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Customer experience culture: Ford’s perspective

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

road to success no shortcuts

There are no shortcuts on the road to cultural change

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

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The future of airline passenger experience

The last two years have seen big steps forward in the airline passenger experience.  Some airlines doing great things in the name of creating a sustainable business. Others appear to be wedded to a get-rich-quick strategy.  So it’s not surprising that some have customers who help spread the good word while others feel they are been treated with contempt.  

 

But both make money, so which is more important – long-term survival or short-term P&L?  Different strategies for different airlines, but there is one common thread that is treated very differently: people. Or as they are known in some circles,“revenue generators”.

Last week I had the pleasure of once again being part of Terrapinn’s World Low Cost Airline Congress.  That the name of the event evolved this year into the Aviation Festival is testament to huge shifts within the industry even in the very recent past.Airline passenger experience

Only two years ago the mood in the airline sector appeared dark. It was distracted by existential challenges of economic pressures, merger activity and geopolitical forces.  Few were talking about customers let alone measuring what is was like to be one.  The focus remained on process efficiency, cost and short-term survival.

Forward a year and 2014 felt more positive.  It seemed that every conversation and presentation now contained reference to people, passengers or customers.  Yet while something customery needed to be done, it wasn’t entirely clear exactly what or how.

This year though, things moved on again with airlines and suppliers embracing the concept of passenger experience.  Maybe a more stable economy and lower fuel prices have helped move the spotlight.  But, so the theory goes, by aligning the business strategy, operations and partners with what customers value most, passengers will come back next time, spend more and tell their friends to do the same.

For airlines passenger experience is a sound business philosophy, neatly illustrated by two of the industry’s heavy-hitters.

 

Forward thinking for forward bookings

Ryanair has won awards for its “Always Getting Better” programme.  In a move unthinkable until very recently, Michael O’Leary put passenger experience at the top of his agenda when delivering the latest financial results to the markets. And CMO Kenny Jacobs talked last week about the focus on passengers going beyond an initiative to become a lasting cultural ethos.  It will move Ryanair from, in his words, being the baddest to the biggest and best.  Letting others make mistakes gives the airline what Jacobs, with a mischievous smile, calls its 4th-mover advantage.

It’s fair to say that over at Virgin Atlantic, they have enjoyed a longer history of benefiting from doing what customers appreciate.  That’s not to say they are taking their foot off the gas. Moving on from using Google Glass to enhance its experience for Upper Class passengers, the airline’s dispatch team are using smart-watches to improve efficiency of turn-around times and communication with customers.

They embody the test-learn-refine approach, happy to see where a new piece of technology might lead them.  If it’s down a dead-end route, so be it but without that culture they will have no foundation upon which to differentiate their experience or operations.

So in contrast to those who are doing some great things with culture and experiences, it was still a surprise to hear one airline doggedly beating the ‘grab every penny’ drum. To name them will serve little purpose but you will know them. I admire any organisation who has a clarity of proposition, though the explanation of their strategy sits less comfortably. To quote one of their senior executives: “We don’t look at what customers want. We look at what they are prepared to pay for”.

Least-cost processes and inflexible policies are then built rather than experiences. Meals (when paid-for) appear to meet approval but passenger feedback suggests that is a superficial and money-making priority compared with the things that should be a priority:  long queues at check-in, dirty aircraft and unfriendly staff.

This airline and many suppliers talk of passenger experience because it seems to be the fashionable thing to do rather than be a way of thinking.  The reality is that they already give their passengers an experience but because the driving forces remain revenue per passenger, operational efficiency and spreadsheets full of metrics, those experiences – whether deliberate or unintended – are not the ones that win favour.

Are they getting in their own way? Maybe it’s a deliberate, successful short-term strategy of survival and they will worry about next year, next year. Or will they see the balance that Ryanair are working towards as something to emulate?

Only they know the strategy, but passengers know what they’ll do next time.

 

What do passengers say to each other?

I’ve recently conducted some research into what passengers say to each other about airlines.  Increasingly, whatever we are buying, we look to see – and are influenced by – what the experience of other customers has been.  It’s no different when we choose which airline to fly with.too much effort

For this sector though, one factor shone through as being the biggest single reason why passengers rave about a particular airline or warn others to give them a wide berth; people.

Whether a positive or negative experience, a third of passengers cited the attitude and helpfulness of people as the reason for the good or poor experience.  In the positive camp, it was all about the cabin crew, attentive and friendly. When things went wrong however, it was people outside the aircraft who were at the root of the problems – ground crew, contact centres and service desks.  As passengers, we do not know nor do we care whether those roles are in-house or sub-contracted out. Whatever the clever strapline says, it’s the airline’s brand in their hands.

 

The future is already here

David Rowan, Editor of Wired magazine, proved at this year’s event that the future is not something that we can wait until tomorrow to get ready for.  Flying cars exist today.  Astronauts in the International Space Station are emailed instructions to make tools they didn’t know they’d need by using an onboard 3D printer. And tetraplegics can use brainwaves to guide a robot to help them drink.

Yet in 2015 we still have airlines with grumpy employees, slow and inflexible processes and scruffy aircraft.  Other markets outside aviation are moving fast and they are the ones who set our expectations as passengers about what a good experience should be like.  It doesn’t have to be “wow” or expensive;  if it’s empathetic it will be profitable.

There is clearly of a sense of optimism about the future for the industry and there are many airlines doing great things.  It’s a future that will be no less challenging but one where a genuine focus on passenger experiences will help secure a stronger future for load factors, revenue and forward bookings.

So for those who still don’t get it, beware the economic upturn because that will simply prise open the gap even further between the airlines that keep passengers, partners and investors coming back and those who simply run out of options. And passengers.

 


Thank you for your interest in this post about PaxEx.   I share these thoughts simply in the hope it will stimulate some thought about the consequences (intended and unintended) of how your business treats its own customers or helps others with their customers.

I’m Jerry Angrave, a Certified Customer Experience Professional, independent consultant and authorised trainer for the CCXP accreditation.  As founder and managing director of Empathyce, I’ve worked for or with organisations in the aviation and travel, retail banking, utilities, legal services and pharmaceutical industries across Europe and in New Zealand.

If you’ve any question on the post or on customer experience in general, please feel free to get in touch.  I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718072 or by email at [email protected]

 

 

 

 

Customer experience reveals segmentation limits

By applying a little customer experience scrutiny to traditional segmentation models we see their limitations. Being more empathetic with real people rather than grouping customers with similar profiles helps turn successful short-term activity into a differentiated, more profitable and sustainable business.

 

When creating a segment there is by definition an assumption that we can find round pegs to put in the round holes we make.  We profile customers into a group that allow us to predict that they will respond in the same way to the same messages. They have similar behaviours, similar lifestyles, similar needs.  And, by and large, that approach works – but it could be so much better.Stress-testing customer experiences reveals flaws elsewhere

The principles of customer segmentation have been the bedrock of marketing activity for decades. They are used to design new customer experiences and spawned an industry where sales leads are now created scientifically by analysing vast amounts of data in the name of customer lifetime value.

The problem is therefore two-fold. On the one hand, traditional approaches to segmentation risk retaining an inward-looking business-centricity around one question: “How can we sell more?”.  Secondly, segmentation models are easy to replicate by competitors and are therefore not driving the differentiated and better experiences that are key to business survival.

That step, to move beyond the same segmentation principles as our competitors requires a different perspective;  that of the customer experience and therefore – not surprisingly – the customer.

Whichever segment a customer falls into, and let’s remember while reading this that we’re all people and we’re all customers, it is irrelevant when we’re dealing with a company.  What matters to me as a customer is that I get done what I need to quickly, easily and in a way that makes me feel I would do it all again if I had to.

Today, it’s much less about how many kids I have, which postcode I live in, whether I run my own business, what products I’ve bought previously or how I spend my spare time.

As people we all have life going on around us when we interact with a business.  It is the one small window a company has to make the right impression.  I’ve worked in and with large corporates where there is (sometimes unintentionally) a real belief that the customer’s life revolves around them.

There are over 525,000 minutes in a year. More than half a million of them.  And with many companies we do business with, they are only getting a handful of the most precious of commodities that we possess.  As customer we want to make the most of them, get things sorted when we need to and move on.  By their actions, the impression many businesses give is that customers are never far away, that customers will amble into their world, drift around their processes and then tell everyone how great it was.  That’s not the real intention but that’s often how it feels.

How do we move things on from a business driven by segmentation to one that thrives by giving the right experience?  One way to really understand what it’s like to be a customer is to (get the CEO to) become a customer and stress-test those experiences and show what it can really be like. For example:

 

  • Go without sleep for 24 hours then try and buy your product or ask a question. You’ll soon find out how easy things really are
  • Five minutes before an important meeting ask someone to look for the number and make a ‘quick’ call to your own business with what should be a straight-forward query
  • Ask someone, or put yourself in the mindset of someone, who has depression, recently had a close family bereavement or struggles to comprehend instructions and feel the impact of unempathetic employees, processes that treat people like widgets or a myopic quest to close the sale at all costs
  • Walk into one of your stores knowing that you’ve only got a couple of minutes left on your parking ticket, tell the employee and see what happens
  • Try to use your products and services while sat on your own in a wheelchair.  Then try it with a blindfold on or one arm tied behind your back.
  • Give each of the directors a task that a customer might do and make them do it irrespective of their schedule within the next 24 hours – it’s only what we as customers have to do.

 

I wrote recently about how companies can learn from those with physical or mental disabilities.  Organisations will see a benefit in all their customer experiences and therefore commercial results by stretching the thinking to understand better the world of customers who have, or care for those who have, disabilities.

It’s the same here.  Some scenarios may rarely happen but the point is that taking a genuine customer perspective and building experiences, processes and communications around that rather than limited segmentation models, experiences that work at the margins will be brilliant at the core.  It shows where the weaknesses are and where opportunities for making the right changes lie.

The insights that get flushed out help bring the reality of what customers experience to life for those who need to see and hear it. A great example I came across recently was a customer experience lead who wanted to drive the message home about the difference between what the brand promised and the appalling wait times in the contact centre.  Her Executive meeting started then immediately and to the surprise of all present was put ‘on hold’.  She played a recording of the music customers hear for the average time they hear it when they try to call to buy, or need help.  Uncomfortable? Yes.  Brave? Absolutely.  Impactful? Without question.  And in the kind of scenarios we’ve talked about here, even more effective at inspiring change.

It’s a bit like shooting for the stars if you want to get to the moon.  Segmentation will take a business so far.  But building experiences based on genuine empathy will ensure that when customers need you most, or simply they interact on a routine basis, there’s a much greater chance that the way it’s done will keep them coming back and telling others to do the same.  And that’s what it’s all about.

 


If you’d like to know more about this or any other strategic or tactical aspect of customer experience do please get in touch – I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 or email [email protected].  My background is as a CX practitioner in the corporate world.  That’s the foundation for me being an empathetic customer experience consultant.  I also run workshops and speak about customer experience at events across Europe.  I’m a Certified Customer Experience Professional and a judge at the UK Customer Experience Awards.ja speaking

Thank you, I hope you found the post interesting and thought-provoking, and please feel free to get in touch or add your own views below.

Jerry Angrave, CCXP


 

 

Voting for customer experience, one small step at a time

The build-up to this week’s election in the UK has been rooted in uncertainty. If the media reports are to be believed, no single party has been persuasive enough to win over the backing of a majority for the changes they believe in. Time will tell.  It also provides topical food for thought about the role of the customer experience professional in influencing change.

 

For those leading and managing customer-led change it can be a daunting prospect. Understanding what to do and how to do it is one thing; convincing others is quite another. Metric-obsessed stakeholders, divisions that operate  with seemingly no common objectives and teams that should but don’t talk to each other are just some of the regular barriers.

Finding a little, genuine, inspiration is hard to come by. Books, budgets and “We put customers first” posters don’t change things.  People, attitudes and belief do.  And more often than not the biggest changes start with the smallest steps; people sharing their passion.books people

In my job as a customer experience consultant I get to meet many people who are pushing the agenda forward with one hand while having to pull the organisation along with the other. One example in particular stands out.

A global organisation that generates annual revenues in excess of $40 billion became complacent about its big numbers.  Unintentionally, it put increased competition and disenfranchised customers into its blind spot. Cutting margins to sell more and aggressive M&A activity only mask the underlying issues. But the passion of one of its 75,000 employees is bringing about a huge change, one that is making the company redefine and renew relationship with customers it thought it knew so well but in reality was clinging on to them by a thread.

How? Rather than try and change everything all at once, a series of small steps is leading to a giant leap compared to where they were. One individual, armed with passion, knowledge and evidence about what an authentic focus on customers can achieve commercially.  He engaged people close to him and showed how customer experience thinking can help them achieve their own objectives. He initially built a small group of highly engaged people at all levels who then in turn shared the belief about what the right changes could bring with their stakeholders.

From there, the engagement spread using sometimes brutally uncomfortable customer feedback as the catalyst. It’s just the start, but that company is changing its own culture, it is actively immersing its employees across many countries in customer experience and revising its activity plans.  If an organisation has personality, this one is showing real signs of the passion and belief of the individual who started the change.  It is starting to bring about the right changes effectively and efficiently rather than doing as much “stuff” as it can in the hope that a proportion of it lands ok.

One voice, with real belief can make massive changes with the momentum it creates. One other timely example comes from this week’s election.   The political colours of my home town Cheltenham have at various times been Conservative blue or Liberal yellow. But not the red of Labour. Having lived there most of my life I cannot even remember seeing a red poster stuck in the front window of any house at any election. Until now, due to the passion and belief of one person about doing what he believes is the right thing.

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The party is irrelevant; the change it represents is significant

Paul Gilbert is CEO of a successful management consultancy showing in-house lawyers around the world how to fulfill their potential and how to be better business people. But this week, Paul also steps up to be counted as the Labour party’s candidate to be Cheltenham’s MP.  As an aside, his politically agnostic post here about why voting is about us rather than a specific party is well worth a read.

This is not a blog to promote one party over another.  It is about having the confidence in doing what is right that leads to the first small signs of change.  Even Paul would admit that based on past performance the party HQ statisticians will say a victory is highly unlikely.  But in a population that looks in one direction he has managed to get some to look at things in a different way. It started with one small step; to simply talk about what he believed in and why.  His generous, self-depreciating approach hides one of the sharpest minds and the empathetic way he communicated made people sit up and take notice. As a result, he became a parliamentary candidate for the town and such is his passion that strangers are now happy to advertise to the world that they will vote for him.  Don’t get me wrong, we are not about to see a political upheaval.  The signs appearing might be few in number and small in size but they are a metaphorical sign that as daunting as changing other people’s own beliefs may be, it is possible.

In the coming days and weeks we may hear a lot more about the Citizen Experience as the election events unfold. In the meantime, the rest of us don’t need to convince a whole country that voting for customer experience is the right thing to do; if we share the passion and belief, big changes can start to happen, little step by little step.

What are your thoughts on leading the very beginnings of change?

Jerry


 

 

 

There’s no need to measure customer effort

Do we need to measure customer effort? The presence of any effort should be enough to set alarm bells ringing.  Knowing a score out of 10 or tracking a percentage may give KPI-focused colleagues a degree of comfort but that can also be an excuse to defer remedial action on the basis that “It’s not as bad as it could be, yet“.
Customer effort

If it feels wrong it probably is

Measurement of the right customer experiences in a way that fuels a rolling programme of improvement is, of course, essential.  To measure customer effort is to monitor one of the symptoms of our customer experiences but it is nonetheless very challenging to get right.  Setting up reliable and timely surveys can be a complex task but by changing the mindset there is another option for organisations looking to head down the customer effort path: simply believe that any effort is too much effort.  And the biggest clues about whether there is too much effort are often much closer than we think.

When we’re ill we don’t need a thermometer reading to tell us we have a temperature.  When it rains we don’t need to know how many millimetres fell to tell us we got soaked.  And we don’t need a metric to tell us that a customer experience is more effort than it should be.  We know when things are wrong, we have the signs and we build the processes; we don’t need to measure it to know it’s there.

Customers will tell us about the causes of complaints, niggles and gripes.  The operations and IT teams will be asked to build manual work-arounds.  Processes to fix recurring issues are created.  I recently worked with a software manufacturer who took real pride in helping customers when things go wrong or happened more slowly than expected.  What they hadn’t grasped was that the reason they had to bend over backwards all the time was because their original proposition was flawed and made it a real chore for their customers to do business with them.

If there is an element of effort then there is already a problem. It doesn’t matter what the scale or metrics say. If things could be easier for customers then there are commercial decisions to be made. Why is not easier? Are we happy to put customers through that and keep our fingers crossed that it is not, or will not become, a competitive disadvantage? A company that doesn’t bother to put the effort in itself will simply transfer that effort to customers with inevitable consequences.

By way of example, I recently flew from London to Warsaw to speak at a customer experience conference. I was impressed with the airport, Heathrow’s relatively new T2. It was quick and easy, clean and friendly. It didn’t need to be any more than that.  I got lucky on the flight too, a new 787 Dreamliner which was half empty. So far so good. It reminded me of Amazon’s perspective that the best experience is no experience. Zero effort.

Measure customer effort

Good news – suitcase is found. Bad news – zips broken, padlock missing and a whole heap of effort awaits

But when I went to pick up my bag from the luggage carousel it wasn’t there. The world has greater problems on its mind but for me at that time, late at night and with no clothes for my presentation in the morning other than what I stood in, it wasn’t what I needed.

I accept (but I shouldn’t) that bags do go missing.  But lost bags are obviously a highly regular occurrence judging by the way the process and form-filling swung into action. The very presence of that process should be mirrored by an experience that is empathetic and minimises the impact on the passenger.

There were no instructions though about what happens next, no empathy to the position I’m in.  Next morning I present my keynote in the same clothes but at least have an opening story at my and the airline’s expense.

Maybe the problem is that there are too many stakeholders, or rather a lack of communication between them.  When I returned to Heathrow the next night it took an hour to drive just to the exit of the main terminal car park. The security guys explained that the cause was roadworks on the access roads, which happen every night at the moment and so too does the ensuing chaos.  If the people who have an impact on the customer experience talked to each other they wouldn’t need to ask me how my parking experience was and they could manage expectations at the very least.

Fast forward a few days and my bag is returned home. My relief was short lived as the lock had been prised apart.  The zips are damaged beyond repair, the padlock is missing and the bag has obviously been opened. I contact the airport but get no apology, just a reply blaming the airline and a link to the airline’s contact details. Except that it’s a list of all airlines who fly out of that airport and the contact details are simply their web addresses.

Thus starts a lengthy process to try and find out who I need to talk to, how I can contact them and what information they need from me. The airline I flew with has an invalid email contact address on its website that bounces back. Not helpful.  There are then so many processes and “ifs” and “buts” that I’m now feeling like it’s too much effort to make a claim.too much effort

They shouldn’t need to measure the customer effort.  There is enough evidence internally without having to ask their customers what they are like to do business with.  They shouldn’t need to because they have designed processes that – sometimes unintentionally – put more effort onto the customer. And that should be an alarm bell ringing loudly enough without the need to know how many decibels it is.

As far as my bag is concerned, I might decide to give in and put it down to a bad experience because it’s neither time nor effort well spent.  Cynics might say that’s what they want, to make the experience so difficult that people don’t bother.  It will keep their costs down after all and keep the wrong processes working perfectly.

However, what I can do with virtually no effort at all is to choose another airport / airline combination next time.  For them, that’s a lot more costly.

 


 

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The power of unexpected customer experiences

The environment in which we go about about our daily lives tends to be a familiar one.  For better or worse, we generally know what to expect.  We have in-built mechanisms to signal the presence of the unexpected and the absence of the expected.  

It’s the same for our experiences as customers.  I want to highlight two very recent examples in the interests of showing what is possible and what should be impossible.  Let’s start with the latter, a situation that should never be allowed to arise.Improve customer experiences

The coastline at the most south-western tip of Cornwall is stunning and so to find a bistro-cafe right on one of the glorious sunny beaches seemed like holiday-time well spent.  It wasn’t cheap but staff were friendly, the coffee was fresh and the setting was picture-perfect.  The kids insisted we went back the next day to try a different flavour of ice-cream and given the previous day’s experience, their pleas fell on receptive ears.  Except it was like a totally different place.  Some staff were the same but others were different and yet the atmosphere was decidedly rushed, we felt we were an inconvenience, the coffee was awful, staff were moaning about each other and worse, the ice-cream counter was closed for no apparent reason.  Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, what had been a little piece of heaven became – in a sense intentionally – a little piece of hell overnight.  The next day it might have been good again, who knows.   How can that happen?

Faith was then restored a few days later back at home.  To have a serious problem solved that I didn’t know I had was one thing but for it to be solved by a company I had no relationship with was another altogether.   A soft tap on the front door just as we’re heading to bed isn’t how most customer experience stories begin but such was this one.  Utility company Wales & West had been called out to a suspected gas leak in the area and in checking where gas might track, had discovered a small leak at the front of the house.  At no cost and no hassle the friendly and empathetic engineer repaired the problem quickly, kept us informed throughout and then went back to his team dealing with the original issue.

Two very different experiences but both unexpected.  One left me bewildered and frustrated, the other grateful and impressed but the lesson to us all is that both were controllable and both have a lasting, if polar opposite, impact.

 


 

 

 

 

Customer Experience – what’s your problem?

What’s your problem with customer experience? Or, to put it another way, what is it that gets in the way of designing and implementing an effective customer experience strategy?

 

Such customer experience problems were the source of much debate recently when I had the pleasure of hosting the Empathyce TakeAway event in London. There were no presentations, those who attended set the agenda; we simply had rich and highly relevant conversations around the room where everyone could ja speakingoffer their insights on addressing others’ issues and get feedback on their own.

It was interesting to see further validation that whatever the sector there is a thread of common issues. My co-host for the day was good friend and customer experience specialist Ian Golding – we were joined by people who worked in B2B and B2C (or, more accurately, P2P: People to People) from markets that included aviation, travel, property development, communications, legal services and social media. And yet there was hardly a single issue that was the preserve of only one market.

Top of the list and driving everything else was culture. Especially, the gap between how customer-centric organisations tell their stakeholders and employees they are and what they are in reality. A big part of a customer experience professional’s role is to influence where there isn’t direct authority but in an ideal world that wouldn’t need to be an issue.  Having the right culture removes the need to influence others in the organisation who either can’t or don’t want to see beyond their process, metric or product focus. It’s easier said than done, it can be a lone voice to start with but is absolutely critical to any success.

Another hot topic is the conundrum created by the tension between personalisation and digitalisation. As a consumer, we want timely and relevant information but we also don’t want it cross a line into being intrusive, noisy and over-bearing. However, as a business we can be seduced by the promises of efficiency that digitalisation, self service and big data can bring. Technology allows us to make things incredibly personal, but it must be the customer’s definition of personal, not ours.

I also can’t remember a time when breaking through internal silos and aligning everything wasn’t a concern. And yet getting people in the same company to collaborate, to understand each other and to work to the same priorities remains a significant challenge. It’s another sub-set of the culture issues; there’s no point in having a customer experience team working their socks off to champion the cause if in another part of the business teams are motivated and rewarded by the ticking of non-customer boxes.take away and maxi 026

Talking of which, measurement is always a fascinating subject. Using the right type of measurement, tracking the right thing, understanding what the results are saying and sharing them in a way that brings about the right change are all customer experience fundamentals. Again, despite all the customer-rhetoric, especially in metric and process driven organisations, there always remains the risk, often a reality, of obsessing about the number at the cost of knowing what is making the numbers what they are.

Armed with endless mugs of coffee and delicious food at the fantastic (and thoroughly recommended) Wallacespace, we continued to share experiences and views on how companies address these issues and more; the psychology of queuing and its false economy of processing efficiencies, capturing and doing something about the niggles and gripes rather than just focusing on complaints and the use of social media and gamification to nurture customer engagement.

What is your problem? The issue I’ve touched on here only scratch the surface so I’d love to hear what your most pressing customer experience challenges are or how you’ve seen others overcome.

Wherever possible I’d urge you to talk to others outside your business, outside your market.  Chances are, whatever you are dealing with someone, somewhere will have some helpful thoughts.  Forgive the plug but we’ve had some great feedback about the Take Away event so if you’re interested in attending one of the next ones there are more details here.  Ian Golding is alway worth listening to about what makes good or bad experiences, what to do next and how to make the right changes so have a look at his blog over at ijgolding.com.

 

Of course talking about it is only the beginning. The real benefits start happening and problems start disappearing only when there is action; the right action.


 

Customer experience research; turning brands into favourite brands

This research post is about which companies have used customer experience to turn their brands into favourite brands, and how that happens.  I am delighted to have co-authored it with Ian Golding, hugely renowned and respected customer experience specialist.    The piece here is therefore also at his blog ijgolding.com where he has built a rich library of customer experience insights.  To paraphrase what one of our top brands says, if you like this you’ll like what Ian has there too.

Ian introduces the research findings:


 

#1 CX Brands

As I quite literally travel the world talking, listening and working with individuals and organisations who have an interest in Customer Experience, I am regularly asked who the world’s ‘best’ Customer Experience brands are. ‘Who is good at CX?’ is a pretty typical question. It is a good question to ask and one that I can most certainly answer ‘in my opinion’. However, having been asked the question so many times, rather than me just citing my opinion, I thought I would go a significant step further and ask as many people as possible for their opinions.

In January 2015, I conducted an independent survey of people across the world to find out who their ‘#1′ Customer Experience brands are and most importantly WHAT makes them their #1. In this blog post, I am delighted to officially reveal the findings of the research. Some of the findings may surprise you……some of them will not. What you can be certain of is that the findings are likely to provide validation of the things that are the most common reasons for these brands ‘delighting’ their customers.

 

Customer Experience is not just for the big, bold brands

The first big surprise for me was that  94 different brands were mentioned as people’s #1 Customer Experience brand in just over 200 responses . It is fascinating and encouraging to see that great Customer Experiences are not exclusively the preserve of those with huge budgets. Many of the companies named by respondents are small, independent businesses who share a similar mindset with brands we’re more familiar with. What is not a surprise though is that the top four favourite brands accounted for 40% of the responses. We’ll find out later why it is that the same brands keeping topping this kind of poll, but first, let me acknowledge the top 10 #1 Customer Experience brands coming out of the research:

Top CX Brands

Other well-known brands such as Emirates, Premier Inn, Argos, Airbnb, USAA and Sky all received endorsement as a #1 Customer Experience brand. In the interest of balance, some of the names mentioned by respondents that you are less likely to have heard of are as follows:

  • Sixthman Music Festival Cruises
  • Jabong.com
  • Dutch Bros
  • Discount Tire
  • Hatem Shahim (a barber’s shop!)
  • Dyreparken i Kristiansand
  • Spear & Jackson
  • Wegmans
  • Firebox.com
  • e-bolt
  • Container store

Different countries and a variety of industries – the sheer number of organisations receiving a mention suggests that there are many doing something right – the question is – what exactly are they doing that warrants a customer such as you citing them as their #1 Customer Experience brand? Before we find out, let us just have a quick look at the commercial performance of the top 10 CX brands coming out of the research.

 

The right customer experience is commercially rewarding

The sheer mention of  ‘Customer Experience’ and ‘Customer Centricity’, is still often greeted with a rolling of the eyes by those who are more focused on sales targets, operational efficiency and tasks. The irony though is that the former makes the latter much more successful. And it’s no coincidence that each of the top 10 brands has recent performance milestones to be proud of:

  • Amazon Q4 14, net sales increased by 15% over Q4 13
  • Apple 39.9% profit per product (3 months to end Dec 14)
  • First Direct Moneywise “Most Trusted” and Which? Best Banking Brand
  • John Lewis profit before tax up 12% in 2014 vs 2013
  • Disney Earnings per share up 27% in year to Dec 2014
  • Air New Zealand Earnings before taxation up 20% in H1 15 vs H1 14
  • Mercedes Revenue increased 12% from 2013 to 2014
  • Starbucks Revenue rise 13% in Q1 FY15
  • BMW 7% increase in vehicle sales in Jan 15 vs Jan 14
  • Boden Shipping 12,500 parcels each day

Pretty powerful stuff. Is it just a coincidence that the brands you are saying are the best at Customer Experience all seem to be faring pretty well on the commercial front? It appears as though all of the brands that are ‘great’ at Customer Experience share common characteristics – in fact the research identifies 13 common characteristics that are the reasons WHY these brands are #1 in your eyes. Lets us have a look at the ‘lucky’ 13!

 

These organisations have common characteristics

I wanted to know what it is that your favourite brands do to make them your #1 at delivering consistently good Customer Experiences. I asked for up to three reasons from each respondent and received 575 comments. Following verbatim analysis,  13 categories were identified, each distinct but interlinked. They were, as follows (with the percentage frequency they appeared):

  • Corporate attitude 15.9
  • They’re easy to do business with 14.9
  • They’re helpful when I have a problem 11.4
  • The attitude of their people 9.4
  • Personalisation 8.0
  • The product or service 8.0
  • They’re consistent 7.5
  • The way it makes me feel 6.3
  • The way they treat me 5.1
  • They’re reliable 4.4
  • They do what they promise 4.2
  • They’re quick 2.6
  • The technical knowledge of their people 2.3

We will look in more detail at what we mean by each of these in a moment but to view at any one in isolation would risk limiting what is being achieved by these organisations. This diagram shows how interdependent each area is in aligning with the corporate attitude and ultimately organisational goals and the very purpose for why the business exists:

characteristics of #1 cx brands


So what do the most favourite companies do, exactly?

Focusing on these attributes is what moves companies from fighting a rear-guard action to fix issues of their own making to creating a compelling a sustainable brand for the future. It also means that customers are increasingly exposed to better experiences as they go about their daily lives and that’s important because it keeps nudging the bar of expectations higher. This is why the brands that do these things are ones that people consider to be the very best at delivering consistently good Customer Experiences. Digging deeper into each of the 13 areas we can build a picture of how the companies who get it right control the way they do business.

1. Corporate attitude

It’s another way to describe organisational culture and it underpins everything that happens to or with a customer. More specifically, in the words of those who responded to the research, companies who have the right attitude:

  • put people before profits and non-human automation
  • know they’ll make more money in the long-run with this approach
  • test all experiences thoroughly (to eliminate unintended consequences)
  • listen and demonstrate they understand their customer
  • pay serious attention to detail
  • empower their staff to makes decisions and act straightaway
  • stay true to their values, admit when things go wrong and fix them
  • ensure their staff are fully trained and informed
  • recruit for attitude and alignment to brand values

They also said: “…they treat each customer as we would a guest in our home” and “…they balance customer obsession, operational excellence and financial rigor”.  Almost every other category is a sub-category of this one; it shows how important the right culture is.

2. They’re easy to do business with

It’s obvious to say a company should be easy to do business with and yet that’s not always the case. What respondents meant by “easy” included:

  • there are no barriers in the way for doing what a customer needs to
  • it’s simple to get information, purchase and use the product
  • needs are anticipated and catered for
  • customers don’t need to repeat information
  • they can switch from one channel to another with no impact on progress
  • products can be returned or fixed with minimum effort on the part of the customer
  • they are available when and where customers want; they can be reached without waiting and won’t limit the hours of their support functions to office hours if customers are still using their products and services all day every day
  • they are proactive in taking responsibility, eg finding products at other stores and having them delivered
  • customers have no objection to self-service because it has been well thought through
  • information is presented in a timely, clear and relevant way

3.  Helpful and understanding when I’ve got a question

Being easy to deal with is critical when a customer needs help or simply has a question. On the assumption that good companies do respond (a recent Eptica survey found more than 50% of online inquiries go unanswered), helpful companies are ones who:

  • listen to understand before acting
  • give a customer the feeling that they are trusted and respected
  • will provide an answer and additional, relevant help
  • provide certainty and manage expectations about what will happen next and at each stage
  • empower employees to make decisions
  • resolve issues first time and quickly
  • have employees who are happy to give their names and direct contact numbers
  • preempt problems and solve them before customers are aware
  • fix customers’ mistakes without blame or making them feel awkward
  • follow-up afterwards to check everything was sorted and is still as it should be
  • are not afraid to apologise when they get it wrong

4.  Attitude of the people

Individual employees who are interacting with customers become a proxy for the brand. If they demonstrate the wrong behaviours the damage can be hugely expensive but getting them right does not cost a huge amount of money. Most often a function of the corporate attitude, the most appreciated characteristics are:

  • being courteous and friendly
  • a positive, “I’ll sort it” attitude
  • they are good at listening
  • it’s obvious they care about, and are proud of, the product/service
  • they are professional and not pushy
  • they are helpful and proactive
  • they are genuine and humble
  • they smile
  • hey are engaging and interested in the customer
  • they have personality, not a corporate script
  • they are patient
  • they show respect for their fellow colleagues

5. Personalisation

We are all individuals and like to be treated as such. Having “big data” was seen as the answer but as these companies demonstrate, it’s not only more important to have the right data and do the right things with it, but it’s also linked again to corporate attitude. Those who get the personalisation right:

  • understand, anticipate and are proactive
  • keep customers informed with relevant information
  • shows they listen and act, not just collect feedback
  • create a relaxed environment because a customer’s needs fits neatly into what they are offering
  • create a feeling of respect, that they care and have “taken the time to know me, to make things easier for me”
  • make it feel like dealing with a person where there’s a connection, not just a transaction
  • allow their customers to control the degree of personalisation in terms of frequency and content
  • remain flexible and adaptive to the circumstances, not scripted

6. The product or service itself

Making it easy, personal and rewarding will be wasted effort if the core product or service doesn’t live up to expectation. At the end of the day, your business has to have something of value to the customer to sell! When it comes to products and services, the #1 Customer Experience brands are those who:

  • the right mix of choice, relevance, quality and innovation
  • well designed, so it is easy to get it to do what it’s supposed to
  • quality is complemented by relevant innovation, not technical innovation for the sake of it
  • obsessive about the detail
  • paying as much attention to secondary products, such as food on airlines
  • good at turning necessary evils into compelling attributes – Air New Zealand’s legendary on-board safety briefings, for example
  • adept at keeping up with, ahead of and shaping basic expectations

7. Consistency

As customers we like certainty and predictability. It means that the decisions we make carry less risk because we can confidently trust the outcomes. It also demonstrates stability of, and a shared understanding of, strategy. For our respondents, consistency is about experiences that:

  • look and feel the same
  • can continue easily wherever, whenever and however
  • match or build on the positive expectations created last time
  • have continuity in not only what happens but how it happens; tone of voice, quality, different locations, store or franchise, people and processes, performance
  • provide the same reliable answers to the same questions
  • integrate with other services

8. The way it makes me feel

Emotions are a function of how good the other two cornerstones of Customer Experience – function and accessibility – are. How they were made to feel, whether intentional or not, is what people remember. Being the personal consequence of most if not all the issues covered here, it is what drives our behaviour about whether or not we will do the same next time and tell others to do the same. If people think they are part of something special, connected to a company that lives by like-minded values, they will FEEL special. And as human beings, we appreciate that. Survey espondents cited a number of great examples:

  • “get on an Air New Zealand flight anywhere in the world it already feels like you’re home”
  • “the packaging increases the anticipation when opening a new product” (Apple)
  • “interactions with employees don’t feel like processes out of an operating manual”
  • “there is (the perception of) a genuine relationship; it’s not just about them selling every time they are in touch”
  • “they make me feel as if I’m their only customer” (Land Rover)

9. The way they treat me

At the root of how we feel and therefore behave is often down to how we are treated. Good and great companies have experiences that:

  • demonstrate respect
  • show an empathy with customer needs
  • don’t do things like asking a customer to repeat information if handed from one colleague to another
  • keep customers posted on feedback they’ve given
  • recognise their customers both by staff individually in-store and organisationally
  • have a consistency of treatment even when not spending money in-store
  • create relevant retail environments so that customers feel they are treated as if they are somewhere special
  • develop meaningful loyalty programmes that acknowledge past purchases and reward future ones
  • are not patronising in tone

10. They’re reliable

Not surprisingly, reliability is cited as a key attribute. Although we simply expect things to work as they did last time or as it was promised, we probably won’t get too excited if that is the case. However, the consequences of it not happening will result in additional time, effort, inconvenience and sometimes cost to the customer; not what a brand would want to be blamed for. There are some markets where the mere hint of a lack of reliability in its truest sense has serious consequences for a brand. More generally, reliable customer experiences are ones that

  • give confidence and a level of trust that what we ask for when we buy is what we get; there are no nasty surprises
  • understand that they are key to repeat purchases and advocacy. No-one will put their own reputation on the line to recommended any brand product or service that is unreliable

11. They do what they promise

Again, this is a character trait we appreciate in friends, family and colleagues and it’s no different when dealing with a business. It can be seen as a subset of “the way they treat me” but it is also critical at a strategic level too; the brand is what people say it does and so that has to be consistent with what it’s promising, just as its employees need to keep their own promises to customers too. There’s a real financial benefit here too where unnecessary and costly rework can be avoided. How many enquiries coming into the business are because “You said you’d get someone to call back”, “You said you’d send me a copy of that statement” or “Where’s my fridge, I’ve had to take the whole day off work and there’s still no sign of it”. Customer experiences that do what they promise:

  • live up to the expectations they set
  • have employees that do what they say they will do
  • do it all consistently
  • fix it quick if they fail
  • are good at managing expectations

12. Quick

As customers, time (alongside money) is a commodity we trade with. A company who appreciates the finite and precious nature of it will create a distinct advantage. In today’s everything-everywhere-now life it’s not surprising that speed is an issue. Expectations are rising all the time where customers interacting with other brands see what can be done. Quick customer experiences are ones that:

  • move at the right speed for customers
  • show respect by having have good reaction times once a customer has initiated part one of a two-way activity
  • manage expectations, so if it’s not “quick” as defined by customers there are also, no disappointing surprises
  • are not just focused on speed of delivery but are quick to answer the phone, flexibility to find ways around rules and respond to questions

13. People knowledge

Having people who are technically competent with their product knowledge is another character of top brands. Companies that possess employees like this have an invaluable asset who are:

  • able to translate the concerns and questions
  • able to articulate complex issues in simple language
  • are not patronising
  • are proud that their knowledge can help someone else

 

So what?

There is no shortage of good and great experiences to learn from and they bring favourable commercial results to the companies that do have them. They don’t have to be high-tech out-of-this-world experiences; simply knowing what the basic expectations are should not be that hard and delivering them well time after time should just be the norm. This independent research also shows that it’s a combination of characteristics that matter, not one in isolation. That said, experiences, customers and balance sheets are always given an essential boost where having the‘right attitude’ is the common thread running right through the organisation.

 

Thank You!

A huge thank you to all those who participated in this research – without you giving up your valuable time and insight, I would not be able to share such valuable output.

An even bigger thank you to my friend and colleague, Jerry Angrave. Not only has Jerry co-authored this post, he also conducted the detailed analysis of the research results. A brilliant CX mind, he is also one of the most genuine Customer Experience practitioners I have ever met. You can read more of Jerry’s work at empathyce.com – I strongly encourage you to do so!


 

… and thank you to Ian too.  I hope you found the post interesting but if you have any questions or other brands who you think should top the list, do get in touch.  We’ll also shortly be looking at the opposite side of things and what customer experiences turn brands into our least favourite so watch this space!

Thank you,

Jerry Angrave   |    [email protected]   |  +44 (0)7917 718 072

 


 

The job of the customer experience manager

The need to improve customer experiences has been around since cavemen traded rocks for fish.  And as our understanding of complex customer experience issues has grown, so too have the opportunities for those moving into leadership and management roles.

Having credibility to influence change is at the heart of the job.  But in reality, it can sometimes feel like ours is a lonely customer voice at a crowded and loud business table.  Therefore to be a successful customer experience practitioner isn’t just about being good at what gets done;  it’s every bit about how it’s done too.

 

The good news is that business leaders are more empathetic.  They know the impact on customer experiences of how they think and act.  It’s important because it means they are making things better – and stopping things getting worse – for their customers and balance sheets.  Job done?  Not quite.

customer experience manager

The job of the customer experience manager

The bad news is that despite the evidence it works not everyone, sees it that way.  As a customer experience professional, we therefore need to be increasingly influential with those making the decisions.

Beneath the shiny veneer of perfect customer experience platitudes is a real world that’s arguing with itself;  relentless short-termism in one corner and profitable longevity in the other.  Sometimes, indeed often, the two protagonists are in neighbouring departments.

One CEO recently told me, in front of his team, that getting customer experience right “couldn’t be more important”.  And yet a few days later when it came to making strategic decisions, it was all about taking (not necessarily the right) costs out.  The customer’s voice was not being sought, let alone listened to.  And as a result they will continue to do the wrong things well and see managing exceptions as the norm.

It’s a stark reminder that despite the proof that improving customer experiences creates better commercial outcomes, many business people remain wedded to traditional scorecard metrics, processes and tasks.   They don’t get it, they may not want to get it or their boss won’t listen even if they do get it.

Maybe that’s our fault as customer experience professionals because our own approach has not been empathetic enough.  We believe in it passionately because it works, we just need to convince the sceptics.  It’s only part of the role, but a huge part nonetheless.  And so, from my time as both practitioner and consultant, here are ten themes that I know makes our role more effective.

  1. Hunt out your stakeholders – sounds obvious, but map the web of people (not departments) who intentionally or unintentionally make the customer experience what it is.  Whatever their level, whether they’re front-line / back-office / central support or external third parties, they should all be on your list of people you want onside.  Prioritise them, pick them off one-by-one, stay close to them and then get them collaborating with each other.
  2. Build your army – chances are you can’t bring about the right changes on your own.  You need pockets of supporters, advocates in all corners of the business who will help open doors to those stakeholders and tell you what the real challenges are.  They might spring up from the most unlikely of places but people who express an interest in what you do and why you do it are invaluable.  They’re our equivalent of finding a rare Gauguin painting at the back of the garage.  Take them under your wing and they will become the veins through which the oxygen of customer experience will flow into the business.
  3. Listen to understand – make time to understand what stakeholders see as their role in the organisation, what their objectives and challenges are and why they have the issues they do.  Observe carefully;  their most important and personal motivation is often revealed in an off-guard comment or in general conversation about the state of the nation.
  4. Make it matter to them – help them look good. Use what you hear to show specifically how better customer experiences can make their job more effective.  Show how having the right experiences can help them get a better result in their own personal and team objectives.  Give them early warning nudges over a coffee rather than surprise them in the Board Room.  Let them take the credit for being more customer-centric (your boss will know it’s you who made the difference).
  5. Map their journey – if we want to see how we fit into a customer’s world and create the right responses, we map their journeys.  Why not do the same with internal customers too?  It makes conversations much more empathetic and less adversarial.  And it’s not just about their role per se – if you are inviting them to a workshop, how can you position it and present it in a way that guarantees they turn up and contribute?
  6. Invite them in – take any opportunity to show or reinforce the customer strategy.  Have your compelling and targeted “How Customer Experience makes our business better” material handy at all times, especially in your head.  Show them customer journey mapping visuals, build a physical mock-up of a customer’s world.  Host a regular customer experience forum where you get senior people from all your stakeholder areas to share their perspectives.  Create “Customer experience for non-customer experience people sessions” to help spread the word.
  7. Make them empathetic – use real warts-and-all feedback to show them what it’s like to be on the receiving end of what they do.  Remind them that they are a consumer in their own lives.  Get them to think like a customer.  Ask them how the experiences they deliver compare with other organisations in other markets they deal with.  After all, those are the ones pushing the bar of our customers’ expectations ever higher.

    Find ways to help them help themselves

  8. Talk their language – keep it commercial.  Relate using the vocabulary of what matters to them.  Link customer experience to revenue, costs, efficiency, loyalty and margins.  And despite the fanfare around the subject, don’t start the engagement of a sceptical, process-focused but key stakeholder with “Can I talk to you about customer emotions?”.  Eyes will roll and you’ll lose them before you begin.  You know how emotions fit in the bigger picture so that can come later.  Much better to say something like “I’d appreciate your thoughts on how what we do now drives what our customers do next time”.
  9. Lead by example – be proactive and be responsive. Get a reputation for having the clearest, most unambiguous emails and reports. Little things go a long way – always turn up for meetings on time, keep promises, return calls and show an interest.  I’m indebted to David Hicks of Mulberry Consulting for a great example – my answerphone message promises to call back asap but “certainly within 3 hours”.
  10. Keep the momentum going – stay on the look-out for quick wins and use them as proof of concept.  Provide updates, share successes and relay stories of what others in other markets are doing.  Be the one to create an engaging company-wide forum focused purely on customers.  And invite yourself to talk with colleagues around the business at their team meetings.

 

There will be more ways so it will be great to hear what you think.  How do you influence and manage your customer experience stakeholders?

One last thought.  To see people, attitudes and companies change for the better as a result of what you have done can be the most rewarding job in the world.  In fact, it then no longer becomes a job.  So stay true to what you believe.  Expect progress to be slow but up the ante by planning to be quick.  Whatever happens though – and I thank Churchill for his words of wisdom – Never give up. Never give up. Never ever give up.

 

Jerry Angrave

Certified Customer Experience Professional – a practitioner and consultant on the strategic and tactical ways to help organisations improve their customer experiences