How do you view your business, your industry?
One of the most useful posts I have come across recently is one by Mark Hurst at Good Experience. It gets to the heart of the matter quickly and I encourage you to read it: “Your industry has the wrong name”
Mark’s key point is worth memorising: “To create a good customer experience, you need to see your job as dealing with people as they deal with your field of work.”
Now if your job is dealing with people then it really helps if you understand a little about people.
There is a big difference between Expectations and Needs
Let’s start by distinguishing between Expectations and Needs. Too many people lump them together and that is a mistake: they are not equally important and violating Needs has very different consequences to violating Expectations.
When you are dealing with people then you have to cater for both Expectations and Needs. Why? Taken as a whole they determine how people (your customers) approach events and situations. And how they are likely to behave in response to events and situations.
Yet, there are also big differences. Expectations are wrapped around daily events, specific and much more readily available to the conscious mind. For example, you will have an expectation as to how long you should wait to get your meal at McDonalds. And this is likely to be very different to your expectations as to how long it will take your main course to arrive at a fine restaurant. Furthermore, when you make comparisons you will compare McDonalds with other fast food restaurants. And you will compare the fine restaurant with other fine restaurants.
Needs on the other hand are much more global and they tend to be hidden from view: submerged in the subconscious mind. Needs arise from our existence as human beings: they concern issues of life and death and how we see ourselves (our identity). If your job is dealing with people as they deal with you field of work then you need to pay attention to three needs in particular:
- security – the need to feel secure and as such not threatened by harm (physical, economic, psychological);
- esteem – the need to maintain and enhance one’s self-esteem and social standing; and
- justice – the need to be treated fairly as a human being of worth.
Why am I making such a big fuss between Expectations and Needs? Two reasons:
First, if you dissatisfy customers by not meeting their expectations, you can still recover. Whereas, if you dissatisfy customers by violating their basic needs, you are likely to lose them. Would you do business with a dishonest supplier? Would you do business with a supplier that made you feel stupid or lose face in public? Would you take the family car in for a service to the garage who failed to tighten the bolts properly last time and as a result your front wheel dropped off whilst you were driving (with your young children in the back)?
Second, I believe that too many customer experience efforts are overly focussed on Expectations and are neglecting the Needs. Even worse, some customer experience designers are improving performance against Expectations at the expense of Needs.
B2C: what matters most to your customers?
So what matters most to customers when it comes to the B2C space? All kinds of research has been done and you can choose your favourite one. Personally, I find the following table useful:
At the very top of the wish list is caring helpful staff. Why is that? Because caring helpful staff tend to deliver on the three key needs simultaneously: security, esteem and justice. Put differently, caring helpful staff get that their job is to deal with customers as people whilst these customers deal with your field of work.
The flip side is that if you want your customers to look for another supplier and to speak badly of you then employ uncaring, unhelpful staff. Or, employ caring helpful staff and then put them in a culture that prevents them from being caring and helpful by tying them up with unfriendly business policies and practices.
For the record, I am of the view, that the real culprits are unfriendly business policies and the associated culture (rather than the employees who serve customers). You don’t have to take my word for it, read this post from the highly ranked 1to1 Blog: “Do Your Policies Work Against Your Company?”
BSkyB is the dominant pay TV company in the UK and is more commonly known simply as Sky. Over the recent years Sky has expanded into broadband and fixed line telephony; to use the broadband service you have to get your router from Sky.
Back in December 2009 I signed-up for the triple play (TV, broadband, telephony) with Sky on the basis that this would make my life easier. After a promising start things went downhill fast and I wrote about that in this post: “How to convert an advocate into a detractor – a personal experience”
By December 2010 I had a much kinder, more understanding, perspective on my Sky experience and I wrote about it in the following post: “The value of transparency or why I am no longer mad at BSkyB” As a result of this change in attitude, pressure from my children and an attractive retention offer from Sky I decided to continue to be a customer. And everything was going well until Tuesday 6th April when my broadband router stopped working.
I contact Sky Customer Services and find my competence being questioned
On Tuesday morning I found that I did not have access to the Internet so I went to check the router. I found that the on/off switch had developed a fault: it only worked if I kept it pushed in with my finger. So I decided to phone Sky Customer Services to get a replacement router.
Once I found the Customer Service number (no easy task as none of the statements have a contact number on them) and navigated through the IVR, I was greeted by a friendly female voice. I explained the problem with the existing router and asked for a replacement.
To my surprise the CSA asked if I was sure that the on/off switch was not working. I found myself feeling offended and replied that I was 40+ years old, knew what I was doing and if I said that the on/off switch was faulty she could take my word for it. Why did I become offended? Because it occurred to me that the CSA was questioning my competence.
Company policy takes precedence over doing right by the customer and cultivating loyalty
Once we agreed that a new router was needed, the CSA told me that it would cost me £28. I questioned why I had to pay this cost given that I could cancel my broadband contract (as the twelve month period had already expired), sign-up as a new customer, pay the same monthly charge, and get the router free of charge.
The CSA’s response was that it was simply Sky policy to make existing customers pay for replacement routers. And that if I did cancel my contract and signed up as a new customer I would not get the router free of charge. No matter what I said the CSA did not budge: she simply insisted that it was company policy. When I asked about the rationale behind the policy, she did not explain. When I asked her to put me through to the Retentions team she told me that she did not know if one existed. In the end, I agreed to pay the £28 as I felt I had no choice.
Amazon can guarantee next day delivery, Sky can only state that it is likely to take 3 – 5 days
Once I had provided my credit card details, the CSA told me that it would take 3-5 days to get the router to me. I was astonished: Amazon can and have got books to me the next day (guaranteed delivery) and Sky can only promise 3 – 5 days! I think I simply said “3-5 days!”. The CSA responded by telling me that I could track the status of the router via the website. My response was that I had no interest in tracking the router, I simply needed it delivered asap; allowing me to track the router deflects calls into customer services but it does not help me to get my router on time!
Sky does not keep its first promise which makes me wonder about the second one
I then asked the CSA if it was possible to speak to her manager – not about her but about the Sky policy including the delivery time. The CSA was helpful. She went to look for her manager, found her to be in a meeting, took down a contact number for me and told me that her manager would ring back between 9:45 and 10:15. No-one rang back.
How am I feeling at this point? Truth be told, I am cursing my family for wanting SkyTV and persuading me to continue with Sky; I am cursing myself for my stupidity in continuing to do business with Sky. And I start thinking about how to bring my dependence on Sky to an end because it is clear to me that Sky does not care about its customers and cannot be counted on to deliver on its promises. Will Sky deliver the router in the promised 3 – 5 days?
Wednesday 7th April, around 7pm Suzanne from Sky ‘calls into my life’
At around 7pm on Wednesday 7th April I got a call from Sky and found myself speaking with Suzanne. She asks me how I am and I ask her how she is. I am pleasantly surprised by her refreshing honesty: she tells me that she is well and will be even better when it is 9pm and she can go home. Wow, I am speaking to a real human being! I like her already.
Suzanne then runs through the SkyTV package. She compliments my choices and asks me what I watch. I tell her that the SkyTV is mainly for my children and list their favourite shows. After listening, Suzanne brings the conversation back to me and asks if I watch anything at all. I tell her and she replies that she likes one of the shows that I like. I feel comfortable talking with Suzanne – she occurs as genuine and actually interested in me.
Next, Suzanne runs through the services I have and tells me that she can save me £2.50 a month on the broadband if I sign up to another 12 month contract. I reply that no amount of money would entice me to commit to another 12 months with Sky. I say that whilst SkyTV is great, the rest of Sky particularly the broadband bit is absolutely terrible. Furthermore, I say that I simply have no confidence in Sky as a brand: I just do not trust Sky to treat me fairly, to look after me as a customer. Then I relay my previous days broadband router replacement experience.
How I fell in love with Suzanne and she changed my mind about Sky
All the while I was talking and sharing my frustration and disappointment, Suzanne listened – she stopped selling and simply listened. She did not argue with me, try to refute my experience or to change my mind. She simply said that she understood how I was feeling and could understood why I would not want to do business with Sky. Then she asked me to hold on for a moment.
She came back and told me that she was going to refund the £28 I had paid for the router – no strings attached – as a gesture of goodwill. At this point I found myself reluctant to take up her offer as I did not want to ‘owe Sky anything’ – that is how much I loathed Sky! Yet, I found a moral pressure to grant her request: she had treated me with respect and it was now my turn to reciprocate - so I gave her my credit card details. Then she surprised me again.
Suzanne asked for my patience explaining that she had asked her manager to do the refund. Why? Because Suzanne does not do refunds – it is not part of her role and she does not have the authority. I totally get that Suzanne has gone out of her way to help me! She did not have to do it, she could simply have wished me well and left it at that when I refused her broadband pitch. And I am grateful to Suzanne and I tell her that. I even tell her that she single-handedly (with the help of her understanding manager) has changed my perception and feelings towards Sky.
When it comes to delivering a memorable customer experience and cultivating loyalty there is absolutely no substitution for caring for your customers. And caring for customers comes down to employing people like Suzanne (and her manager) and allowing them the leeway to be great – to take the right actions, actions that build gratitude. Why? Because gratitude leads to loyalty.
A friendly CSA following the script (as set out in the Quality manual) and adhering company policies is not always enough. It is necessary to take the customer’s individual circumstances into account. In human affairs fairness and helpfulness are critical needs. Violate these rules and you almost guarantee losing the customer. For example, The first CSA I dealt with did everything by the book and was friendly throughout. Nonetheless, she left me feeling that she was a prisoner of Sky’s unfriendly customer policies and practices and so she was unable to help me with my problem.
Company policies and practices are some of the biggest obstacles towards delivering memorable customer experiences and cultivating loyalty. Take a good hard look at your policies and practices. Are they fair? Do they meet customer needs? Do they get the balance right between trusting customers and being taken for a ride? Do they balance the long-term against the short-term focus? Do they help or hinder your staff from delivering great service and establishing an emotional connection with your customers?
Make sure that your people who interact with customers are in a position to explain each and every single policy that impacts the customer in a way that occurs as reasonable in the customer’s world. For example: why does it take 3 – 5 days to get a broadband router when many companies can do next day delivery? Or why do Sky customers have to use routers supplied by Sky? Why can’t I use one of the three routers I have sitting at home?
PS: I have only been able to write and upload this post because I figured out a way of making the existing router work: glue, dice and tape to keep the on/off button pressed in – take a look at the photo below. Lets hope the replacement router arrives before this solutions gives way!