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Customer Journey Mapping – as relevant and as possible as ever

The headline act of a Customer Journey Mapping programme was always the workshop.

A very visible, tangible demonstration of how an organisation is edging towards its customer-led goals. A group of colleagues coming together to share their views and ideas, learn more about their own business and going on to be active supporters of what you’re doing.

In today’s world though, booking a meeting room and having everyone turn up in person seems so “2019”. Two people in the last week have told me their journey mapping programme is on hold because of necessary restrictions and access to offices.

It’s not easy for anyone right now, I get that. Time, people and focus let alone budgets may not be on your side at the moment. Survival, resizing and restructuring may well be more at the front of your mind.

 

Customer Journey Mapping

 

But, if there’s any way your attention can turn to your customers, if you do nothing else in the name of Customer Experience give journey mapping a go and see where it takes you. Even half an hour with a couple of colleagues on Zoom, a notepad and a healthy dose of imagination is better than nothing.

You’ll leave with a better idea than when you started about your customers’ issues and what to do about them. And that, after all, is the purpose behind journey mapping and customer understanding.

To anyone who’s hesitant about running their first or next session, have faith that it can be done remotely. Believe me. Over the last few weeks I’ve had the pleasure of running several journey mapping workshops with a variety of companies, all online. Yes, we have to adapt but they’re just as productive as when we were all swapping anecdotes and thoughts in a glassy training room.

Our customers’ behaviours, what they’re thinking and how they feel have all been tested in recent months. So even if you did a journey map last year, while parts of it will be unchanged, some elements – the critical nuances for now – might well be different.

Not surprisingly, using a combination of conferencing platforms like Zoom and collaboration tools such as Mural (other, equally good ones are available), means the facilitation of the workshop itself needs modifying. The framework you use and questions you ask will be impacted by the number of people attending and how long each session lasts. Some may be watching Netflix on a tablet tucked behind their laptop. Keeping everyone involved will draw even further on your facilitation skills if you are to keep their attention.

But journey mapping has never been just about a ‘workshop’. While that session may now look and feel different, the process to prepare beforehand and then unlock the value afterwards remains largely unchanged and every bit as important.

That value is measured not just in terms of prioritising actions to fix things but in changing the culture to have a better balance of a customer-led, commercial focus. It shifts mindsets to always think about and discuss what it’s like to be a customer. It drives better cross-functional cooperation. It creates excitement and involvement in what you’re doing. It challenges the wrong behaviours and complacency. It moves people away from chasing the scores and implementing new tech for new-tech’s sake.

And it gives clarity about how to deliver your CX vision so more customers come back more often, they spend more and share the stories you want them to share.

It’s important stuff.

Just because we can’t all be together physically doesn’t mean journey mapping can’t still be effective, strategic and influential.

When customers’ expectations, needs, fears and hopes are changing as they have done in recent months, it’s as important now as it ever was.

Give it a go if it’s at all possible. Your boss as well as your customers will thank you for it.

I’d love to hear how you get on and please get in touch if you’ve any questions.

 

Jerry Angrave is Customer & Passenger Experience Director at Empathyce, a CX consulting and coaching company.

[email protected]     |     +44 (0) 7917 718 072     |     www.empathyce.com

Treating customers unfairly – savvy or naive?

 

Airlines around the world are communicating heavily in an effort to welcome us back. Understandably, they need the revenue and are enticing us with reconnected routes and reassurance about hygiene protocols. Like the rest of us they’ve been through a lot this year and sure, they’ve much to be proud of.

But the approach to refunds (or lack of) by some UK and European airlines is undermining that effort. Is it worth risking years of brand-building and the loss of passengers just when they’re needed the most? A false economy or is it calculated short-termism, a storm that just needs to be weathered?

It might be a genuine survival strategy but the way passengers are being treated, it feels more like opportunistic cash-flow management. In which case, do they know or even care about the impact it’s having on their brand and therefore the bottom line?

They are sending an “Open for business” message but hundreds if not thousands of customers are receiving a very different message: “We’ve got your money now stop bothering us. You’ll have it back when we’re ready“. One look at airlines’ social media posts wooing travellers back shows how their brand is anything but welcoming. Passengers respond not with “Oooh, thank you, that’s nice, I must book” but with a weary tirade of anger.

Still not being able to get their money back is one thing. Feeling ignored and being lied to, having expectations mis-managed, complex voucher processes and being unable to make contact in the first place are not the foundations of any good relationship.

Yet these emotions are being created by the same airlines who declare “We’re on your side, we’re in it together” and “If something goes wrong we’re here to help”.

Many comments online, as visible to the leadership team as to you and me, say the way they are being treated means they will never fly with that airline again. It’s Customer Experience in a nutshell. Airlines are simply gift-wrapping their customers and handing them over to competitors. I’m no business guru but I’d say that’s not the best outcome.

Thankfully there are some who do treat their passengers with the respect that a key source of revenue and salaries should be shown. The sharing of those stories sets the bar against which others are measured.

In the early days of this pandemic it was said many times that we will remember how companies treated their employees and customers. Our real character shows through in times of adversity. Adapt and work together to get through it or take advantage?

Months on and the continuing treatment of some means, unfortunately, it’s become another case study in proving that how you make your customers feel isn’t some fluffy, tree-hugging abstract concept; it’s an intentional business strategy with hard, commercial outcomes.

I’m sure they’ve done the numbers and know what they’re doing. Not everyone will complain, they will settle eventually and other passengers (the ones who don’t read the news) will be unaffected.

But dragging their feet on promised refunds on the one hand while spending huge Marketing dollars to get more passengers on the other doesn’t sit comfortably. It might be that it’s about silos doing their own thing, a leadership ego that wants to be the hero by squeezing every last drop out of this year’s cash-flow or a deliberate and necessary way to keep the business alive.

The risk though is they achieve quite the opposite because their number-crunching hasn’t taken account of the emotional impact of what they’re doing. They’ll take on a heavy cost in lost customers, new customers won’t like what they see, employee pride is deflated and brand reputation suffers just at a time when they need it all to be flying high.

 


 

Jerry Angrave is Customer & Passenger Experience Director at Empathyce, a CX consulting and coaching company.

[email protected]     |     +44 (0) 7917 718 072     |     www.empathyce.com

 

Is now an appropriate time to Spring-clean our Customer Experience programmes?

People in Customer Experience roles are an energetic, passionate bunch. They are also resilient and persevere. Nonetheless, in the last few days I’ve been approached by a couple of Customer Experience teams who are feeling a little lost right now. They were asking for examples of practical things they could be doing in these uncharted times.

Of course the wider context is that many friends and colleagues have been laid off, furloughed or have been assigned to other roles for the foreseeable future. It may, understandably, be the least of your or their priorities right now. Our collective health and well-being is what matters right now.

But, if you are in a Customer Experience role and your thoughts turn to making the best of a bad situation, I hope these suggestions may help a little. It’s based on my own experience and on what I hear others are doing. Please add your thoughts to the LinkedIn post on what else you are focusing on.

Customer engagement

There have been some great examples of how businesses are acknowledging that we’ve suddenly entered a very different and uncertain world. They are sincere and not making a thinly-disguised sales pitch. Your Sales or Marketing team may be under severe pressure to wring out every last revenue opportunity; if that’s the case at least get them to be very transparent and honest. We’re all customers in our own right and we’ll remember how we were treated through this period.

We’ll remember we felt in the UK when we heard the National Trust was opening the doors to its parks and grounds for free. It was a necessarily short-lived but hugely well-intended gesture. We appreciate supermarkets telling us what they’re doing and how we can help them help us. We doff our hat to people like Joe Wicks who give us exercise classes every morning for free. But we’ll also remember what we thought of Sports Direct when the leaderships team tried to make a case that they were essential and must stay open for business.

Employee experience

There are tough times all round at the moment. If you haven’t lost your own job, chances are you know someone who has. Sparks of positivity can easily get smothered in a blanket of uncertainty.

More than ever before we must look out for each other. A quick call, an email or text just to check-in. In the work context, keep spirits up by sharing stories, reliving examples of brilliant customer experiences. Keep talking about what made / makes your organisation different and special.

Draw out the positives from the current situation such as creativity and camaraderie but don’t ignore the signs of people who might be struggling.

Beyond that, engage as best you can, asking them what they need from you as leaders, what would make them (even) prouder, how would they improve communications and what tools, focus or information do they need to deliver the right customer experiences.

Review VoC and Metrics

Now is not the time for process audits disguised as customer surveys. It never has been. There are many positives to be coming out of this situation especially around humanity, kindness and creativity but if it helps rid us of pointless ‘surveys’ that’s no bad thing either. For most companies it’s not really practical any more to ask “How was it?” or “You’d recommend us, right?”

More so than ever before, customers have questions even if they are not buying.  We need to listen and listen-up well. How can you adapt your listening posts to ask customers what they need from you? How are you reviewing your understanding and reporting? If you’re not doing so already, close that loop; let customers know you’ve had their feedback and what you’re doing about it.

With one eye on the future, review your complete Voice of the Customer programme and think about what you ask customers, how you ask them and what you’ll do with what they tell you. Be clear on why you are asking any questions. Do you make your customers wade through 15 questions about income, postcode and their favourite film, before asking them what the experience was like and why, just to satisfy a hunger for data?

There may also now be an opportunity to set up that customer panel you’ve always wanted; another way of keeping customers engaged.

And once the CX Vision and Strategy is defined, will you carry on measuring the same stuff because it’s easy? Or, can you switch to measuring the things customers value the most and that are aligned to delivering on the strategy? Why measure advocacy rates to three decimal places when the strategic vision is, for example, all about making things more convenient and friendly? Why not plan to measure and report on those things aswell/instead? Is it a convenient time to shake off the obsession with the numbers and get the leadership team to focus instead on the qualitative drivers.

It might also be the time to address the persistent “what’s the ROI of customer experience?” question. Engage the boffins to see if they can calculate the correlation between better experiences, higher lifetime values and commercial performance indicators.

Personal development

Keeping match fit in terms of thinking and planning is essential right now. We need to hit the ground running when we come out of this or put ourselves in a prime position to secure a new role.

Look at what other companies are doing to stay engaged with their customers and learn from the good and the mistakes. There are plenty of resources, podcasts and discussion forums such as those from Ian Golding, Jeanne Bliss and the CXPA. And of course, CX competency coaching and for the CCXP exam is still available remotely if you’re looking for a professional qualification.

As CX professionals it’s essential we have a commercial leaning in our conversations and actions. So snuggle up to your Financial or Commercial team to see what their challenges are, how the business makes its money and what language they use. Share a virtual cup of coffee with a Programme Manager to see how best to get the customers’ perspectives into decision-making. Spend time with the analysts to understand how they turn data into insight so you’re better positioned to challenge their thinking and pre-empt questions you may get from the Board.

Stakeholder management

In a similar vein to the personal development, get in touch with the leaders of your organisation, colleagues in other functions or third-party partners you’ve always meant to engage with but always had an excuse not to.

Understand their role and challenges. Help them understand the value of having a focus on Customer Experience. Invite them to be part of your workshops and updates and welcome them into gang of internal CX champions.  Nurturing those relationships now will pay dividends in the weeks and months to come when initiating the connections may be harder to do.

Journey Mapping

If you’ve not done any journey mapping before it’s an insightful eye-opener and story-finder.  It can still be done remotely. It may lack the immersive nature of onsite workshops and ethnographic studies but the output will be better than doing nothing. It’s a great way for people across the business and partners to come together and learn more about their own organisation. Make sure that once you’ve looked at things from a customer persona’s perspective, you have the clarity of direction and governance to prioritise what should be done next.

If you’ve already carried out journey mapping, now is maybe the time to look at those micro-journeys or other personas. For example, an airport might look at what it’s like for a family to arrive at 3am in the pouring rain, what happens when bags are lost or flights are diverted. A housing association or local council might review the journey of someone who’s reported a faulty door lock. Or a SaaS company may map the journey of its own Customer Success managers.

CX Maturity Assessment

This takes a real step back from the day-to-day business to contemplate your customer centricity. Seek views from colleagues on whether they know what the CX vision is and whether they’re clear about the role they can play. If there’s not a CX vision then prepare one as part of the CX Strategy – how good do you want to be and how committed are you? What does that look like on a day-to-day basis? What will you always do and never do?

Is the brand promise to “put customers at the heart of everything we do” just convenient rhetoric we have no intention of, or ability to, deliver on?

It’s also worth reviewing your internal governance, the beating heart of your CX programme. Were the right people involved and did it have a strong mandate? Was it working effectively and cross-functionally in prioritising and assigning actions? Was it good at finding practical ways of sharing stories throughout the organisation and bringing it all to life internally? What leaderships behaviours were present or absent in supporting the customer-led goals?

Future planning

There’s clearly a crisis to get through first and it may seem a little odd to plan for a new normal when we’ve no idea quite what that will look like.

Nonetheless, history teaches us that we will recover and will be back up and running at some point. When that time comes, we don’t want to sit there looking at our competitors with envy and wishing we’d thought of that, wishing we’d made better use of our time. What can we do in future that is right for us and our customers? How can we change things and innovate in a way that means our competitors will be looking to us with envy?

The commercial reality is that the companies who stand the best chance of survival are not just the ones who are financially, strategically and operationally well-managed. They also have loyal customers and emotionally-engaging relationships. They empathise with how they fit into their customers’ lives and give customers no reason to go anywhere else.

There’s nothing to say something like the virus won’t hit again and there is no shortage of evidence to show the positive commercial impact of better customer experiences. So when the dust settles, organisations will look to have absolute clarity of direction and to strengthen the customer experience as a way protect themselves against any future such events. The Zappos mindset – “We’re in the people business, we just happen to sell shoes” is one that many more organisations will need to replicate in times to come.

 

It is not an exhaustive list but I hope it helps is some small way. Please add your thoughts about what else are you doing or plan to do between now and when things return to some kind of normality.

But as I said at the start, I’m very aware that many friends and colleagues are losing their jobs or changes at work mean much of this may be academic. My thoughts go out to you. We will get through it. I know that when we have to dig deep it’s surprising how deep we can go. In the coming days and weeks there will be opportunities to regroup, reset and reboot.

The global community of CX professionals is fantastic at sharing and caring and it’s great to know they are out there. In that spirit, if I can be a sounding board for any questions around customer experience do let me know – message me on LinkedIn or email [email protected]

 

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

 

 

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

Who hangs around longer: complacent employees or valuable customers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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]

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