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Creating the right customer experience is all about leading by example

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Enthused. Educated in a practical approach”  SD

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Jerry

+44 (0) 7917 718 072

www.empathyce.com

 

For improving customer experiences I’d rather have Right Data than Big Data

On my first day of my first proper job in the UK they called me “New York”.  Not because I was energetic, intriguing or that I never slept but because, when it took me a while to understand what was apparently an hilarious corporate joke, I was – in their words – “five hours behind”.

And many (very many) years later, so it seemed with my understanding of what has been given the label of Big Data.  I see it written about everywhere, something that self-proclaimed experts talk of as the latest critical key to a sustainable business.  However, I seemed to have missed the briefing about what exactly it was and why it was apparently so vital to our future existence.  The cynic in me was muttering about new clothes and Emperors but also part of me didn’t want to miss out, just in case…

Recently then, I was looking forward to catching up with the rest of the world and be able to converse like an insider when it comes to the subject of big data.  Within the space of a week, I had the privilege of chairing a retail analytics event in London and speaking at a conference in Barcelona on creating efficient airports through a focus on customer experience.

What was clear from both is an insatiable appetite for more data.  What is less clear is whether the ability to capture and analyse more and more information is generating the contextual knowledge that businesses need to bring about the change their own business plans demand.

Never before have we had this amount of information available at our fingertips.  True, it means that where once we relied on modelling and forecasting from a small amount of transactional data, we can now reduce the risk by removing the need for so many assumptions.  But does that automatically mean we have the right knowledge to support our business and customer strategy?

For airports, efficiency is everything but that can come dangerously close to putting passengers’ real needs in the blind spot.  Research I’ve carried out shows that customers in an airport put cleanliness, friendly staff and clear signage at the top of the list of the things they value. And yet, they rarely make it to the Exec team’s dashboard.  People do have a choice and they do go to the next airport if their expectations is one of an experience they are no longer prepared to tolerate.

It is unfair to single out airports; many organisations in many markets become (admittedly sometimes unintentionally) very metric-led.  Balanced scorecards thrive on them but it easily drives the wrong behaviours.  Vendors at the airport conference proclaimed that their products offer – and I quote – “first-class passenger processing”.  There was a sense that if it moves it can be processed, if it can be processed we can bar-code and measure it and if it can be measured we can create more metrics to grow our pile of data.

Take, for example, the “How was it for you?” array of good / ok / bad buttons having just gone through airport security.  It’s data in the making but on its own, apart from regulatory reporting, for what real purpose?  If 100% of people hit the red “It was bad” button, how can the airport know what to do differently without any supporting qualitative information?  Depending on how you look at it, while this piece of data adds to the big picture, it is either a costly activity with little return or a missed opportunity as the infrastructure is there anyway.

In the retail world, the amount of transactional information is certainly impressive.  One Turkish supermarket chain had made a huge success of it.  What is worrying though, is the apparent disconnect between all this data and business improvement.  When I asked the retail analytics delegates what value their work adds to the business, there were puzzled looks and absolute silence.  Slightly surprised, I then asked how they would respond if their CEO asked how the data they present helps achieve the business plan.  Eyes down, awkward shuffling and more silence.

Does this mean that in our relentless surge to generate bigger and bigger data because we can, not only are we making it more difficult to sift out the right information but that we’re losing sight of why we’re collecting any information in the first place?

A piece of research just released talked about the gap between companies’ intended customer experience programme and their lack of effective implementation.  One reason may be that the quest to understand everything about everything and to amass oceans of data has overshadowed the importance of having the skills to find the right information and how to be organised to then do something about it.

There was another corporate saying that took me a while to understand.  It was the one about “Don’t boil the ocean”.  We couldn’t anyway back then but metaphorically, maybe now we can.

That said, just because we can, still doesn’t mean we should.

 

 

 

 

Would changing the name from Customer Experience to Customer Memories make us better prepared?

We have Customer Service;  it’s what companies do to or for their customers.  We have Customer Experience;  you could say it’s what it’s really like to be on the receiving end of the service.  Done the right way though, understanding all that gives us powerful information.

Yet there is also a risk that our focus on the here-and-now can give us a distorted view of the very thing we’re trying to improve;  the likelihood of our best customers coming back, spending more and telling everyone else to do the same.

When we’re about to buy something, it’s basic human behaviour to recall what it was like last time and then to decide whether or not we go ahead or go somewhere else.  We dip into our memory bank to make the right decision, based on what happened back then and what we’ve heard and learnt since then.

But as far as organisations are concerned, I’ve seen that over the last few years the focus has been increasingly on the experience or service that is given to a customer today, more so than the impact that last experience has when it comes to the next purchase.  There are subtle, but important, differences.106

The point is, when we’re about to choose, use, buy or sign-up, it’s our memory that will determine whether we stay “loyal” or we try elsewhere.  Customer advocacy has its place, don’t get me wrong.  But while the wow factors were front of mind when I did that customer survey the day after I last had anything to do with the company, twelve months on I might have a stronger recall of the lacklustre service I’ve had since.

The term “Customer Experience” has served markets very well in raising the bar of how businesses treat their customers.  But internally, organisations have struggled and still do so today with what Customer Experience is.  Is it a new fluffy label from Marketing for what everyone knows as Customer Service?  Or a strategic way of thinking? Absent any real customer-based, cross-functional objectives “We do that already” is a common riposte, along with “It’s too expensive” and “Where’s the benefit?”.

Every organisation has a customer experience whether they know it or not and that may be one of the reasons why it doesn’t get the attention internally that it deserves.  Giving a jolt to the system and talking about influencing Customer Memories demands a different perspective; the future poking a stick at the past.  It’s like asking “What can we do that will increase the chances of you buying again?” instead of “What should we have done that would have prevented you from being really hacked off?”.  A story about horses, gates and bolting comes to mind.

Arguably, the higher the value of the purchase the less frequently we buy and therefore by definition, the time between one purchase and the next can be significant.  I’m no psychologist, but even if it’s a more regular or ad-hoc purchase I know our memories and perceptions change over time.  I might have had a hassle-free experience and at the time was a real fan, but if I’ve since heard other stories or there’s been a change in my circumstances, my attitude or needs may be completely different.  That customer feedback I gave last time is no longer relevant but unless the company asks me again just before I choose next time, they will be acting on the wrong information.

Whether we’re renewing an annual contract, buying a holiday, a car, clothes or using professional services, at that specific point in time the thing that determines what we do next is what our memory tells it was like last time;  not how likely we were to recommend the company to someone else one day after we last did the same thing.

In the name of Customer Experience, organisations understandably have an insatiable appetite to canvas opinions within days, minutes or even as it happens.  That information is used as a proxy for brand strength and to forecast the likelihood of repurchases.  But if that repurchase is weeks, months even years away, how accurate can it be?  It’s obviously easier to ask a customer how it was just after they’ve been in touch as there is a definitive trigger point for feedback.   Just because the timing of the next interaction is harder to predict though, that shouldn’t stop us seeking such valuable information.

It seems to make sense then that we should, in addition or as an alternative, track what a customer feels and thinks much closer to the point at which they make their next decision.  We would still keep the metric-obsessed folk happy with a quantitative score in answer to a question such as “Based on what you remember about last time, are you likely / not sure / unlikely to use us next time?”.

Importantly though, we would also still get the gilt-edged qualitative information about what can be reinforced at that pre-purchase point in time and not afterwards when it might be too late.  And it would still be the case that if we get the experience right, the metrics will look after themselves, not the other way around.

It’s great to see customer strategy and customer experience being discussed in the Board Room.  In the main however, there is still a focus on what customers say just after purchase or the “experience”.  By the time the customer is in a position to make a choice next time, the things that drive that new decision may be very different and are purely in the memory.

And I for one would give ten out of ten for tapping into that.

 

Mapping the journey of Mapping the customer journey

(This was first posted as a guest blog for Custerian)

If an organisation has customers, by definition it also has a customer experience whether it realises that or not.  May as well make it the right one, then.

To fix the problem, much faith is put in mapping customer journeys.  Done properly they are powerful tools but there is also a significant risk that without applying “customer experience” as a way of thinking, the customers’ way of thinking, experiences can remain process-driven, unmeasured and somewhat unintentional.

For example, if you were lost in a city needing to be somewhere else quickly, you probably wouldn’t walk into a shop and rely on the first map you see to tell you exactly where you are, where you need to go and how to get there.  Chances are, it either won’t tell you or it will give you what you later learn to be misleading information, making the whole situation worse.

Finding the right place to start the journey mapping

Finding the right place to start the customer journey mapping

In the same way, the mapping of a customer’s proverbial journey cannot be done in isolation.  Sure, we can pick what we think is the most obvious issue to map and we’ll see some results.  But that is like me going surfing with an ironing board. It would work, but only to a degree.

As someone who mapped customer journeys as a practitioner in the corporate world, and now as a consultant working with a variety of organisations, all too often I see the enthusiasm to map a customer journey trample the need to put the journey into context.  The result is that we either get a linear process map or a nicely drawn graphical journey that everyone admires but, well, that’s it.

Hence the need to map the journey of mapping the journey.  There are three key stages, which might be labelled design, doing and delivery.  In each of those stages are a number of events and without proper thought for each, the middle stage that most organisations jump to – the “doing” – is potentially rendered a waste of time and resource.

So, how do we stop that happening?  Let’s look briefly at each stage.

Design: before setting out to map a customer’s journey, be absolutely clear that it’s the most important one for you and your business.  Gather the insight that will tell you what customers value most, what is most critical to the delivery of your customer strategy and how well you do it.

Then, make the scope as narrow as possible.  If you have four customer types, six products, five channels, ten things that people might be contacting you about, you very quickly get into having hundreds, if not thousands of permutations for journeys.  Pick one of each, the most important ones and do one at a time.  Anything more than that will take additional time and get in the way of findings becoming genuine insights.

Doing:  when it comes to the mapping itself, it’s time to get forensic.  Talk to your customers and your employees about what it’s really like;  the process map won’t tell you that your customers think your people are rude, yet your people don’t get why customers can’t follow the process.  Think like a customer; what does it say if when you put a customer on hold, there is no on-hold music.  First touch resolution metrics for complaints but no mechanism to put right the root causes.  Little things, they all add up.

Effective journey mapping relies also on having the right employees involved.  People are keen to tell their story to someone internally who will listen.  Every organisation has people who know their way around the systems, what the causes of unreported customer niggles and gripes are and where money is being wasted through the efficient processing of things that don’t matter.  Have them on the team and tap into them.

Today’s customers will readily share the story of what it was really like

Delivery:  even with the best journey map in hand, it is meaningless if there is not an improvement framework into which it can be plugged. Having robust governance in place to take insight from the mapping and prioritise it alongside all the other issues competing for the same resource is essential.  Cross-functional participation is also essential, and not just from the customer-facing areas.  Finance, Legal, HR and IT all have their own role to play too.  That needs strong influencing skills on the part of those leading and managing the customer agenda especially where there is no direct authority, but their interest and input will help themselves as well as you – and the wider business.If not, money will float out of the door on initiatives and projects that fall short.  A brand campaign for a telecoms company promising “We give you back time” will have little in the way of ROI when customers have to wait an average of 20 minutes to get through to the call centre.  A train operator relying on business travellers and commuters will lose customers to the car and video conferences because realistically these days they can’t work on a train without wi-fi.

In a highly task-oriented world then, where it’s all about outputs, tick-boxes and providing evidence for scorecards the thinking around journey mapping can easily take a back seat.  But this is one journey where those driving the agenda need to be firmly in the front seat, at the controls, aware of everything around them and taking everyone with them.

B2B or B2C, it’s all P2P to me

In an age of big data and a seemingly endless capacity to produce and absorb information, one could be forgiven for believing that the end of the TLA, the three-letter acronym, is nigh.  It should be, particularly for the subject of this piece, but for different reasons.

Popping up everywhere in emails and presentations, these TLAs quench our thirst to save time and effort by cutting short the unnecessary detail.  And while they have a place, the complacency of their continued existence with no challenge as to what they are shorthand for, hides humbling messages for those leading customer agendas.

In following the well-trodden path of segmentation protocol, the terms B2C and B2B have been adopted to help define target audiences and brand positioning.  Fair enough.  You might want Mrs Angrave to renew her mobile phone contract with you or you might be providing the software to the mobile phone company to facilitate said renewal.

By definition though, segmentation is built on a specific set of needs and therefore must change too if the needs of that segment change.

Yet despite everyone saying the world is changing in front of our eyes, our beloved segmentation model of B2B and B2C is cast in reinforced concrete – and therefore, worryingly, so too can be our thinking.

The biggest of these changes is, ironically, simply the re-emergence of something we’ve known for years;  that people buy from people.  And while that has been the guiding light in the B2C world, the same should apply in the B2B sector.

Take but one classic B2B example.  A law firm pitching their services to an industrial giant might focus on having been in business for 100 years, having 200 highly qualified lawyers to call on and having the flexibility (depending on how you look at it) to bill by the hour.

The general counsel on the receiving end of that spiel though is a real person, having their own real-life experiences and interactions.  Their favourite restaurant makes them feel welcome, nothing is too much trouble.  Last week on the anniversary of moving house, they had a pleasant surprise when their estate agent sent a new battery for the smoke alarm.  And, using a tablet on the train into work today, they sorted out a problem with their online banking, wrote several emails and booked a table at that restaurant, again.

The point is, although they work for a huge business, they are nonetheless consumers themselves who live in the real world.  That is where their benchmarking will stem from. So going back to that law firm pitch, the number of years in business and the number of partners is largely irrelevant.  Would that turn a consumer’s head if it were the USP (there we go again) plastered on the window of a high street store?  I think not.

It’s about relevancy.  Imagine that when the GC got home last night, a local locksmith had to be called out to fix a jammed lock.  So today, why wouldn’t they expect a law firm to be at least as responsive.  The pitch is to a person, not the robotic facade of an organisation.

They are putting their personal reputation on the line by hiring us so they will want confidence that the right people are there to do the job, that whoever does the pitch remains the main contact and that the law firm will spend time (and not charge for it) to really understand them and their issues.  And the less we say about billable hours the better.

It’s important because they are the ones who need convincing we are going to do a great job for them.  If they are not fully on board, they are hardly going to be in a position to win-over the procurement team, let alone the CEO.

Sticking with a B2B mindset then, carries a potentially critical flaw.  I therefore suggest we all ditch the acronym B2B and replace it with P2P – people to people.

In fact, I’d strongly advocate we go one stage further.  It shouldn’t matter who the customer is, simply drop the acronyms and instead focus on building the right buyer experiences around what’s important to them and what’s important to your business.

Until next time, TTFN.

Customer experiences highlight the danger of businesses taking relationships for granted

The sage advice “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you” needs no introduction but it clearly infers that one party is more needy than the other.

It’s a sentiment that’s always been true in a commercial context since the earliest days of trading.  In today’s world though, while the business side is becoming increasingly reliant, the experience they present in search of short-term results can push their customers away rather than bringing them closer.  What’s worse, is that it’s especially magnified – not to say ironic – when the hand that’s doing the feeding has made a commitment, with the inevitable result that the business gets dropped and the customer turns away to move indifferently on.

The very mention of a “relationship” conjures up different meanings to different people yet it is a ubiquitous byword for underpinning success.  Our focus on customer experience, on what it’s really like to do business, is helping to explain why that potential misunderstanding can have serious consequences.Customer Experience vs Customer Service

Let’s be honest, it is really only the organisation that wants or even talks about the proverbial relationship.  The P&L and share price are much more dependent on their customer than the other way around.  At its core, it means that the client simply plays along until a better offer appears or they have reason to suspect a lack of value, trust or respect.

What is intended by one party as a commitment to be in it for the long-haul can be seen by the other as an opportunity to take advantage of, worrying about tomorrow, tomorrow.  Harsh?  Well, customer experience feedback is showing that even where – or because – a client does commit, they are made to feel that the business is a bit too needy, being greedy, embracing the relationship with the grace of a pick-pocketing bear-hug.

Whether necessitated by the economic environment, organisational complacency or driven by the personal short-term agendas of those in charge, there are signs emerging where such conditions serve only to increase the likelihood of a customer choosing an alternative next time, defeating the point of a business creating the relationship in the first place.

To illustrate the point let’s take two examples.

Firstly, legal services.  There are many law firms and other B2B companies who are exemplary at managing their client experiences and will do so for a long time.  There are some however, who, having worked hard to win a new contract, will try to extract as much revenue from that arrangement as quickly as possible because it might not be there in three years when it’s due to be renewed.

Patently, that short-term approach of ignoring what clients really value – things like charging hourly rates for what should be fixed-price work, showing a lack of understanding and having nasty surprises or a lack of information on invoices – is a self-fulfilling prophecy and will actually make sure the client will not renew in three years.  At best there won’t be a happy exchange of testimonials and worse, the client may pull the plug before the contract expires and explain why to all of their contacts.

Secondly, rail operators.  One would think that securing a fixed-term franchise is great news, and it should be.  A foot in the door for all those future contracts too.  But reading passenger reviews of one particular rail company in the UK reveals evidence that one person’s short-term is another’s long-term.  Investors rightly expect a return on their investment but those behind the franchise operators may have tipped the balance in extracting so much jam today that they now risk having no bread and butter tomorrow.

If their trains are filled with more people than there are seats, is it because their passenger experience is so good or because there’s a coach missing as a result of cheaper but longer maintenance schedules?  Or, that they don’t care about charging full price to stand for an hour in a draughty, noisy place?Mind the gap between Service and Experience

For some, the basic but unmet needs of reliability and cleanliness are still objectives and talking points for franchises rather than being the norm.  And, despite broadband wi-fi being available everywhere from my local café to an Airbus A380, we were told yesterday that rail companies in the UK should be able to offer wi-fi by 2019.  I know that’s more of a capital-intensive offering than getting staff to smile but still, 2019?

So, while some operators have fans rather than passengers, why is it that others are failing?  The word on the seats about this one major operator is that service has not improved noticeably since the franchise began – there are still broken doors on carriages and paid-for extras don’t materialise.  Even worried staff are saying everything’s on hold until (if) it is renewed, due in a year.  It’s easy to see how even just an ‘ok’ service then in turn breeds a shared cynicism;  it is also believed, rightly or wrongly, that a key metric in that renewal pitch is on-time arrivals – something that’s easy to achieve high scores on if you’re also in control of the timetable.

We know that with the right experiences, customers will choose to come back next time and it is that – the accumulation of many very short-term affirmations – which gives longevity to what businesses see as the elusive relationship.

So even where a contract, commitment or lack of choice exists, the company being fed would do well to act as if there is no long-term nature, no assumption about next time.

Their customers don’t make rash assumptions or see it that way;  what they do see is that on the other end of the hand that is doing the feeding they also have a pair of legs, ready to run at the first sign of a bite to a more appreciative recipient…

Luxury or productivity? The question of value for Business Aviation’s customer experience.

FBOs and charter airlines are in a strong position to capitalise on the belt-tightening consequences of recent economic conditions.  That’s providing they are able to articulate their value in a meaningful way. 

Value, to paraphrase, is in the eye of the beholder. Understanding what that means in reality and then being organised to do something about it puts companies on track for that competitive edge and long-term growth and stability they need.

Focusing on customers is nothing new.  In designing and implement customer strategies, there’s no shortage of advice on why that’s a good thing.  But the piece that’s often missing is how to use it in a way that creates real business benefits.

Here are some tips that go some way to plugging the gaps.

Customer journey mapping

“We need a customer journey map for that” is a common call that’s heard in workshops aiming to lift the levels of customer service.  Unfortunately, what gets put on the table is just as often a linear process map, an operations manual or a sales checklist.  They give a starting point but little in the way of direction.

A good journey map is itself a means to an end.  It will give everyone a common version of what it’s really like to be a customer.   It points to where effort and resource needs to be focused and it provides others across the business with critical information about how best to achieve their own individual goals.  Most importantly though, it forms the platform of knowledge on which future decision-making is based.

It is therefore the output and what is done with it that counts. There’s no golden rule about what the map should look like, it must simply work for your organisation in a credible way that tells the story of what the opportunities are and why.  The tighter the scope the better.  For example, a forensic look at the tablet-based booking process for a high-value, regular customer or the welcome experience for a new-to-business-aviation client will yield more actionable and effective insight than a one-size-fits-all approach.

Understanding the customer’s perception of what happens every step of the way, set against what should happen and what drives value for the business, will flush out detailed commercial considerations.  What does good look like?  How do we compare? What does this customer (or customer type) really value and how well do we do it?  What are the unintended consequences? If we’re over-delivering in an area that the customer doesn’t see as a priority, can we save costs there?   And so on.

With robust leadership and governance, the journey map makes sure the right activity is prioritised, the right people are held to account and the right measurement programme is in place to perpetuate improvements.

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

Today’s customers will sit down to dinner tonight with family or colleagues and share a story or two about their flight(s).  It would be great to be a fly on the wall but with the journey mapping having created pre-meditated and dependable experiences, when the chairman asks if we know what they are saying not only can we answer “yes”, but we can also articulate how that is adding value to the business.

Commercial benefits

Business aviation is no different from many other markets in that standing out from the crowd is increasingly as difficult as it is necessary.  But for those who place a spotlight on getting things right, the commercial benefits are as much non-financial as they are financial.

Collecting first-hand evidence of what works for customers and their own internal stakeholders back at their office shapes strategic as well as tactical decisions.  It means the weaknesses and inflexibility of commercial aviation alternatives can be articulated to best effect. It helps recognise how much competitors might include video conferencing.  It flushes out how customers want to pay and reveals insights for lobbying airport owners and regulatory policy makers.  Such knowledge also ensures all activity across the company is working to the same priorities and that marketing investment isn’t wasted when something other than the brand promise is delivered.

While business aviation has to navigate around a plethora of political, regulatory and infrastructure issues, it also wrestles with the issue of perception.  For many clients, the economic climate has put cost management at the top of their agenda yet brands and communications targeting corporate accounts still ooze indulgence rather than productivity advantages.  That’s fine if the chosen target market is the luxury seeker, but a sceptical programme director overseeing an urgent M&A project will only let the team fly privately if the broader economic benefits for the business case are clear.  Therefore, getting to understand the customer and their own organisation is essential for business aviation companies who can then provide the right information that makes that business case uncontested.

Diverting finite resources for an even greater customer focus might take some persuading for metric-driven stakeholders.  The translation therefore of customer measurements such as the net promoter score (NPS) and of customers’ emotionally-driven behaviour into real money makes the case forcefully.

Medallia’s research into NPS – the popular measurement tool which asks customers how likely they are to recommend your business – shows that on average, those who are willing to be an advocate are worth 30% more than those who are not.  The Temkin Group also showed that promoters are five times more likely to repurchase than detractors.

A joint piece of research between Forrester and Watermark Consulting tracked the correlation between organisations that had a customer experience focus and their stock-market performance.  In that five-year period, the S&P 500 market index dropped by -1.5%; companies on the front foot with customer engagement increased by +22% while those dragging their feet fell by 46%.

Traits of successful FBOs and charter airlines

Somewhat unhelpfully, successful FBOs and charter airlines come in all shapes and sizes.  Some brands make a feature of being loud and brash while others go about their business quietly, but very effectively, keeping well under the radar.

The one thing they all have in common is good people.  Flat fee options, in-flight connectivity that replicates being in the office and a highly responsive service will count for nothing without the right people. They understand what the company is all about, they know what it needs to do day-in and day-out to succeed and they are energised to accomplish at least that on a daily basis.

Steve Jones, Managing Director, Marshall Aerospace said of their success: “In the last year it’s all been about accumulating a strong team and so far it has been more about building expertise than building things”

Thomas Flohr, Chairman of VistaJet which regularly has 20-25% revenue growth, bypasses the fractional model – “We tore up all the old conventions and designed a revolutionary business model focused entirely around our clients. What they wanted. What they needed. We’ve never looked back.”

And earlier this year, Rizon Jet said that its awards were due to a “Dedication to fantastic customer service….it’s not just the facility, but the people that make the difference”.

Organic business growth

Organic business growth

A further illustration of how customer service can trump price came in the AIN FBO survey – Americas 2013.  Customers were asked to cite the most important factors when choosing an FBO:  85% said good customer service, the top answer.  And the top reason for avoiding an FBO? 71% said poor customer service.

Another common factor of successful businesses is having the right customer feedback programme.  In X-Jet’s own words, “Truly we do live for that con­nection with the customers and we’re constantly seeking feedback on how we can do things better”

Lessons from other industries

Markets outside business aviation are also finding that the bar of expectation is rising all the time. As law firms are discovering to their cost, the world around them has changed and in their clients own lives they are interacting more and more effortlessly with a host of other organisations through an array of devices and channels.

Apple is a regular contender for exemplary customer service.  That’s not surprising with the focus it has on recruiting the right people for its brand, the focus it has on customer empathy rather than selling and on evoking the right emotions.

In March this year, Marriott headed the Temkin Group rankings once again for a hotel brand’s customer experience.  Like Amazon and NetFlix, they create relevant personalisation and make it easy to do business with.  They focus on the things their customer value, whether it’s helping the procurement team choose Marriott over a cheaper alternative down the street or tracking down lost luggage.

Many of these results stem from having (read: “allowing”) its people talk directly with customers.  These organisations also have strong leadership for a clear customer strategy that is shared and understood by every employee.

Conclusion

Companies in the business aviation market are not on their own in needing to articulate their real value to existing and new customers.  But for those who get it right, delivering what is valued most and what is seen as value for money, customers will reflect that they made the right decision, their organisation will benefit and they’ll tell everyone.  And that’s invaluable.

The Omni-Channel Experience, shaken or stirred: right concept, wrong name?

Any time, any place anywhere – it’s the right one.  Who knew that the now decades-old yet iconic Martini ad campaign was forming the basis of what is now tagged as the Omni-channel experience.

The concept is exercising many brains right now.  We know that in an ideal world we need to give an easy, reliable and considered experience however, whenever and wherever our customers and clients demand it, whatever device they are using.  But from the people I’ve spoken to recently about the subject, the bigger question is “How?”.  It will be hard to find anyone who resists the fundamental theory behind an Omni-channel experience, but in practice how do we get the people leading divisional teams within an organisation to talk with each other and to establish practices that benefit each other, the customer and company P&L?

It may be semantics, but the label “Omni-channel” therefore seems to simply exacerbate the current problems and internal challenges rather than help overcome them.  It implies that channels can still function in the way they always have but they simply need to be joined up more effectively.

Legacy systems, behaviours and organisational structures won’t get changed overnight but for me, ticking the “Omni-channel” box is a false ending.  In part it’s because, in determining what our Omni-channel strategy should be, the use of the word “channel” still suggests that the focus is on what an organisation can do with its front-line structure and resources rather than be led by how customers want to do business.  If the latter is the starting point, working back to today’s capability will surely bring about better outcomes than the inside-out approach.

To have an effective Omni-channel strategy needs a clarity of purpose that extends beyond the channels themselves.  Customers deal with a brand as a whole and that therefore needs all the parts of an organisation, whether customer-facing or not, to function as one.

That takes strong leadership and it needs people with the right skills to influence sceptical stakeholders and adapt metric-driven scorecards. But the effort is worth it – there is a good reason why the Martini principles have endured for so long.  They are the right ones.

Jerry

 

 

The Customer Experience message; a victim of its own success?

Over 23 million variations on a theme.  At least, that’s how many links you’ve access to if you put “Definition of customer experience” into Google.   There are only 3 million more links to “Definition of humanity”.

So it’s not surprising that to engage the corporate leadership team or those of a sceptical, short-term disposition in the importance of customer experience, it needs the clarity of a flawless diamond and the long-term vision to match.  Anything less will not secure the ongoing resource and mindset needed.

I’ve seen many in-house customer experience teams who, despite best endeavours, focus nearly all their efforts on internal priorities that could, and realistically probably should, be dealt with by other teams  – ‘customer care’, ‘customer service’, ‘compliance’ and so on.  But at least they can say “We do customer experience” .Customer Experience

Much has been said about how reliant customer experience programmes are on managing emotions.  Yet influencing a room full of cross-functional  executives to change their own objectives to be based around how they make customers feel will at best be daunting, at worst a very short session.  Nonetheless, making sure that root causes of complaints are stamped out and that the commitment to service standards are being maintained are certainly the minimum any enlightened organisation should strive for.  But that’s not customer experience, that’s running a business efficiently.

So this dilution of what customer experience really means and the ability of its champions to articulate that clearly puts it – and therefore the advantages it brings – at risk of becoming a victim of its own success.   The concept of Customer Experience is nothing new, so absent an absolute recognition of how it can help individuals, teams, departments and the organisation overall, there will still be dismissive conversation barriers such as “We’ve done all right so far”, “Yeah, heard of that, everyone’s doing it” and “C’mon, it’s just a fancy name for customer service”.

If Customer Experience is to demonstrate its true value and contribution to the bottom line it needs to keep up the momentum and avoid an unconscious drift into complacency.  Those leading the charge need – more than ever – to talk the language of other business divisions, debunk myths and make it matter to every person.

For those championing the virtues and outcomes of a disciplined approach to customer experience, the challenge is to engage in a way that makes it clear that what the business does collectively today will determine what its individual customers, clients, passengers or patients will do tomorrow.   It has to be about the right experiences, the ones that work in tandem to create the best, balanced outcomes for the business and the people who buy what it sells.

Customer Experience has proved to be a great discipline and catalyst for many companies to improve their commercial performance.  But the label risks being over-used, misunderstood and not telling the full story.  It’s not about the customer experience per se – it’s about how the right experiences will make customers want to choose us again and spend more next time.

As for the search for a definitive platitude about what customer experience is, I think that misses the point.

In the same way that corporate objectives and recruitment policies are individual to an organisation, so too is Customer Experience.  It’s not a department.  It’s cultural and therefore key to what it means for them and their customer strategy.

It’s only my opinion, but without continued effort behind landing the right messages to the right people, without a clarity of purpose matched by strong leadership, the tentacles of metric-driven, short-term objectives will creep back up the pecking order and we’ll wonder why we have to search so hard for good customer experiences again.

The Circular Economy and the Customer Experience

The world is full of great ideas the size of a planet but unfortunately, that’s how most of them stay – just ideas.

For some time now though the Circular Economy has been proving itself as an exception to the rule.  This inspirational initiative is changing the future of the way manufacturers make and service companies sell.  But for their customers and clients, it also means a different way of doing business, something that history tells us must not be overlooked.  In explaining the nature of the new consumer generation, Micha Kaufman at Forbes summarised it neatly by saying “The product itself is not important, only the experience that they contain”.

The creation of the Circular Economy 100 is the latest testimony to the vision and effort that has secured the support and imagination of governments, business leaders and innovators around the world.

Led by the genuinely inspiring Dame Ellen MacArthur and her foundation team, the principles of the Circular Economy have already been adopted.  Moving beyond ‘simply’ cutting carbon emissions and recycling glass into aggregate, some notable and diverse organisations such as wear2 and Maersk Line are effectively starting from scratch; building new processes so that what they make is made to be made again;  the Cradle-to-Cradle approach.  And what are seen as product-oriented companies are looking at how they move to a service / relationship orientation by selling the benefit rather than the product – washing machines for example, where consumers pay by the cycle while the manufacturer takes responsibility for the machine’s upkeep and replacement.

To have brought an idea on this scale from conception to execution is nothing short of phenomenal.  It takes enlightened people, enlightened organisations to change the rules of thinking in a way that will generate significant commercial benefits as well as reducing the enormous and shameful waste that plagues our planet.

Inevitably however, the success or otherwise of the Circular Economy is dependent on an acceptance by clients and consumers that they too must change the way they interact.  And so at this early stage of maturity, organisations have a unique opportunity to ensure, right from the start, that what they build and how they deliver it creates intended, consistent and profitable customer experiences.

The lessons of history teach us that one of the reasons why there is so much focus on customer experience today is because organisations are trying to force-fit new demands on top of old-style business models.  Markets are littered with examples of operational processes that were built for efficiency but that lack the flexibility and personalisation their customers expect.

So much time and effort is being spent investigating root causes of complaints, customer contacts that go under the spreadsheet heading of “failure demand” and simply the need to get the basics right.  And for others, it’s worse.  The focus is way out on the horizon to the extent that the rocks under their feet go unnoticed.  I’d much rather an airline communicate with me when there’s a delay than spend time and money developing an app that just tells me my bags are on the same flight.

Organisations would normally relish the chance to start with a relatively blank piece of paper and design around the customer but they may not have the resources or (yet) the appetite.   In the search for commercial sustainability and market differentiation however, the advent of the Circular Economy is a fantastic opportunity for those businesses who can, to think beyond the implications for its own processes and to genuinely build around what it will be like to be a customer. How will what they do make their clients feel and behave next time? What will their customers say to their family and friends over dinner tonight about what it’s been like to do business with them? And how can they use those experiences to generate more, high value customers?

The circular economy is about the huge economic, commercial and environmental benefits from making things now that can be remade later. But while the focus is understandably about innovation and operational processes, that effort will risk being wasted without the understanding and then the execution of the right customer experiences as an integral element of the design process.

It’s an exciting future but it also has to pay attention to the detail of the end-user experience, lest we go round in circles again.