Anna: the difference between despair and delight
My heart sank when I saw the queue in the bank and I mentally calculated that I could expect to be waiting some 10 – 20 minutes before I got served. Is it worth waiting that long simply deposit £200 into my bank account because I do not like to carry cash around in my wallet? Just as the two parts of me (The Rider, The Elephant) were tussling over that question something caught my attention. One of the three cashiers (Anna) left her seat behind the glass cage, opened the secure door and became a part of us – the customers.
She went up the first person that was waiting and asked her if she was waiting to deposit cash into her bank account. The old lady mumbled and said she wanted to wait in line. Then Anna went to the next person – an old man – and asked the same question. He told her that he was waiting to withdraw cash from his account. Anna told him that if he had his cashcard then he could withdraw it from the ATM and she would show him how. The old man made some excuse. Then Anna went on the next person and the next and after some eight refusal she faced me. When Anna was facing me I took her up on her offer to show me how to quickly deposit the £200 into my account.
Anna told me that the they (I assume the cashiers) had noticed that customers do not like waiting. She also told me that most customers turn up and simply want to pay money into their accounts or withdraw money from their accounts. So they had decided that the best way of reducing the waiting time and educating customers was simply to ‘hold the customer’s hand’ and guide them through the task of depositing or withdrawing money. She showed me which ATM to use. Then she turned the work over to me yet standing beside me she guided me through the five simple steps. In less than two minutes I had completed my task and was simply delighted: delighted with Anna, delighted with Santander, delighted with the self-service technology; and delighted with myself for ‘being open to the new’ and ‘learning a useful shortcut’ that will make my life easier in the future. I thanked Anna and left the Santander branch. On the way back I pondered some questions and came up with some thoughts that I want to share with you.
Thoughts on customers, customer facing staff and the customer experience
Telling is not the difference that makes a difference. I can remember at least four instances when a Santander cashier has deposited my money into my bank account and then proceeded to tell me that I would do that myself by using the ATM. Nonetheless, I did not change my behaviour. In fact I have lost count on the number of time I have been given advice and not acted on it. Telling is our default mode when we want to remodel human behaviour and it is spectacularly ineffective. Telling speaks to the Rider (the neocortex) and yet you need to ‘speak’ to the Elephant (limbic brain) to shape behaviour.
Knowing is not the difference that makes a difference. This is a corollary of the previous point. The simple fact is that The Rider knew that I could use the ATM to deposit cash into my account. Yet, the Elephant discounted this knowing. Why? Because the Elephant is risk averse. I had not changed my behaviour because my Elephant had taken an emotional position: risky might lose my money; probably will not know what to do and will make a mess of it in public and so lose face; and it is not likely to work so I am going to have to take time to figure out how to make it work and/or go the cashiers to sort out the mess.
If you want to remodel customer behaviour then build a ‘scaffold’. Lev Vgotsky who studied cognitive development pointed out that effective learning and development depends on the right scaffold – one that the learner can use to climb higher safely one step at a time. Think about construction work: the scaffold is a structure that enables the workers to build the building more effectively whilst feeling safe. One form of ‘scaffold’ is a ‘more knowledgable other’ (MKO) – someone who has mastered the domain and can act as empathetic guide and coach. This is why Anna was so effective in changing my behaviour. She led the way by literally walking to the ATM and then she led the way by guiding me through the process – one step at a time. If you want customers to use self-service technology then you have to do what Anna did: train them to use it in a safe supportive environment. And here is a key point: behaviour (doing, the experience) shapes learning much more than learning shapes behaviour.
Design self-service to create value for your customers. Part of the delight of my customer experience was actually experiencing how easy it was to use the ATM to deposit cash into my account. That is to say that the designers had cracked the usability of it: it was intuitive and it addressed the kind of concerns that may come up like I deposit £200 and the ATM thinks it is £160. Furthermore, the process consisted of only five steps and could be completed in less than two minutes thus saving me time which many customer value as we never seem to have enough of it as so much occurs as being spent on drudgery. Simple tasks are great candidates for self-service provided you save the customer time and/or effort and the customers is embedded in the right context.
Treat different customers differently. Anna offered to help some eight people all of whom refused before she made the same offer to me which I took up enthusiastically. The interesting thing to note is that all of these customers were older than me. They struck me as being the kind of people that trust people more than technology and the kind of people who prefer the human touch to hi-tech. These people are never likely to be the early adopters so the right thing to do is to find the early adopters – the younger people, the busy professionals, the young mums with children – and remodel their behaviour. Put more simply, scatter the seeds where they are most likely to grow with the least effort. Then wait for the followers to adopt this practice by social osmosis.
Being precedes doing so focus on the being. There is something special in Anna’s being – it is the first thing that I noticed last time we interacted and this time. Of the three cashiers she was the youngest. Of the three cashiers she was the only one that smiled and looked happy. When she came into the customer den – to where we were standing – she was totally calm. Her whole being exuded the air of caring, helpfulness and competence. She was not pushy: she was not in a rush to get any of the customers to do anything in particular. Her totally being was an invitation: “I can make your life easier if you will allow me to do that, will you allow me to do that?” It was her being( the way she was being) that got my trust and why I took up her invitation to use the ATM. What am I saying? You can’t fake caring it is simply who you are or who you are not: if you genuinely care for your customers it comes through and the Elephant (subconscious) picks it up and if you do not care the Elephant picks that up as well. My advice: hire more people like Anna and create an environment that supports and nourishes their natural being.
Your customer facing staff have valuable insights into your customers. The Santander cashiers spend their professional lives observing, talking with and serving customers. So is it any surprise that the Santander cashiers know that that the most frequent service that they are asked to deliver is either to bank cash or withdraw cash for customers. Is it any surprise that they also know that customers hate waiting? What else do your customer facing staff know about your customers and your business that if you tapped into would make a difference to your customers and your business results? Have you created an environment that calls forth these insights from your staff?
If you want your customer staff to improve the customer experience then create clearings for insight to be acted upon. Have you ever played paintball? What is it like to move around in a densely wooded area? Difficult, tedious, painful and slow right? Well in many organisations it is the same experience for customer facing staff to do the right thing by your customers. So if you want them to do more of the right things then you have to create ‘clearings’. What is possible in a clearing? A lot because the space is not cluttered, it is empty. I am clear that the Santander management at my local branch had enabled the cashiers to act on their insights by creating a clearing: permission to step out of the glass cage and help customers by walking them to the ATM and showing them how easily they can help themselves.
Treat different employees differently. The employees that are most ingrained in the existing way of doing things are the ones that are most likely to stick with the existing way of doing things. It is the younger employees those that have not been assimilated into your existing culture that are the most promising candidates for trying out new ways of doing things. I could not help but notice three things: Anna was the youngest of the three cashiers; she had only been with Santander for a relatively short amount of time; and she is not English. So it makes perfect sense that the other two cashiers stayed within their glass cage where they are comfortable and Anna walked out of it. Yet, if all three had stepped out of the glass cage then there would have been no cashiers to serve the older customers who expect cashiers to sit behind glass cages and do stuff for them.
Improving the customer experience and delighting customers need not cost any more. What extra costs did Santander occur by allowing Anna to leave her glass cage and help me to serve myself? None at all. The customer experience was improved by simply redeploying the existing resources in a more imaginative / more valuable way. Incidentally, if you spend much time in a call centre you will find that the bulk of the incoming demand for attention from customers is ‘failure demand’: the call centre is being asked to rectify ‘defects’ introduced into the customer experience by marketing, sales, logistics, finance…… So by improving the customer experience you can take out as much as 80% of the cost of your call centre operations. How many millions is that in savings? And in the process your create customer delight simply because your organisation gets it right first time. To paraphrase Philip Crosby ‘quality customer experience is free’.
Some organisations are turning to mystery shopping to get an insight into the customer experience, the performance of their front line staff and what competitors are up to. The idea is to use mystery shopping to find the ‘nuggets of gold’ that will enable the organisation to improve the competitive position by improving the customer experience. Here are five guidelines to help you plan, execute and get the most out of your mystery shopping investment.
1. Begin with the end in mind
In order to shape the mystery shopping it is best to start with the end in mind. What are you going to do with the mystery shopping? What aspects of your business are you willing to change? What aspects are simply out of scope? Who will need to buy into any changes that you might make as a result of what you may find in the mystery shopping?
By answering these questions you can better shape the mystery shopping and involve the right people from the start. Shaping the mystery shopping will allow you to focus the mystery shopping on the right areas and thus get the most value out of your budget. Involving the right people is essential to getting the parts of the organisation to make changes in what they do and how they do it.
If you do not begin with a real clarity about the end that you have in mind then you end up with a situation like the US finds itself in as regards Afghanistan and Iraq. I cannot stress enough that you should take the time to really think through the end game: what does success look like?; what constitues failure? ; what obstacles / hurdles you might come across and who you will deal with them? . I have been involved in a diverse range of projects over the last 20+ years and when I look back I can clearly see that success or failure was built into projects and programmes right from the start. It just took a little time for it to show up.
2. The most important part of mystery shopping is what you do with the results
The only organisations that get value out of mystery shopping are the organisation that act on the results – they change what they do and how they do it. Interestingly there was a post on the 1to1 blog titled ‘You’re Not Listening Unless You Act on What You Hear’, I recommend that you read it.
This means that you have to plan how you are going to translate the results into improvement actions. How exactly are you going to get the behavioural changes in the stores, in the call centres, on the website etc? The key finding here is that the best way to effect change is to simply share the ‘real life’ mystery shopping experience with your front line staff and managers. Let your people experience the actual shopping experience by seeing the video and hearing the audio recordings of the mystery shopping. Why? Because this has a much more potent emotional (experiential) impact than a researcher or consultants Powerpoint slides or research findings.
3. Ensure that your mystery shopping reflects your customer segments and how they shop
Sounds obvious yet it is a common mistake for you / your brand folks / executives to specify the mystery shopping programme that gives away the game. What do I mean? First, your brand folks tend to assume that what they consider important in the shopping experience is what the actual customers consider important. Second, they assume that the way that they specify the shopping experience is the way that your customers actually shop. And when the mystery shopper actual shops your front line people know that this person is a mystery shopper and not a real customer. How? Because real customers simply do not ask the kind of questions that your mystery shoppers ask nor do they behave the way that your mystery shoppers behave.
There is a great example of a premium automotive brand that instructed the mystery shoppers to ask about a specific feature that the brand folks are proud of and think should matter to customers. Yet real customers simply do not ask about that feature. So when the mystery shoppers asked about this feature they identified themselves as mystery shoppers to the sales folks in the dealerships. And this clearly skewed the findings of the mystery shopping programme.
Next, it really helps to match the demographics of the people doing the mystery shopping with the demographics of your customer base. If you want to get granular insight then it really pays to segment your customer base into a small number of actionable customer segments and do mystery shopping at the level of these segments. Why? To work out the specific shopping experience of each customer segment. The same process/behaviour of your front line people may have a signficantly different impact on customers in different segments. Take a moment and think how you would like to be treated by a computer salesman if you are old, know nothing about computers, fearful and need lots of hand holding. Now compare that with a university student who knows exactly what he wants because this is his umpteenth computer. If the computer salesman followed the same process/script would it land the same – for the old man and the young man? I think that you will agree that this is highly unlikely.
4. Balance process with a focus on the customer experience
Too many mystery programmes focus on figuring out how well the customer facing staff did in following a specific process and/or script. What if the process (and or script) actually gets in the way of delivering a good shopping experience and drives your prospects and customers into your competitors arms? This fixation on defining quality as following the process is right for a manufacturing environment where you are dealing with inanimate objects. It is inappropriate when you are dealing with human beings. When you are dealing with human beings you have to be willing to improvise to deliver the right experience and that often means bending / talking out bits / re-sequencing and otherwise playing around with the process.
For example, a mystery shopping expert shared the story of a German company that had spent a considerable amount of money on training its front line staff in following a specific process. The mystery shopping programme showed that the majority of front line staff were not following this process. On the face of it this was bad news and upset some people – those that had paid for the training. Yet, the mystery shopping also showed that customers were happy to buy and were buying from these front line staff. Why? Because the front line staff were doing the right things by the customers – they were doing what mattered to the customers! And that left the customers with confidence to buy from these front line staff.
5. Mystery shopping is a team game that involves learning and refinement
To get the most out of a longitudinal (say a 1 year to 2 year) mystery shopping programme it is essential that all parties to the programme work as a team. What does that mean? It means that they all invest passion, time and effort into designing, executing, assessing the results and refining the mystery shopping programme. The refinement of the programme should be carried out periodically – say every quarter. So when you are planning the mystery shopping programme then all parties should be figuring out what needs to change based on what has happened in the market place (new entrants, new products, new moves by competitors), the changes that organisation has made (products, processes, touchpoints…) and what the last quarter’s mystery shopping produced.
So if you are the person that is commissioning the mystery shopping then you cannot simply specify it once and throw it over the fence to the mystery shopping team if you want to get the best value out of it. You have to stay involved throughout the journey and you have to put your time and energy into. You have to co-create and shape it on an ongoing basis. And it really helps if you make sure that you take your colleagues – the ones that will have to make changes to their departments – along with you.
Credit: I wish to thank fellow customer experience and mystery shopping professionals – Jeremy Braune and Chad Robbins – for being the source of this post.
One of the biggest issues that I have with the customer experience movement is that the process, technology, efficiency and standardisation mindset that is appropriate in the manufacturing environment is being applied to the services industries and the service environment. And in the process the very best of what people have to offer (the human touch, flexibility, improvisation, creativity…..) is being taken out of the picture: the opportunity to create that emotional bond is sacrified for efficiency.
At the same time, today, I have not been able to do much today (back is playing up) and so I spent some time re-reading an old book (published in 1999) and called “Market Leadership Strategies for Service Companies”. As I have spent the bulk of my life working in, delivering and advising companies with a heavy service orientation the following passages speak to me and I want to share them with you:
Employees are not the problem, management is the problem
” Over-engineered employees desperately need to once again pursue the most personally satisfying work goal: doing things that make a difference in the eyes of customers. Employees intuitively know that their core mission should be to provide the kind of help to customers that is truly needed …..Their company’s seeming indifference to being perceived by customers as unique frustrates them……..The net effect is that millions of employees feel robotic in their daily execution of quality, cycle time reduction, re-engineering and a host of other operational activities that perpetuate rather than improve the company….”
Employees are incredibly important and yet misunderstood, under-utilized and over-structured
“Employees are often the most misunderstood, underutilized, and over-structured assets of a service companies. But next to customers they are the second most valuable asset that companies have. The problem lies in the perception of the role that employees play in the customer experience. Many service companies view their employees simply as part of a process that produces an end output – a physical product to be delivered to a customer. If a customer’s primary focus is on functional performance of the physical product, the employees generally do not need to be involved with the customer experience. But with services the situation is different. In fact, in service companies the employees are very involved in the customer’s experience.”
Big mistake: dehumanizing people all in the mistaken (manufacturing) view of quality
” The mistake made by well meaning and well schooled managers is to dehumanize their people – all in the name of quality control. Service managers attempt to make employees interchangeable. Although industrialising the service may be important and even necessary, taking the “performers” out of the equation leads to a neutered, indistinguishable experience for customers. “
Product and quality through people – not by replacing them with self-service technology, standard processes and scripts
“Productivity and quality improvement come from having people involved with customers – people who want the responsibility, can manage themselves, respond well to pressure from customers, and who are highly motivated through skills, job opportunities and pay advancements.”
My conclusion, my interpretation
People – customers, employees, contractors, suppliers, partners matter. In fact they are critical to business success in service intensive operations and industries. If you are worthy and you have the know how you can tap into the very best of what they can offer: energy, enthusiasm, passion, creativity, flexibility, discipline, intelligence, wisdom. And that in itself is ultimately the source of competitive advantage, ongoing renewal, new product development, great customer experience, growth and profitability.
Yet as a very wise French teacher told me when I was about 10 years old: “you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink”. I believe that is the case with many companies, many CEOs and many management teams. If they do not value their employees, you cannot make them value them. Which means the door is wide open to those that get the message and are willing to blaze the trail. For example, John Lewis – who recently delivered a great set or financial results when many other retailers are struggling and blaming the weather.