Category Archives: Customer Experience

Frontiers of Customer Experience Part 2

Continuing from a previous blog…
The next boundary is to consider customer education.  This is not about training customers; education is about helping them use your product or service in a way which suits them.  Surprisingly it may not be how you want them to use your service and may well infuriate your front line staff. 
Whilst working with a council team who were trying to meet their recycling targets, the overall theme was a general grumble about the 150,000 people in the town who seemed incapable of putting the right waste in the right bin and putting it out on the roadside on the right day!  After all, they had put a leaflet through every household letterbox; ”they have been told”.  Perhaps 150,000 people think differently. 
Then there was the CEO of a large organisation bemoaning the fact that his managers seemed to have ignored the information on slide 37 of his annual leadership conference presentation just three weeks previous.  I had sat through this presentation and completely understood the reason why … it had been deadly boring.  I saw more of the inside of my eyelids than his slides!   It’s not the customer’s fault.  If you want to help them to take full benefit of your service then you have to understand how people want to learn how to use it.
Thousands of pounds are spent gathering data on our customers; my supermarket knows everything about my eating, cleaning and grooming habits in order to give me a better shopping experience.  Their customer intelligence helps segment offers specifically to me so my supermarket experience is tailored to my lifestyle.  Think on, if organisations know so much, why do their customers often use so little of the potential of their product? 
Take my humble mobile phone as an example. It can allow me to phone, to text, photograph, video, surf, e-mail, plot my position anywhere on the planet with GPS and even play music.  Brilliant perhaps, but I don’t do text and don’t use anything other than the telephone function. I’m reasonably technically proficient but I really can’t be bothered to read the hundred or so pages of instruction in the phone’s handbook.  It’s not how I learn.  What more could there be to help me use the full potential of my mobile? Until they work this out I can only dream of the day when, as I emerge from a tube station, from the wrong exit and instead of asking the nearest tourist for help, the GPS on my phone is my saviour.
Customer education needs to take more account of people’s different learning styles’.  It makes complete sense that if they are able to become more involved with the experience we offer then they will become better customers. 

Queuing: there has to be a better way.

That’s it.  I’ve had enough!  I stood on the edge and ‘they’ just had to come and give me a nudge.  I’m a fairly patient person, but there is a limit.  It’s time I put my head above the parapet and said something.
Queuing – there has to be a better way!  Here are some of my experiences to date:
Pointless queueing:  My boiler is broken, we have no heat or hot water but I have a service contract.  It proudly advertises the contact phone number and offers me all the care in the world.  Their engineer is quite happy to rush around to my home to relieve our misery.  That is until you call the number: “Press 1 for this 2 for that and 3 for the other”!  After four levels of this, that and the other they cut me off.  Three times!  Eventually I pressed random buttons until someone in sales kindly passed me on. 
Brilliant queuing:  I phoned my bank, First Direct.  Three rings and I was through to a lovely lady in Leeds.  Oh joy!
Complex queuing:  I visited a bank only to approach the counter to be told I couldn’t be served because I hadn’t got a ticket.  Regular visitors to the branch were tutting at me and accusatorily waving their tickets in the air.  How dare I jump the queue?  Those ‘in the know’ had got a ticket from the touch-screen machine hidden in the corner of the branch.  Rather aggrieved, I waited on a seat clutching ticket 345.  Soon, I too was wafting my ticket at unfortunates who were being turned away for flouting the system.  I was still queuing.  Why make my queuing experience event more complex?  Why go through a process in order to join a queue?
Fun queuing:  When my children were young we visited a few theme parks. Naturally, I had disregarded my father’s advice which was to go on a wet Wednesday in April to avoid the queues.  No, we always went when there were thousands of people.  So for a short while only, I managed to persuade my brood that the queue was the theme park and the rides were only the way to get to the next queue.  Our change in mindset meant we had lots of fun chatting with other queuers, playing games and generally mucking about.
Productive queuing:  When conference venues tell me that they can reduce the queuing time for the inevitable buffet to seconds, I always see it as a missed opportunity.  Conferences are great places to meet new people; I have had some wonderful conversations in buffet queues. Sharing experiences, views and ideas on good practice, followed by the reward at the end of a little something deep fried in batter!
It is possible to make my queuing experience better; if only organisations gave it a little imagination, queuing could be fun.

Customer Experience Heroes: Mr Collins the one legged baker

As a poor student I would visit our local baker, Mr Collins, to buy bread.  He was a kindly soul who’d lost a leg doing battle in the desert and remarkably had a wooden prosthetic. This would clunk on the floor as he walked around his bakery like a flour-covered pirate, carrying trays of hot bread, pies and buns whilst engaging in friendly banter with his regular customers. I’d always try to arrive just before closing time because that was when he reduced prices in order to sell the last of his stock for the day.  We’d have a brief chat and if there were any buns left he’d slip one into the bag for good measure.  How good I’d feel tucking into an iced finger bun on my walk home. 

Even though I have no doubt Mr Collins had never heard the phrase ‘customer experience’, he was a natural. 
  1. I was able to buy a great product at a great price.  Collins’ Bakery identified the needs of his student customer and offered products and prices to match (often personalised to how much money I had left in my pocket).
  2. He always took time to engage with me… note I say ‘me’!  We had a fleeting but personal relationship which he valued, as I did.  There was always an acknowledgement as I entered his shop. When it was my turn to be served we would have a chat.  It never inconvenienced anyone else in the queue; in fact each conversation amused the other customers while they waited.
  3. Mr Collins was remarkable, different, someone you could talk about to your mates.  This meant everyone knew him and made an effort to buy from Collins’ Bakery rather than the supermarket across the road.  Which raises the question; do we make the experience we give our customers ‘remarkable’?  Something they might comment upon.  Much has been talked about the importance of recommendation in recent years but in order to help people recommend your product or service it has to be remarkable, people need something to talk about, otherwise why would they bring it up in conversation?
  4. I got free buns, not every time but sometimes, which made me feel special.

Why not do something ‘remarkable’ today for your customer?  Give them buns.


An Angry Man

I know this is a bit perverse but don’t you think angry people are quite amusing?  Some people are able to get steamed up very easily; I saw one ranting away in the supermarket car park about a wonky trolley wheel.  The poor assistant was at first apologetic, then bemused and flustered, eventually calling for security. 
As one of the rubber-neckers who slowed to enjoy the entertainment, it felt like being in the crowd at a Roman gladiatorial contest; uncomfortable to view but at the same time exhilarating. I found myself gripping the handle of my trolley ever more tightly as things started to get completely out of hand. Eventually a man in uniform stood between Angry Shopper and Unwitting Assistant. The latter now feeling secure enough to respond with a few choice comments about the parentage of his assailant.  The event, by this stage, had managed to gather quite a crowd.  
Like rutting stags, the altercation finished with a few snorts and hoof scrapings.  Our Unwitting Assistant rounded up his trolleys and corralled them protectively back to the entrance of the store, including the slightly lame one that started the whole business. The crowd gave him admiring glances as they resumed shopping and all were, like me, secretly thankful it hadn’t been their responsibility.
To avoid this happening to you should you encounter an Angry Man here are a few tips:
  1. People get angry when they believe no one is trying to understand what they are saying.
  2. Visibly tune in to the customer.
  3. Listen actively with an open mind.  Not judgemental, it’s important to them.
  4. Listen for the highlights.   What is the problem? What is important to them? How do they feel about things?
  5. Feed back the highlights.  Acknowledge strong emotions straight away. Link feelings to causes. Don’t just parrot back what you hear it can sound phoney. If you’re uncertain – check it out
  6. Golden Rule – Every response you make should indicate in some way that you’ve been listening
  7. Work to get the full picture.
  8.  Summarise for complete clarity.  ‘Let me see if I’ve got this right’
  9.  Manage their expectations about what can and can’t be done for them, give timescales and as much certainty as possible.

Or fix the trolleys with wonky wheels.

The no.1 most important aspect of customer experience: Deliver!

When I’m talking with people about what we mean by a ‘customer experience mindset’ they get very enthused about improving touch points and forget the most important aspect of any customer experience.  Deliver.  I didn’t spend my time, effort and hard earned cash with you just to have a great experience with your sales assistant, call centre order taker or your on-line shop.  I want your product, delivered on time and giving me what I expect.  I don’t think I’m unusual in this of course!
My seven sources of disappointment are:
  1. It didn’t arrive:  When you order a walnut tree it’s not the sort of thing that is likely to go missing.  When mine didn’t arrive as expected I made a call and was told that the system said it had been delivered to my address, on time.  After searching everywhere anyone might put a tree; including asking all my neighbours, I had to conclude that I didn’t have a walnut tree.  The parcel carrier made extravagant claims about my delivery which didn’t change the fact that I had no tree.  Once this was established there was no hesitation in offering me another tree from the nursery.  Great.  But it couldn’t be delivered for 12 months! I’d missed the tree planting season.
  2. It’s not what I ordered:  My seafood pizza arrives with a great flourish. It looks brilliant, but I ordered seafood pasta.  Sending it back would mean a long wait while they change the order and my dinner companions will have finished their meal by the time it arrives.  So I accept the apology and eat pizza.
  3. It doesn’t work:  Imagine my excitement at the delivery of a new lawn mower.  Followed by the disappointment of returning it because it failed to start. Exacerbated by the backache from having to cut the grass with shears.
  4. It doesn’t do what I believed it would (or not as well as I hoped):  I’m a little embarrassed to say that the ‘Ab Master 3000’ has not delivered the six pack as modelled on the shopping channel. (Though , on reflection this may not be the fault of the product).
  5. Unexpected surprises:   ‘You didn’t mention the add-ons’.  ‘We thought everyone would know that you also need to buy the stand, otherwise, obviously sir, it will fall over.’
  6. It needs lots of work to get it going:  Never buy a Lego castle.  The toy looks amazing in the picture on the box, which also helpfully states that an adult may be needed to assist your child build it.  My small boy lost interest after five minutes; it took me nearly six hours hard toil to make the thousand bricks look something like.  It didn’t help that members of my family (including my junior helper) constantly interrupted asking ’Is it finished yet!’
  7. Not good value:   The sense that you have been ripped off doesn’t incline you towards buying again from this supplier or recommending them to your friends or family.

Once you can assure me you can avoid all the above, then give me a great experience.

Explore three new frontiers to stellar customer experience: Part 1

‘It’s all well and good training us to give our customers a great experience but what are you going to do to train them?’ 
What a good question.  At one time I would have moved on with platitudes like “we should keep our focus on what we can influence”.  However, if we want to achieve stellar levels of customer differentiation and loyalty perhaps we need to push the frontiers of customer experience towards those things we can’t influence. 
Customer Experience training assumes we take all the responsibility for ensuring our customer has a great experience but what responsibility do customers have for their own experience? How come some people often get what they want as a customer and others seem to always be in conflict and continually dissatisfied. Let’s explore these frontiers by considering how we might influence that which we cannot, on first inspection, influence?
Frontier 1: Influence the uninfluencable
The very best organisations are beginning to recognise that a customer’s experience with their organisation can be ruined by factors outside their control.  Whilst analysing the complaints received from the customers of a leading manufacturer I was interested to note that they had labelled nearly 25% of them as ‘unjustified’.  When asked what an ‘unjustified’ complaint was they pointed out that it was where the cause of the complaint was due to another organisation or supplier and not their fault.  What was interesting was that the customer perceived that the problem was down to them, simply telling them that it was someone else to blame did nothing to change this perception. The first frontier is to take responsibility for all aspects of the customer’s experience even those for which we have no responsibility.
We are all familiar with this, when visiting a restaurant recently we had a dreadful time. The traffic was appalling, the weather was wet, windy and thoroughly miserable and our taxi driver drove at the speed of Jenson Button but with a fraction of his talent.  Once inside the restaurant our experience was fabulous, beautifully presented and flavoursome food with attentive waiting staff and convivial company.   Unfortunately, at the end of the evening we had to wait for 20 minutes for ‘Jenson’ to collect us and paid the equivalent of 25% of the price of our meal for the privilege of the white knuckle ride home.  Our dining experience was ruined by causes that were not the fault of the restaurant.  
Compare this with a rival restaurant which had discovered that customers who used the highly unreliable local taxi firm had a poor overall experience.  As a result they took a different approach and created their Diners Club.  One of the benefits of the free membership was their chauffeur service with collection from your doorstep and return transportation home after your visit, for no charge.  When I asked if this was cost effective the manager informed me they made £14 per person extra profit from each diner that used the chauffeur service (usually on wine).  An added benefit was the brilliant customer feedback mechanism; their customers told the driver everything about their experience, what they liked and what they didn’t, a focus group on wheels! They had taken responsibility for the whole customer experience, increased profitability and you can imagine the benefit to their reputation in the local community.

Customer Experience Hero: London Underground

It’s not often you see those words put in the same sentence.  Today I would like to recount an apocryphal tale which I have told all around the world.  Maybe one day the actual hero of the story will recognise himself and quite rightly – take a bow.
A few years ago, as Kings Cross/St Pancras station in London was being renovated a temporary ticket office had been assembled outside.  To get a ticket, passengers like myself had to join a queue.  As the robotic voice announced the vacated ticket booth we all shuffled one step nearer our purchase. ‘Cashier number three please’, Shuffle.  ‘Cashier number two please.’  Shuffle.
I don’t live in London.  Even though I travel there regularly for meetings and the like I am still a tourist.  I get excited by red buses, black cabs, historical sites, the museums, famous street names, even the cheery southern accents.  I leap from my train, skip down the platform breathing in great lung full’s of London air.  What a thrill?  So when I join the ticketing queue, naturally I’m buzzing.  I even have a few words with other travellers (my son now lives in London and apparently this isn’t the done thing).
‘Cashier number four please’. Shuffle.
After five minutes of shuffling all that excitement has evaporated.  I now have the air of a cow lining up to be slaughtered.  My will is broken.  I’ve become … a commuter!
‘Cashier number 5 please’. Shuffle.
By the time I’m at the head of the queue there is not an ounce of humanity left in my soul.  I am a number.  That number is … ‘Cashier number two please’.
I stand before a metal grill behind which is the London Underground ticket clerk.  He’s been on shift for three hours; several hundred sub-humans have made their requests of him, I was to be no exception.
‘Zone 1 return please.’
As I hand over my credit card I ask ‘Can I have a receipt with that?’
From the depths of the booth he replies ‘No’.
Suddenly I’m awakened from my trance.  ‘What?’
‘Ah, just kiddin’ of course you can have a receipt with that’.
Here you go.  You have a good day and thanks very much.’
I walked away with a smile on my face.  My London Underground hero had transformed me from the gulag chain gang back to an overexcited tourist again.  It cost him nothing to make my day and given the mind numbing job he did and the miniscule amount of time he had to interact with me, he was absolutely brilliant!
I went away thinking what nice people they employ on London Underground.  

Praise the good stuff (Part 1)

‘You need to challenge poor behaviour, don’t let it go, don’t ignore it, if you let it pass then you are in effect condoning it.’

I’ve heard trainers use this statement so often, and while I agree with the sentiment, I believe there is a better way. 
I’ve yet to meet anyone who likes being told off, however justified. It’s like being bitten by a dog, ‘once bitten, twice shy’.  Fear of failure (and teeth) stifles initiative.  What would have to happen  for you to confidently approach a dog again?
People don’t usually go to work to give their customers a bad experience and nearly everyone when asked will tell me that they always give their best.  This means that something is missing; otherwise we would all have great experiences, all the time. From my observations this is definitely not the case. 
Perhaps people don’t know what sort of experience they need to give me. Maybe I have a part to play to thank someone when I feel my customer experience has been good.  How often do we as customers play our part and praise the good stuff?  Often I’m too preoccupied being a customer to give feedback so it can’t just be left to us.
Research shows that the most influential person to give this feedback is the line manager.
As a line manager you don’t want to waste time, energy and resources policing the behaviours of your team.  You don’t want to be continually worrying about what they do when you’re not looking?  You want to be confident that there is no need for this because It is intuitive, the way we do things ‘round here.  It becomes self policing with good habits being passed on to newbies.   But unless you have praised the good stuff, how do people know when they have given great customer experience?
Here is my new campaign:  Praise not police
Praise the good stuff rather than police the bad things.  Let’s motivate people to give a great customer experience.
It’s easy to criticise but this tells people what you don’t want, rather than taking responsibility to give their customer want they want
It’s hard to spot the good stuff, not because it isn’t happening but because you aren’t around to see it happening.  This means line managers have to be more aware of opportunities to praise great behaviours.
People have to believe you mean it.  Simply saying ‘you did a good job today’ is not praising the specific behaviour which constituted a good job.  You might as well say ‘thanks for turning up today’
It’s a mindset change you want to achieve. In line managers as well as their team.  The leader/manager has to adopt a developmental mindset as opposed to a managerial mindset
Come on.  Join my campaign.  Praise the good stuff.  Give people confidence to ‘pat that dog’.
NB:  If you don’t mind I’m a bit frightened of dogs so that it a metaphorical request, not a literal one.  There is no way I’m going anywhere near the teeth end of a dog.

Role Models

As a schoolchild I had compulsory swimming lessons at the local baths every week. Being quite competitive, I was determined to be in the top set which meant the chance to go in for the hard swimming achievement badges. On the day of group selection I was horrified to find we had to swim across the pool using front crawl. I was a reasonable swimmer but I’d never even attempted front crawl I didn’t even know the rudiments of the stroke. All seemed doomed to failure. Luckily a new girl had recently arrived in school, she was American and was an amazing swimmer. She glided effortlessly through the water using whatever stroke she wanted. I decided upon a foolhardy, yet with hindsight, quite good plan. I would watch carefully what she did and simply copy her technique. Which I did, incorporating a long dive and holding my breath for the whole distance I managed exemplary front crawl and learned some valuable lessons.
  1. Always do the things with complete confidence, it gives the impression you know what you’re doing
  2. Technique is everything
  3. Be prepared to take a risk, the worst thing that can happen is you will drown
  4. Find the very best people and learn from what they do
  5. God Bless Americans

People hold the customer experience you get in USA as the role model for customer service. I have had great service when visiting America; I have also had quite the reverse. What you notice wherever you go is that you will get pockets of great practice. If one person is brilliant then usually many are all brilliant. People follow a role model. They want to be like the person most admired in the organisation.
Culture is contagious and self managing. Take the example of the fantastic Italian waiter we had at a restaurant recently. He had the accent, the mannerisms, the skills and the look of the other brilliant waiters. When you heard him ‘off duty’ he had the broadest Yorkshire accent and had no connections with Italy except that he served pizzas for a living. He probably didn’t even realise that when he was at work he became Italian! The culture he immersed himself in everyday meant he could give his best, indeed he couldn’t give anything else.
Managers in particular need to be constantly vigilant of themselves. Their team is a reflection of themselves, they are the role models. Their team want to be like them. If they are not what you want them to be – then you need to look to yourself. People learn by copying the actions of those that look like they know what they are doing.
WARNING. This doesn’t apply to learning front crawl. If you want to become a master swimmer, get lessons. If you use my technique as a model be warned it could result in being humiliated at the public swimming pool as the lifeguard pulls you from the water.

Service Delivery Channels

I was behind a Staples (office supplies) delivery truck on the motorway recently which carried the advertising strap line ‘Three ways to buy’, with online, by phone and in store the options offered me by the lorry.  Since we had ground to a halt in an M6 traffic jam I reflected that this was indeed an interesting stationary choice.
This is nothing new, think tea, loose leaf or in a tea bag which was first marketed in 1904 by tea merchant Thomas Sullivan.  There are many other examples; the difference today is the range of options that companies want to offer.    Most have recognised the need to move on from a ‘take it or leave it’ approach, (although this doesn’t apply to their automated phone systems) to a ‘this is what we will offer you’ mindset.  Finding as many ways possible to deliver our service to us is the challenge.  Like the razor blade wars between Gillette and Wilkinson Sword it appears that organisations have to find one more than their rivals.
Is this what your customers want?  Have you asked them? Is this really important to people?  Most importantly is it worth the investment? Sometimes you need to try something new and completely different to find better ways to serve your customers.  I will be eternally grateful to the banker who talked their bosses into developing telephone banking.  Internet banking on the other hand may offer benefits but for me the convenience of telling someone what I want is far superior.
This is where we see the difference between those companies that ‘do to their customers’ and those that give people the experience they want.   A subtle yet telling differentiator.  Telephone Banking is the opportunity for the bank to give me a personal experience, to connect with me, to involve me in an interaction which is personalised.  I can become emotionally attached to their service.  This is far more difficult to achieve with an internet experience which is entirely functional.
Although ‘three ways to buy’ is a great idea, will I get three equally great experiences?