On Technology In Experience Design: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Brussels Airport: Human Beings and Technology Complement One Another to Deliver A Good Experience

It’s Monday morning, early, as we are about to land at Brussels airport I decide to take the train rather than the taxi.  On landing I look for and follow the signs for the train. I arrive at level -1. Now I am presented with choice: to get my ticket from the ticket machines (many of them, all of them available for use) or queue up at the ticket office and be served by a human being.  I choose to queue up and be served by the human being.

To the lovers of technology and its promise to reduce friction and bring about nirvana my decision does not make sense. Surely it would be faster and easier.  So why did I not use the machines? I lacked prior experience with these machines. I lacked the kind of contextual knowledge needed to figure what ticket I needed. And importantly, previous bad experiences – like the refusal to accept my credit card, or being told by the inspector that I had purchased the wrong ticket….

Further, and please make a note of this, I knew that the automated ticket machines do not have the same kind of being as a human being.  What am I getting at? I am talking about flexibility, intuitive contextual understanding born from a shared humanity, and a natural inclination towards helpfulness.  How best to illustrate?  Follow my story and you will see.

Within 2 to 3 minutes of queuing up I am face to face with middle aged man behind a glass screen. Do I speak French or English?  I notice that this man had been speaking in Flemish to his colleagues. So I speak English and ask him for a ticket to Bruxelles-Nord.  He flexes: he switches to speaking English fluently. He flexes: he asks me if I want a single or a return. I tell him that I need a return. He tells me the price and issues the ticket.

Time to pay. I get out my credit credit and look at the card processing machine. I haven’t come across this type before. I cannot figure out where the card goes and which way it goes. So I ask the man. He flexes to meet my need: he shows/tells me the correct place and way of inserting the card. I am grateful as I had not seen that slot in the machine.  I think bad design! Great that there is a human being to make up for the poor design of the credit card machine.  I pay. I thank the man and make my way through automated barriers to the train.

When I arrive at Bruxelles-Nord I find myself happy.  I took the road less travelled – I normally take the taxi – there were challenges. And the right combination of humanity and technology allowed me to overcome this challenges, easily, and left me feeling good.  Good!

London Heathrow: Getting Technology and Humanity All Wrong

Same day. It has been a long day. Finally, I am off the aeroplane and making my way to passport control at London Heathrow- later than expected. The taxi driver has just rang me to ask where I am.  So I am keen to get through passport control.

I arrive at passport control along with many others. Two choices – follow the lane for e-passports or the other lane.  Not an easy choice.  There is long queue in the e-passport lane as the demand falling on this lane is greater than the capacity of this lane.  This lane is automated and the technology (the machines) are not keeping up with the human beings.  On the other hand, there are only two lanes open in the other (alternative) lane.

Whilst in the midst of making the decision, I find myself shepherded into the e-passport lane.  I wait. I wait. I wait. Finally, I am near enough to the machines, the technology, to see what is going on.  There are 15 machines, only 10 of them are operational.  Imagine if you ran a call centre and on a busy day one third of your staff were off ill. What kind of an impact would that have on service levels?  OK, that accounts for some of the imbalance between demand and throughput.  What else is going on? I look.

As I am looking, for about ten minutes or so, I notice a few things. I notice that the process of getting through the machines is longer – every time – than with a human being checking passports. So even if everything worked like clockwork, it takes longer to get through these machines. But everything isn’t working like clockwork. It is about as far from clockwork as one can imagine.

I notice that most folks simply do not how to use the machines.  I can see the confusion on their faces. I can see their apprehension as they find themselves face to face with the passport (and facial recognition) machines.  There are no easily (intuitively) understandable instructions. For example, folks don’t know whether to put the passport face up or face down in the scanning area.  The machine does not detect wrong procedure and alert folks. It does its processing and when it is finished a big red cross comes up on the screen. But no useful error message or guidance.

At this point I ask you to think back to my situation at Brussels Airport. Remember me turning to and being served – as in helped out – by a human being?  So you may be wondering what happened to the human beings at passport control. This is where it goes from bad to ugly.  Allow me to explain.

I can only see one human being on my side of the machines – a woman in her late twenties. She is standing in front of machine 11 – only machines 1 to 10 are operational.  She is looking at what is going on.  Her contribution? To look down at the people struggling with the machines and provide useless advice.  The looking down is evident in her face and her tone of voice.  She keeps saying “If you put your passport against the machine and push down then it works fine”.  Folks are doing that and for some of them it is not working out. Clearly, they are at fault given her stance.

I notice that every person who cannot get through the automated passport check  – which is at least one in every three – is instructed by this young lady to go and see the man at the end of the line.  I look and see that there is only one man at the end of the line. He is busy – there is long queue.  The price of cost reduction through technology centred automation is being paid by us – the users.  I look at the faces of the people like me waiting patiently to get through this nightmare. I can see the frustration, even contempt, in their faces. Some of them are voicing this frustration – in a very understated English way.

 

Where I Stand In Regard To Technology

1 – It is my experience that the claims made in regards to technology (in business) are puffery. Or, at best, aspirational – what folks would like to believe. Yes, technology can make things better. But it rarely does especially not for the people who actually find themselves face to face with technology – the users. 

Take Heathrow Airport, I am sure that folks selling the vision and benefits talked about: reducing costs by replacing many people with one machine, the throughput – how it would take less time for the machine to do the work of the human being, the improvement in the customer experience – easier, quicker, better, the reduction in risk as machines don’t get tired….  Now you compare my experience with the vision/promise.  Notice the gap.

2 – Making technology work (for users) requires a deep connection with our own humanity (our way of being_in_the_world). And with the humanity of our fellow human beings through empathy.  Yet this is THE quality that is lacking in the people who purchase technology (managers) and those implement technology.  Further, neither party really cares for the users of technology.  The users are pawns who are to be ‘change managed’ in order for the benefits of automation to be harvested. What are those benefits?  As I mentioned in the last conversation they are almost always cost reduction.

3 – In service contexts, great experience design requires the right blend of the human beings and technology. Why?  Technology is great where something can be reduced a technique – a logical sequence of invariant steps – and thus automated.  Yet an intrinsic and persuasive feature of human worlds is unpredictability, novelty, variance.  These are characteristics of living and life – especially intelligent life like ours. Technology sucks at dealing with this. But human beings don’t. Human beings have the capacity even an inclination to be flexible in an instant. Humans can get an intuitive grasp of the context (the background) and the user and her situation (the foreground). And we can flex to address the specific needs of this user in this context.

4 – It is easier to design and implement technology badly – from a user experience standpoint – then it is do it well. To turn around this situation requires a substantial investment in service designers and ux designers.  As well as prioritisation of the user experience. For all the talk of Design Thinking there is little of it actually occurring – perhaps a drop in the ocean.  As someone in an important position said to me recently “I don’t care about their feelings. I have a deadline to meet!” Further, most organisations are not willing to really get into Design Thinking – it requires a different mix of people, it involves getting out of the office and entering new worlds, it takes time, it takes effort, it requires experimenting and iteration.  None of this appeals when the focus is implementing technology ‘out of the box’ this month using agile.  Were speed and efficiency is of the essence the ground/soil necessary for human centred design is simply not there.

I thank you for your listening. Until the next time….

What Can The Hotel Industry Learn From Homelands B&B?

Homelands Bed & BreakfastDuring November, whilst on business, I stayed at Homelands Bed & Breakfast and thoroughly enjoyed my experience. It was so good that staying at Homelands occurred as staying at a home away from home.  My experience lived up to the five star rating that Homelands has earned on TripAdvisor.

Here’s what I think the hotel industry can learn from the folks (Erik and Nicola Burger) who own and run Homelands B&B Woodsmancote:

After Booking And Before Arrival

I think I made the booking via Hotels.com about a week in advance of arrival.  A couple of days after making the booking I received an email from Erik and Nicola confirming the booking, welcoming me, and letting me know that the normal check-in time is between 4 and 9pm. And if I was going to arrive outside of that window then they needed to know so that alternative arrangements could be made.

Further, they provided useful advice like which road to take and importantly which road to avoid unless I had strong nerves and a 4×4 vehicle.

After an email exchange it became apparent that Erik and Nicola make it a habit to welcome their guests. Yet few guests turn up on a Sunday night – business travellers don’t tend to stay there. And the Burger family had made plans to go out that Sunday evening.  This was not a problem we came to an arrangement that worked well for all of us.

What impression did this exchange make on me?  “Wow, these folks know I am coming. They want to make sure that I get there safely. And that when I get to their place they are either there to welcome me. Or at the very minimum, that I can get to my room without any problems. They are living up the praise they have received on TripAdvisor. I have made the right choice.”

Further because of this proactive email exchange I was able to let Erik and Nicola know that my breakfast needs were simple: fruit, croissants or cereal (granola), and a cup of tea.

Now compare this with the Holiday Inn Express where I stayed the first week of November. I made the booking. I heard nothing from the Holiday Inn Express. When I turned up I found there was no parking. Which came as an unpleasant surprise. And then I had to ask for car parking options.

Lessons:

  1. Reach out to your customers when they place an order and provide them with useful information.
  2. If standard ways of doing things don’t work  for this customer in this particular instance then look for creative ways around the standard ways. Creative ways that leaves the customer feeling valued. And yet does not damage the business.

Upon Arrival and First Night At Homelands

I arrived on Sunday night. It was dark. I was in the middle of the countryside. After asking a neighbour I found Homelands, used the pin code that Erik and Nicola had emailed me. Found the envelope with my name on it and key inside – as promised. Entered Homelands, found a friendly welcoming note for me. Then made my way to my room for the week. The room was tastefully decorated. The sheets were clean… Everything was in order – just as I had been led to expect it from the photos, from the reviews.

Lessons:

  1. The ‘product’  must match your description of your ‘product’. Put differently,  the ‘product’ must contain / do exactly what it says on the tin. In this case the picture of Homelands accurately represented Homelands. The decorations were tasteful – just as described…
  2. In the hospitality business the experience (total experience) is the product!  How you treat folks matters as much as the quality of the room you are selling or the breakfast you are providing.
  3. You must keep your promises – if you promise something then you must deliver it. Why? Because the customer is counting on you to deliver it.

First Morning at Breakfast Time

At the agreed time (7:50am) I came down to breakfast. I was greeted warmly and professionally by Erik. What I had asked for, for breakfast, was there: fresh fruits, jars of cereals, apple juice, orange juice, water….

During the process of getting to know one another I learnt that Erik was Dutch. That the night before he had gone to see the new Bond movie with his son…. I told Eric a little about me, like where I lived, why I was in his part of the world….

Then Erik asked me if there was anything else that I needed. Like a cooked breakfast. Or coffee. I told Erik that I was keeping things simple as I was on bunch of drugs due to back and neck problems. And that these medicines has a side effect: constipation.  So, I was being careful about what I did eat and what I did not eat.  Then Erik asked me if there was anything else that he could do for me.

After hesitating, I made my request. I told Erik that I had neck and shoulder pain. That he could help release that pain. And I showed him how to do it – by pressing his elbow at two points on the upper part of my body. Erik told me that this was the most unusual request any guest had ever made of him. And he accepted.  Frankly, I was surprised. After Erik had finished, I expressed my gratitude as I was truly grateful.

Can you imagine me making that kind of a request at a corporate hotel?  What do you think the likely reaction would have been if I had approached a staff member of Holiday Inn, Hilton, Radissan SAS.?  I guess I would have been told it is against policy for staff members to physically touch guests. Never mind press down hard with their elbow into the top of my shoulders!

Lessons:

  1. If the customer selects from a range of options then make sure that you deliver on the selection that the customer has made. No point offering / giving more than what the customer needs e.g. like laying out a cooked breakfast that a customer is never going to eat.
  2. What really takes the customer’s breath away and builds gratitude, loyalty, advocacy, is your ability to do something special (as defined by the customer) for the customer – especially when the customer asks for it.

Second Night At Homelands

One of the most frustrating things I find at hotels of all kinds is that they don’t feel like home. At home, if I need water I can just get some water. If I want some fruit juice I can get some fruit juice. At hotels I am stuck, at best with an overpriced, mini-bar.  And that leaves me feeling like I am being milked for all the milk the hotel can get out of me.  I usually respond by either buying a large bottle of water from a restaurant – which is still cheaper than the hotel. Or by finding a local store and buying it from there and taking it to my hotel room. I have an aversion to being milked!

Not at Homelands. At Homelands there is kitchen and in that kitchen is big fridge. And in that fridge are fruit juices, and water bottles. There is milk. And there are extra mugs….

So when I woke up in the middle of the night and had to take some pain killers and muscle relaxants, I made my way to kitchen and helped myself to the Apple juice. Exactly the kind of thing I do at home. I wake up, I find myself in pain, I walk down the stairs, I find a glass, open the fridge…..

Lesson:

  1. It is amazing how the little things – like being able to get a small glass of fruit juice, or water without having to pay – matter. And how much they matter.  But to understand which little things matter and how much they matter you have to be able to access your humanity. To genuinely have walked in the shoes of the customer – as a normal every day human being rather than a marketer or a process/six sigma guy…
  2. There is absolutely no substitute for kindness / generosity. Stan Phelps calls this Lagniappe.

Second Morning at Breakfast

After waking up and having a shower, I took the time simply to gaze out at the fields, the green grass, the trees, and the horses. Such a refreshing change to staring at buildings, tarmac, and hearing the noise of vehicles on the road.

When I made my way down to breakfast, I noticed that the range of fruits had increased. In addition to melon, and grapefruit there were berries and prunes.  If you don’t know, prunes help with constipation.  Clearly, Erik had listened, used his listening to learn about me, and most importantly acted on his insight into my health and condition.

How did this leave me feeling? I say it again, it left me with the feeling of being at home away from home. Why is this important? Because home is where I feel safe. Home is where I am with people I know care for me. And people I know I can count on for help if I need help.

Whilst having breakfast Erik and talked a little bit more.  I learnt that Erik is Dutch. That he is into nature and conversation. That Erik and Nicola make their own honey…. A human conversation the kind that I am used to having at home whilst I have breakfast.

 

Lessons

  1. If if you show up in the correct manner and simply engage in conversation, customers will tell you a lot about themselves, the situation they find themselves in, their hopes and fears, the constraints they are working within….
  2. Insight in and of itself has no value. Value, as experienced by the customer and repaid through loyalty, is generated when you act on the insight in a manner that leaves the customer feeling grateful because your action/s have made his life easier, simpler, richer.

Time to stop. I could go on and on. And my back is beginning to hurt and that is not good.

By writing this I have kept my word. What word?  Upon leaving Homelands for the second and last time, I told Erik that Homelands had occurred as home away from home.  And that I would be writing about Homelands and sharing my experience.

If you are on holiday or on business and looking somewhere great to stay then I thoroughly recommend that you check out Homelands Bed & Breakfast.  I cannot praise it highly enough. And neither can all the other folks that have stayed there – Homelands gets a five star rating on TripAdvisor. 

A la prochaine – until the next time.

Experience Engineering: How Do You Engineer Authentic Humanity Into The Customer Experience?

I have been working in Cheltenham for a few weeks now. I like, really like, the folks (at the client) that I find myself working with. It has something to do with their kind of accueil- a word that my French family often use.

Let’s just consider accueil. How is it translated?  It is translated as: welcome, reception, acceptance, hospitality. It is also used to refer to the home page of a website.

Many years ago I chose not to specialise – going against the dominant trend and advice. I chose to do what comes naturally to me: be a generalist. Today, that means I get involved primarily in some combination of digital transformation, customer experience, CRM, marketing automation, change leadership, programme management. And I get involved in one of many levels – from helping devise strategy through to drawing out the systems architecture.

Why did I share that with you? To set the context. Why?  Because the more I see of what organisations are doing under the CX umbrella and the way they are going about it, the more I find myself falling out with the whole CX thing. I also find myself disagreeing with many CX gurus – many of whom are self-appointed. It is not a domain where one can criticise and remain in the CX club – as I have learnt. That is ok by me.  I can criticise CX because I do not depend on it to make my living, build a reputation, or safeguard one.

Call it Customer Experience design, call it Service Design, call it Experience Engineering. Whatever you call it, here is my question: How do you engineer accueil – authentic, spontaneous, warm accueil?  How do the BPR/six-sigma folks (I always find plenty of them working under CX umbrella) engineer/standardise processes for generating authentic warm accueil?  Or let’s turn to the business change or HR folks, how do they train the frontline staff (who are often on minimum wage, or some of the lowest wages in the organisation, in the economy) to generate authentic warm accueil?  Let’s not leave out metrics – according to conventional dogma only what gets measured gets done. What metrics does one use to assess if authentic warm accueil is experienced by the experiencer: the customer, the guest, the employee, the partner, the supplier?

In my first week in Cheltenham, I found myself staying in the Holiday Inn Express.  I checked in late on a Sunday. Lady on check-in was polite, helpful (gave me ‘map’ of Cheltenham centre), and quick. The lifts were plentiful, clean, quick. Room was easy to find through the signposting. The room was clean and spacious. And as promised it was on the quiet side. The breakfast was in line with expectations for that kind of hotel.  The right folks ‘faked’ the right kind of smiles. And behaved in the appropriate scripted manner. In short, all was in line with a well run hotel in that class of hotel.

If I had to put it into words, I’d say that the experience engineers (through design or accident) had engineered a professional competent experience.  Did this experience evoke any kind of emotional bond to this hotel, or anyone in the hotel? No. Why?  The whole experience felt corporate – efficient yet inhuman.

One evening I returned to the hotel after a busy (full) day of consulting work.  I found myself keen to get changed and go walkabout around Cheltenham: walk, look around, check out potential dining choices, pick a restaurant. Problem: it was raining heavily and I had no umbrella. Further, the situation did not afford the purchase of an umbrella as it was about 7:30 in the evening.

Remembering that some hotels (of the expensive kind) stock umbrellas for use by guests, I approached the lady staffing the reception desk. “You don’t happen to have an umbrella I can borrow do you?”  Her polite answer? “Sorry, we don’t have any umbrellas.” Hope dashed. Mild disappointed – mild because I did not expect this kind of hotel to offer customers umbrellas.  Then the most amazing-delightful thing happened.

One of the employees working at the bar (which happened to be adjacent to the Reception desk) said “I have an umbrella, you are welcome to borrow it. Mind you, it’s girly. Are you ok with that?”  Then she went into a back room and handed me her own (private) girly umbrella. Surprise. Delight. Gratitude. I accepted her gift, thanked her, and promised to return her umbrella to her by the end of the evening.

Here’s the thing, I was so deeply touched (and continue to be touched) by this young lady’s humanity (kindness, generosity) and her placing her trust in me (without me having earned it first) that some deeply human dimension of me wanted to both to hug her. And to cry. Why cry? Cry of joy. Joy of what?  Joy that fellow feeling – genuine human compassion – is still alive in some people.  She did not know me. She did not owe me anything. She had no script to follow. In fact, if there was a script to follow I suspect it would advise employees not to lend their or the hotels private property to guests (customers).

It is the accueil – the acceptance, the welcome, the warmth, the hospitality of this young lady’s humanity in action that I remember and carry with me. I am moved by how she showed up. Her way of being makes me feel good about being a member of the human race. Gives me hope for the human race despite the savage/violent aspects of human existence.

Which brings me back to experience engineering and the question I posed: How do you build authentic humanity into the customer experience?  What I can tell you is this: you cannot do it by the means that most folks are using to design/engineer customer experiences: putting lots of channels in play, collecting lots of data (small and big) and using this to do ‘personalise content’ to do targeted marketing/selling, engaging a bunch of BPR/Six Sigma to redesign processes, handing out vision/value cards to employees, sending employees on training courses, using VoC measures (NPS) to reward/punish employees…..

If the quality of the accueil matters (and I say it matters a lot in service environments) then you have to deliberately attract and welcome folks who embody warm accueil in their way of being. And then you have to continually cultivate an environment/climate where 1) those in management roles generate that kind of acceuil for the folks working in the organisation; and 2) folks working in the organisation can agree or disagree with one another – passionately against a background of warm accueil for their fellow colleagues despite challenging their ideas, proposals, and behaviours.

Do this and you dispose your organisation to spontaneously and appropriately generate the kind of humanity/accueil that build genuine affinity with your organisation / brand.  And yes, the right tools, and behind the scenes processes can make it easier for your folks to deliver outstanding accueil.

Notice, the technology (tools) and process – are there in the background to serve your people.  Your people become real-time, flexible, experience engineers – treating different customers differently and even the same customer differently depending on the context.

Enough for today, I thank you for your listening.  Until the next time, I wish you the very best – may you receive and grant the kind of accueil that makes you proud to be a member of the human race.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Customer Experience Through The Eyes Of The Frontline Retail Employee

Perspective. If we are to improve the performance of human worlds (couple, family, neighbourhood, team, department, business, nation…) perspective taking is essential. It occurs to me that the simplest form of perspective taking is attentive-receptive listening to those who find themselves embedded in the human world that one is interested in.  The deepest from of perspective taking is to enter into the lives, and live the lives, of those whose perspective one wishes to become intimately familiar with.

What did I learn when listened to the perspective (lived experience) of frontline retail employees who work for one of the big UK retailers?

On many days the store is short-staffed. Those who are present and ready for work find themselves stressed. The standards are high – for merchandising, store cleanliness, customer service…  There is a lot to get done. The pressure is on. This calls people to take short-cuts (including putting their health & safety at risk), bypass policies and practices to do that which needs to be done.

The folks dealing with customers on the frontline are not adequately trained – as in training that comes through apprenticeship.  Why are they not adequately trained? Because the stores are short-staffed. Due to the short-staffing, the pressure is on to throw new frontline employees into the deep end. This places the new employees under stress: these employees face demanding customers, they are aware that their colleagues are counting on them, they know that their manager is judging them, and they are intimately aware that they lack the contextual understanding and experimental know-how to do things well.  They do their best. And their best is not enough. They are aware that their best is enough.

Folks distant and cut-off from the reality of the world of the store (that particular store) make decisions for that store. These decisions whilst sound in theory are impractical given the reality of that store.  Yet the folks in that store – including the manager of that store – have no power to affect or challenge these decisions. So there are substantial and frequent store refreshes and not enough staff to merely do the day to day tasks. The product range is expanded and there is not enough shelf space. Customers complain of products not being in stock yet the replenishment decisions are made by computers and remote others in charge of store replenishment. New machinery is introduced that does not fit well into the store and makes lives harder for the folks in the store ….  All of this increases the level of stress experienced by the folks working in the stores.

Customers are demanding at best, rude at their worst. They demand perfection: a seamless experience. They are encouraged in this demanding-ness by the folks higher up in the business who designate and promote services (and service standards) which are impractical given the reality of that store. Folks serving these customers want to provide a good service and experience a certain kind of human encounter with customers. Yet, they find themselves in a reality in which providing merely an average customer experience is all that can be reasonably provided.  They experience the withering look of many customers. And some customers, more and more these days, who are condescending, critical, and rude. All of this increases the level of stress experienced by these front line employees.

Their employer and their manager does not care for them. The folks experience themselves as not appreciated, not valued, not loved.  It is not just that these folks are paid the minimum wage. It is not just that if they arrive five minutes late for work then fifteen minutes of pay is docked. It is not that they are expected to stay up to half an hour later than their shift and they do not get paid for this half an hour. It is not that they are not adequately trained. It is not just that they are rarely given their allotted lunch break. It is more. It is the gap that they experience (on a daily basis) between the way the company expects them to treat customers and the way they are treated by the company. Is it then any surprise that the stores are regularly and frequently short-staffed – in numbers and in terms of experience/cable employees?  Who wants to work in such an environment? And even those who do work in such an environment quit as soon as the can quit.

If you are working in an organisation and concerned about improving the customer experience,  I end by posing the following questions:

  • Are the folks that work for us and with us less worthy of care, consideration, and respect than folks upon whom we change the label Customer?
  • What is the likelihood that at a distance voice of the customer surveys unconceal the kind of reality that I have shared with you here – the reality of the folks interacting directly with customers?
  • Do your customer journey maps give you an adequate feel for the lives of customers and the lives of the people on the front lines who interact with your customers on a daily basis?

If you are a customer then ask you to be mindful of human worth and dignity in your dealings with the folks that serve you – especially when things are not going right. I ask you to consider that the person is not merely an employee. S/he is a human being who is doing the best s/he can given the circumstances s/he finds herself in.  If you were in h/er position you would most likely do that which s/he is doing.  A kind word can light up the world.

I thank you for your listening it is that which continues to call me to share my speaking with you.  I leave you to grapple with what I have shared and make it mean that which you make it mean

Erich Fromm On The Central Challenge Of Cultivating Meaningful Relationships With Customers

What Is The Central Challenge Of Building Meaningful & Profitable Relationships With Customers? Is this challenge about opening up 24/7 access to your business through any and all channels?  Is it about coming up with new products and services that attract customers like bright lights attract moths at night-time?  Is it about taking out costly, unpredictable, unreliable human beings and replacing them with technology?  Is it about collecting and mining all the data you can get your hands on to generate insight to customers and entice them with the right offer, at the right time, through the right communication channel?  Is it about redesigning processes and gluing up all the interaction channels so that the customer experience across the customer journey is an effortless one?

Perhaps. Or maybe this is simply thinking inside the existing way of showing up and travelling in the world.  What way am I referring to? The technological way. What kind of way is that?  It is the way that refers to human beings as human resources. It is the way that refers to customers as assets. It is the way that thinks that listening to the voice of the customer is the same as reading statistics and text which summarises and details the survey responses coming in from some customers. It is the way that seeks to replace human beings and human to human conversations with automated interfaces and self-service…..

I invite you to listen to the speaking of Erich Fromm written in the 1940s (bolding mine):

The insignificance of the individual in our era concerns not only his role as a business man, employee, or manual labourer, but also his role as a customer. A drastic change has occurred in the role of the customer in the last decades. The customer who went into a retail store owned by an independent business man was sure to get personal attention: his individual purchase was important to the owner of the store; he was received like somebody who mattered, his wishes were studied; the very act of buying gave him a feeling of importance and dignity.

How different is the relationship of the customer to a department store. He is impressed by the vastness of the building, the number of employees, the profusion of commodities displayed; all that makes him feel small and unimportant by comparison. As an individual he is of no importance to the department store. He is important as “a customer”; the store does not want to lose him, because this would indicate that there is something wrong and it might mean that the store would lose other customers. As an abstract customer he is important; as a concrete customer he is utterly unimportant. There is nobody who is glad about his coming, nobody who is particularly concerned about his wishes. 

– Erich Fromm, The Fear Of Freedom

It occurs to me that many (if not most) organisations struggle to cultivate meaningful-profitable relationships with customers despite spending significant sums on the likes of customer analytics, CRM, marketing automation, and VoC. Why?  My experience of the last 15 years working in the Customer space is that action has been at the abstract level of customer and customers. And almost nobody has paid attention to the experience of the concrete flesh and blood customer as a human being.  As such technology has been used to remove rather than enhance what little was left of the human to human relating.  Technology can do many useful things including increasing access and reducing effort. What it cannot do well is this: create, enliven, enrich human relating.

What’s The Difference Between UX and CX At An Experiential Level?

Is there a difference between UX and CX? Yes. What is the difference between UX and CX? Allow me to answer this question by sharing my experience in dealing with a web hosting company.

The User Experience? Great!

I came across a web hosting company which appealed to me. Let’s call this company: NewWebHostCo. What appealed to me? The look+feel of the website: easy and appealing to my eyes. The navigation: well thought out and signposted. The content: written in plain English and as such is easy to understand – especially for non-technical folks like me.

So I chose to do business with NewWebHostCo. First, I searched for and then purchased a domain. I followed the instructions, paid through my credit card.  Second, I undertook a second transaction: transfer of an existing domain (from 123Reg) to NewWebHostCo, and the purchase of web hosting plan. Again the process of selecting and paying for that which I wanted was easy and quick. Shortly after each transaction, I got emails from NewWebHostCo confirming the purchases I had made.

At this point I was delighted. Clearly, someone had given considerable thought to the design of the NewWebHostCo website: my user experience was excellent in comparison to other web hosting sites which are busy and often confusing to me. So I was looking forward to being up and running (quickly-easily) with NewWebHostCo; I felt reassured by the promise of a 45 day no quibble refund and the promise of great support-service to customer queries.

The Customer Experience? Poor!

The next day I logged into my account at the NewWebHostCo website. I was surprised and disappointed to find that the domain name that I had purchased was not on my account. I did a web search for this domain name only to find that it was still available for purchase. I found myself puzzled. Previously, this had been such a straight forward matter: select domain, pay, wait several hours, domain is ready for use. Not with this web hosting company.

Later that day, I got an automated email from NewWebHostCo informing me that the transfer of the existing domain had failed. I was surprised as I had carefully read the instructions provided by 123Reg and thus unlocked the domain and made it ready for transfer to NewWebHostCo. And I provided the details that NewWebHostCo’s online wizard had requested. Nonetheless, I double checked everything and went through the transfer wizard a second time. Same result: I got another email telling me that the transfer had failed.

So I reached for support. Only to find that all support requests have to be made via email. So I filled in the requisite form setting out the issues that I was facing. Then I waited. And waited. And waited. Days went by and I received no response: no acknowledgement that anyone had received my email, nor any idea of when any action was going to be taken.

Back to the NewWebHostCo website and the support section. Once again I filled in the email support form. This time I took the company up on its offer to ring customers back. I reiterated the issues. I set-out my disappointment. And I asked to be rung back on my mobile.

The day after this email, I got an email response telling me that I had not provided all the required details for the domain name purchase. And asking me for the details of the second transaction – the domain name transfer and hosting package – so that the transaction could be annulled.  I did not find myself impressed.

So What?

My experience suggests that time-effort-money spent on UX is ultimately wasted unless the UX is one component of a great CX: the end-to-end experience of the customer.  How have I come to this conclusion? I cancelled my transactions with NewWebHostCo. And have chosen to keep doing with my existing web hosting provider (123Reg).

Another thought strikes me. I notice that folks in organisational worlds are besotted by technology. Which is to say that I find folks putting their faith in technology not human beings and the kind of service that can only be provided by human beings.  That strikes me as mistake: Technology fail! When technology fails the right kind of human service (responsive, considerate) can take care of the breakdown and build a stronger relationship with the customer. Lack of human service, on the other hand, shows the lack of care-consideration for the customer.

Why have I not named and shamed NewWebHostCo? Because the tone of the email that I received by the human being who finally did respond to my email request for help. The tone was human: apologetic and helpful. For me, humanity calls forth humanity. Is this something that folks that wield power in organisational worlds have forgotten? Or are they simply blind to the value of humanity?

Customer Experience: A Tale Of Two Service Providers – One Public, One Private

The Technology Exists to Transform the Customer Experience

In his latest post Don Peppers shares his experience of attending the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Given my recent experiences as a customer, the following words particularly resonate with me (bolding mine):

“At virtually every booth, at every significant exhibit, the message was about how to use each of these new technologies or product offerings to deliver a better customer experience. To interact faster or more efficiently with customers. To provide what customers need in a more effective manner. To deliver better, more reliable service, less expensively and more flexibly.

And this didn’t seem out of place to me at all, because the customer-experience revolution is being powered by technological change. It’s always been a good thing for businesses to be customer-oriented, but it’s only within the last twenty years or so that technology has made it economically possible to be customer-centric, at scale.”

I want to pick up this theme and illustrate it through two of my recent experiences. One with a public sector organisation (The Passport Office, UK) and Churchill (car, home, travel, life insurer).  Which one is making effective use of technology to transform the customer experience?

What Kind of A Customer Experience Does The Passport Office Enable-Deliver?

1. My Experience Fifteen Years Ago

The last time I put in an application to renew my passport was fifteen years ago: 1990.  I remember it being a painful process.  First, I made my way to the local Post Office branch. Then queue up for some 10 minutes, finally only to be told that the branch had run out of passport renewal forms. This meant getting into my car and travelling to the main Post Office branch in the town centre. This required a ten minute journey, the hassle of finding a car park, paying car park charges. Waiting even longer – something like 20 minutes – to get hold of the requisite form. Whilst I was in town, I took the opportunity to get passport photos made.

Once I had the paperwork and photos, I returned home. After I had completed the paperwork, I had to write a long declaration in tiny writing on the back of several photos (of me). Then I phoned my doctor’s surgery requesting my doctor to sign two of these photos to declare that they represented my likeness. I was told that the doctor would charge a fee of £40. So the next day I took the fee and the photos and left them with the receptionist at the doctor’s surgery. I was told that the photos would be available for collection in two days.

A week or so, I remembered the photos so I made my way back to the doctor’s surgery to pick up the photos. As the surgery was busy I had to wait something like five minutes to ask for the photos only to find that they had not been signed!  After another couple of days I got hold of the signed photos. Then I put all the material together, took it to the Post Office and sent it away ‘special delivery’. About four weeks later, I received my new passport.

2. My Experience This Time Around

I had been aware for months that my passport would run out in Feb2015. I also knew I needed a passport to travel – for work, with the family on holidays  . Yet, I could not get myself to start the renewal process – except for getting the passport photos made. Why?  The memory of the previous experience was fresh in my mind. I was totally convinced that it was going to be a long drawn out effort (hassle) to get my new passport.

One day I decided to take on the challenge. This time I did not go to the local Post Office branch. I opened up my laptop and typed “UK passport renewal online” into Google. To my delight, I shortly found myself on the http://www.gov.uk website presented with easy to understand wizard/directions. By following the online process, within four minutes I had filled in the requisite screens, selected various options, paid the fee through credit card, and printed out the requisite paperwork.

I checked over the paperwork. Then I attached two passport photos – this time I was not required to get the photos attested by my doctor. I added in my expired passport, sealed everything up in an envelope, and walked to the local Post Office branch. At the branch, I paid the requisite fee for ‘special delivery’. I experience ease and marvelled at how easy it had been this time around.

Just a week into the process, I got an automated message from The Passport Office telling me something like “Your passport is being printed right now. And will be with you in a couple of days.” I found myself surprised and delighted. Why?  The Passport Office had used technology to make the application process easy and quick. Now The Passport Office was using technology to keep me up to date with progress – just at the right moment, the moment my passport was being printed. Wow!  How clued in, how customer-centric, is The Passport Office.

The Passport Office went on to keep its promise. I received my new passport within the promised two days. It had taken a total of 8 working days to get a new passport office issued. And the most effort had involved going into the town centre and getting the photos taken.  A total contrast with fifteen years ago.

Now that is how to make good use of technology to get the customer from where he finds himself (current situation) to where he wishes to be (desired outcome) easily, quickly, intelligently. And cut out unnecessary costs – for both the customer and The Passport Office.  So I acknowledge and thank the folks that have thought things through and transformed the process of renewing a British passport through the smart use of digital technologies.  Great work! It is the kind of work that I’d be proud to do myself as a digital strategist and CX designer.

What Kind of a Customer Experience Does Churchill Deliver?

Recently, I had to contact Churchill to ask how many years of no claims my wife has. So I phoned Churchill and after a couple of minutes I found myself talking to a helpful call-centre agent. She gave me the answer.  Then I told her that I needed that in writing. She told me to wait whilst she triggered the necessary paperwork, and assured me that the no claims certificate would be with me in five days.

The no claims certificate did not arrive as promised. And my wife started pestering me as her car insurer was pestering her to provide it – else her insurance policy would be cancelled.

So I rang Churchill again. Another helpful call-centre agent took my call. I explained the situation and the importance of getting the no claims certificate asap. I requested that she email it to me. She told me that she was not in a position to do that. She did not have access to email. All she could do was request (in her system) for the certificate to be printed and mailed to me. That is not the answer I was looking for.   The end result was that I had to be patient and wait to receive the certificate in the post.

Has anything substantial changed in regards to customer’s post sales interaction with insurance companies?  I am tempted to say, little – at best.  Fifteen years ago, I called up insurers to get my post sales needs met. I did the same this year. Fifteen years ago I had to wait for five to ten days to get paperwork in the mail. This time, 2015, it is the same.

Why has Churchill not made effective use of digital technologies – to make things easier, to minimise the cycle time, to cut out unnecessary costs, to deliver a customer experience that leaves their customers grateful that they are doing business with Churchill?

The technology exists to create a online self-service portal. The technology exists to allow customers to make requests through this portal. The technology exists to take these requests and convert them to cases for call-centre agents to review-execute. The technology exists to cut-out call-centre agents out of simple processes and get simple requests actioned by the system itself. The technology exists, to create documents and send them out through email. The technology exists to keep customers informed – to track the progress of their requests…. Is Churchill using any of this technology?  No!  Why not?

Summing Up: Why The Customer Experience Sucks Most Of The Time For Most Organisations

I will allow Don Peppers (who, along with Martha Rogers, deserve the label thought leader) to sum up the situation at hand:

The technology part gets faster-better-cheaper every year, but this just throws into stark relief how difficult it really is, as a business, to take the customer’s point of view, and to organize yourself to deliver a superior customer experience, across the firm. The vast majority of companies have a great deal of difficulty with this task, even with all the digital technology now available.”

Why do the vast majority of companies have such great difficulty?  Don sums this up, beautifully:

“At its core, for a firm to improve its customer experience it must minimize the friction in the experience. It has to remove obstacles, eliminate problems, and streamline processes. But the overwhelming majority of companies just aren’t organized to do this. Instead, as a first priority, companies organize themselves to minimize the friction in their production process.” 

Of course this begs the question: Why aren’t the Tops who run these companies reorganising the way their companies work?  It occurs to me that if the caterpillar had the kind of intelligence that we have it is highly likely that s/he would think the idea of ‘butterfly’ was a great one. And when it came to taking action – to going through the transformation process – the caterpillar would choose to stay as a caterpillar. And take the easier route of adding one or more colours to its caterpillar body. Our gift of foresight-imagination is both a blessing and a curse.

I thank you for your listening. For my part, I am delighted to be in a position where I can share my speaking with you.  I look forward to listening to that which you share.