Not only is it the right thing to do, but treating people with decency is a commercial win for everyone”.

It really is.

 

 

Do the good customer experiences obscure the bad ones for management?

As consumers we know that a company is only as good as the last experience we had with them.  But it does seem that some companies assume if they are able to give a good experience once, they are doing it every time, everywhere.  It’s obviously a very dangerous assumption.

inconsistent customer experiences

It’s not easy when things are inconsistent

I’m often asked who we should look to for customer experience inspiration. Who gets it right and what do they do?

We all have our favourite brands and stories to go with them.  There is no shortage of companies to learn from.  They have the right mindset and are doing great things.  But, organisations not only need to be proficient at walking before they can run, they can’t afford to forget how to walk once they can run.

And so before trying to emulate the great and the good, a question that many businesses should ask is “What do we do today that we should stop doing?”.  What is causing customers and employees, including (especially) the ones who don’t complain, frustration, angst or simply to not engage?

Business leaders may say they are profitable, they have many satisfied customers and their people are proud.  Yet the laws of unintended consequences, of cross-functional operations working to different agendas and of short-term profit-taking throw a protective veil over complacency and corrosive experiences.

The issues are laid bare these days for all to see, especially on social media and review sites.

Take, for example, Trustpilot.  I’m increasingly seeing businesses using the rating as a customer metric in addition to Net Promoter Score, customer satisfaction, effort scores and so on.  It’s freely available and constantly updated.  Companies can track their score, benchmark against competitors and compare parallel sectors.  Crucially though, the unsolicited comments contain a rich seam of qualitative insight that tells us exactly why things go well or not.  Why would you not want to tap into that?  Or, at least learn what makes competitors’ customers unhappy to make sure it’s not happening closer to home?

To illustrate the point, I’ve picked out a few examples and I’ll start with, for me, two surprises…

 

John Lewis is one of the UK’s favourite places to shop.  It keeps winning awards for its in-store service.  The employees have a real stake in making sure customers are happy and it shows.  However, go online and the story is very different.

Where their stores and people will be rated 9s and 10s out of 10, the website scores just 1.4.  That’s as rated by more than 2300 recent reviews.  There’s a lot of good stuff that happens at John Lewis but right now, online they are keeping company with SouthernRail (0.9/10) and lag behind even Ryanair (2.2/10).

Broken promises, conflicting information, inflexibility and being difficult to communicate with are just some of the reasons cited.  Whether that’s a consequence of outsourcing or handing over the post-sale experience to suppliers, only John Lewis themselves fully understand.  However, there are many comments that illustrate the commercial consequences, as one unhappy customer said: “Have spent thousands at John Lewis over the years but after this will go elsewhere”.

Employees answer the negative comments with a resigned “Sorry, we really didn’t mean this to happen” tone.  And one customer summed the gap between expectations and reality by saying “Because it’s John Lewis, it feels worse”.trustpilot jlfd

 

Another brand struggling to keep up with the expectations it has spent much time, money and effort creating is firstdirect.  For many years they were always at the top of the list of exemplars.  Personalised and friendly service, easy to get hold of and no need to repeat issues were just some of its credentials that set it apart from other banks.

At a time when the one thing retail banks need is differentiation, they seemed to have it in spades.  Now though, firstdirect scores just 1.9 out of 10 with many unhappy customers venting their frustrations about things being slow, disinterested employees and not keeping promises to call back or follow-up.

 

Meanwhile, the airline that claimed to be “the world’s favourite” is also no stranger to having a mixed bag of reviews.  On Trustpilot at the moment British Airways’ score is just 2 out of 10.  Reviewers talk of getting “better treatment with Ryanair”, of misinformation and of empty apologies.  At the same time though, happy customers rave about the friendliness of staff, easy booking processes and clean aircraft.  On the aviation-specific review site Skytrax, BA sees a similar spectrum of views from “Cannot fault the airline” to “Terrible service”.

 

Finally, but no surprise this time, is BT.  Every time I run a customer experience workshop I ask people to share a couple of stories of good and bad experiences they’ve had.   There are brands who feature regularly in both camps but BT is by far the most frequently cited company for bad experiences.

On Trustpilot, they score just 0.3 out of 10 from the last 1700 reviews.  Worryingly, if you were leading BT, many comments talk about the highly negative emotional impact – “I’m being driven to despair, I’m distraught and powerless” is just one recent example but reflected by many others too.  The recurring themes here are an inability to find someone to take ownership of a problem, staff attitude and promises that aren’t kept, again and again.

That really isn’t what you want people to be sharing about your brand.  It’s proof the brand is purely what people tell each other it is, regardless of what the strapline says it should be.  And so BT’s internal rhetoric, it would appear, has some way to go.   They talk openly about their approach being to “put customers first”, about wanting to create “the most customer-focused company in the world” and having an ambition by 2020 to “deliver great customer experiences”.  Easy to say, much much harder to do.

 

And in a way, that’s the point. Whether you have made a public declaration to be the best customer experience company or you are simply about making profit, it doesn’t matter to us as customers – the very least we expect from any business is that we can trust them to do what they promise, they’ll make it easy and we won’t have any reservations about doing it again.  Surely, the basics are not too much to ask?

 

As with most review sites views tend to be polarised.  So at the other end of the spectrum, regularly attracting fans and scores of 9s and 10s are the likes of Moo.com, Mr Memory, Outdoorkit and Dial-a-Flight.  These are not corporate giants but by and large they consistently get the basics right , the things those at the bottom of the pile can’t seem to manage.  Common themes cited by customers are that they all have friendly and knowledgable employees, they do what they say they will and they keep customers informed. They make it feel like they’re on the customer’s side, they are perceived as good value and are easy to do business with.  It’s no more complicated than that but the consequences for the bottom line are summed up neatly by one Outdoorkit customer who says “I seem to shop here more and more lately”.

good or bad cx

Are you creating despair or fans? Or both?

I’ve looked at the ends of the scale to make the point. But is there anything to learn from those in the middle? I’d say lots.  In terms of rising expectations, today’s scores of 8 will be tomorrow’s 7 and next week’s 6 so beware of complacency.  Average mid-range scores also show these companies can and do get it right sometimes – they’ve done the hard bit but just lack the consistency.  They have the ability, they just need to make the good things happen regularly rather than sporadically.

Having the aspiration to give great experiences is one thing but the people who lead and manage in organisations must also be sure they have a total self-awareness about what it’s really like to do business for anyone at anytime and anyhow.  By all means protect and improve the good experiences but their presence doesn’t automatically mean an absence of more damaging experiences.

 


I hope the blog gives you some food for thought about your own customer experiences but do get in touch if you have any questions or comments.  Use this site or send an email to me at [email protected] or call me on +44 (0) 7917 718072.  Thank you for taking the time to read the post.  Jerry

The role and challenges of the Customer Experience Professional

The varied and vital role played by customer experience professionals was put under the spotlight last week at the CXPA’s European Insight Exchange in London.

Attended by CX practitioners from Spain, Finland, France, Ireland and Zimbabwe as well as the UK the event showed that wherever we are, the expectations of what customer experience people can do for a business are rising just as quickly as consumers’ own expectations about what the business can do for them.

Mark Horsley, CEO of Northern Gas Network spoke with an understated passion about creating the right environment for his people;  allowing them to be heard, to flourish and to contribute in a way that gives customers better experiences.  Mark is CEO of an organisation whose customers have little choice and so could be forgiven for being more transactional than relationship-focused. Nothing could be further from the truth and it was refreshing to hear customer experience’s positive double-whammy being reinforced;  it’s not just about doing the right thing but a stronger, more certain business future will follow too.

It’s always easier said than done and even the many awards Northern Gas Network has collected have not come about overnight.  In that context, the CXPA event helped share challenges, solutions and lessons learned, providing valuable insights and much food for thought.

I was privileged to lead one of the sessions on the role of the Customer Experience Professional.  It’s a subject hounded by many questions.  How, for example, does the role change depending on how senior the person is or how mature their company’s CX is?  Is it about helping everyone to “get it” or about galvanising sceptical stakeholders behind a common goal? Is it about stopping the business making mistakes by bringing to life the reality of what it’s like to be a customer?  Or all of the above and more?

 

In searching for answers there were common, related themes including: driving a customer agenda can be a lonely place, it’s difficult to spur people into action when there’s no burning platform and the size of the task can be overwhelming.   The Insight Exchange provided some clues as to how might we overcome these challenges.

A lonely voice

It’s often the case that organisations who need a CX focus the most are the least open to change. Where the hard focus is purely on costs, revenue and operational metrics it takes a brave person to bring up the subject of emotions and the laws of unintended consequences.  Yet where that happens, the biggest positive changes can occur too.

The advice is to find peers who are of the same mind, who understand that by stopping the things that customers don’t value or by fixing the causes of niggles and complaints there are quick wins to be had.  I’ve seen it work at some of the largest companies in their sectors globally;  it’s not a Hollywood script but one person starts with passion, belief and a real customer understanding and before long people right across the business are sitting up and taking notice.  In the the early days it may take the form of chats in the coffee queue or creating a “Customer Experience Steering Group” but by being the catalyst, creating a movement from within and armed with proof of concept, the conversations at more senior level becomes much easier.

No burning platform

The ‘do nothing different’ option is very tempting in an organisation that is – possibly unintentionally – myopic and complacent.  They say: “We’re making money, we have satisfied customers and our employees know how their performance is measured.  Why change?”.

As a customer experience professional we can help them see things differently.  We can show them how expectations are changing and rising exponentially, driven by companies they interact with and read about in other sectors.  We can show them the true sentiment in the customer satisfaction surveys and how they are not measuring the things that customers say are now most important.  We can get under the skin of the employee survey to find out from those who know the processes best about how work-arounds and hand-offs are broken and are running inefficiently.

There may not be an obvious platform burning brightly but what company with an ambition for long-term survival would not want to extinguish and smouldering embers underground before it’s too late.

It’s overwhelming

The nature of customer experience means that as a way of thinking it can help pretty much every part of the business. Whether informing strategic decisions, helping to mitigate risks or defining brand promises, CX has a role to play and with it, a raft of desirable actions.

In theory at least, we have the ability to understand whatever we need to about our customers.  We can have as much data as we can process.  Some actions will require a quick conversation to tweek a process and some, like changing the culture, will be longer-term.  All though are necessary and therefore it can be a daunting prospect.

There were two suggestions here. Firstly, don’t try to do everything.  As with the burning platform, keep one eye on the bigger picture but use short-term quick wins to gain momentum and start changing things, little by little.  Not everything needs weeks and months courting stakeholders to prepare a business case.  The more people can see the positive impact the more doors will be easier to open.  The breadth of advocates will grow, more resources will become available and the right changes will happen.  Eventually it’ll just become the way the organisation does business.

The second, linked, point is the prioritisation process.  By understanding what touchpoints in a customer’s journey are most important and how well they are delivered, the focus straightaway is ensuring the areas that matter most are done consistently well or on stopping wasted effort where things are not valued.

 

The Insight Exchange was just that; swapping thoughts, ideas, lessons learned the hard way.  Many left inspired, many were reassured that they are already on the right lines and many headed back to the office with new ideas about tackling their biggest challenges.

What is clear though is that the true role of a CX professional goes way beyond most job description templates.  In an ideal world, customer experience people would do themselves out of a job when the business becomes self-regulating.  The good news, or bad news depending on how you look at it, is that on the whole we’ve a long way to go.  As co-Chairman Ian Golding put it, the day had the look of a counselling session given how significant the challenges and opportunities, in equal measure, are.

It’s what makes it such a compelling and rewarding profession.

 


 

Thanks for reading the post, I’d be really interested to hear what you think.  I’m Jerry Angrave, specialising in customer experience consultancy and professional development.  I’m a Certified Customer Experience Professional and an authorised trainer for the CCXP exam.   Do get in touch if you’ve any questions – I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718072, on email at [email protected] or on Twitter @JerryAngrave.

 

 

John Lewis, npower and Ford – in very different places with customer experience

 

Depending on the way you look at it, complacency is either the arch-enemy of customer experience or the reason it exists.  I’ve seen many a sceptical director shrug and say “Why bother? We’re making money so we must be doing it right”.

Yet while the heart of customer experience might be more a way of thinking than functional, the warning signs of where it’s going wrong can be very obvious and very tangible.

Take John Lewis.  Over the years it’s been one of our most celebrated brands, synonymous with straightforward, easy and helpful customer experiences.  And the partnership has seen the benefits in its commercial performance as a result.

So here’s a question:  out of 10, where 0 is rubbish and 10 is brilliant, what would you say JohnLewis.com scores on Trustpilot at the moment?  I know there have been a few issues of late but I’d have said 7s and 8s at worst.  Time to think again.

Based on over 2,000 customer reviews the average score as of this week is …..  1.4 out of 10.

 

john lewis 1.4

 

How and why did that happen?  Only those inside John Lewis know the answers but one suggestion is the outsourcing of its customer experiences.  Handing over your brand to a third party is no excuse, only a reason.  Outsourcing may promise hand-offs that are invisible to customers and a lower per-transaction cost.  However, without the controls to ensure consistency of the intended experiences the number of unnecessary contacts increase, the costs go up and customers’ loyalty goes down.  Years of goodwill being unravelled for all to see.

As with any customer measurement system, there are caveats and foibles.  But I wonder how many organisations would act differently if public metrics such as the Trustpilot score or Tripadvisor rating were more visible internally and part of the voice-of-the-customer mix.

Ironically, over in the energy sector, npower maybe further along the organisational self-awareness curve.  It’s often in the news for the wrong reasons;  scrapping its dividend payment, being fined £26m by Ofgem for failing to treat customers fairly and being told if things don’t improve they will be barred from selling their services.   And on the back of its results this week came the announcement that there will be a significant human cost with 20% of its workforce to be laid off.

With that news though came a plan, a two-year recovery programme.  So for npower, at least the reasons for its difficulties are known and it is trying to do something about them.  Lower wholesale energy prices, government obligations and a quicker than expected shift to renewables are to blame in part.  However, it is the self-inflicted broken processes and billing infrastructure that are driving many customers away.

I’m a customer of npower and of John Lewis.  For the people who work there and for my own sanity I really want them to come right.  Npower has plans but the signs are that things have a way to go.  For example, I recently received three identical envelopes in the same post.  Inside, three identical annual statements with identical supporting information notes – tripling the cost at a stroke and leaving me playing the spot-the difference, wondering if I’ve missed something subtle but vitally important.

npower statement

 

Do they know that’s happening? If not, why not?  But if they do know, wouldn’t a quick letter or email to explain that I don’t have to worry about missing something help?  It’s about knowing what the experience is like today and how it feels compared with what it should be like and having the appetite to do something about it.  Making things worse, the main call-to-action appears to be to switch suppliers so exactly what the statements mean and what I’m supposed to do next will have to be the subject of a call to their helplines…  I hope the recovery plan will be using lower customer effort as a measurement of success.

In contrast, the organisational self-awareness that Ryanair had prompted it to launch the ‘Always Getting Better’ programme.  The about-turn in being customer focused is bearing fruit in its forward bookings, load factors and customer feedback.   Meantime, motoring giant Ford meantime is also setting about the way it does things.ford wheel logo

Speaking earlier this year, Ford’s President and CEO Mark Fields talked openly about changing the culture to be more empathetic to its customers.  The mindset was no longer one of being a manufacturer or even a technology company but an innovative, user-experience company.   Ford employees are encouraged to challenge the status quo, to question tradition and to not take anything for granted.  They won’t get penalised in their performance reviews for trying something new;  the view is that succeed or fail, you learn.  And on digitalisation and data, Ford aims to identify the right experiences first then seeks the technology to deliver it.  Not, trip over itself to install latest IT systems just because it’s the latest IT system.

 

Very familiar brand names with varying degrees of organisational self-awareness.  It’s what shapes their customer experiences and as a direct consequence they will see very different results.

 


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

I’m Jerry Angrave, founder of Empathyce and an ex-corporate customer experience practitioner.  I’m now a  CX consultant and an official trainer for the CXPA’s professional qualification to be a CCXP. If you’ve any questions about improving customer experiences or CX professional development do please get in touch.  I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 or on email I’m [email protected]

To subscribe for future posts please send an email to [email protected]

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Customer experience culture: Ford’s perspective

A customer-centric culture doesn’t happen simply because it’s on a presentation slide as a strategic pillar.  It’s a topic that risks being swamped by platitudes and theory so I was curious to hear Mark Fields, President and CEO of Ford Motor Company, talk about what the transformation to a customer experience culture looks like in reality.  

The size of the organisation is irrelevant but I wanted to share some of his thoughts from a recent FastCompany interview .  There are a number of characteristics that we can all identify with, learn from or at least be reassured that we’re heading in the right direction.  

 

Firstly, Mr Fields emphasises the need to be very clear about who you are.  In Ford’s case they have been a manufacturing company.  With connectivity and the internet-of-things creating huge possibilities they are now moving through being a technology business to a user-experience and mobility company.

Transformation can be a scary word for many employees.  Ford’s approach therefore is to be clear that it’s not about moving from an old business to a new business, they are moving to a bigger and better business.  And that will need to include winning over everyone in the supply chain and the franchised sales and service teams too.

Wherever they work, colleagues are encouraged to challenge custom, to question tradition and to not take anything for granted.  Having worked for large corporates who frowned upon seeking and sharing learnings from outside the sector, that alone is refreshing to hear.

Ford reassures its people they wont get penalised for trying things, knowing that some will fail and some will succeed.  It might be in product design, customer engagement or stakeholder management.  It might be in new methods of customer feedback or in innovative ways to bring to life what it’s really like to be a customer.  But, so the approach goes, you learn whether you win or lose.

Virgin Atlantic has a similar philosophy.  Google Glass had certain benefits but the airline wanted to see how else it could make the lives of its employees better.  With wearable technology, they knew it would take some time for a critical mass of customers to use it but they found real advantages for their operations team.  As a result Virgin’s dispatchers now use smart watches to improve the turn-around efficiencies of aircraft.

On technology, with all the data, sensors and processing power we now have, Mark Fields is clear.  He wants Ford to be known for being an automotive and mobility company but is very aware of the risk of falling into the trap of technology for technology sake.  His answer is to think about the experiences first then find the best technology to deliver them.  It’s the same principle with customer measurement;  get the experience right first and the metrics will look after themselves.

It means that at Ford, there is a new and relentless focus on empathy.  They are using ethnography to better understand their customer personas, their interactions and how the products and services are used.  It gives greater certainty that the changes being made are the right ones.

road to success no shortcuts

There are no shortcuts on the road to cultural change

Cultural change is never quick.  After all, it’s a state of mind and isn’t something that can be project managed.  The right changes will not happen if the organisation is not open to the very idea of customer-centricity.  So to have the boss eulogising about the focus on customer experiences suggests the chances of longevity are good.

That said, Ford will be very aware that changing a culture takes years.  Back in 1909, customer-centricity had a different meaning.  To improve productivity and make the car affordable to the masses, the company’s founder Henry Ford restricted customers’ colour choice to black.  Those with memories of more recent times may recall Ford’s 1990s advertising campaign in which Brian May’s rousing soundtrack promised “Everything we do is driven by you”.  Albeit a strapline with an inward-looking perspective, it was well-intended.

So while first challenge is to have the right mindset, it doesn’t stop there. The key is then to keep up the momentum, to make sure everyone understands what that frame of reference is, why it’s important and what it means for them on a day-to-day basis.

Ford is not alone in having such a philosophy and Mark Fields isn’t the first CEO to say they are customer-centric.  Time will tell.  To succeed, I believe an organisation must combine a deep understanding of its customers with highly motivated employees.  But most important of all is that the business must also nurture a culture where those insights and enthusiasm are allowed the opportunity to prosper.  At best, it will drive a business forward as it adapts to the changing world.  At worst, it will stop it being from standing still and being overtaken.

 


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

I’m Jerry Angrave, founder of Empathyce and an ex-corporate customer experience practitioner.  I’m now a  CX consultant and an official trainer for the CXPA’s professional qualification to be a CCXP. If you’ve any questions about improving customer experience or CX professional development do please get in touch.  I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 or on email I’m [email protected]

To subscribe for future posts please send an email to [email protected]

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Poor emails undo all the good brand work

We talk a lot about delivering the brand promise.  It’s one of the most critical balancing acts in the business strategy.  On the one hand, a very clear proposition so that everyone understands what they need to do and how.  On the other, what it feels like as a customer to be on the receiving end of what they do.

They should, of course, be one and the same.  The true test of whether a brand has been delivered and safely reached its destination is what customers say to each other, not what the strapline says it should be like.  Stress-testing customer experiences reveals flaws elsewhere

Yet I share with you here three very recent examples of where a business has set out with good intentions but the execution has been inconsistent to say the least.  The brands as such have all have been ‘delivered’ into my inbox.

A membership organisation with global reach wrote to me about renewing my subscription.  They are a very well-known body representing professionals in business and were extolling the virtues of how much more I would learn about customer experience if I renewed.  They say – that is, what they want us to believe the brand is all about – they are there to help companies grow.

The reality of the experience was somewhat different.  They had already reminded me to renew a few months back, then apologised that they had got the dates wrong.  And now, with an invitation to spend money on renewing my membership the email invitation was from someone called No Reply.  Not personal, not helpful and hardly inviting.  All the good effort that goes into creating the brand promise in the first place, undone in a simple email header.  That’s a careless brand, not a global professional one.

I’m sure you’ve had others too like it.

Our attention spans are short and there’s no shortage of advice in writing compelling emails.

I had one email this week with a subject heading “Private invitation”.  It looked intriguing but then the opening line was “ Hey guys…I’m a little surprised you haven’t taken me up on this yet “ – it was from a training company whose brand intention is all about engagement, learning and development.  I checked and it was the first email I’d had from them.  The brand reality as I experienced it is simply arrogant and contemptuous.  Why would I now bother wasting more time and reading any further let alone respond. Meanwhile the Marketing and Finance Directors are wondering why their ROI isn’t looking good.

In a similar vein, another email arrives with the heading “Re: Our call tomorrow” .  At a quick glance scanning through emails that is one I ought to take a look at.  But no, it’s a sales pitch for an event, nothing to do with a call that I’ve set up with someone.  Presumptuos and arrogant again.  It makes me feel like they are trying to con me – and they did. I opened the email and so their click through rates will look great. But now far from believing they are as they say, the provider of the world’s leading conferences, my emotive reaction to their tactics just shot them in their foot.

 

Having a crystal clear brand proposition is essential. Sharing it with everyone around the business critical.  Organisations have competitors;  customers have both a choice and a voice. Having the governance to ensure that customers’ experiences match the intended ones should be treated as a matter of survival.


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

I’m Jerry Angrave, founder of Empathyce and an ex-corporate customer experience practitioner.  Since 2012 I’ve been a CX consultant and am also an official trainer for the CXPA’s CCXP exam.  If you’ve any questions about improving customer experience or CX professional development do please get in touch.  I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 or on email I’m [email protected]

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