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.

On Customer Experience, Brand Values, and a “Sense of Honour”

Let’s start today’s conversation with the following passage:

By strategy, Bourdieu… does not mean conscious choice or rational calculation. The strategies employed by the Kabyle are not based on conscious, rational calculations but on a “sense of honour” that guides complex manoeuvres of challenge, riposte, delay, aggression, , retaliation and disdain.

The sense of honour derives from sets of dispositions that internalise in practical form what seems appropriate or possible in situations of challenge, constraint, or opportunity. Thus, choices do not derive directly from objective situations in which they occur or from transcending rules, norms, patterns, and constraints that govern social life; rather they stem from practical dispositions that incorporate ambiguities and uncertainties that emerge from acting through time and space. 

– Culture & Power, The Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu by David Swartz

Look at the organisation that you find yourself leading or working within and for.  Is there such a thing as a “sense of honour” present in this organisation? If there is then who and what is honoured? Is it the customer?  Is it the humanity of the folks that work in your organisation? Your partners in the value chain? The shareholders? Making the numbers, getting ahead, becoming the largest, beating the competition? VW is not the only organisation – just the latest one to be exposed for what the modern organisation is centred on.

So you have customer experience centred digital transformation vision. And associated programme plan. If you are going about this in a ‘best practice manner’ you have defined the objectives, listed the business capabilities you will need, identified the data and content you will need, the information technology applications (CRM, marketing cloud, e-commerce, CMS…) and the IT infrastructure. Oh, and I forgot, you have a bunch of folks busy on mapping and possibly even redesigning business processes. You may even be enlightened and looking at the people part of the puzzle / architecture.

What about the critical question? The “sense of honour”.  Who is busy generating the “sense of honour” required to genuine show up and travel (as experienced by the customer) as a customer experience centred organisation that consistently does right by customers: like produce/deliver the product you are actually selling (like Apple, unlike VW), like treat the customer as s/he wishes to be treated – with attention, with courtesy (like Zappos or John Lewis, unlike your ISP/telecoms provider),  like create a platform for customers to access critical information and tools so that they can help themselves when it makes sense for them to do so (like Amazon)?

 

It is at this point that somebody will come up with brand values. Or corporate values. This somebody will state that these constitute the organisation’s “sense of honour”. But do these constitute that customer-experience centred “sense of honour” I am talking about here?

Let’s be straight with one another. You know and I know that the brand values are stuff that is cooked up by the marketing folks usually to differentiate where really there is no differentiation. You know and I know that these brand values are primarily driven for image making purposes. You know and I know that these brand values are seen as fictions outside of the marketing department.

What about the corporate values plastered on mission, values, purpose statements and usually on the walls?  Let’s be straight with one another again: they are empty aren’t they?  The fact is that they are not embodied in the organisation by most of the folks in the organisation. And rarely are they embodied by the Tops that pronounce these corporate values. Most of  us see these for what they are: propaganda, delusion, or simply aspiration.

So what is my point? My point is that almost all of the organisations that I have ever encountered (worked for, consulted for, been a customer of) lack  a “sense of honour”. And certainly they lack a sense of honour that values genuine care and loyalty for the folks that do business with your organisation. What this means is that you can make all the changes you want in communication channels,  technologies, data, and business processes and you are unlikely to attain your desired outcomes: genuine engagement, genuine loyalty. Loyalty is born of sacrifice. Sacrifice does not come easily beyond the family. Which is why tribes and communities (usually numbering in the tens to hundreds) go to great lengths to cultivate a “sense of honour” and practical dispositions attuned to the “sense of honour”.

My advice? If you are the leader and you wish your organisation to be genuinely customer experience centric and call forth loyalty then embody the “sense of honour” that necessarily goes with such a stance.  And work on infusing all the people in your organisation with this “sense of honour” such that this sense of honour become a set of practical dispositions where anyone in the organisation will naturally do what is right for the customer in any given circumstance. If you are not up for this then I wish to highlight one of my key learnings over the last 25+years:

Old Organisation + New Technology = Old Org. + Trauma – Money

Enough for today, I thank you for your listening and wish you the very best. A la procaine.

Latest Musings on Customer Experience, Digital Transformation, and Agile

It’s been a while – quite a while since the last conversation.  During this period I have experienced that which I have experienced and in the process some aspects of human existence inside organisational worlds have revealed themselves to me. Today, I wish to share a few of the experiences and revelations.

Some Matters Call Louder and Make Bigger Demands

This has been the year that I have found myself involved in digital transformation visions and initiatives aimed at designing and delivering compelling  omnichanel customer experiences. So my work has taken me across Europe. That has meant a lot of travel: taxis, airports, planes, more taxis….. Towards the end of September that travel became too much for my back. If I sat down I could not get up unaided.  What did I do?  Did I do as my advisers advised?  Did I stop this way of existence?  Did I take it easy?  Did I take time off work to let my back heal?

No. I continued working. The exception that I made because I had to make it was to cut down on the travelling. To do as much as possible working from home. When that did not work and I found myself forced to work from home, I worked from home. To even do that I had to take medicines. Medicines to ease the pain and make it possible for me to work – usually and mostly by standing up for hours at a time. And when the work was over (for that day) I took medicines to relax certain muscles by putting me to sleep.

Apart from the work of working and honouring my commitments to clients and colleagues, I cut everything else out. That cutting out included spending time with the family. It also included cutting out any and all matters that go into thinking about and sharing the conversations that constitute The Customer & Leadership Blog.

Why is it that I cut everything out except work – the very thing that my advisors told me to cut out?  Why did I put the emphasis on today (work that needed to be done) and not tomorrow (restoration to full health)?  The honest answer is simply that the matters of today (work) made a stronger call-demand-pull on me than the matters of tomorrow. Why? Because dealing with matters of today (the work that needed to be done on initiatives that I was deeply involved in) generated the income that funds my lifestyle – and that of those who depend on me.

What does this have to do with digital transformation efforts focussed on enabling client-centricity (single customer view, pull as well as push) and great omnichannel experiences?  A good question.  Here is the answer. These efforts are focussed on creating a future – for some a desirable and compelling future. Yet these efforts are starved of attention and critical resources. Why?  Because the day-to-day operational demands of the business – to keep it working and generating the necessary revenues and profits – make stronger calls/demands on the folks in the business. As such they suck and deeply enmesh the very folks that are needed to create the future. So the digital transformation journey turns out, for many organisations, to be that much ‘harder’, longer, and troublesome than the visionaries and architects imagine.

There Is A Big Difference Between Beginning / Doing CX-Digital Transformation and Truly Doing CX-Digital Transformation!

How can I best convey that which I wish to convey here? Perhaps it is best for me to share the following passage with you:

My solo three months hike on the Pacific Crest Trail had many beginnings. there was the first flip decision to do it, followed by the second, more serious decision to actually do it, and then the long third beginning, composed of weeks of shopping and packing and preparing to do it. There was the quitting my job …. finalizing my divorce… selling everything I owned…… There was the driving across the country… and a few days later, catching a flight to Los Angeles and ride to the town of Mojave and another ride to …….

At which point, at long last, there was the actually doing it, quickly followed by the grim realisation of what it meant to do it, followed by the decision to quit doing it because doing it was absurd and pointless and ridiculously difficult and far more than I expected doing it would be and I was profoundly prepared to do it.

And then there was the real live truly doing it.

The staying and doing it, in spite of everything, In spite of the bears and the rattlesnakes and the scat of mountain lions…; the blisters and scabs and scrapes and lacerations. The exhaustions and the deprivation; the cold and the heat; the monotony and the pain; the thirst and the hunger…..

Cheryl Strayed, Wild

Agile: The Latest Corporate Delusion?

What kind of people have we become? People who want it easy, painless, fast and if possible entertaining.  Further, we are people who are woeful at thinking. Really thinking – looking beyond the surface to see the genealogy of ideas, principles, methods, and practices to enrich our understanding of what it is we are talking about, dealing with.  I am clear that this is clearly the case with Agile.

How can I put this bluntly?  When I was a teenager, played tennis, enjoyed tennis, wanted to become better at tennis, and idolized Bjorn Borg I rushed out and bought a Donnay tennis racket.  That racket did not turn me into a championship winning tennis player.  Want another example? Certain matters are they way they are – they require time, effort, involve pain, making sacrifices…… and adding agile those matters does not magically get rid of this time, effort, pain, sacrifice…. Take pregnancy and the nine month process of giving birth (hopefully) to a health baby.  Add Agile to pregnancy to make it Agile Pregnancy. What difference does this make in the real world of those who become pregnant?

Based on my experience I say that adding Agile to your CX or Digital Transformation will not deal with the matters I have raised in the first two points: the primacy (pull) of the existing business and day-to-day operations; and the matters raised-shared by Cheryl Strayed.  What it will do is to delude you into taking on matters that you may not be well positioned-disposed to take on. And fail to deal realistically with the real hurdles in a pragmatic manner.

I thank you for your listening. If you missed these conversations then I say please know that I missed ‘giving birth to them’ and sharing them with you.  As the French say “A la prochaine” – until the next time…

What Is The Single Most Critical Factor in CRM / CX / Digital Success?

Recently I was pitching for new work and the question that keeps coming up came up. This question is alway some form of “What is the single most critical factor in ……..?”   Examples include:

  • What is the single most critical factor in coming up with a great strategy?
  • What is the single most critical factor in CRM / marketing automation success?
  • What is the single most critical factor in customer experience success?
  • What is the single most critical factor in making a success transition into a digital business?
  • What is the single most critical factor in effecting organisational change?
  • What is the single most critical factor in managing CRM projects and programmes?
  • What is the single most critical factor in getting folks to adopt new systems?

You get the idea.  No matter the domain, sooner or later a client will want to know what is the single most critical factor to success.

If find it interesting how it is that intelligent folks ask such a stupid question – with no awareness as to what makes this a stupid question. Do you get what it is that makes this question stupid?

The assumption behind this question is that the world, in which we find ourselves, is simple, silo’d, and linear.  It assumes that the when it comes to dealing with challenges (and creating new futures) you can identify, isolate, work on one key factor – and this will ensure the desired outcome.  It assumes that this factor is invariant across time – that it is always the same one thing that matters most irrespective of time, situation, context…

What if the challenge that we face is similar to the challenge that the juggler faces? The very nature of juggling involves juggling many balls at the same time. As such, does it not involve competence in using a wide angle lens to keep track of all the balls? And at the same time, focusing on the one or two balls which are at the forefront at the moment in time? And at the same time keeping one’s attention over the environment in which one finds oneself in: the audience, the surroundings, the weather….?

I say to you that what makes CRM, customer experience, digital marketing, digital business, marketing-sales-service effectiveness challenging is that there is no single factor that is critical to success!  I say to you that no ‘guru’, no consultancy, no vendor has the magical recipe that takes the messiness out of life and guarantees a quick-easy journey to success.

So what is it that you have to put into the CRM, CX, Digital game?  You have to start working on that which needs work. You have to attract the right folks to work with you on your challenge / desired outcome. You have to get hold of the necessary resources. You have to be attuned to that which is going on within and around you. You have to accept-embrace failures. You have to fail your way to success by keenly attuned to the visible and the invisible and making the necessary corrections as and when these are called for.  You have to give up the stupid notion that there is one single most critical factor to success. And you have to continuously free yourself (and others) from the addiction to the short-cut.

I say to you that it is foolish to search for and focus on that one most critical success factor. I say to you even more foolish than this foolishness, is the foolishness of searching for and fixating on some magical potion: approach, methodology, technique, technology… I say to you that any person that offers you a single most critical success factor or magical potion is either a fool or a charlatan.

I invite you to consider that there is no single most critical factor in CRM / CX / Digital success!  Enough for today, I thank you for listening.

Tales of Customer Experience: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly?

giffgaff: Wow! What A Delightful Experience.

Youngest, daughter, has ‘lost’ her mobile phone. So she logged me into her giffgaff account on the website. I clicked the “Help” tab. Then I clicked “Lost & Stolen”. Then I chose “Lost Both My Phone and SIM”.  At this point I was expecting to be told that the phone and SIM had been blocked. And a new SIM would be with me in a couple of days. That would have been a good enough experience: got the job done in a couple of minutes.

That is not what happened. Once I selected the “Lost Both My Phone and SIM” option I was informed that the phone and sim were now blocked. AND I was informed that I could get a replacement SIM activated immediately instead of waiting for one to arrive in a couple of days.  How so?  By getting hold of and activating an existing giffgaff SIM – one that had not been activated to date. How is that possible? giffgaff, as a matter of course, sends extra SIMs to members. Why? So that they can give them to those who they think would benefit from being members of giffgaff.

As a result of this capability, I was able to hand over a fully working mobile phone on the giffgaff network to my daughter in less than five minutes – start to finish!  That was my desired, real, outcome. And arriving at this desired outcome in five minutes as opposed to several days left me delighted; I am a protective parent!

What is unconcealed here?  The starting point for customer-centricity is authentic care for one’s customers.  When this is in place then the folks in the organisation will exercise thoughtfulness. In so doing, these folks will make it easy and enriching for customers to do business with that organisation.  And in the process the organisation will both generate customer loyalty and reduce waste – doing stuff that costs money but does not create value for customers from the customer point of view.

What can I say? I love the folks at giffgaff. I love how thoughtful and smart they are. I love how easy they make life for me.  I’d happily recommend giffgaff and have done so many times!

RAC: Regulation of Call-Centre Agent Behaviour Is What Matters, Not The Customer Experience

Youngest son bought a car and in the process he was about to buy breakdown insurance. I told him that he didn’t need to do that as I’d put him on my existing breakdown policy with the RAC. I rang the RAC expecting a brief conversation of the following kind:

Me: I’d like to put my son Marco on my existing breakdown policy. Here is the policy number. What is the cost?

Call-centre agent: The cost is £x. Does that work for you?

Me: Yes, here is my credit card number.

Call-centre agent: That’s done for you. We’ll send out a membership card to your son in the next couple of days.

Me: Thank you.

How did the conversation actually go?  It took some time. I found myself frustrated. I found myself raising my voice. I found myself angry. Why? Once the helpful young man had verified who I was he proceeded to ask me stupid questions.  What made these questions stupid?  He already had the answers to these questions. He was asking about the services that my son would need. And I told him those on the existing policy: roadside recovery, home recovery, onward travel, and European travel.

So why did this friendly professional (sounding) call-centre agent ask me questions to which he already had the answers?  Because he had to: the ‘designers’ of the call-centre operation had come up with a script and he had to follow it to the letter so that he would be in compliance with the script.  After all the phone call was being recorded and the quality folks would be listening in to ensure compliance with the script.

What a waste! What a waste of my, the customer’s, time. What a waste of the intelligence of the call-centre agent. What a waste of valuable call-centre resource: the time of the call-centre agent. What a waste of an opportunity to deliver a great customer experience and generate goodwill.  What a waste!

What is unconcealed here?  There is a conflict between the way organisations are designed to operate (regulate the behaviour of the folks in the organisation so as to facilitate command and control) and the flexibility (of response) that has to be in place in order for the customer facing folks to respond intelligently to this particular customer, at this particular time, as regards this particular context.

 Sainsburys Bank: A Good Experience Turns Ugly

Eldest, son, asked for help in signing up for a suitable credit cards. I did the research and identified several providers. In the process I found three providers which appealed to me. I signed up for each of these providers – one of these being Sainsburys Bank. All three providers made it easy to sign-up. All three did the background checks on me, verified me as sound credit risk, approved me as customers and gave me a credit limit.  Two of them, at the end of the process, invited-encouraged me to setup an online account with them so that I could manage my account online.

Several days later I got the paperwork through from all three providers.  Two providers sent me confirmation paperwork, terms and conditions, and the passwords/codes I’d need to use the credit cards. One provider – Sainsburys Bank – didn’t. What did Sainsburys Bank send me?  It send me a bunch of unappealing (black and white) paperwork to read and sign!  This struck me as such a disconnect!  How antiquated in comparison to the other two providers! What a great way to foul up a great digital experience! The whole point of digital is that stuff can be done there and then, in real-time.

What is unconcealed here?  Some folks just don’t get digital. Some folks just don’t get mobile. Some folks don’t get social. Some folks just don’t get how to use the various customer interaction channels intelligently. More importantly, some folks don’t get customers. A customer who chooses to interact with you through digital channels is looking for a digital experience. A customer who chooses to ring in to the call-centre is looking to talk with an intelligent-friendly human being – not navigate a frustrating-inhuman IVR.  You get the idea.

It occurs to me that established organisations have a long and difficult path ahead of them if they are to compete on the quality of the Customer Experience.  On the Customer Experience path the advantage lies with the younger, greenfield, organisations which do not have to deal with the legacy of relational and technical debt.  And  that is food for a future conversation.  Thanks for listening.

Why Have CRM, 1:1 Marketing, and Customer Experience Failed?

I am clear that CRM, 1:1 Marketing and Customer Experience have failed to deliver on the promises made by professors/academics, authors/gurus, consultants and technology vendors.  Why?  Given the choice between changing our way of showing up and operating in the world or changing our words, almost all of us get busy learning-speaking a new vocabulary.

I have been investigating the domains of ‘digital marketing’ and the  ‘marketing cloud’. In the process I have been listening to pitches made by marketing vendors.  All the relationship-experience centred buzzwords are there: customer experiences, digital experiences, the mobile experience, customer engagement, customer relationships, responsiveness to customers…..  Yet, to the listening of a skeptic like me, something lies hidden under this fine rhetoric.

If you dig underneath what is it that you might find?  You might find that the narrative comes down to the following:

  1. We will put at your disposal an advanced scalable platform where you can suck in anything and everything that you have or can purchase on your customers (and prospects) to give you a 360 view of your customers irrespective of any concern-respect for the privacy of your customers.

  2. We have great tools that allows you to set-up customer journeys and determine when you want to hit customers with your messages, and how often you want to hit them with these messages.

  3. You can use our advanced decisioning engine to figure out what ‘product’, what offer, what message to push at your customer. And If the customer doesn’t respond to that message then our engine will learn and use this learning to come up with a better-different-more attractive message.

  4. We will put at your disposal the ability to send your messages to your customers 24/7/365 through any and every digital interaction channel that your customer uses. So there is no escape. Wherever the customer is, you can invade his privacy, and message him/her.  And,

  5. By doing this you will drive up your marketing effectiveness, make more money for your organisation and live happily every after because you have the tools to make your customers buy, buy, buy – from you.

This is not technology enabled relationship building.  It shows up for me as direct marketing on steroids. It is the nightmare scenario that my coauthor and I envisaged back in 2001 when we were advocating and advising on 1:1 marketing.  It occurs to me that this is technology enabled stalking/harassment: it is the epitome of the business as usual (transactional) way of showing up and travelling in the world.

How is this best summed up?  Allow me to share these words of wisdom from David Maister:

What all these problems have in common is that firms are not only “in it for the money,” but they want the money now! As a result, they talk a good game about long term relationship building marketing efforts, the truth is that these efforts are never really executed well unless they deliver results immediately.

Here is my prediction:

  • marketers (and their IT advisors) will lap up the story being pushed by consultants and technology vendors;

  • only a subset of marketers will do what it takes to become competent at making this technology actually work;

  • those marketers who do figure out how to make this advanced technology actually work (or who use outside agencies with technology savvy) will bombard customers with messages; and

  • the novelty of this ‘seduction’ will wear off and customers will learn to tune out and/or work around the marketer’s arsenal.

I have been wrong. And I may turn out to be wrong again. What do you think?

 

Halfords Autocentres Co-create a Great Customer Experience

The Situation: An Unexpected Problem Shows Up

I got a phone call to tell me that it had not been possible to get the road tax renewed. Why? Because the MOT had run out. Given that I had asked (and paid for) the car to be ‘road taxed’ over two weeks ago, I was not happy to get this news when the road tax had run out. So I set myself the task of getting the car through its MOT on the next day – the day where I would be working from home.

The Customer Experience

1) Research Phase: Finding A Suitable Local MOT Centre

About 7-8 am I turned up at Google and searched for MOT centres in my part of the world. Halfords Autocentres caught my eye. Why? I know where the local centre is and it is only five minutes drive from my home. And because of the offer.

MOT Only £27.42 – 50% Off

Book Now To Take Advantage Of Our Exclusive Online Deal. Save Today!

The offer – MOT for only £27 and ability to book online – was too good to resist.  So I clicked on the link and ended up on a well designed-helpful web page. Here is screenshot of the middle section of this page:

HalfordsMOTBookingScreen

This one page, answered my key questions-concerns:

1. Can I book online? Yes

2. Can I make an MOT booking for today? Yes, provided there is an open slot at your chosen centre.

3. How long does it take? 45 minutes if no repairs needed, up to 60 minutes if minor repairs needed.

4. What happens if the car fails the MOT?  Most repairs can be carried out at the autocentre on the day of the MOT.

2. Purchase Phase: Booking and Paying Online

Within five minutes I had selected my local Halfords autocentre, entered the details of my wife’s car, selected the ‘MOT’ product, accessed the MOT calendar, found an empty slot for that day, booked that slot, entered my contact details, paid, got a confirmation, and printed off my the relevant documents.  Easy!

3. MOT Phase: Arrival At Local Autocentre

Five minutes before my appointed slot, I turned up at the local Halford Autocentre. Alex was on reception, he recognised me, he smiled, he welcomed me.  I did not have anything to explain as Alex had a copy of my booking.

Exactly on time, one of the mechanics showed up, took the keys and got on with testing my wife’s car; I could see exactly what was happening because the office and service bays are separated by glass.  Whilst the mechanic was conducting the test, Alex and I were catching up when he was not taking calls (from customers) or serving customers who popped in.

4. MOT Phase: Results and Departure from Local Autocentre

The forty-five minutes flew by. Alex went to talk with the mechanics. Coming back he told me that the car had ‘failed’ its MOT and there was nothing to worry about. Noticing my confusion, Alex explained that the regulations had changed and so the ‘state of wiring’ in-around the engine did not meet regulations. And there was nothing to worry about because the mechanics were tidying up the wiring – the job would be done in the next five to ten minutes.

True to his promise, within 10 minutes Alex had my MOT certificate ready. He went through it including pointing out that two tyres would need to be replaced soon. At the end of this review I was expecting to be charged for the ‘tidying up’ of the wiring. Surprise! No charge.

I thanked Alex. I thanked the mechanic who came into the office at the moment. And I wished them both a great Christmas and the very best for 2014.  What did I get in return?  An early Christmas gift. Both Alex and the mechanic said, with a certain genuineness (conveyed by the tone of their voices) “And the same to you, mate!”

What Made This Such a Great Experience?

It occurs to me that the following factors worked together to make my experience a great one:

  1. Compelling offer (price competitive MOT, online booking) that grabbed my attention

  2. Well designed MOT page that is informative, useful and usable

  3. Easy to find local Halfords autocentre, easy to search for MOT slots by day, one click booking of an empty time slot, easy payment-checkout process, online confirmation of booking, ease of printing out the paperwork.

  4. The right hand knows what the left hand is doing – in this case the local Halfords autocentre knew of my booking, had printed off the paperwork, and were expecting me.

  5. Keeping the promise – the MOT was completed within 45 minutes. And the minor repairs ‘tidying up the wiring’ in-around the engine was completed in the 5 – 10 minutes, and in any case less than the 60 minutes quoted on the website at the time of booking.

  6. A friendly face that I knew, who knew me, and who welcomed me.

  7. Generosity – the chaps at Halfords could have charged me for ‘tidying up’ the wiring. And I would have paid. They didn’t. Most importantly, they made no big deal of it. In a world where I expect to pay for everything, this generosity of spirit was and is welcome.

  8. The humanity right at the end – between myself, Alex and the mechanic. I can still hear the genuine warmth-melody of “And the same to you mate!”

And Finally

It occurs to me that:

whilst there is truth in the saying that customers don’t want relationships with companies, this truth turns out to be falsehood when it comes to the human to human level: between the customer and the employees (flesh and blood human beings) who deal with, serve, and help the customer.

great experience designers craft experiences where hi-touch integrates with and complement hi-tech; hi-tech is great for making it easy to get jobs done; hi-touch is essential for calling forth the kind of emotions that cultivate emotional bonds.

Halfords Autocentres have got it right when it comes to the MOT experience – at least in my case, for this specific experience.