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Do the good customer experiences obscure the bad ones for management?

As consumers we know that a company is only as good as the last experience we had with them.  But it does seem that some companies assume if they are able to give a good experience once, they are doing it every time, everywhere.  It’s obviously a very dangerous assumption.

inconsistent customer experiences

It’s not easy when things are inconsistent

I’m often asked who we should look to for customer experience inspiration. Who gets it right and what do they do?

We all have our favourite brands and stories to go with them.  There is no shortage of companies to learn from.  They have the right mindset and are doing great things.  But, organisations not only need to be proficient at walking before they can run, they can’t afford to forget how to walk once they can run.

And so before trying to emulate the great and the good, a question that many businesses should ask is “What do we do today that we should stop doing?”.  What is causing customers and employees, including (especially) the ones who don’t complain, frustration, angst or simply to not engage?

Business leaders may say they are profitable, they have many satisfied customers and their people are proud.  Yet the laws of unintended consequences, of cross-functional operations working to different agendas and of short-term profit-taking throw a protective veil over complacency and corrosive experiences.

The issues are laid bare these days for all to see, especially on social media and review sites.

Take, for example, Trustpilot.  I’m increasingly seeing businesses using the rating as a customer metric in addition to Net Promoter Score, customer satisfaction, effort scores and so on.  It’s freely available and constantly updated.  Companies can track their score, benchmark against competitors and compare parallel sectors.  Crucially though, the unsolicited comments contain a rich seam of qualitative insight that tells us exactly why things go well or not.  Why would you not want to tap into that?  Or, at least learn what makes competitors’ customers unhappy to make sure it’s not happening closer to home?

To illustrate the point, I’ve picked out a few examples and I’ll start with, for me, two surprises…

 

John Lewis is one of the UK’s favourite places to shop.  It keeps winning awards for its in-store service.  The employees have a real stake in making sure customers are happy and it shows.  However, go online and the story is very different.

Where their stores and people will be rated 9s and 10s out of 10, the website scores just 1.4.  That’s as rated by more than 2300 recent reviews.  There’s a lot of good stuff that happens at John Lewis but right now, online they are keeping company with SouthernRail (0.9/10) and lag behind even Ryanair (2.2/10).

Broken promises, conflicting information, inflexibility and being difficult to communicate with are just some of the reasons cited.  Whether that’s a consequence of outsourcing or handing over the post-sale experience to suppliers, only John Lewis themselves fully understand.  However, there are many comments that illustrate the commercial consequences, as one unhappy customer said: “Have spent thousands at John Lewis over the years but after this will go elsewhere”.

Employees answer the negative comments with a resigned “Sorry, we really didn’t mean this to happen” tone.  And one customer summed the gap between expectations and reality by saying “Because it’s John Lewis, it feels worse”.trustpilot jlfd

 

Another brand struggling to keep up with the expectations it has spent much time, money and effort creating is firstdirect.  For many years they were always at the top of the list of exemplars.  Personalised and friendly service, easy to get hold of and no need to repeat issues were just some of its credentials that set it apart from other banks.

At a time when the one thing retail banks need is differentiation, they seemed to have it in spades.  Now though, firstdirect scores just 1.9 out of 10 with many unhappy customers venting their frustrations about things being slow, disinterested employees and not keeping promises to call back or follow-up.

 

Meanwhile, the airline that claimed to be “the world’s favourite” is also no stranger to having a mixed bag of reviews.  On Trustpilot at the moment British Airways’ score is just 2 out of 10.  Reviewers talk of getting “better treatment with Ryanair”, of misinformation and of empty apologies.  At the same time though, happy customers rave about the friendliness of staff, easy booking processes and clean aircraft.  On the aviation-specific review site Skytrax, BA sees a similar spectrum of views from “Cannot fault the airline” to “Terrible service”.

 

Finally, but no surprise this time, is BT.  Every time I run a customer experience workshop I ask people to share a couple of stories of good and bad experiences they’ve had.   There are brands who feature regularly in both camps but BT is by far the most frequently cited company for bad experiences.

On Trustpilot, they score just 0.3 out of 10 from the last 1700 reviews.  Worryingly, if you were leading BT, many comments talk about the highly negative emotional impact – “I’m being driven to despair, I’m distraught and powerless” is just one recent example but reflected by many others too.  The recurring themes here are an inability to find someone to take ownership of a problem, staff attitude and promises that aren’t kept, again and again.

That really isn’t what you want people to be sharing about your brand.  It’s proof the brand is purely what people tell each other it is, regardless of what the strapline says it should be.  And so BT’s internal rhetoric, it would appear, has some way to go.   They talk openly about their approach being to “put customers first”, about wanting to create “the most customer-focused company in the world” and having an ambition by 2020 to “deliver great customer experiences”.  Easy to say, much much harder to do.

 

And in a way, that’s the point. Whether you have made a public declaration to be the best customer experience company or you are simply about making profit, it doesn’t matter to us as customers – the very least we expect from any business is that we can trust them to do what they promise, they’ll make it easy and we won’t have any reservations about doing it again.  Surely, the basics are not too much to ask?

 

As with most review sites views tend to be polarised.  So at the other end of the spectrum, regularly attracting fans and scores of 9s and 10s are the likes of Moo.com, Mr Memory, Outdoorkit and Dial-a-Flight.  These are not corporate giants but by and large they consistently get the basics right , the things those at the bottom of the pile can’t seem to manage.  Common themes cited by customers are that they all have friendly and knowledgable employees, they do what they say they will and they keep customers informed. They make it feel like they’re on the customer’s side, they are perceived as good value and are easy to do business with.  It’s no more complicated than that but the consequences for the bottom line are summed up neatly by one Outdoorkit customer who says “I seem to shop here more and more lately”.

good or bad cx

Are you creating despair or fans? Or both?

I’ve looked at the ends of the scale to make the point. But is there anything to learn from those in the middle? I’d say lots.  In terms of rising expectations, today’s scores of 8 will be tomorrow’s 7 and next week’s 6 so beware of complacency.  Average mid-range scores also show these companies can and do get it right sometimes – they’ve done the hard bit but just lack the consistency.  They have the ability, they just need to make the good things happen regularly rather than sporadically.

Having the aspiration to give great experiences is one thing but the people who lead and manage in organisations must also be sure they have a total self-awareness about what it’s really like to do business for anyone at anytime and anyhow.  By all means protect and improve the good experiences but their presence doesn’t automatically mean an absence of more damaging experiences.

 


I hope the blog gives you some food for thought about your own customer experiences but do get in touch if you have any questions or comments.  Use this site or send an email to me at [email protected] or call me on +44 (0) 7917 718072.  Thank you for taking the time to read the post.  Jerry

Who hangs around longer: complacent employees or valuable customers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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]

ccxp and art

 

 

 

 

Proof that better customer experiences mean better results

If you’re looking for more evidence to show a sceptical stakeholder that better customer experiences mean better results, the recent wave of financial reporting yields a helpful trend.

Not so long ago, updates were all about how a business was coping with the headwinds of tough economic times, exposure to foreign exchange movements, provisions and restructuring costs.  By comparison, little was said about how a business was improving things for the element that generates the bulk of revenue – customers.

In what is emerging as a push-pull scenario, that balance is changing.  One the one hand, companies are doing some great things on the customer agenda and are rightly and proudly shouting about it.  They know they need to be very aware of how what they do impacts on their customers in order to survive, let alone thrive.

On the other hand, investors want to know more.  They too know the commercial value that comes from having more customers coming back more often, spend more on higher margin products and telling everyone else to do the same.   In considering the future value and predictability of the business, they also now want to know how things are being made better and easier for customers.

The back-story to this week’s results from low-cost airline Ryanair is a well-documented but great example.

ryanair investor pres

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary and CFO Neil Sorahan deliver the Q1 results FY16 to investors

A few years ago, despite a very clear proposition they were not liked.  People tolerated them to a point but their apparent contempt of passengers played into the hands of competitors like Easyjet.  Having managed the cost-base to the bare minimum the wavering of higher-value customers was a serious threat.

In response, the “Always Getting Better” initiative was launched with a view to stopping doing the things that irked passengers unnecessarily and to do what they value better.

In its latest results announced this week the airline confirmed it has 380 new aircraft on order.  It has one of the strongest balance sheets in the industry.  Load factors, margins and forward bookings are rising. And it flew over 100 million people in the last year.

But what really stood out in this week’s video briefing by Michael O’Leary was how high up the agenda customer experience now is.  Once not apparently even on the agenda, customer experience is given the spotlight right after the opening headline performance numbers and before an update on fuel hedging, the wider strategic view and financial details.

Not only is the renewed focus on customers having an immediate and beneficial impact, it also helps protect the business in future when the market gets tough.  Two years in to the Always Getting Better programme, it is described as performing “extraordinarily well”.   The increases in load factors and forward booking are, Mr O’Leary asserts, a sign that customers are responding positively to the programme.  And, we are told, that such is the strategic role now played by customer experience at Ryanair that the commercial interest in Aer Lingus is deemed no longer relevant.

 

greggs

Greggs’ focus on in-store customer experience pays dividends

Over in a very different sector, but citing the same focus on customers in its strong results this week, is UK food-on-the-go retailer Greggs.   Despite a 6% increase in sales, growth in its Balanced Choice range of healthy food options and benefiting from low inflation leaving more money in people’s pockets, it is not complacent.  Reporting its operational highlights to the market, CEO Roger Whiteside shares and celebrates what Greggs is doing to achieve ‘great customer experiences’ – one of the four cornerstones of its business strategy.

 

Elsewhere, the reverse is true.  Market analysts who see little growth potential or who are surprised by lacklustre results often cite brands being ‘out of touch’ with their customers and not being organised to serve them properly.

In Japan, Honda chief Takahiro Hachigo recently told markets about how he will rebuild the company following a wave of product recalls that has eroded trust and production targets that have left it with excess capacity in a mature market.  Mr Hachigo’s plan is not about aggressive growth for the sake of it or chasing headline target numbers.  The focus now is on understanding customers better to “deliver their dreams”.  Quite what that looks like remains to be seen, but paired with an ambition to “strengthen communication with people on the ground” the message to investors that it will be about organic, customer-led growth rather than an obsession with metrics, is clear.

 

Giving investors confidence in a predictable business was also the subject of an interview I did recently with Dan Moross of MOO.  The online printer of business cards and stationery enjoys rave reviews from customers, attracts top talent and is regarded by industry commentators as an exemplary start-up.

Key to it all though, is the culture where their people are given the tools, processes and permission to help their customers any way they can.  On a per transaction basis the margins might be shaved, but that is more than made up for in the greater volume of customers attracted by what they hear about MOO.  Are investors happy with that approach, I asked Dan. “Absolutely” was the emphatic reply.  Read that interview here.

 

The focus on customers is not the whole story for many companies.  But, not only is it giving them a good story to tell, investors want to hear how it will help them – and that goes for those sceptical stakeholders too.


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

I’m Jerry Angrave, founder of Empathyce and an ex-corporate customer experience practitioner.  Since 2012 I’ve been a consultant helping others understand how best to improve their customer experiences.  If you’ve any questions about the relationship between customer experience and financial strength or any other CX issue do please get in touch for a chat.  I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 or on email I’m [email protected]

Thank you Jerry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jerry Angrave

CCXP LogoCustomer Experience awards judge

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


 

 

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.

 


 

Take away ad


 

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

 


 

Did City Link’s customer reviews predict failure?

Customer experience reviews are a rich source of information for companies wanting to improve.  They also contain vital signals for companies needing to survive.

On Christmas Eve, the UK parcel courier City Link delivered itself into administration.  A few days later on New Year’s Eve, the absence of anyone wishing to pay the right price to pick up the pieces dealt the final blow.  The company collapsed and took with it the jobs of over 2,300 people.  Timing – whether delivering parcels or news – would sadly not appear to be one of their strong points.

Being aware of the changing environment is key to survival

Being aware of the changing environment is key to survival

Could they have seen it coming?  Maybe they did, but it sends a message to other companies that the early warning signs of trouble and what needs to change are not hidden away in an elusive, impenetrable vault.   Customers themselves are a reliable barometer of the pressure a business is under.  A quick look back at City Link’s customer reviews in the months and weeks leading up to the company’s failure should have set alarm bells ringing far beyond learning about niggles and gripes.

Take what was being said on Trustpilot for example.  There, just under 1,300 customers have taken the time and trouble to share their thoughts.  69% of them gave a 1-star rating;  22% gave 5 stars.  So while some things were being done right, there was clearly a dangerous groundswell of very unhappy customers.

Scores are one thing;  more telling is the level of negative emotion that customers talked about.  Over two-thirds of their customer reviews were not just people with a complaint;  the depth of emotion about their experience was raw and they made sure other customers knew about it.  Other review sites are available but if you want to read what customers said on Trustpilot about being on the receiving end of the wrong customer experiences, click here.

In short, the problem was not that customers felt underwhelmed by the lack of any “wow” experiences.  Of greater concern was the lack of basic expectations – unmet promises, conflicting information and being treated with contempt by rude staff.  Things that are arguably not hugely expensive to put right, but all of which created a lack of trust and customers warning other customers not to use them.

City Link was owned by a private equity firm who will have had a clear idea of what they wanted in return for their investment.  It’s not my money that’s at stake so I’m not in a position to pass comment on the business decisions and focus.  But, those reporting on the collapse cite operational efficiencies and intense competition as key reasons for the demise.  And while neither issue is insignificant it will be rare to find a business that doesn’t share the same challenges.  Worse still, customers have been shouting about the solutions from the pages of review sites.

I’m privileged to work with a variety of organisations across a variety of markets and countries.  It’s also my job to learn from others who are pushing the bar higher or dragging the bar up to where it needs to be to survive.  I see three factors that are common in many cases, and with City Link here too.  One: detail. People talk about surprise and delight, exceeding expectations.  Nice idea, but “WOW” stands for a complete Waste of Work and cost if the basics are not in place.  Two:  consistency.  Those basics need to work time after time, whoever, wherever and however the experience is being delivered.  Three: listen.  Customers are saying what can, and needs to, improve.

So as we finish our reflections on last year and head into the new full of ambition, maybe first up on our 2015 to-do list is to make sure we’re listening properly and acting on the right things that will ensure there is a business for customers and employees to come back to.

 


 

 

Customer experience in the boardroom

Corporate change leads investors to rethink the potential for future income streams.  But, by putting customer experience in the boardroom, can it improve that decision-making process?

 

This week has seen some significant corporate activity in the UK.  BT is making a play for the mobile market by talking to O2 about a return to its fold;  Harriet Green made a surprise departure from Thomas Cook that sent its shares tumbling;  And the East Coast Mainline rail franchise is coming out of public hands and into a combined Stagecoach and Virgin operator.

To make sense of these moves, we generally look to the stockmarket to see whether it’s good news or not.  Fund managers crawl through a jigsaw of balance sheets, management profiles and annual reports to predict how this latest change will affect a company’s future cash flows, profitability and dividends.  Within seconds, the outcome of that opinion is reflected in the share prices of those directly – and indirectly – involved.

There is though, a missing piece in that jigsaw and a critical one at that.  I would say this wouldn’t I, but it’s the opinion of the customer. Why?  A couple of reasons jump out.

Firstly, it is the customer who is going to be handing over the money that creates the revenue that underpins the profit that delivers the dividend.  They can answer some very telling questions: How will these changes affect what they do? What else has it prompted them to share with others that will influence a wider audience?  Why do they have the perception (whether rational or not)  they do?

The answers to many of those questions arguably must provide a better forecast of a company’s future value.  At the very least, an indication of what is going on at that front-line of that company.  Or, early warning signs that having the strongest of capital ratios doesn’t necessarily mean that customers will come, come back, spend more and tell everyone they know to do the same.  Here’s some examples of reactions this week; they have been selected to illustrate the point about underlying issues but have all been in the public domain.

 

BT and O2

 

That last line about changing provider sums up the issue nicely.  Investors might be seeking the short-term profit but customers play the long-game, the implication being that investors will eventually lose as customers do have a choice.  Two interdependent but not always aligned views.

 

 

Stagecoach Vigin win east coast mainline

 

The EastCoast rail franchise focus has been on the winners, yet other operators who were unsuccessful also get caught up in the conversations.

 

 

Thomas Cook

 

Secondly, these key stakeholders can just as easily be shareholders either directly or by association. They are just as informed, just as quick to pass judgement and, at the end of the day, are the ones who will determine whether the stockmarket called it correctly.

 

Investors are in the business of forecasting the future.  So should they be better at listening to customers as if they were in the boardroom?  Should they seek greater reinforcement or challenge to their investment decisions from the very people who will deal in reality, not predictions?

 


 

 

Improving customer experiences: when WOW! stands for Waste Of Work

In seeking a point of differentiation, the creation of a Wow! moment in the customer experience is an admirable strategy.  But whatever makes us say “Wow!”, what is more likely to be the differentiator is all the basics being done well and consistently.

 

The reasons why we as consumers switch between companies is rarely because of the absence of anything that “delights and surprises” us.  It’s much more likely to be because of smaller things, the cumulative impact of niggles and gripes that we expect to be done right.10434205_s
It’s easy to see why organisations are seduced into the idea of creating powerful emotional connections;  ones that that drive memories to keep customers coming back, spending more and telling everyone they know to do the same.  However, Wow! moments are not an automatic ticket to differentiation.

 

For example, when travelling through an airport, my research shows that people simply want them to be clean, friendly, easy and calm.  Only then will we start to worry about self-drop baggage check-ins and architectural aesthestics.  Travelling by train, I just want somewhere to park my car, somewhere to park my backside and some wi-fi.  Pouring billions of pounds into taking 10 minutes off the journey can wait.

 

So one – or even several – Wow! moments doth not a customer experience make.  Especially, when focusing on the emotive aspects comes at the cost of being functional or easy.  Often it’s because companies use technology for technology’s sake; there are personal agendas at work or there is an obsession with process efficacy and metrics.  The telecoms company I’m with recently provided a perfect example.

 

I’ve been a customer of theirs for years.  I really like them and their people. They create “fans”, sponsor major events and have an edgy but professional brand. It works and so I rarely have anything contact with them.  Except in the last two days, where I had two different experiences, both of which made me say “Wow!” but for the wrong reasons, based on a lack of the basics.

 

Firstly, out of contract I wanted to see what my options were before I look around for a new handset and tariff.  On their website, in the phones and tariffs page there is – hidden, well down the page – a “How to buy” number. In the IVR I’m asked for my number and whether or not I’m an existing customer wanting to upgrade.  I am, so assume I’m through to the right place.  Nope.  When I’m connected the agent fumbles around and has to pass me to the “new sales” team.

effort

All I then hear is the noise of a busy office – people chatting loudly to customers and to each other.  Eventually, I hear a timid “Hello?”.  I make my presence known and the agent launches into the prepared script as if that was a perfectly normal way to start.  I go through the request again and ask what the tariffs are for a particular handset.  There’s a long pause, the sound of keyboards being tapped and then I get a confusing deluge of text, megabite and minute options.  I ask the difference between two different handsets.  More clicking and rambling answers.

 

I’m asked if my account with them really is out of contract.  I thought if anyone should know, they should.  To be certain, he gives me a number to text a keyword to.  We wait with baited breath for a message to come back.  “You ain’t got nuthin’ yet?  Oh, you need to write the keyword in capitals, sorry”.  I try again and again I get nothing back. We struggle on but when he asks if I can call back in 15 minutes my patience runs out.

 

I know this particular company can do better, a lot better.  We rate customer experiences on three dimensions;  how easy was it, did it do what I set out to achieve and how did it make me feel.  On none of those levels did the company score well at all, the effort amplified by the fact that it should have been so easy.

 

The next day, coincidentally or not, I received an invitation from them to become part of a customer panel. “Help define our future, we want your thoughts on how we can work better for you” and so on.  It’s nice to be asked, so I clicked the email link to join. I get taken to a pre-qualification web page.  Am I male/female? Date of birth? Which region/postcode do I live in?  All of which they know already, surely. Then I’m asked my household income and nature of my business.  Having gone through all that I then get a message pop up to say they already have too many people like me so they don’t need my views:
response
What a waste of everyone’s time, it didn’t make me feel particularly warm to the brand and I’m curious as to why they would push away someone who is happy to help them. Such is life.
 
I wish those in the board room who sign-off the high-cost Wow! investments that few are asking for could experience the customer journey of the low-cost, invaluable basics being done badly for so many.  These are basic expectations, the bar of which is rising faster than the bar of Wow! expectations.  The irony is that a customer experience with all the basics in place, done well time after time creates more differentiation, more loyalty and itself becomes the “Wow!”.

 

Jerry Angrave
Founder, Empathyce
+44 (0) 7917 718 072
@Empathyce

Are we talking the right language of customer experience?

Many customer experiences simply happen because when it comes to the attitude and processes, we hear people say “We’ve always done it this way”.  And if it works today, why not?  Well, for a start things could be so much better.  Maybe – and I’ve often seen – things aren’t actually working in the way your customers want.  The consequences of complacency are huge yet that word rarely, if ever, makes an appearance on the “risks and issues” log.

There’s an equally risky parallel in the language of customer experience; the risk being that we have all adopted the phrases and platitudes over time to the extent where if we’re all thinking the same way, having the right and differentiated customer experiences will be so much harder to achieve.  I’ve written before on the need for differentiated experiences from differentiated thinking.

For example, in a workshop where you have people from Operations, Marketing, Sales, Finance and Legal teams, many of them will be seeing this stuff for the first time.  They might be cynical, they might be enthusiastic but they need to hear and understand with absolute clarity the words being used.  Here are some examples, with some suggestions where the vocabulary could be different in order to get people in the right mind-set to bring about better outcomes. They’re not going to become mainstream and you will have your own thoughts, but the idea is to avoid the risk of undifferentiated stakeholder experiences because the language being used internally is itself undifferentiated

 

Customer Experience or Customer Memorylanguage of customer experience

To talk about “experiences” has become commonplace and inevitably perhaps, it is diluted in its impact.  To those keen to pile in, it suggests that our focus should be mostly just on the “what happens”.  Our thinking becomes limited to the very functional aspects of what we do because that’s the tangible bit.  Yet we know that what affects the likelihood of someone coming back to us next time, spending more more often and telling everyone else, is what they recall when they’re about to do that – their memory about how easy it was and how it made them feel.  Another post looks at that “customer memory” in more depth.

 

We need a customer journey map for that! or We need a customer story for that!

This often-heard comment in meetings is followed by someone retrieving a linear process map to use as what they see as an acceptable alternative.

To create a customer journey still implies a simple A-B set of interactions but the very use of the word “journey” still suggests a functional, linear approach.  What we need to know and create is the story that a customer will tell someone else.  We’re all people, we’re all customers;  when we do business with a company or go to a restaurant we don’t consciously set out to go on a “journey” but what we then think and talk about in terms of what it was like becomes very much a story.

 

The end-to-end journey or From last time to this time to next time

Having an end-to-end journey helps fit with the logical side of our thinking.  Conveniently, it also fits the left to right concept that is perpetuated by PowerPoint and Excel.  I’m guilty, I’ve created loads in my time but it still is not reflective of how our customers – or us when we’re going about our daily lives – really think about things.  Maybe we need a pyschologist to really create accurate representations of what it’s like to be a customer.  But while I’m all for keeping things simple, end-to-end still suggests a definitive start and finish point.  If we really want to understand our customers then we need to think way beyond those boundaries.

 

The voice of the customer or What people think

Talk to a room of people about the “voice of the customer” and there are sage nods and chatter about feedback surveys.  Again though, it risks limiting the understanding of what we’re really driving at here. It’s not just about hearing what our customers are saying, it’s about understanding why people think and feel the way they do.  It’s also not just about sharing what customers think, it’s very much about our own employees too.  After all they are the ones who are making the the experience what it is and are often the ones who know what to fix. However, no-one has listened to them or has acted on what they said because business leaders are focused solely on turning the “voice of the customer” into a higher net promoter score.

 

I have the privilege of working across a variety of markets with talented people in all sorts of organisations and with an infinite number of challenges.  One common theme though, especially when people are going on their own personal journey of customer experience familiarity is that the language becomes a proxy for leadership of the customer agenda.  Giving it the clarity and relevance it deserves, thinking about it differently to your competitors who are reading text-books and listening to career consultants will give you the differentiation your organisation needs.

 

 

 

 

Will thinking like a retailer improve customer experiences?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Differentiated customer experiences require differentiated thinking

Organisations waste time, money and effort if their approach to creating differentiated experiences is based on the very undifferentiated “Let’s walk a mile in our customers’ shoes”.   Inspiration for better and more valuable experiences comes from those who experience things differently.


 

When teams set out to map customer journeys there’s often a familiar reminder of the need to “Put ourselves in our customers’ shoes”.  Assuming that the journey being mapped is a strategic priority and there is an ability to act on the findings, it’s a concept that’s logical and, to a degree, works.

However, that very familiarity is also its Achilles heel.  If we and our competitors are looking at things in the same way, the chances of creating differentiated experiences with undifferentiated thinking are not looking good.  In the journey mapping workshop, everyone nods and agrees that it’s the right thing to do but exactly what it means and why it’s important can get lost in the enthusiasm of being away from the day-job and amid the swarm of post-it notes.WallaceSpace

It’s all good and valid work, but it’s highly likely to produce a sanitised and generic version of the journey.  Putting ourselves in customers’ proverbial shoes cannot tell us what our customers think when they are in their own shoes;  however hard we try, it will still be us pretending to be them.

Even if we create a perfect vision of what the journey should be, by starting with us as a proxy for the customer, by the time any innovation has found its way through the corporate filters of business cases, project scope alignment and demands for “What’s the ROI?”, what were great ideas become diluted.  Had the vision been a little more ambitious and creative to start with, our diluted outcome would be stronger for it.

And so for those who want to take things a step further the approach needs to be stretched.  When we learn to negotiate, if it’s for a 5% budget increase we will probably try starting with +8%.  Swimmers train with weight-belts, motor-cyclists are taught to stay focused on the vanishing point of the road and not to stare at the front tyre.  It’s that thing about reaching the moon by shooting for the stars.

There is one group of people to whom we can turn to for inspiration in so many ways, including here.  They are ordinary human beings who live with some kind of mental or physical condition that we tend to label as having a disability or special needs.

In the UK, over eleven million people have a limiting long-term illness or an impairment of some kind according to the Government. It’s not unreasonable to assume that each of those individuals has at least two people who have been through the emotional highs and lows with them and sacrifice a lot to help them get through their daily lives.  Even if we rounded the numbers and said that 30 million people – nearly half the UK population – are affected, the chances are that we all have such customers. Next time you think a customer is over-reacting to not getting a call back as promised, it might be because they’ve been up all night trying to calm an apoplectic 12-year old who is unable to talk and explain what the problem is.

To help those mapping out customer journeys, adopting the persona of a typical customer type is a step in the right direction.  But, by seeing things from the perspective of someone who interacts with the world in a very different way, it can really sharpen up the process.  Take, for example, a team who wants to make the airport experience better.

The type of hand-drier in the toilets might not seem to be a particular issue.  But for someone with autism, hyper-sensitive emotions and a need for predictability, loud and sudden noises created by the blast from the current wave of dip-your-hand-in driers can at best be deeply distressing.  Creating a situation where your customers run among other customers, screaming and with their hands over their ears is, I’m sure, not an intentional experience. But there’s also a financial impact;  I know people who avoid one major airport for that very reason.

Addressing that particular issue also creates a calmer environment for everyone, something that is high on the list of unprompted things that passengers of all abilities value. Those anxious people who go on a fear of flying course do so because they thought it was the flight, not the airport, that would be stressful.differentiated

Many companies will proclaim they want to make things easy for their customers.  And people will quietly tolerate the niggles of call-centre on-hold messages or staff who close up their shop five minutes before time.  If we’re journey mapping by putting ourselves in our customers’ shoes, those are things we might not be bothered by and so we unintentionally assume our customers won’t either. But, look at it from the perspective of someone with depression, who has taken days if not weeks to build up the courage and mental energy to call only to be told to wait even longer;  the stroke sufferer who wants to ask a simple question but has problems speaking and being understood.  Or, the parent who can’t remember the last night of unbroken sleep, when they last woke up without being woken up and what life was like before washing bedroom walls became a daily task.  Many employees in a call-centre or retail space may not have had the life-experience of interacting with people for whom living independently – or living at all – is a major achievement.  Surely if we made things easy for them, everyone else benefits too.

Another example.  A common gripe is the ability to understand the bills we get, especially from utilities. I was with an energy-company client recently listening to customer calls and had to stifle a chuckle when the exasperated customer declared “I’ve a master’s degree in physics but I don’t understand this bill”.  Imagine then, what it is like if you have any kind of mental disability or a condition such as dyslexia.

Likewise, if a toy gets delivered and it’s the wrong one, do we assume that people will see it as a minor inconvenience and so we’ll be ready when they call up for a replacement.  Or, because we acknowledge that a parent or carer might have to explain that to a distraught child using Makaton sign-language, we fix the process that causes the problem in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many companies doing small and discrete things that make a big difference.  To provide a balance, Manchester airport publishes a guide specifically for those with disabilities and their carers; Birmingham airport has staff who will recognise signs in body language that suggest something is not right and they’re trained to do something about it. Monarch is replicating the London 2012 Games Makers training for its staff.

There are altruistic and – because of the world we live in – commercial reasons for taking this approach.  But, if we stretch our customer thinking in a different way to our competitors and we design journeys around real people, not the processes we force them through, empathy and ease translates smoothly into a better business for everyone concerned.

Thank you, let me know what you think.  And if you’re interested in helping to improve customer experiences for people with special needs, please join my group over on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/groups/Improving-Customer-Experiences-People-Special-4583395/about.

 

 

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.

 

Whose role is it anyway? The organisational side of Customer Experience

The philosophy behind customer experience has been around since cavemen first traded a club for a spear.  It was simple then, as it is now.  If you didn’t like who you were buying from or you felt they were getting more out of it than you, you’d probably get your own back by inventing the wheel or going to see who’s in the next valley.

Maybe because we’re better at evolution than revolution, many organisations today are shoe-horning that basic concept of customer experience into an existing model.  And while there are companies who regularly get a mention for making us feel good about doing business with them, many more have reinvented that wheel only to have it spinning, making very slow – if any – progress.

There are generally three types of organisational approach to tackling customer experience;  add the responsibility to an existing team, create a new team or have a culture where everybody is accountable.   The benefits of customer experience are buried beneath a duvet of repeated platitudes so I won’t cover those here, but the unintended pitfalls of each are worth a quick look.

Add customer experience to an existing team

Done in the right way it can be highly motivating to be asked to take on more responsibility, especially if it’s to lead and manage something like the customer agenda.  A bigger challenge but a bigger profile too.  Usually, it will be complementary to the role that team already carries out – Marketing, Customer Service or Complaints for example.

But rarely will the existing responsibilities be pegged back and often the measures by which performance will be judged are an extension of what the objectives are already.  The consequence is that while the ambition is there, the reality is that the day-job still takes priority.  At best, the specific skills and way of thinking that are needed to run a customer experience programme evolve from what is there already.  At worst, the team gets a pasting in their performance review because what the CEO expected isn’t delivered.  Rather like their customers’ experiences.

Create a new customer experience team

Surely the watertight answer?  Not always.  For the individuals involved, being part of a new team is exciting in its own right.  Being part of an organisation that is putting its money where its mouth is, even better.  It’s a great opportunity and if – and that’s a big if – the top-level sponsorship is visible and solid, the opportunity to influence others to do the right thing is inspiring.

Yet teams can easily become a victim of their own success if they let it.  The creation of a bespoke go-to resource that is going to lead the customer experience charge carries an inherent danger that others think they are absolved of the responsibility.  That mind-set is exaggerated if performance measures across the organisation don’t change to be in sync either.

Without the right leadership and engagement of peers, the team quickly finds they are picking up everything and anything to do with “customer” on behalf of the business.  They get to handle complaints, they run customer service weeks, they monitor and report on compliance outcomes and they get drawn in to police programmes and projects.

Individuals who are given the customer experience roles from other parts of the business often remain task-oriented, keen to impress and be busy.  So will they have the inclination, confidence or authority to learn specific customer experience skills? To follow what is being said about them and their competitors in social media and to develop reciprocal relationships with internal and external partners based on mutual understandings?  Or will they settle for linear process maps rather customer journeys?  Report to their boss that the call-centre manager won’t carry out a quick survey at the end of calls because it adds to the average handling time metrics?

Strong governance, inclusive of every part of the business from reception desk to board table is the key.  Working to the same priorities that everyone else is, knowing what the latest brand campaign is all about, understanding each other’s challenges – it’s nothing new but its effective adoption by many ranks naively low on the corporate ‘to-do’ list.

Have the right culture

The good news is that whether they know it or not, every organisation already has a customer culture.   The bad news is that it’s not always the right one.  Even worse, some are unable to articulate which it is, good or bad.

In the same way that we shouldn’t need complaints departments, a well-led customer experience department should do itself out of a job.  It’s not a function, it’s a way of thinking and a strategic tool that makes the business more efficient;  driving out duplicated and superfluous costs and focusing resources of the things that matter most to the health of the company and repeat business from more of the most valuable customers.

Delivering on the strategic plan, whether it’s to stabilise, grow or transform a business takes much more than a poster on the wall that proclaims “We put customers at the heart of everything we do!”.

What does the right customer culture look like?  That is up to you, your brand and your leadership style.  But as they say, what’s on the inside gets reflected on the outside.

If your people have little understanding of what the business is doing and why, if they are applauded for following processes rather than doing what’s right for the customer and if they talk about their competitors more than their own brand, then maybe the time is right to step outside.

Join the others looking in, see what they see and do something about it – before they head off to the next valley.

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.

Customer Experience at the Board table: a voice, a vote or a veto?

Everyone seems agreed that, like the complaints department, in theory the real aim of an in-house customer experience team should be to do itself out of a role.

I say that because if every decision made by an organisation strikes the right balance between what its customers value and what drives the corporate value, then there is no need for anyone to champion its cause.  It’ll just happen.  It’ll just be the way things are done.

Until then however, those leading and managing the customer agenda need the skills and credibility to get people talking to each other, to demonstrate unequivocal proof that customer experience doesn’t leave money on the table and to be accountable for ensuring that the right things are being done in the right order.  Not only does that have to happen across the width of a multi-functional structure but from the very top down.

Recent corporate evolution has seen Boards grow more upright Evolution of Progressas they respond to what’s going on around them and the discovery of how interdependent the executive team is.  The finance chief, risk head and company secretary have pretty much always been at the top table; HR took its place when team-building and balanced scorecards came of age along with the decentralisation of its core services;  to keep up with Sales, the Operations and Marketing divisions then were invited in.  And more recently, general counsel – traditionally the gatekeepers at the end of the corridor – are being brought much closer in to the running of the business.

As a result, for a customer experience leader there is intense competition around the Board table for attention, time and resources.  But it is essential for that person to be able to go toe-to-toe with everyone in the senior team; not because they want to win their argument and look important but because they will genuinely have customer insights that will make the decision-making process more effective.  Of course, there will be personal agendas all around the table as individuals try to be seen exerting their influence on cash-flow.  However, predicting the commercial impact of customer behaviour based on what the corporate strategy needs can align and prioritise decisions as well as take out costs that are duplicated or that are not valued.  Absent that guidance and customer strategy, the risks and unintended consequences quickly turn into unnecessary but costly issues.

Having a voice that is heard and listened to is a great start and a large number of companies are heading down that path.  Going a step further is having a vote, helping to ensure that things are done for the right reasons and that at the very least, the real-world customer impact has been given due consideration.

But better still, is for those in charge of ‘customer experience’, whatever the size of team, to have the right of veto on decisions that affect customers directly or indirectly – for the organisation’s own long-term good.  There are few people who work right across every function and who also have the opportunity to be the one who gets them all in the same place.  Even fewer know what shutterstock_87641005it’s really like to be one of their own customers and how that affects what they do next time.  That knowledge needs to be used to its full competitive advantage.

Having a unilateral right of veto might seem a bit extreme but if we are all agreed that in an ideal world a customer experience team would not be needed, that is effectively what the organisation would evolve to do, naturally and instinctively.

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.

Do we, and banks themselves, have the appetite to change current accounts?

The Post Office announced today that it is to launch a current account into the UK market, supplied by Bank of Ireland.  It will therefore go some way to allaying the Office of Fair Trading’s fears that because 75% of the market is sewn up by just four banks – Lloyds, RBS, Barclays and HSBC – the restricted choice is not good for competition.  post office atmBut, what will customers make of it?

Current accounts are notoriously sticky, perpetuated by the perceptions of how difficult it is to change and lack of differentiation.  Research by JD Power says that switching is more likely to be triggered by a change in a customer’s circumstances such as a new job, marriage or moving home, than by the attraction of special fees or by suffering bad service.  So it’s no surprise that, according to MoneySupermarket, eight out of ten people have no plans to change in the next 12 months.

So is another current account the answer?  Is the reason why there’s so little switching because it’s the “Same old same-old” rather than a different new?

To paraphrase Bill Gates, we don’t need banks or even bank accounts.  Rather, we need an easy, efficient way of allowing us to exchange money for goods.  Earlier this year, the Payments Council reported that over 90% of our transactions are for a value of under £25, making the adoption of contactless payment technology ever more attractive.

With a branch footprint that is larger than all other banks combined, the Post Office sees that as an opportunity to go back to more personalised, community banking.  But time will tell whether it’s a reliable point of differentiation in today’s channel-agnostic world.

A quick look at a recent survey by Which? on how bank accounts are rated shows that three of the top four – First Direct, Smile and the One Account – do not have a high street presence.  Tellingly, the fourth, the Co-Operative Bank, is not one of the ‘big four’ either.

At the other end of the scale, reaffirming that price is not the be-all and end-all, Santander scored the lowest despite having the highest interest rate on credit balances.  So the challenge, for customers to decide if they should switch and for providers to offer the right value, is not insignificant.

But that may be changing.  Choice is growing and with it the opportunity for new entrants to clear away the complexities of fee charging structures, to start with new technology that gets the basics right every time and to position themselves to take full advantage of the more stringent switching mandates coming into effect later this year.  The energetic Metro Bank is opening new branches and getting good reviews from its customers and – literally – their dogs too.  The purchase by the Co-Operative Bank from Lloyds Banking Group of a ready-to-go operation made up of customers, accounts, staff and branches is also drifting to a conclusion.

And two others to watch.  In the background, the shy but highly effective Handelsbanken.  With 150 locally-focused branches, a decentralised decision-making philosophy and a belief that banking is about customers and not products, the Swedish bank has quietly created greater, genuine loyalty among its customers, a stronger reputation in the markets and a higher average profitability than its competitors.

In the United States, Simple has created an invitation-only banking proposition that is making a few C-Suite Executives sit up and take notice.  Being purely technology-based doesn’t create lasting differentiation but its attitude is hard to replicate by established banks.  There are no fees, the revenue is generated by the spread between asset and liability pricing.  Their call centres are very light on scripting, encouraging conversations rather than transactions – humanising the experience again.  Their debit cards arrive presented as a gift, not tucked inside an A4 tri-fold covered in barcodes.

Meanwhile, back in the UK, current account providers are seeing the revenue generated from an active account reducing.  The OFT calculates a fall from £152 per account in 2008 to £139 in 2012.  So what’s the appeal for those wanting to play?  The real opportunity lies in the ability to use the account as a foundation for deepening the relationship, otherwise known as “selling more products”.

That’s where the likes of the Post Office may be able to grab an advantage;  to make the most of their face-to-face interactions, building trust and empathy that do lead to additional sales and revenue, just in a less adversarial way.  One of the biggest gripes about banks is that every time we are in touch with them, it seems they are always in a rush trying to sell us something.  It’s probably not without reason either.  Highly complex algorithms have been trawling through vast data warehouses as they carry out their propensity modelling.  In a thirst to meet balanced scorecard objectives, they generate more sales leads than the front-line can handle.

Current Accounts - how will they evolve?

The writing on the wall for current accounts: how, will they evolve?

What that looks like to a customer is, hopefully, what the new entrants can avoid.  It’s ok to get what’s labelled as a customer service call saying “I’m just ringing to check that everything’s ok?”.  But when it’s followed by “Ah, sorry to hear the kids are playing up right now, but would a personal loan be useful so you can all go on holiday?” that’s not very helpful.  What’s worse, is when I say “Actually, yes, I want to talk about that duplicated direct debit last month, which no-one has contacted me about” and I’m told I have to call someone else about that.

Evidence suggests that most providers are still heavily reliant on looking to transactional current accounts in order to create relationships.  More of the same isn’t really a sharp enough stick with which to poke ambivalent and inert customers into switching.  But for some, innovation based on having an absolute understanding of what it’s really like to be a customer and what they are looking for will see them evolve from same-old to different-new before their competitors.

And when banks change their current account, that is when we’ll change our current account too.

Customers et al. It’s their experience too…

More often than not the Customer Experience spotlight lands directly on the person who is buying, the patient who is being treated or the customer who is complaining. It means that the experience is designed around that person, the feedback requests reach out to that person and changes are made based on what that person says. And with good reason too.

shutterstock_50501017

But there are occasions when that spotlight may be too focused; so intent on its target that it misses a real opportunity close by. It’s one that rarely gets a mention but left unchecked can have just as much of a detrimental impact on future business as ignoring the primary customer; it’s the people who are with them at the time.

These are customers by association and therefore potential future customers. Maybe they are already existing customers. They are, for example, the parents of a first-time buyer helping their son or daughter negotiate the house-buying process or are keeping an eye on the mortgage paperwork. It could be someone picking friends up from the airport or relatives visiting a patient undergoing private medical care.

They see at first-hand what it’s really like to be a customer and have their own interactions too. As a result, that experience puts them in a position where they can just as easily become a recommender or a detractor. Their memory of what they saw and how someone close to them was made to feel will influence their next buying decision in the same way as if it was their own experience.

And that’s the point. It was their experience, just from a slightly different perspective. It’s one that the spotlight should not leave in the shadows.

Jerry Angrave
Managing Director, Empathyce
+44(0) 7917 718072
[email protected]
www.empathyce.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Customer Service is practical; Customer Experience is memorable. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mind the gap between Customer Experience and Customer Service

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

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

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

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

We’re only human; the Social Care experience should acknowledge that.

The Children and Families Bill:  will it be enough of the right help, or just ‘help’ ?

If you were the CEO of an organisation whose latest customer research showed that 62% do not get the help they need, 60% describe their interactions as “a battle” and 40% said their needs are not understood, I’d suggest you’d be rather alarmed.

These are not customers though, they are ordinary parents and people who are looking after disabled children.  They simply want the right kind of help.

The right kind of help at the right time in the right place

This research by Scope is then both alarming and saddening.  Many of these people are likely to be mentally and physically exhausted, keeping going because they have to, reaching out for help from their isolated world only to face what appears to be a vertical cliff of obstacle after obstacle rising out of sight.

The good news is that a helping hand may (should) be on its way in the form of the Children and Families Bill, which has been drafted and is now being reviewed.  Scope and other leading charities are making strong representations to ensure that the Bill does what it should do; to understand what it’s really like to be the person in a position needing to ask for help and to make the right kind of help easily accessible to everyone who needs it.

As with getting all “customer” experiences right, it’s about empathy and understanding the emotional investment in the issue, especially when we’re talking about helping real people who are helping real people.

Jerry Angrave
Customer Experience Consultant
 
+44 (0) 7917 718 072
www.customerexperience.uk.com
[email protected]
 
Jerry Angrave helps business leaders plan and deliver Customer Strategies, design and execute customer experience programmes and provides coaching and personal development tools for those charged with leading and managing the customer agenda.  These services are borne out of real-world know-how in running teams of Customer Experience professionals and Customer “champions” in large complex businesses.
 
Twitter – @IdealExperience
LinkedIn – http://uk.linkedin.com/in/improvecustomerexperiences

What happened to our Brand? It dropped through the gap between Customer Service and Customer Experience…

Which has the bigger impact on the bottom-line:  ticking the boxes for slick customer service or having customers feel and behave as you intended?

There’s nothing new in saying Customer Service isn’t the same as Customer Experience but I’m often asked if it matters that much.   It should matter, very much.  Fortunately (or rather, unfortunately) there’s no shortage of examples that show why.

Imagine if you will, a high-level meeting within a large passenger rail franchise discussing latest performance figures.  “How were our customers last month?” someone asks, eventually.

“Well, it’s all looking ok” comes the response. “100% of the trains left and arrived on time and every train was fully staffed to help our guests.  Passenger numbers were up, especially on the peak-time trains and yet we coped with no additional costs of extra capacity.  Customer satisfaction was down a few notches at 20% but that’s probably just a statistical anomaly in the calculation again”.  And so on.  The meeting closes with no further action points, happy that everything is, pardon the pun, on track.

The service picture (the bits they are looking at) is shaping up well but there are always two sides to every story.  So in that same month, what did it really look and feel like to be a passenger.  One passenger (yours truly) had the same experience on many occasions…

I leave the jostling of a rush-hour underground system behind and step into the main-line terminal concourse.  Phew.  It’s been a long day, I’m tired, I left home well before dawn and now because my meeting overran, I’ll miss putting the kids to bed.  Not much I can do now though.  I had a seat reserved but it was on the train that left a while ago.  Still there’s one every hour and I’ve got a flexible ticket so I’ll go grab a coffee and get the next one.

Hang on. Coffee will have to wait.  It’d be nice to wind down this time in the evening but I’ve a gauntlet to run.  Like anticipating the lights of a grand prix start, I – and it seems several hundred others – are taking up a position of stealth.  We need to be at just the right place where we can see the platform number ‘revealed’ so that when the swarm of flailing jackets, cartwheeling suitcases and over-size man-bags makes a bolt for it, we’re right at the front.  The prize?  A seat.  It’s a very basic expectation, it’s not much to ask, but it’s not guaranteed.

Mind the gap between Service and Experience

The platform’s called and suddenly it’s like the whole All Blacks squad is chasing down a loose ball.  Work shoes are not meant to be run in.  It’s frantic and all very undignified.  Once on board, pause to put a bag in the rack overhead and you’ll find someone’s jumped into your seat and then, conveniently, they grow selective hearing and the manners of a potato.

The result?  I paid a premium price to travel at peak time and to have a degree of flexibility.  Yet I (and many others) have to stand in a draughty, noisy doorway near a toilet for the first hour or so of a two-hour journey.  This often happens but we all agree they don’t respond to complaints and so our collective plans to use a different route and franchise next time quickly take shape.

I won’t go on.  Back to the meeting then.  The point is that ticking the boxes of customer service is fine to an extent as long as they are the right boxes.  Nonetheless, the brand and P&L will be seriously undermined if that’s not done in the context of knowing – in a timely manner and being prepared to do something about it – how what happens makes customers feel and behave; how that writes the story they will tell about their brand experience.

As they say, whatever the intention, whatever the strapline offers, the brand is what the brand does.

Jerry Angrave
Customer Experience Consultant
 
+44 (0) 7917 718 072
www.customerexperience.uk.com
[email protected]
 
Jerry Angrave helps business leaders plan and deliver Customer Strategies, design and execute customer experience programmes and provides coaching and personal development tools for those charged with leading and managing the customer agenda.  These services are borne out of real-world know-how in running teams of Customer Experience professionals and Customer “champions” in large complex businesses. 
 
Twitter – @IdealExperience
LinkedIn – http://uk.linkedin.com/in/improvecustomerexperiences
 
 

The emotive price of “Wow!!” vs “What??”

Low headline prices.  It’s a familiar scenario in many industries, forced on companies trying to prise open the gap between revenue and costs by generating greater volume and more loyalty than their competitive peers.  At the same time, there is a relentless pursuit of bringing innovative products, differentiated propositions and “Wow!” moments to market.

But looking at the reasons why customers say “I’ll never, EVER use them again” – and advise others to do the same – is rarely because of the price or perceived value, but almost always about service.  Or rather, the lack of it and the consequences for how that made them feel.

Looking at consumer reviews recently as part of a research assignment, it’s clear the extent to which a lacklustre experience is a destroyer of value, much more so than a low price creates it.

As ever with research, there are caveats.  Telecoms, airlines, banks, utility companies – and no doubt many others – all have their good guys and bad guys.  And in self-generated reviews online, the tendency is to get polarised opinions.

Recently I studied a random sample of 200 reviews across a variety of industries where the customers were not only scoring zero, 1 or 2 on a satisfaction or advocacy scale but they were adamant that their relationship was over.  Of those 200, the future behaviour of 189 (94%) was directly attributable to the service they had.  94%!

Often it’s about causes of frustration – “You what??” – and the lack of (expected) basics rather than the absence of a “Wow!!” moment.  It’s an emotional thing and it’s easy to see why.  However, for the business, the root causes would not cost a fortune to do in a more constructive way or avoid completely.  For example, the reasons cited by these customers included:

“It was only a 2-hour flight but there were relentless announcements and pressure selling of scratch cards and ‘Win a trip to Las Vegas’ competitions.  Not relaxing at all.  Very unpleasant”.

“All the staff looked tired and as if they didn’t want to be there”.

“They don’t get back to you when they say they would and when they eventually do, you get a different answer each time.  Honestly, how hard can it be?” 

With the small exception of a handful of reviews, each articulated at least one negative emotion.  I know that getting metric-driven operations teams or a target-focused sales force to make changes based on how they make customers feel is a huge cultural challenge, but it can be done.  The brand is, very much, what the brand does and how it makes customers feel.

Brand loyalty?  Getting harder all the time.  After all, customers are primarily loyal to their wallets and to their own well-being.  If the same focus and resource that was put on pricing and yield management was given to the customer experience, businesses – at relatively little cost – will be able to increase revenue and reduce costs by getting customers to come back simply because of how they are treated rather than how much the widget costs.

Jerry Angrave
Customer Experience Consultant
 
+44 (0) 7917 718 072
www.customerexperience.uk.com
[email protected]
 
Twitter – @IdealExperience
LinkedIn – http://uk.linkedin.com/in/improvecustomerexperiences
 

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

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

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

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

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

A recent example brings the differences to life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerry Angrave
Customer Experience Consultant
 
+44 (0) 7917 718 072
www.customerexperience.uk.com
[email protected]
 
Twitter – @IdealExperience
LinkedIn – http://uk.linkedin.com/in/improvecustomerexperiences
 
 
 

Four (and a half) rules to measure Customer and Client Experiences

The good news is, there’s not much we can’t measure these days, whether it’s the mood of the nation or how fast the Universe is expanding.  And so when it comes to measuring Customer and Client experiences we’ve never had it so good.  Measure Customer Experiences - information at our fingertipsSo much information, right at our fingertips.

But the bad news is that it becomes very easy to over-complicate things.  Without a disciplined focus on measuring customer experiences, we’ll fix the wrong processes and remain blissfully unaware of what’s really important.  In the meantime, our competitors are turning the right experiences into better business while we’re left wondering why, despite an increase in scores, our Customer Experience Management programme isn’t working for the bottom line.

To avoid falling into this trap, there is no shortage of do’s and dont’s.  However, to make things a little easier, I stick to four (and a half) key rules that keep things on the right track.

Rule number one:  Measure the right things.  Sounds obvious, but it’s easy to make an assumption that the answers lie within the wealth of information that already exists.   Satisfaction scores, sentiment values, sales data, complaints analysis, operational metrics, channel performance, customer lifetime value and product margins all play a part and indeed will provide some useful information.  However, it’s real insight we’re after so we need to use tools like forensic customer journey mapping to ask customers the right questions at the right time.

Operational data may be applauded for reducing average call times, but if that touchpoint is the most important thing to your customer base, making them feel rushed and unimportant won’t be helping to create a better business.

Rule number two:  Be prepared to act on the insight. With the right analysis, good qualitative and quantitative information, overlaid with the priorities of the Customer Strategy, will show what to do next.  Rich and perceptive insight into what it’s really like to be a customer is invaluable.  Measurement though, is not the end-game, it is a means to an end.  There must be an appetite, framework and culture that ensures the right information is passed to the right people to make the right changes;  the right governance will then monitor, measure and report on the impact.

Rule number three:  Don’t let measurement drive the wrong behaviours.  That customer experiences are being measured is great news but beware the unintended consequences.  We need to know, for example, how the very mechanics of collecting feedback influence the scores.

Business units salivate at getting their next set of scores but the motivating factor can be more about hitting targets in Balanced Scorecards than improving customer experiences.  True, an increase in advocacy and satisfaction scores is a worthy aspiration.  But, if the interactions being measured and incentivised are just the ones that provide audits of what the operations manual says should happen, employees’ focus will be in the wrong place.

Track the right information to get where you want to

Track the right information to get where you want to

Rule number four:  Understand why the score is what it is.  A score is but a score, whether it’s advocacy, satisfaction or emotionally-based.  Spreadsheets of data, even ones showing improvements, don’t tell the full story.  Ask “Why?”.  Then “Why?” again until you can’t delve any further.

The real gold is in understanding the links between the qualitative feedback from customers and employees to the quantitative results and how they sit in the Customer Strategy.  The answers then give clear direction about what to do next in a way that works both for customers and the business.

Which brings me to the last (half) rule; it’s not a full rule because it’s simply my unbreakable mantra to stop organisations obsessing about the numbers.  It’s this:  Get the experience right first, and the scores will look after themselves.

Here’s to productive measuring!

Jerry Angrave

Jerry Angrave is a Customer Experience Specialist & Consultant.  Jerry Angrave, Customer Experience SpecialistHe helps organisations to be in a better position to offer the right experiences for Customers and Clients that lead to better business.
 
Call:          +44 (0) 7917 718072
Email:      [email protected] 
Web:         www.customerexperience.uk.com
Follow:     http://twitter.com/jerryangrave
Connect:   http://uk.linkedin.com/in/improvecustomerexperiences
 

How sport shows us to be better at customer journey mapping

Ok, where do we start?  There’s no doubt that done properly, customer journey mapping provides rich insights into what it’s really like to have a customer or client experience and what we should do to make it better.  In the right hands, it’s an effective tool that’s being used more and more.  Personally, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been in a meeting and there’s a cry from the back of “We’ll need a customer journey for that!”.

It’s great that organisations are putting themselves in their customers’ shoes more so than ever before.  What’s not so great is that many of those “journeys” turn out to be existing linear process maps, operational flow-charts or decision-trees.

The problem there is that they will only start at the initial physical interaction, whether that’s walking into the store, arriving at the airport car-park, landing on the home-page or calling the help-line.

That approach is (questionably) better than nothing.  Start of the race but a long way from the start of the journeyBut to draw on the sporting analogy then, it would be like a coach trying to understand what drives the individuals in the team, what can be done to make them better, go faster and go further by drawing conclusions purely from an analysis that starts with the race-day itself.

Olympic and World champions take years, if not a lifetime of dedication, family support and sacrifice to be in a position to start the races we watch today.  A solo round-the-world sailor will only get to their start line after months and years of intense and meticulous preparation.  We can trace a climber’s route to the summit but the physical start of the journey from base-camp is also the end of another long journey of forensic planning.

So starting a customer journey map at that initial physical contact point risks missing the key triggers, emotions and events that a customer experiences when they feel a want or need to engage with the brand – events that we could shape and influence in a way that sets up a successful experience for customers and our business.

For example, if I’m flying away on holiday in a month’s time I might start thinking now about how I get to the parking spot I’ve reserved; how I get from there to the right entrance and from there to the check-in desk. And what can I expect at security and in Departures, how does all that work?  I’m anxious because it’s the first time I’ve flown and I’ll have an autistic relative with me who lives in the moment and is therefore totally reliant on knowing the certainty of what happens next.

So, an opportunity to recognise what’s most important to the customer as they begin the ‘journey’ from their perspective.  And, a great opportunity for brand loyalty and advocacy. But it’s also a missed opportunity for the journey map that jumps from the booking at the travel agent 200 miles away and 12 months ago to the car park system, check-in process, cafe locations, signage and so on.

Every sporting journey, every journey of any sort has a starting point.  The beauty and the beast of a map is that we can find a start-point anywhere.  That’s the skill of the customer journey map – to find the right starting point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Funny things, relationships.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Customer Experience: in-house teams must lead by example

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Customer Experience: listen to the silence of the customer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerry Angrave

Customer Experience Consultant

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