So we now know that United breaks customers as well as guitars.
Knowing how your business treats its paying customers is one thing; understanding the impact it has on them is quite another. If the organisation is focused primarily on operational logistics, load factors and revenue per mile then such practices are going to be carried out regardless.
But, there’s a real disconnect when, as the airline states, it wants to be a leader in the industry and its goal is “to make every flight a positive experience”. I doubt anyone at United has set out to design a customer journey that involves losing blood and teeth but comments by CEO Oscar Munoz, that it will prove a “watershed moment”, acknowledge the need to be much more aware of the unintended consequences of how they operate.
United’s most recent problem was exacerbated because they had too many people wanting to be on that flight. At the other end of the spectrum is a UK-based airline whose problems appear to arise when there are too few passengers. Bruce Temkin recently published a report into the best and worst customer experience companies in the UK. One of the brands towards the bottom of his list is a well-known regional airline. For years the word on the street (and I can vouch for the experience) is that they have a reputation for delaying or cancelling flights. At the gate, the message is that the aircraft has a technical problem but anecdotally passengers say it often coincides with less-than-full flights. Such is the regularity of schedule changes that many now choose an alternative route and carrier if they really, really need to get from city A to city B at the agreed time.
It must be hard for loyal employees to take the criticism and yet the practice continues. Maybe it’s a cost-led strategy rather than customer-led, which is fine if that’s your choice of how to fly. Maybe.
A few months ago I was presenting research findings back to a Board. It wasn’t all good news. “That was spectacularly uncomfortable to hear” – the words of a Chief Marketing Officer in response to learning what his customers really thought. Thinking I was about to be shown the door, his comment was followed by “Thank you for telling us, we needed to hear it”.
That conversation stuck in my mind, serving as a warning bell about complacency; if we don’t understand our business from our customers’ perspective how do we know we’re anywhere near where we think we are? We do, absolutely, need to mind our own business.
I love facilitating customer journey mapping workshops. Not least, because I always ask for people to share stories about great and awful experiences they’ve had. Sadly, when it comes to bad experiences it’s often the same brands who crop up time after time.
One of those is energy company npower. I’m one of their customers and to be fair, I haven’t had a bad experience with them until now. I do, however, expect anyone in business to get the basics – such as my bills – right. But after my own first tangible experience, amplified by their reputation for customer service, I’m now heading for the switch button.
I’m a dual-fuel customer so I get two annual statements through the post – one electricity and one gas (I had asked for e-statements but that hasn’t been actioned, that’s another story). It’s a weighty envelope so I assume they’ve stuffed it full of newsletters, offers and new terms and conditions. Inside are indeed two annual statements but then each has an exact duplicate. Not only that but there is a third duplicate of each where the only difference on that version is that the amounts are all set to nil.
So if anyone at npower is wondering why their costs are heading in the opposite and wrong direction to their customer satisfaction scores there’s a big clue, right there. How do you do that? In 2017 how do you get it so wrong? I’m assuming they don’t know as I’ve had nothing by way of apology or clarification. But then if they are not so customer-centric in the first place maybe I shouldn’t expect anything.
In a meeting with a subscription services provider recently I was asking about how processes worked. For customers who turn up, buy and go again, everyone was all over it with metrics galore. But enter the world of the ‘What-if’ scenario and things rapidly became less clear. “If I’m this sort of customer, can I do this?”. “Do I need to do that first or do you do that for your customers automatically and if so, do they know that?” “What does this bit mean?”. And so on, all met with lots of “Umm…” and “I think…”.
I make no apology for mentioning again an example of one of the most head-the-sand cases I’ve come across. A utility company I did some work for had, according to its leadership team, very high employee engagement. It followed that while they believed their processes could be better the problem wasn’t their people. On investigation, it transpired the people were totally and utterly disengaged. They didn’t care about fixing customers’ problems and did just enough to get by. They were intelligent people but were fighting a lost cause. If they met someone in a pub who asked where they work, they were more likely to say they were unemployed or make something up than admit to working at the brand. They’d told management time and time again what was going wrong but nothing had been done. And the reason why the employee engagement score was so high was because they deliberately ticked the 10/10 box, thinking that if they didn’t say they were fully engaged they wouldn’t get a bonus. The leadership team had no idea of the extent of the true levels of engagement.
And that’s the point. When we take an operationally-led view we know where we think we’re at because we’ve built the processes, plugged in our systems and measured what we think is right. But look at the same processes from a customer’s perspective and we have a very different view of our world.
If we don’t know our own business, we can’t be confident about understanding how we are making our customers feel. They determine what a customer will do next and how they’ll talk about us to others. It has a real commercial impact and so we need to understand both the experience and the consequence.
We should, literally, mind our own business before our customers are the ones who bump us off.
Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you found it thought-provoking.
I’m Jerry Angrave and I help people in Customer Experience roles do what they need to do. I’m a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional) and am one of a handful of people globally who are authorised by the CXPA to train CX professionals for its accreditation. I founded Empathyce after a long career in CX and Marketing roles and am now a consultant and trainer. I give CX professionals the skills, tools and confidence to be the ones to drive their Customer Experience efforts forward.
Do get in touch if you’ve any comments on the blog, any questions or are interested in training or consultancy support.