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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
 
 
 

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: 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]