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Will thinking like a retailer improve customer experiences?

“We need to think like a retailer”.   Really?

In listening to those who are looking to improve customer experiences, I’ve heard two very different opinions from the aviation industry this year on where the aspirations lie.   The airline: “We should think like a retailer who happens to run a fleet of aircraft”.   The airport:  “If you think like an airport you’ll never really understand your customers”.   As a passenger, I know which way of thinking I’d rather be on the receiving end of.024

To those organisations in any industry who aspire to think like a retailer (code for “sell more”), I have a suggestion.  Why stop there?  Why not have the aspiration to make your customer experiences so easy, consistent and cost-effective that it is the retailers who are the ones who look to you and say “We need to think like them”?

One of the biggest challenges we see in creating a truly customer-focused business is the lack of clarity among employees about the overall strategy.  Or, a brand that creates expectations but then has little robust structure to deliver what it promises.  Whatever market we operate in, an aspiration to improve is of course admirable.  But we need confidence in our own business model.  Surely, we don’t want to give our employees the impression that we don’t back ourselves so we’re going to act like someone else.  That message, intended or not, isn’t what will drive the right behaviours and engagement.

It’s a similar risk with searching for and emulating best practices carried out by competitors.  In reality, it’s never that straightforward but if we replicate what they are good at we will, by definition, only be the same as them.  And in today’s world, we need to be different and distinctive.  The bar of expectations is rising relentlessly so yesterday’s best practice quickly becomes today’s norm.  And it’s not always about the “Wow” moments – getting every basic element right every time is, for sure, a best practice that others will aspire too.

I hear a lot about the need to think like a retailer and I applaud the intent.  Retailers have some great experiences but they have a lot of very average ones too.  Yes, they sell stuff and most organisations are looking for ways to increase revenues.  But I’m still firmly of the view that while we can learn from others, it is critical to aspire to get the customer experience right for our own business first.  In doing so, we then become the one that everyone else looks to as the role model.

 

Creating the right customer experience is all about leading by example

To have any credibility when talking with others about how “customer experience” can improve a business, it’s an obvious understatement to say that leading by example – understanding their issues and what they value – is imperative.

And so hosting an event on the subject, quite rightly, sets the bar of expectations very high.

That’s the position Ian Golding and I were in this week in London when we held Custerian’s seminar on “Your journey to map their journey”.  In its simplest form, the aim is to share our knowledge about the strategic, operational and tactical side of customer experience so that attendees know what to do next, why and how in order to bring about quick but lasting change.

We always say that the right customer experiences and obsessive attention to the basics helps create the holy grail of differentiation – it was time to put our money where our mouth is and do things a little bit differently.WallaceSpace

In the week leading up to the seminar, I spoke with each delegate individually.  I wanted to understand more about their motivations for attending, why now was the right time, what their challenges were and what they wanted out of the day.  It meant that the seminar would only cover relevant ground.

A similar discussion happens in the weeks after the seminar;  I speak to, or visit, everyone who attended (with their teams if it’s appropriate) and talk about how they are getting on implementing what they learnt within their organisation.

But for the day itself, the last thing we wanted was a “turn up and be talked at” windowless conference in the bowels of an obscure hotel somewhere.  We’ve all been there and we all don’t like it.

Our location of choice was WallaceSpace in Covent Garden.  It’s an old chandelier factory but has been turned into the most fantastic venue – light and airy, calm but funky, relaxed but professional.  We could have found somewhere else, but our basic expectations are for a good environment in which people can learn and be thought-provoking.  Windows, fresh coffee, an energetic vibe, sofas for break-out sessions and friendly staff are not much to ask but are a lot to be without.  If they did an NPS survey on our delegates and us, they’d be getting 9s and 10s.me talking

At a pace everyone was comfortable with, we explored the Why, What and How of mapping customer journeys.  Why is customer experience important to a business strategy?  Attendees were shown the consequences of having – and not having – prioritised activity based on creating a clear line of sight from what the customer experience should be, though the customer strategy, brand strategy, business objectives and to the reason the business exists in the first place.

What do we do next? The middle section was the nuts and bolts of journey mapping; about proven methods, robust frameworks and reliable measurement to give fact-based insights about what needs changing.  And the final piece, How do we make change happen? looked at how to be organised with the right governance structure and examples of how companies are working internally to bring their customer experiences to life.

Yes, I’m blowing our own trumpet a little but it’s coming from a position of genuine pride in how we do what we do and not sales-led arrogance.  The feedback we had plays a better tune anyway, and so here are some of the comments (and not just because of the moleskin notepad and sweets we provided!)

“Enthused. Educated in a practical approach”  SD

“Excited to go back to base and spread the word”  RS

“Informative and a clear, concise strategy and framework on how to map the customer journey and the importance and benefits of doing so”  HT

“Content – spot on. Learned some great tips & techniques to help me embark on my own journey”  DH

“Felt inspired by the knowledge shared. Allowed me to think about the bigger picture and generate ideas”  GF

 

Did we lead by example? Well, these comments suggest we got a lot of things right but we’re also very aware that there’s always room for improvement as that bar of expectations edges ever higher.  The proof will be in the way of thinking and in the ability of these customer experience practitioners to go back to their office and understand the journeys they themselves and their company are on;  to understand the journey their customers and colleagues are on and then to talk with authority and credibility within and across functions to bring about the change their organisation needs.

And not least, there’s a huge opportunity to be recognised as the one who is the catalyst for creating greater value from having the right customer focus; not a bad conversation to have in the year-end performance reviews.

We’ll be running the seminar programme again soon so tell us if it’s something you’d be interested in.  But also let us know what you think about the best and worst events you’ve attended and why. It will be great to hear your thoughts on leading by example.

Jerry

+44 (0) 7917 718 072

www.empathyce.com

 

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…

The feedback on Customer Experience feedback

The process of gathering the right, usable customer feedback needs to be treated every bit as much as any other key touchpoint in the Customer Experience journey.

At a time where barely a day goes by without our customers being asked to give comments about at least one brand or another, it’s more important than ever to make sure that our survey is quick, clear and easy.

It’s not so long ago that when we were asked for customer feedback, we were happy to oblige; flattered that our opinion was being sought, happy to think we were helping make a difference.

Nowadays though, we are faced with a relentless torrent of surveys, a deluge that is at serious risk of diluting our willingness to spend time and effort understanding complex questions, giving subjective scores and thinking of constructive responses.

And so not only do feedback programmes have to work harder to unearth the actionable insights, the very mechanics are under the spotlight too. Calling customers on a Sunday afternoon, asking customers in-store to go online and leave feedback when they get home or sending “How did you get on?” survey forms at the time of the booking rather than after the holiday will at best garner lacklustre responses. At worst, it will damage relationships, brand reputation and the quality of decision-making.

For want of a better phrase, the “survey experience” should be understood and managed just like any other touchpoint in the customer journey. Particularly for service industries, it can be one of the few tangible points of contact. Make it a point of difference, not a nuisance.

I recently needed a roadside breakdown patrol to breathe life back into my car. Job done, and stood in the icy cold wind, I was asked to take a quick survey. The questions were supposed to be about my experience but in essence were really an audit of what they knew already; how long did you wait, did you need towing, did the patrol do a battery check and so on? When it came to the “how likely are you to recommend?” question, there was no “Why do you say that?” follow up.

“They never ask us what it’s really like to be out here” the patrol guy said, frustrated that although it will look like the metric-based targets will be safe, the fact that the call centre got my location and phone number wrong, keeping him and me out in the cold for longer, will pass “them” by.

The more customers give feedback, the more discerning they will become. Anything that makes them feel like it’s not worth it or that it won’t be listened to will be ignored. A wasted opportunity.

Already, we see that over 80% of unhappy customers don’t complain, they just choose a competitor next time. So knowing what it’s really like to be a customer is as precious as the willingness and ability to act on it.

We just need to make sure that when we draw people in to give us feedback, we don’t push them away as a result.

Jerry Angrave
Managing Director
Empathyce, the business of Customer Experience

+44 (0)7917 718 072
https://www.empathyce.com
[email protected]
@Empathyce

The (not-so subtle) differences between Customer Experience and Customer Service

You can see it in job titles, department names and in strategic planning sessions;  the terms Customer Experience and Customer Service are used liberally and are freely interchangeable.  Not surprising then, why I’m often asked “What’s the difference?  Same thing isn’t it?  Does it matter?”.

There’s a big difference.  And, if the future strength of the business is at stake, yes it does matter very much.  Of course, good Customer Service is essential – in essence that’s about what you offer and do for your customers or clients today;   Customer Experience meanwhile jumps to their side of the fence and understands how what you did today will affect what they do tomorrow.

All the “wow” and “magic moment” boxes of Customer Service may be ticked but without knowing what it really feels like to be a customer, a focus on Service alone and not Experience exposes a brand to unintentional consequences, oblivious to the real emotional and functional impact an action or a change will have on a customer.

So over the last few weeks I’ve tried to illustrate the point, using real-life situations to bring to life the key differences.  For example:

Customer Service is about what we do for our customers today.  Customer Experience is about what our customers will do for us tomorrow.

Customer Service is getting a geolocation text message in an airport. Customer Experience is being more concerned about hunting for a baggage trolley and then being charged a non-refundable £1 to use it.

Customer Service is what you say to your customers today.  Customer Experience is knowing what they say about it to family and friends over dinner tonight.

Customer Service is a brand promising “Here when you need us”.  Customer Experience is being charged to be put on hold when you call them.

Customer Service is practical; Customer Experience is memorable. 

Customer Service is having six ticket desks in a cinema foyer.  Customer Experience is seeing the long queue because only one is open and going for a meal instead.

Customer Service is sending a “Dear Valued Customer” letter.  Customer Experience is thinking “If I’m so ‘valued’ why don’t they use my name and why do they sign it just ‘Manager’?”

Customer Service is like leading a horse to water.  Customer Experience is the horse thinking “Nay, I was about to order a take-away latte”.

Customer Service is a polite builder. Customer Experience is them hosing down the driveway every day and giving neighbours dust sheets for their cars. 

Customer Service is a retail store being decorated for Christmas. Jolly. Customer Experience is a frustrating queue at the checkout because three staff are “busy” decorating. A priority? Humbug.

Customer Service is being given a feedback form. Customer Experience is “Blimey, the same questions about the same one-night stay from FOUR different sources?”

Customer Service is a bistro providing baby high-chairs. Customer Experience is being able to move it and set it up with one hand.

Customer Service is offering a more personalised service at a premium price. Customer Experience is then that sinking feeling when told to email “info”@…

Mind the gap between Customer Experience and Customer Service

Customer Service is having a reception desk. Customer Experience is how you feel about the business when the receptionist doesn’t smile or make eye contact.

Customer Service is a shiny new online help service.  Customer Experience is being perplexed at getting no response, or finding out it’s only open 9-5.

And so on.  You get the idea. Feel free to share your own examples – there is no shortage of them in day-to-day life…

______________
Jerry Angrave
Managing Director
Empathyce, the business of Customer and Client Experience
 
+44 (0) 7917 718072   |   [email protected]   |   www.empathyce.com
 
Empathyce helps business leaders and their teams to get the most out of their Customer and Client Experiences.  The business improvements as a result can include better decision-making because there’s a clear Customer Strategy; less duplication and better investment / resource allocation by acting on the right feedback and insight; better employee and stakeholder engagement by showing them what it’s really like to be a customer; and better financial results by giving robust governance to prioritise acting on the things that are creating – and destroying – the most value.
 
Twitter – @Empathyce
LinkedIn – http://uk.linkedin.com/in/improvecustomerexperiences
 

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
 

Q: The difference between Customer Service and Customer Experience? A: Emotion-driven behaviour.

We’ve all seen “Customer Service” and “Customer Experience” labels freely interchangeable in role descriptions, job titles and team functions.  They are seen as one and the same thing.

Does it matter? After all, it’s about “putting the customer at the heart of everything we do” (whatever that means in practice).  I’d argue it matters a lot;  they are very different disciplines with potential for a very different impact on the bottom line.

I’d suggest there are one or two crucial differences that may help.  For me, Customer Service is what we do for our customers and clients;  Customer Experience meanwhile is what that service really looks like to be on the receiving end of it.

And then there’s the difference in outcomes – Customer Service is generally tracked retrospectively by internal performance metrics while Customer Experience – functionally and emotionally – affects the way customers feel, think and behave next time.

A recent example brings the differences to life.

Buying a rail ticket online should be a straightforward transaction.  Indeed, they have a comprehensive website, a booking engine that caters for all needs, navigation that is (for the most part) intuitive and a helpline in case there are any questions or problems.  Lots of Customer Service boxes ticked then.

So, feeling reassured and confident, I book a short day-return journey.  I’m then asked for my seat preferences.  Great.  Easy to do business with.   On to the payment page though and I notice a couple of personalised messages:  I must travel off-peak and there are no seats available.  Uh-oh.  Confidence turns to anxiety and confusion.

I know I selected to travel off-peak, so why are they making an issue of it here?  Worse, there is no information about exactly what times are peak or off-peak.  And they are happy for me to pay yet there are no seats and no alternatives offered.  What’s that about?

Maybe I was too fussy in my choice so I start over (there’s no option to amend what I’ve done so far).  Same result.  After the third time, confusion morphs into frustration so I call the helpline.  What do I get?  Charged a handsome rate, back to the beginning and a voice-activated question and answer system. After 20 minutes battling with the computer I’m finally told I’m being put through to someone who can take my payment.  But then, not only is it such a bad line I can’t hear what they’re saying but the price has suddenly gone up.  Once again we get into seat availability and unclear cost options.  Honestly, how hard can it be?

Frustration becomes exasperation becomes anger.  But that quickly evaporates when I hatch a cunning plan, wrestle back control and smile smugly as I hang up and go back online to book a bus.

The Customer Service was in place, with all good intentions and yet the reality was that it produced a range of emotions and took too much effort for me to become a customer, let alone a frequent traveller or an advocate.

The brand is what the brand does, as they say and experiences don’t always mirror what the Customer Service manual says should happen.

So if we’re not confident we know what today’s customers will say about their experience over dinner tonight, we should at the very least not assume that Customer Service and Customer Experience are one and the same thing.

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
 
 
 

Customer Experience needs to ask: “What’s the real impact of this change on our customers, now and long-term?”

The headline says “United Drops Early Boarding For Families”.

I’m happy to be corrected but, as Vivian, Julia Roberts’ character in Pretty Woman said: “Big mistake.  BIG.  HUGE!  I have to go…”.

Who wins as a result of this change?  United say it’s to reduce the number of boarding phases.  In theory that should cut down on turnaround times and therefore costs.  I’m guessing there are operational and commercial benefits involved because it’s not clear to me who else will benefit.

Leaving aside the debate about whether those with premium or standard tickets should board first, frequent business travellers and those without kids may initially welcome the news.  After all, airlines get a bad rap from passengers who are not able to stake their claim to what space is rightly theirs in the overhead bins because it’s been stolen by an excess of toys, nappies, food, spare-clothes and car-seats.

The solution is, quite simply, to board together.  So if we were to carry out some high-level customer journey mapping (ie give it a bit of thought) what does that experience look like from a passenger’s perspective?  Hmm.

Even with well-behaved kids and a relatively smooth journey, by the time parents get to the gate they will have endured the packing, the journey to the airport (“Are we there yet?”), the car-park, the bags falling off trolleys, keeping the kids occupied at the check-in line, finding where to go next, making sure they’re fed and watered, waiting again to go through security, one of the kids needs the toilet and then finding somewhere to pitch up in Departures while keeping one eye on the kids and one eye on which gate to trek to.

And that’s before we consider what it’s then like as a single parent with kids who are totally out of routine and exhausted or for those who have varying forms of Special Needs.

At least actually getting settled into the seats was relatively straight-forward  Until now.  Will families really choose an airline that says to them they now need to scoop up all their things and kids and run the gauntlet with everyone else, hoping that the seat allocations are error-free and their toddler doesn’t get clouted on the head by a bag squeezing past.  Flying with kids is a challenge at the best of times so adding another layer of anxiety and uncertainty isn’t the most effective customer loyalty scheme I’ve seen.  On top of that, most parents I know are very aware that kids are not everyone’s favourite in confined spaces and will genuinely be concerned that by holding everything up as they walk slowly to the aircraft it only makes the situation worse.

For those without kids, it doesn’t get much better either.  To have young kids walking from the gate to aircraft while everyone is in more of a rush is bound to slow things up.  At best it’s frustrating, at worst dangerous.  In the process of sitting down, it naturally takes longer for a parent to sort out things for their children so not only is it likely that they will end up with less overhead space than they are entitled to but everyone will get tangled up and end up even more frustrated.

Going back to United and what’s in it for them.  They might raise revenue from those families and travellers who can and want to pay for pre-boarding or to have everyone sat together.  I understand why core and ancillary revenue is so vital but when those things are perceived to be freely available at the next check-in counter along the line, I’m still not sure it will offset the damage from lost customers long-term.  It’s certainly not strengthening the brand positioning to be “the airline customers want to fly”.

Meanwhile, their competitors must be quietly humming away the theme tune to Pretty Woman…

Jerry Angrave
Customer Experience Consulting
www.customerexperience.uk.com
[email protected]
+44 (0) 7917 718 072

Customer Experience says: If I leave, don’t slam the door. Leave it open so I can come back.

Funny things, relationships.

For most organisations, that “relationship” has the same attributes, strengths and challenges as our own personal liaisons.   There is of course a mutual benefit, but put a customer’s hat on and while the basic requirements of trust, respect, empathy and support are still there, the relationship becomes more of a convenient association.

Customer Experience Management (CEM) accepts that from time-to-time, for whatever reason and for however long, we switch to try out what a competitor has to offer.  Any loyalty is to our wallets and our own agenda first.  Yet organisations easily mistake inertia for loyalty.

So if for some reason the relationship gets broken, the organisation is not going to help itself by reacting like a moody teenager who thinks they’ve been jilted for an alien slime-ball, shouting “Well, I never valued you anyway!”.  To mix metaphors, throwing dolls out of the pram will put the skids under the relationship quicker than a dog on wet lino.

But that’s what it can feel like as a customer.  A case in point, as experienced by your erstwhile correspondent very recently.  Mobile phone contract due for renewal in two months.  After 6 years with one supplier, the decision is to change.  Proof, if it was needed, that even those who give high customer satisfaction scores can switch.

The instructions on how to back out of a contract are hard to find (a coincidence?) but eventually it’s just a matter of giving 30 days’ notice.  Fine.  Email sent and confirmation of the PAC number comes back with final date.  Then the current supplier calls but because the smooth “Please don’t go, we really value you” patter doesn’t change things, the conversation turns sour.

It’s pointed out that the ‘how to leave’ section of the website was virtually undetectable.  “What did you expect?” comes the incredulous reply.  Ok, so now we know where we stand.  Any thought that I would happily consider them next time were fading fast.  And that was just the beginning.

They didn’t offer a reminder that the bank payment details need changing.  On the day the contract expired, they didn’t send an SMS giving me an hour’s notice that the connection will disappear. They didn’t say that the handset would be locked, preventing any other supplier’s SIM card working.  They therefore also kept hidden the fact that to unlock the handset needed someone in-store to send an email to someone at head office who would email the unlocking instructions – they couldn’t do it themselves – with an SLA of 48 hours.  “So, my phone is dead and you knew that would happen all along?”,  “Er, yeah”. (Arghh!).

And until then, it was all going so well.  But because they showed a complete lack of respect, empathy and support it will be of no surprise that whatever “relationship” we had is now over.  I know how important it is to stop customers leaving, I get that, but those unnecessarily high barriers, both emotional and physical, were just too much.

We’re an item no more – after that experience we never will be.  And that’s a shame.  It didn’t have to end that way.

Jerry Angrave
Customer Experience Consulting
www.customerexperience.uk.com
[email protected]
+44 (0) 7917 718072

Customer Experience: in-house teams must lead by example

The first rule of Customer Experience?  Understand what it’s really like to be a customer. Really understand.

Not just “What is your score for customer satisfaction?” but more along the lines of “How did what we do make you feel and how will that affect what you do next time?” or “What will you say about your experience over dinner tonight?”.  All good – and the right – insight to create better results for everyone concerned.

But when was the last time the in-house Customer Experience team, or those who are taking CE under their wing, were mapping a journey of what it’s like to be one of their own, internal stakeholders?  After all, even with all the most perceptive insight in the world, if it’s going to be used to change things, it will take willing co-operation from all corners of the organisation.  And how well do those in the team keep up with latest trends, best practice and benchmarking of their own competencies?

The understandable day-to-day focus is on what’s happening out there on the front-line.  However, for in-house Customer Experience teams and customer “champions”, they need the confidence and leadership to follow their own advice – hold up that mirror and find out what it’s really like to work with them within the organisation;  how do they make stakeholders feel and therefore behave.  What’s their internal ‘brand’ reputation?  Are they credible in their own right or able to call the shots just because the CEO is on-side?  Can they prove the economic benefits or are they seen as a fluffy side of Marketing?

Charged with leading the agenda of what is a relatively new discipline they need the rest of the organisation to “get it”, to be enthused and motivated to change things that may not be in their own personal scorecard.

Internal stakeholders and suppliers are to the in-house team what customers are to the business.  One won’t work without the other.  Customers don’t want you to turn up late because you’d stopped on the way to pick up a coffee, nor do your internal customers.

Against a backdrop of a commercial world that is still largely governed by short-term sales targets, margin protection and cost reduction, the in-house teams need to have the right leadership skills to bring cross-functional teams – previously worlds apart – together.  They need to be able to navigate the politics of crashing other agendas, influencing investment decisions and resource allocation.  They need to dispel the myths around Customer Experience.  They need to get metric-driven organisations to start thinking about customer emotions; easier said than done for sure, but it can be done.

Most importantly, they need everyone on board.  Not just the Product, Marketing, Operational and Sales teams but Finance, IT and HR too.

As Albert Schweitzer once said: “Example is not the main thing in influencing others; it is the only thing”.

Of all the ‘customer’ journeys to manage this is both one of the most important and, happily, one over which they have most design control.  Know how to lead by example and turn stakeholders into real advocates for Customer Experience.

Jerry Angrave
Customer Experience Consulting
www.customerexperience.uk.com
[email protected]
+44 (0) 7917 718072

Customer Experience: listen to the silence of the customer

If ever there was a statistic to make us sit up and take notice, for me this is that stat:  “96% of customers who are unhappy don’t complain“.  96%! Frightening.  And it gets worse.  “Of those, 90% will just walk away and not come back”.

When businesses set out to build a branded, differentiated customer experience they will often search for the silver bullet; that single, elusive crowning glory that will set them apart from everyone else for ever.  True, such aspirations are good at galvanizing an organisation behind a common goal but the reality is that the starting point needs to be a broad and strong foundation of many smaller experiences that just get the basics right.

Understandably, most of the information for what to get right comes from the root cause analysis of complaints and operational data.  Investment and resources are directed accordingly and all being well, the number of complaints starts falling.

But just fixing the underlying causes of complaints doesn’t have as big an impact on customer numbers and their value as it might.  That’s because, generally, the things that are complained about get prioritised.  If fixing complaints are the foundation blocks for a Customer Experience programme, then addressing this potentially destructive layer of niggles and frustrations is the bedrock on which those foundations should sit.

So, we have a rich seam of things that don’t go as customers would want, which are significant enough to make them try elsewhere next time but not so significant as to warrant putting fingers to keyboards and to complain.  It might be about phone calls to a service centre that doesn’t answer the phone.  It might be a shop assistant who doesn’t smile.  Surprise at the final cost.  Things that are easily fixed but that have a big emotional impact on customers.  That in turn drives their behaviour next time. The silent customers then, voting with their feet and loyal only to their wallet. Gone.

And yet those problems are unintentionally left to fester because people are complaining about other things.  What we need to know is what our customers from today say to each other when they sit down for dinner tonight.  When they tell the tale of what is was really like to be a customer, is that story the one we want and expect them to tell?

Customer insight about what it's really like to be on the receiving end of our service

Wanted: to know what our customers tell each other that they don’t tell us

Tracking down that level of qualitative information isn’t without challenge but it is well worth the effort.  Research that asks customers what they want will give the proposition teams ideas for bells and whistles.  But knowing what niggles customers will show where finite resources need to focus on in the short-term to improve experiences, loyalty and therefore revenue streams.

To complain takes effort and many feel companies don’t deserve to be helped if they can’t get such basics right.  In today’s world where the customer is in control, and whose bar of expectations is rising all the time, customers are rightly less tolerant to anyone who shows them a lack of respect by not “bothering” to reach a minimum standard.

They might be the small, sometimes “fluffy” things and not the single shiny silver bullet – that will come in time – but left unchecked these corrosive issues may as well be bullets being shot in the brand’s own feet.

Jerry Angrave

Customer Experience Consultant

+44 (0) 7917 718 072
www.customerexperience.uk.com
[email protected]