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Passenger experience: managing disruption without disrupting relationships

The delicate, reciprocal balance of any alliance between airline and passenger shifts dramatically when there’s a planned or unplanned change in schedule. One party very quickly becomes totally dependent on the other to get them through the next few hours.  It puts the relationship on a knife-edge with the stakes and expectations equally high.   

Get it right and we know the benefits of salvaging relationships that have teetered on the edge.  Get it wrong and research shows that the majority of people won’t even complain; they will simply take their contribution to load factor metrics elsewhere.  Abigail Comber of British Airways summed it up succinctly recently when she said: “The best products in the world are no good if they’re not delivered brilliantly”.Passenger experience

To have and to hold

The longevity of fulfilling relationships between people or between people and brands will not survive if, so we’re told, one party feels the other is showing it any trace of contempt.

Passengers travel for a reason.  Arrangements have been made with people at the other end. So where there’s a loss of certainty, it’s no surprise that anxiety levels rise. And while passengers accept that some delays are unavoidable, expectations are quite rightly very high that information will be timely and accurate and that action will be swift.

As passengers, we expect the airline to respond and communicate in a timely and relevant way.  We don’t know or, frankly, care whose responsibility it is.  What we don’t expect or want is any suggestion that the airline doesn’t know, care or acknowledge just how important and emotive the situation is to us at that moment.

How the airline responds has a direct consequence on how it makes people feel.  And that is what they will remember next time they come to choose who to fly with.

Seeing it from the other person’s perspective helps know what to say, when and how in a way that not only protects the relationship in times of instability but strengthens the bonds of trust for the future.

 

Expectations are always rising

How a passenger expects to be treated is not set by today’s airline or by other carriers who do things better. When they’re not being a PRN, the same people are doing business with, or are hearing about, a raft of other organisations each day.  They might be online retailers, telecoms providers or local cafes.  Some of them simply get the basics right every time, some do unexpected things we wish more companies would do, while others are horror stories to be wary of.

When there’s a problem developing we’ll hear about it on the radio, followed by an advisory to “Contact your airline for more information”.  Passengers expectations are changing though from “Ok, I’ll do that” to “They’ve got my details, why haven’t they contacted me?” and “What would have happened if I hadn’t just heard that radio broadcast?”.  In fairness, more airlines are taking a more proactive approach not least because automating the initial message reduces the cost of handling volume of inbound calls and frees up finite resource to focus on the passengers who need help the most.

Such are the expectations that the perception of the response takes on a sharper focus.  Consider the airline that sends an SMS inviting a passenger to book travel insurance through them but is silent when a flight has been cancelled.   A passenger can be forgiven for thinking “The airline had no interest in me other than getting me to spend more money”.  People do have a choice and so the consequences for airline and airport are predictable.

 

Your brand in their hands

The very nature of an airline’s business model hands over the delivery of many aspects of the brand and passenger experience to a third party.  In many cases it’s seamless but that’s not always the way.  Sullen gate staff and disengaged baggage handlers have the ability to throw away millions of dollars worth of brand building in an instant.passenger experience

Whatever the posters on the wall say about putting customers first, unless everyone in the chain understands why that’s important, how it will be delivered and how success will be measured, the nicely-worded platitudes are meaningless. The myopic focus on costs will prevail without a view of the consequences of that cost obsession.

Outsourcing the sensitive management of communications that are natural around disruption can be a sound commercial move but also requires high levels of understanding between airline and agency.  I spoke about the issue to John Milburn, general manager at Bosch Service Solutions who handle customer contacts for a number of leading global airline brands.

John told me: “Our client’s knows how critical it is to get the right information to the right people in the right way.  They take our agents to their in-house brand training facility to immerse them in their  brand and crucially allow them to experience what their passengers should expect ether flying economy or first-class, and – importantly – why. It means that when there is a problem our people can be highly empathetic, managing a relationship rather than executing a transaction”.

 

Frequency risks breeding complacency

According to Flightstats, in the 30 days to mid-August 26,300 flights were cancelled globally with 692,000 being delayed.  With an average 100 people on board, that’s the best part of 700 million people having their plans disrupted – in one month.

So with my passenger hat on, compensation rules aside, it’s not unreasonable for me to think that if something changes, the airline will be well drilled in letting me know important information.

Airlines can compete on costs, metrics and processing efficiencies but as Ryanair is discovering with its “Always Getting Better” initiative, there are greater commercial rewards to be found by paying more attention to the things customers are most interested in – and that includes communications at the most important times.  I wrote a blog just recently about how high up the agenda a customer focus is for the airline that not so long ago appeared proud of the contempt it shows passengers (read here).

It’s a trend that disruption management specialists 15below have also seen.  They report a rapid growth in the demand for its collaborative workshops that help airlines understand what it’s like to be the passenger, what they should do and how.

At a recent event in Dubai, 15below highlight some very telling facts, including that of the top 10 on-time performing Middle East and African airlines, 21% of their passengers are – over 8 million a year – are disrupted.

Yet the workshops reveal that while the intent in one part of an airline is good, significant barriers still remain.  Doing things on the customer agenda remains a contentious subject in many a boardroom in any sector, not just airlines.  If a business case cannot show an immediate ROI it won’t make the short-list.  The marketing and customer experience teams might be making the right moves and articulating the cost of lost customers.  But if the culture means their insight is not adopted by every other part of the business, the focus will remain on doing the wrong things really well.

IT understandably has a loud voice at the table and often wants to manage innovation and change in-house.  Falling into the clutches of its normal programme management governance and competing for resource around the business equally retains control over the time-quality-cost triumvirate and helps negotiate the portfolio of legacy and merged systems, but anecdotal evidence suggest it often slows things down too.  And that simply lets others get ahead.

 

The to-do list

15below has some sound advice (and a JetBlue case study here) to help airlines do things better.

First, planning with stakeholders and partners so whether ground staff or outsourced contact centre, they all have the same information and the right information at the same time.  For a passenger the only thing worse than no information is inconsistent information between gate, Google, contact centre and departure board.

Strike a better balance between automation and human communications.  Technology offers some fantastic opportunities for handling issues of scale. But airlines must also recognise when passengers need reassurance that comes from speaking with a person and not interacting with an algorithm.

Solving the problem before a passenger knows it exists is also a way to retaining passenger faith.  Making it easy to understand what’s happened, making it easy to talk to someone about their own specifics and having a ready-made solution in place takes a little effort but is immensely appreciated.

Proactive communications with those who are expecting the passenger such as hotels or family takes the experience to another level. Automated voice messages are more popular in the US than in the UK.  But calling at 2am or assuming that a passengers first language is English despite what they’ve already made clear is not right either, yet it happens.

 

The “So what?”

It is well accepted that there are three elements to the customer experience.  Did it do what I expected it to?, Was it easy? and How did it make me feel?  Research also shows it’s not an equal three-way split in terms of importance.  The memory of the emotional aspect from last time can drive upwards of 70% of decision-making for the next time.

So passengers are far less likely to buy a ticket from an airline that has previously showed them any degree of contempt, whatever the customer charter and brand promise say. The brand is what passengers tell others it is, not what the strapline says.  They have a voice and they have a choice.

Airlines who still see no reason to change or who don’t make the right changes will therefore get left further behind by those at the next gate or the next airport who do get it.

The stakes are high, the expectations are high.  It’s not just a relationship that’s under threat or about to flourish – by definition its also revenue, load factors and forward bookings.  And none of those want to be disrupted.

 


Jerry Angrave is a Certified Customer Experience Professional and consultant.  Managing Director of Empathyce, Jerry has worked for or with organisations in the aviation and travel, retail banking, utilities, legal services and pharmaceutical industries. 

Jerry will be chairing sessions a the AirXperience event in London in September 2015 – feel free to ask Jerry any further questions on this subject.

Making technology relevant to the passenger experience

(This post was created as a guest blog for Total BlueSky in August 2015)

The speed and breadth of technological change not just in the aviation world presents fantastic opportunities.  The challenge however, is to take advantage of the right opportunities not just the latest opportunity. Understanding the things that passengers value most helps prioritise where investment and resource is best focused.

“We need to think like retailers, we need to be more digital” is the rallying cry in many away-day strategic planning session. After all, the retail sector is often the first roll-out new technology and in stores, online and bridging the divide between the two. Passenger experience

On the flip side however, why not use technology to create an airline that retailers aspire to be like?

As passengers we are all also consumers in other markets.  It is those interactions when buying a coffee, returning an item bought online or getting our telecoms provider to explain the latest bill that set our expectations.  Replicating best practice creates nothing new and is soon overtaken.  Even mobile, Apple and contactless payment methods quickly become established. Applying the right technology to the right problems on the other hand is a winning strategy.

That however, raises a few questions, not least in the debate about using the latest tech because we can, or using the most relevant tech.

Should our planning horizon be months rather than three or 5 years? If mobile, beacons and wearables are the answer, exactly what is the question? And if technology is so good, why do airlines automate check-in for passengers in economy yet retain the personal touch for those in business class.

It might make processing more cost-efficient but if I’m using it for the first time or it’s not working properly I’ll still expect someone there to help me. It feels very transactional, all about barcodes and processing with no apparent desire for any kind of relationship.  If I fly business class one week and economy the next, I’ll be paying less but I’ll also remember how the different approach made me feel when I’m booking my next business-class flight.

So another question might be “Who is benefiting most from the technology?”.  Is it the airline or airport who can leverage the benefits of data, measure processes more efficiently and drive down operating costs?

Or is it the passenger, for whom technology makes it easier to do business than with a competitor and so they return more often, spend more and tell everyone else to do the same?

At an aviation conference recently I asked a fellow speaker for their views on where technology and passenger experiences meet. Will there be a time in the not too distant future, I wondered, when I won’t be able to fly if I don’t have a smartphone?  The immediate and enthusiastic response was an unequivocal “Absolutely!”.

Nothing wrong with ambition, but there’s a real risk of making the assumption that owning a smartphone means being willing and able to use it in the way that airlines want passengers to.

A large US carrier launched its lost baggage app with a big fanfare and indeed, it did shows where a bag was and how that compared with where it should be.  That’s not an inconsiderable amount of time, money and opportunity cost to develop technology that is unlikely to be at the top of a passenger’s wish-list.

As a passenger, I expect my bag to make the same trip as me.  I accept that problems happen and that bags do go missing or not make onto the flight.  BA’s recent problems at LHR Terminal 5 highlighted that all too well. But would I download an app and keep checking it when the chances of it going missing are slim anyway and I’ve got a hundred other things to do?

On a trip to Poland recently, my bag didn’t make it.  I went to the information desk and got things sorted. Having just landed in a foreign country late at night, the baggage reclaim area was not where I would have expected to try and connect to a new mobile network and rely on an app to know more than the people in the room.  I would still have gone to the information desk anyway.

I put it to the airline who had developed the app that its usefulness was there, but limited.  The response was that passengers always want to know where their bags are. Personally, I assume they’re where they are supposed to be but if you go to the effort of producing an app, I’m inclined to feel less confident and believe now that’s a frequent occurrence.

And, I was told, as people in transit can run through an airport quicker than bags can be processed, it’s good to check if your bag is going to make it or not.  We then fell into a debate about designing (unintentional) experiences where people have to run, whether they’re fit, have just had a hip replacement, have amplified anxiety and so on.

The point is relevance.

We hear headlines that people are “always connected”. They will be connected to the things that are most relevant to them and help them do what they want to do.  In the case of lost bags, I know the airline has my cellphone number – they’ve reminded me to check-in early and stock up on duty-free goods ­- and I know they can link the bag to its owner.  So if there is an issue why can’t they get in touch with me before I even know there is a problem and solve it.

The slightly introspective approach also manifests itself in the green, orange and red “How was it for you?” buttons that greet us after security, by the gate or exiting customs.

They give a score, an indication of satisfaction at the point of interaction and add to the wealth or metrics and data. What they don’t yield is a qualitative element; why did someone tap the green button with a smile or punch the red button in frustration?

Without that, how do we know what to change?  And as a customer, if I’ve already told you what I think, why should I bother telling you again when I get an email the day after travelling back?

Thinking like a retailer might be a step in the right direction and there is obviously a place for technology.  But what makes the technology a good investment is the mindset and culture that it’s nurtured and developed in.  For example, where everyone in the project team understands and can keep on top of how and why passengers and therefore the business will benefit.

London City Airport has a huge focus on technology but for the primary reason of making the travelling experience better.  From that, they know, will flow more passengers and more revenue.  And the results are testimony to that approach; passenger numbers are expected to exceed 4 million this year.  Customer reviews suggest it’s the kind of airport you hope your airline will fly to.  And commercially, the owners have just put the airport up for sale with an estimated price tag of £2bn.

Technology plays a huge part but I recall LCY’s chief executive Declan Collier keeping things in perspective about how it’s used in an interview with Forrester in 2013. He said “Customer experience is nothing without delivery, and in our business, our propositions stand or fall on the ability of our people to deliver them”.

Adding to the sentiment from New Zealand is Andy Lester, Chief Operating Officer of Christchurch airport.  Such was the devastation of the tragic 2011 earthquake that much of the city is yet to be rebuilt.  However, speaking in Barcelona about how the airport has got back on its feet, he said “We have a great opportunity … but if we think like an airport or think like an airline we won’t see things the way our customers do”.

Airlines have access to some amazing technology. Passengers have a choice about who they fly with. Understanding the two sides and bringing them together in the right way will create a winning combination.


 

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 this or any other CX issue do please get in touch.  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

Little things versus Wow customer experiences

Having real coat hangers in the wardrobe of a hotel-room might not make a Wow customer experience or a Moment of Magic.  But, it’s a great illustration of how small things can make a big impact.Wow customer experiences

Stakeholders often baulk at the idea of improving customer experiences for fear that it will cost more, it will force employees to do jobs they are not targetted on or it will require new, complex processes.  But those customer experience sceptics would be reassured by an example set by Marriott’s Renaissance Monarch Hotel in Moscow.

I’d been invited there to speak at a conference about customer experience.  Always keen to observe and learn, I developed a real liking for the hotel and its people but at first couldn’t put my finger on exactly why.  Yes, it was very nice but there was no fanfare, no obvious “Tad-dah!”, nothing forced. It just worked.

It became apparent that there was simply a series of little things that were personal and relevant when they needed to be.  None of them are costly, none of them distracting for the employees and no complex systems involved.  They could be done just as well by a 7-star hotel in the sun or a draughty backpackers in the rain.   Here’s what I mean:

  • It goes without saying that the people had the right attitude.  They were attentive, engaging and helpful. They could spot this Brit a mile away and had their English reply to my awful attempts at Russian ready.  A smile costs nothing yet its absence (we won’t go into the airport experience here…) can be so costly.
  • Whatever training they have, it is effective.  Everyone who worked there had a genuine desire to help their guests, something that was epitomised in the name badges of the front-line team – they were all called “Navigators”.  Maybe a bit cheesy but whatever the label, the intent was authentic.
  • I was joined at the event by Customer Experience Specialist and fellow CCXP Ian Golding.  After our speaking sessions, Ian and I had the opportunity to jump on the metro for a couple of stops to visit Red Square and the Kremlin, places I never thought I’d be.  The guy behind the hotel check-in desk was very helpful in giving me instructions and directions.  In that, there was nothing special but just as we headed off, he produced a business card and said – in English – “Here. If you get any problems or have any questions, here is my number. Call me and I will help you”.  In an unfamiliar city and with limited time to get back and catch a flight home, that was reassuring. I wondered how many hotel staff in the UK would afford a foreign guest the same level of respect.

    Our experience, made better by the hotel

    A gratuitous selfie experience, made easier by the hotel’s people

  • For too long, wi-fi connections in hotels have been used as an income generator and treated as a cost centre for which customers must pay.  At this hotel though, not only was the wi-fi free (again, nothing particularly special there) but what was very helpful was that the connection remained valid for the full 24-hour period even after checking out.  They know that many guests will continue to remain in the hotel and it actually encourages them to do so in order to have breakfast, hire meeting rooms or take lunch.
  • It’s often said that a company’s true approach to its customers and employees is revealed by the state of the toilets.  These were spotlessly clean as you’d expect but what I didn’t expect was that the urinals were filled with ice to reduce odours and maintain the cleanliness.
  • And those coat hangers?  Actually, it’s not about the coat hangers themselves; its about what it says.  To me, it says “Welcome, we trust you, have a nice stay”. Compare that with the message you feel you’re getting with those hangers that can be removed but have no hook and are therefore useless anywhere but that (often just as expensive) hotel room. To me, that shouts out “Ha! Gotcha! Thought about nicking it did ya? Well we don’t trust you so we’re not going to risk losing the cost of one hanger every now and then just so you can feel at home”.

These little things make a big difference and for little cost.  I have no connection with Marriott Hotels Group other than I am occasionally fortunate enough to be put up in one.  But the point here is not about the hotel;  it’s the food for thought that it gives about how other companies across very different markets might take the same approach. Forget searching for that contrived “Wow!” moment and understand the little things that are really important to your customers.

The ironic reality, of course, is that the combination of getting simple things right and executing the basics well every time gets close to being a “Wow” experience anyway.  They are the things that make us feel like someone understands us and is on our side.  It’s not much to ask but means such a lot.  We’ll be a lot more forgiving if something does go wrong but the real commercial benefit is that we’ll tell everyone else about it and when we can, we’ll come back.  I hope I do.

Let me know what you think.


 

If you have a customer experience issue – strategic, cultural or tactical – that you need a hand with, or if you’ve any questions about this blog post do let me know.

I’m on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 or email [email protected].  ja speaking

Thank you, I hope you found the post interesting and please feel free to 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.

 


 

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Passenger experiences and what they say to each other

Airports and the people who use them want different versions of the same thing from the passenger experience.  Whether we’re transiting through one or managing one, the common need is for it to be efficient.  But this research report into what passengers tell each other about good and bad experiences shows that the way customers define efficiency is not always the same as how airports measure it.

  • The ideal passenger experience is in airport that simply does what it’s supposed to and in a pleasant environment
  • The consequences of long queues, inadequate facilities and the wrong staff attitude are what make people use a different airport next time
  • An airport’s obsessive focus on processing efficiency risks doing the wrong things well and needing to spend resource on fixing self-inflicted problems

 

The gap between what airports think and what passengers think is a crucial one.  All the while that metrics are being collated and analysed, if they are the wrong ones, airports will be oblivious to why passengers are exercising their choices and voices.  In Barcelona last year, Andy Lester of Christchurch airport summed it up well when he talked of rebuilding after the 2011 New Zealand earthquake and observed

“If you think like an airport you’ll never understand your customers”.

We’ve seen recently a flurry of airports celebrating bigger passenger numbers and new routes with new airlines.  Yet their customers react with a sigh because many of those airports are already at or beyond passenger numbers that make going through the airport a tolerable experience.

At the risk of generalising, airports aim to get as many people through the airport as possible, as efficiently as possible.  It needs to be done in a way that means they can spend as much money as possible, come back as often as possible and tell everyone they know to do the same.  If it moves (that is either people or bags) they can barcoded, processed and measured.  How many get from A to B in as little time or at least cost becomes the primary, sometimes, sole focus.  All of which makes good operational sense, given the complexity and challenges of running an airport in a way that airlines will be confident is using.

But what are passengers concerned with and what is their version of what efficiency means?   Kiosks with red, orange and green buttons greet us everywhere to ask how the service was.  While that allows an AQS metric to be reported and tracked, there is no qualitative, actionable insight let alone allowances for mischievous kids or cleaners tapping away as they pass.  However, the travel industry is blessed with no shortage of customers willing and able to give their feedback – and that in turn creates a vast reservoir of insight not only for customers choosing an airport but for the airports to tap into themselves.

From that readily available information I’ve researched to see what customers said to each other about what makes an airport good or bad.  Using feedback on airports left at the Airline Quality / Skytrax review site I organised over 750 descriptions behind why passengers gave an airport a score of 9 or 10 (out of 10) and then 0 or 1.

Passenger experience key findings:

Where there were positive experiences, 98% of the comments can be summarised into one of two areas; either that it worked or that it was in a nice environment.  That might seem obvious, and to a large degree it is.  However, if it is so obvious then why are passengers still telling each other about cases where it’s anything but efficient?

021

What is it that customers tell each other when they write about the passenger experience?

The negative experiences were more fragmented in their causes, being about the function of the airport building, how good the processes in it are, staff attitude and information.  What is clear is that a bad experience is significantly more negatively emotive than good experiences are positive. The core expectation is that everything will work as it’s meant to.  If it does, great.  But where it falls short, the consequences are commercially harmful, as typified by this message:

“I intend to avoid any lengthy stay in this airport again even if it means having to pay more to fly direct – it’s worth the price to keep your sanity”

 

In summary:

One:  55% of the reasons for a good score were simply about it being “efficient”

Airport experiences do not all have to have a Wow! factor.  First and foremost, passengers just want everything to work.  It’s a truism that without the basics in place being done well and consistently, a Wow! becomes a Waste of Work.

A noticeable number of passengers used the word “efficient” in their reviews, by which they were referring to things such as (in order of how often these were mentioned)

  • there was almost no experience, in that everything worked as it should
  • when they needed to interact with staff, the response was courteous and helpful
  • getting around the airport was easy because of good signage and easily accessible information
  • they didn’t have to wait long on arrival to collect bags and head on the next leg of their journey
  • getting to and from the airport was easy, with good connections and acceptable parking charges

 

Two:  43% of the reasons for a good score were about a nice airport environment

The most efficient, effective, high-tech and innovative processes will all have their business-case ROI ruined if the environment in which they operate makes people feel like they are being treated with contempt.  Often that happens unintentionally but if the value-exchange is one-sided, there is only so long a customer will put up with it.  Chances are they have spent a lot of time and money on this trip, they are by definition not yet where they want to be and anything that is perceived as not making their journey any easier will count against the airport.  It puts into context why people value a pleasant environment, the most common specific examples of which included:

  • shops were relevant, toilets were sufficient in number and the general facilities laid on were good
  • everywhere was kept clean and tidy
  • the layout was spacious with plenty of comfortable seating
  • the atmosphere throughout was one of calm, bright and quiet
  • good wi-fi connections were cited but this is increasingly sliding down the food-chain to be a basic expectation; its absence being more of an issue than its presence.

What do they say when the experience is a good one?  Here are some examples:

 “It’s clean. It makes you believe they are aware of their customers’ health and wellbeing”

“If you have the option to use this airport, it is a great choice”

“It never lets me down”

 

Three:  48% of the negative reasons were about the facilities

Where customers were giving airports a score of 0 or 1, the biggest gripe was that the airport couldn’t cope with the volume of passengers.  The resulting slow and uncomfortable journey through the airport creates frustration and anxiety.  It’s made worse by the fact that as passengers we not unreasonably expect airports to know exactly who is going to be in the airport each day and to be prepared.  Other consequences of the over-crowding included poor seating, a dirty and gloomy atmosphere and poor choices of food and drink.

It’s for these reasons that an airport celebrating a rise in new passenger numbers might want to acknowledge and address the concerns of existing customers at the same time.

 

Four:  28% of the negative reasons were about processes

For passengers, security, immigration and baggage handling fall into the category of processes that should just work every time. Where they do, it’s fine, but where they fall short, they can have a significant impact on influencing whether a passenger will choose that airport again.

Slow moving queues, duty free goods being confiscated in transit, poorly translated instructions and slow baggage reclaims were among the specific processes that riled customers. Again, it becomes emotive because these are all seen as avoidable inconveniences when we experience other airports who can and do get it right.

 

Five:  13% of the negative reasons were about staff

As a generally compliant travelling public (and I accept there are exceptions, such as when peanuts are served in bags), going through an airport can be a daunting experience even in the best of terminals.  The one thing we hope we can rely on is that when we need to interact with another human being there will be a mutual respect, a helping hand or at least clear instructions so we can indeed be compliant. Airports go out of their way to train staff and yet the evidence is that many are still failing.

Rude, unempathetic, incompetent, unhelpful, deliberately slow and uncaring are just some of the ways staff were described.  Any organisation is dependent on having good relationships but where one side feels they are being treated with contempt, it becomes a very deep scar to heal.

A customer wrote about their disappointing and surprising experience at one of the largest US airports where there were

“Miserable, nasty employees, barking and screaming at customers as if they were dogs”.

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Good news – plenty of seats. Bad news – information boards positioned too far away beyond the moving walkway

 

Six:  11% of the negative reasons were about information

It’s an area airports have focused on and with a good deal of success.  Making passengers more self-sufficient and having employees being better at handling questions has benefits for all sides.  But there are still airports where having the right information at the right time in the right place is still elusive;  more specifically, passengers concerns around information was that either there was none, it was inadequate, it was wrong or it was confusing – all frustrating when we live in a world dominated by technology and information.

 

So what?  Why is it important and what does it tell us?

  1. Poor experiences make people choose other airports next time.  Passengers’ expectations are not only set by what it was like last time, but by how other airports do it and by their interactions with other companies they deal with in their day-to-day lives.  So where things don’t meet the basic expectations, not only does that impact on revenue for the airport there is also a commercial consequence for airline partners.  For example, some passengers said

“I usually fly Delta but will now try to avoid them – to avoid Atlanta”, and

“Because of this airport I will never fly Etihad again”

 

  1. Depending on which piece of research you read, anything between 75% and 95% of customers are influenced by what others say.  Any robust customer strategy will have at its core a clear vision of what the experiences need to be in order that passengers will think, feel, do and share as intended.  Many organisations now build into their customer journey mapping a stage specifically to address the “I’m sharing what it was like” issues.

 

  1. An obsession with metric-driven efficiency and processes that work for the airport’s operations team but not for passengers creates blind-spots as to what will help drive non-aeronautical revenue.  Customers themselves recognised this by saying

“All of time put aside to shop was spent queueing”, and

“They have allowed way too many people to use this place. Cannot be good for business as nobody has time to spend any money in the shops or bars”

 

Declan Collier of London City Airport reinforces the point about the dangers of process focus, task orientation and metric myopia when he talks about being “in the people business” and that the fortunes of LCY will “rise or fall on the ability of its people”.

For example, last year I questioned the fanfare for an app that tells passengers where their lost bags are.  I accept that bags go missing but as a passenger, whether I’ve a smart-phone and free hands or not, I’d prefer to have seen the investment directed to not leaving me feeling awkward and helpless standing by an empty baggage carousel.  However, I was told by a large airport hub that the rationale was that it would mean transiting passengers could run for their connection without having to worry about collecting bags that weren’t there.  I was told that yes, running is part of the expected experience and my concerns about what that is like for my confused mother or my autistic son fell on deaf ears.  I was told I don’t understand airport operations and they’re right, I don’t.  But I do understand what it’s like to be a passenger.

 

  1. The best airport experiences don’t need to be expensive, complex or high-tech.  Think what a difference just having engaged, helpful and friendly staff makes – and that doesn’t take a huge piece of capex to justify, just a degree of collaboration with employees and third parties who have the airport’s brand reputation in their hands.

 

  1. One observation in the course of the research was that the high and low scores often applied to the same airports. That has to be a concern and worthy of investigating;  why can it be done so well at times but not at others?  How come all the effort and pride can create advocates some of the time but at other times is just handing passengers to competitors?

 

Final thoughts on the airport passenger experience

These days, people do not expect a poor passenger experience.  The bar is climbing higher and in simple terms that just means doing the right things well.  Earlier this year, writer Alastair Campbell travelled through Terminal 2 and sent this tweet to his 285,000 followers:

LHR tweet

Unsurprisngly, Heathrow’s social media team proudly retweeted it to a similar number of their followers.  Within 15 minutes, this positive message was shared with well over half a million people.  And all because the experience was simply – and “amazingly” – smooth and quick.  Nothing more complicated than that.

It’s not just about giving customers the right experiences every time.  To make an airport efficient for passengers as well as managers it also needs to avoid giving the wrong experiences, ever. The commercial consequences are riding on it.

Passengers know that as well as anyone.  So if there’s one message, then it is that the airport and its brand is only as good as people tell each other it is.

 

I hope you find this report useful and interesting but email [email protected] or call me on +44 (0) 7917 718 072 if you’ve any questions or comments – I’d love to hear your views.

Thank you,

Jerry Angrave

 


The job of the customer experience manager

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

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

 

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

customer experience manager

The job of the customer experience manager

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Find ways to help them help themselves

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

 

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

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

 

Jerry Angrave

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

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

Customer experiences highlight the danger of businesses taking relationships for granted

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

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

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

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

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

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

To illustrate the point let’s take two examples.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Customer journey mapping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commercial benefits

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traits of successful FBOs and charter airlines

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

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

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

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

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

Organic business growth

Organic business growth

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

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

Lessons from other industries

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerry

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Customer Experience surveys, metrics and a question of confidence

Far too often we see that organisations have a heavy, sometimes over-reliance on metric-based surveys.  In a way it’s understandable;  partly it’s about feeding the target-driven performance culture and partly it’s to have as much information as we can at our fingertips because that, in theory, makes strategic decision-making more robust.

So it was intriguing to read the latest headline about the rising confidence levels of UK businesses.  The UK Business Confidence Monitor index “stands at +16.7, up from +12.8 in Q1 2013, suggesting GDP will grow by 0.6% in Q2 2013”.

I wish to take nothing away from its credibility, accuracy and the expertise of those who know much more about economics than I, but it means, er, what exactly? Well, delve a bit deeper and the trend is confidently portrayed as being a proxy for future economic growth, of higher levels of borrowing and investment.   I’m no Smith, Keynes or Friedman but on the face of it that sounds like good news despite the fact that we may also conclude that the appetite to take on more debt is weak and fragile customer demand is still a problem.

Armed with just that though, if I was to present to the Board of UK plc, I’d fully expect them to say “And just what is it that you want us to do next?”.

It’s often the same when it comes to finding out what it’s really like to be a customer or client.  In the Business Confidence Monitor, the question that respondents are answering is “Overall, how would you describe your confidence in the economic prospects facing your business over the next 12 months, compared to the previous 12 months?”.   In consumer and employee surveys the equivalent questions might be “How likely are you to recommend us?”, “How do you rate our service” and “How satisfied are you?”.

All good questions in their own right, and also trying to predict future behaviour.  But while metrics will show a trend, on their own they don’t show why the trend is what it is, and therefore what it is likely to be in the coming weeks, months and years.  What’s more, depending on sample sizes and other mechanics of the survey, the reliability of the numbers comes with its own confidence factor of plus or minus x%.

Absent clear comments as to why respondents gave the reasons they did, there is a vacuum of context.  That means, as with so many metric-based surveys, that translating the information into knowledge upon which valuable decisions can be made still remains elusive.

I’ve always said that if organisations get the experience right first, the metrics will look after themselves.  Base analyses and decisions on the numbers alone and without any context, trends will simply continue to happen whether they’re known to be the right ones or not.

In that, I have every confidence.

_______

Thank you for your interest and for your time reading this blog.  I’m Jerry Angrave and I provide Customer Experience research and advisory services, most recently to the aviation, transport and legal services sectors.  If you’ve any comments or questions, do let me know, either through the blog, by email to [email protected] or feel free to call me on +44 (0) 7917 718 072.  There’s also more information at www.empathyce.com.

The feedback on Customer Experience feedback

The process of gathering the right, usable customer feedback needs to be treated every bit as much as any other key touchpoint in the Customer Experience journey.

At a time where barely a day goes by without our customers being asked to give comments about at least one brand or another, it’s more important than ever to make sure that our survey is quick, clear and easy.

It’s not so long ago that when we were asked for customer feedback, we were happy to oblige; flattered that our opinion was being sought, happy to think we were helping make a difference.

Nowadays though, we are faced with a relentless torrent of surveys, a deluge that is at serious risk of diluting our willingness to spend time and effort understanding complex questions, giving subjective scores and thinking of constructive responses.

And so not only do feedback programmes have to work harder to unearth the actionable insights, the very mechanics are under the spotlight too. Calling customers on a Sunday afternoon, asking customers in-store to go online and leave feedback when they get home or sending “How did you get on?” survey forms at the time of the booking rather than after the holiday will at best garner lacklustre responses. At worst, it will damage relationships, brand reputation and the quality of decision-making.

For want of a better phrase, the “survey experience” should be understood and managed just like any other touchpoint in the customer journey. Particularly for service industries, it can be one of the few tangible points of contact. Make it a point of difference, not a nuisance.

I recently needed a roadside breakdown patrol to breathe life back into my car. Job done, and stood in the icy cold wind, I was asked to take a quick survey. The questions were supposed to be about my experience but in essence were really an audit of what they knew already; how long did you wait, did you need towing, did the patrol do a battery check and so on? When it came to the “how likely are you to recommend?” question, there was no “Why do you say that?” follow up.

“They never ask us what it’s really like to be out here” the patrol guy said, frustrated that although it will look like the metric-based targets will be safe, the fact that the call centre got my location and phone number wrong, keeping him and me out in the cold for longer, will pass “them” by.

The more customers give feedback, the more discerning they will become. Anything that makes them feel like it’s not worth it or that it won’t be listened to will be ignored. A wasted opportunity.

Already, we see that over 80% of unhappy customers don’t complain, they just choose a competitor next time. So knowing what it’s really like to be a customer is as precious as the willingness and ability to act on it.

We just need to make sure that when we draw people in to give us feedback, we don’t push them away as a result.

Jerry Angrave
Managing Director
Empathyce, the business of Customer Experience

+44 (0)7917 718 072
https://www.empathyce.com
[email protected]
@Empathyce

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
 

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
 
 

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