What does it take to be a customer-centric enterprise?

What is it to be a customer-centric enterprise?

When I started my journey in the land of customer-centricity (2000), the answer to this question, according to the leading theorists and proponents, was this: an enterprise that organises itself by customer segments rather than products; and where one starts with the needs/wants of the customer segment/s and works back to the ‘products’ that meet these needs/wants.

There is another answer and it usually comes from those working in, or selling to those working in, the Customer Services arena. As far as I can see, an enterprise is customer-centric if it provides good/great customer service.

Today, I provide you with my point of view and it is informed by my recent experience with Bergli Books . First let me tell you my story.

I Order a Book From Bergli, I Never Get My Hands On It

I saw an add on Facebook for a book on Switzerland. I ordered that book by clicking on that ad and paid by credit card. Then I waited for the book to arrive. It didn’t. And, after some four weeks I contacted Bergli via email. The folks at Bergli looked into the matter and told me that the book had been delivered weeks ago. And, asked me to talk with my neighbours – to see if one of them has taken delivery. I responded that I have 15 neighbours and I was not going to chase all of them up on the basis anybody who has the book and didn’t hand it over to me is not likely to own up to have ‘stolen’ a book meant for me.

The folks at Bergli were great as in they agreed to send me another copy. And, the told me when it was going to be delivered. When I did not receive the book I emailed the folks at Bergli. Once again, they were polite and responsive. They looked into the matter and told me that their distributor had delivered the book. And, provided proof. Given that I had not received the book, they told me to ask my neighbours.

What is being communicated here by Bergli? Is it not something like, “Hey, you ordered a book, we sent it out, our logistics partner states that the book has been delivered. So over to you – it’s not our problem but yours if it was delivered or taken by one of your neighbours. And, don’t bother us as we have done our job!”

My definition of a customer-centric enterprise

I say: “A customer-centric enterprise takes the customer’s problem, makes it it’s own, and solves it in a way that leaves the customer happy and grateful.”

Allow me to illustrate, there is huge chasm between my experiences with Amazon (in the UK) and Bergli. If I had been dealing with the folks at Amazon they would solved my problem as in made sure that I got my hands on the product that I had ordered. If a second delivery had failed to make its way into my hands, the Amazon folks would have gone all out to make sure that the third delivery did end up in my hands.

What does it take to be a customer-centric enterprise?

What would have happened if Bergli had sent me an alert (email, sms) to let me know that the book had been despatched? Another one to tell me when the book was being delivered? And, one when the book was delivered? As I have been working from home for months, I would have gone downstairs to my postbox and retrieved the book.

Alternatively, what if Bergli books had allowed me to choose the day/date that I wanted the book to be delivered? There are online operations in Switzerland that do just that: I place the order on the website, and in the process of checking out I choose which day I want the item to be delivered. And, I always choose the day when I know I will be at home. This way, I have never missed a delivery.

Why did Bergli not allow me to choose the delivery date and/or provide the alerts? I suspect that Bergli has not put in place the requisites: the technology infrastructure; and choosing a delivery partner that has the requisite technology infrastructure. One that holds my customer details. One that tracks the progress/status of the delivery. One that sends out timely alerts as the delivery makes it way to the customer.

Which brings me to this conclusion: if your enterprise wishes to show up as customer-centric (as perceived by your customers) then it is essential that effective use is made of digital technologies.

Please note that effective use of digital technologies is necessary but not sufficient.

Are You Using Digital Technologies to Improve or Degrade The Customer Experience?

Digital technologies can be used to improve the Customer Experience. For example, by:

-Enabling the customer to do more more for him/herself e.g. check/update account information, find relevant information, set-up alerts, set-up event triggered transactions, make purchases online, get chat based help with queries or problems….

-Provision of data/information based services e.g. alerts that notify the customer that price of the ticket has fallen.

Digital technologies can also be harnessed to reduce operational costs in the domains of marketing, sales, and service. This is where it becomes interesting. Why? Because one can reduce operational costs at the price of the Customer Experience, or not. Allow me to illustrate through my recent experiences.

SwissCom: Using Digital Technologies To Improve The Customer Experience

I took out a pre-paid SIM with SwissCom when I arrived in Switzerland. And, a little while back I lost my phone and the SIM. So, I go to the SwissCom website and type in “block / replace SIM”. And, immediately I make my way to a page that give me two options: block SIM online, or block SIM by telephone.

I go for the online option. No luck, it doesn’t work for pre-pay customers. So I click on the phone option and in a few minutes I am talking with a helpful human being. She does what is necessary, and tells me how to go about getting a replacement SIM. Mission accomplished – start to finish- in less than 10 minutes.

Sky.com: Using Digital Technologies To Reduce Operational Costs and Degrade the Customer Experience

My wife has been encountering issues with the broadband. She has tried everything on the Sky.com website to troubleshoot. Nothing works. She needs to contact Sky technical help. She does, but they won’t take her call as she does not know the “telephone password”. Neither do I. So I need to talk with a human being in Sky who can tell me what that password is. Why? Because I cannot see or change this password online at Sky.com.

Does Sky make it easy for me to contact their Customer Services team? No. Sky does everything on its website to hide the Customer Services contact number. Don’t believe me, try it. After a number of dead ends I find the phone number and call it. What happens?

The automated voice recognition system is not intelligent enough to deal with my query. So I have to be creative work around the limitations of this unintelligent automation. What happens? Once it categories my question, it tells me that it will send me a link to the relevant section of the Sky.com website, and cuts the call. How do I feel? Like smashing something. Why? Because, I have to get this fixed and each time I call that number I get the same response.

After wasting some 30 minutes, I get creative as I know something about these companies: they care about revenue. So I say “I wish to close my account”. Within five minutes I am through to a helpful human being. I ask him to change the account so that it is in the name of both me and my wife. No can do – system does not allow it. So I ask him to reset my telephone password. He does so.

It is not lost on me that I have only got this done because I figured out a way around the system Sky put in to defeat me: prevent me from talking to Customer Services. If I could stop doing business with Sky I would do so there and then. But I cannot because I am locked into a contract.

Concluding Thoughts On Customer Centricity And Digital Technologies

If I were to simplify customer centricity as perceived by a customer like me, I would say customer-centric companies:

-Make products that create value in the lives of Customers;

-Make sure their products work so that Customers do not need to contact Customer Services;

-Make it easy for the Customer to contact Customer Services through the customer’s preferred channel including telephone; and

-Use digital technologies to empower Customers to do more for themselves whilst always making it easy for these Customers to get through to a human being easily / quickly and that necessarily includes making the telephone number easily findable on the website.

If I apply the above criteria, I find Swiss companies that I have deal withs much superior in the Customer Experience they deliver compared to the UK companies across the telecommunications, insurance, and banking categories.

Final thought, it occurs to me that companies that excel at Customer Experience (eg. GiffGaff) have no need to lock customers into contracts. Whereas those who suck at the Customer Experience insist on long term contracts. If you cannot engender genuine loyalty then best to lock those customers in!

Hall of Shame: SwissAir -The Service Sucks!!

Ever since I moved to Switzerland some 16 months ago, I have chosen to fly SwissAir rather than BA. Why? Because I found the travelling experience to be better with SwissAir. However, now – today – I am so so minded to switch to any airline as long as it is not SwissAir. Why?

My Experience With BA: Excellent, Could Not Ask For More/Better/Different

It started back in March-19. I had booked two flights – for my son, and my daughter -with BA, from London to Zurich, for April. BA cancelled each of these flights – both of which departed on different days – and notified me via email. Further, BA informed me that I would automatically be refunded the cost of those tickets. BA was true to its word as in a few days of the cancellation notification email I received a confirmation – via email – of the refund. This left me impressed with the professionalism and integrity (moral) of the people running the airline as well as the operational integrity of the IT systems and associated business processes.

My Experience With SwissAir: Wow How Incompetent & Inconsiderate!

As soon as BA notified me that the flights were cancelled, I made the flight bookings with SwissAir. And, I was relieved and delighted as I was so looking forward to my two children coming over for Easter. All SwissAir did to delight me was to allow me to book (and pay) easily/quickly via their mobile app.

Since then my experience with SwissAir is one that can best be described – politely – as poor. Or as the Brit in me says “Piss Poor!” Allow me to set out my Moments of Despair:

1-Flight Cancelled But No Automatic Refund Nor Can I Get Through to Customer Services

Early April, days before my children were due to fly, SwissAir cancelled the flights: those of my children, and my scheduled flight to the UK at the end of April. As I made the bookings, I was notified. Unlike BA there was no automatic refund of the costs of those flights. No, to get a refund it was necessary to go online and fill in a form. Why?

To make it harder for customers to get refunds. Further, it simply was not possible to speak to a member of the Customer Services team. And we were told not to call Customer Services team. What the fork!? I let this be and gave SwissAir the benefit of the doubt given the covid-19 circumstances. Yet, I did notice their lack of moral integrity with regards to issuing refunds. In my way of seeing things: BA had acted decently, and SwissAir indecently.

2-Rebooking By Calling Customer Services, Cannot Be Done Online


Mid-July I rebook my son’s cancelled flight – as I am allowed to do this free of charge – due to the change in terms of conditions set out by SwissAir to deal with covid-19 impact. The thing is that I cannot do this online. Not great as I have been used to doing it all via the SwissAir app on my mobile.

So I ring Customer Services. Thankfully someone helpful answers my call within a few minutes. So far so good. Getting the flight rebooked turns out to be painless. Except for one thing. I am told that the new tickets will be issued and the transaction will be confirmed by email.

I wait for a few days, no email arrives. So concern is present. Which in turn drives me to call Customer Services. I get through and am told “Your ticket has not yet been issued. You are in the queue and your ticket will be issued shortly. Once the ticket is issued you will get an email confirmation.” That does not happen. And, I do not chase as I notice that the booking (including booking reference) appears on my SwissAir mobile app.

Notice that this is a fail for me, the customer, and for the airline. By not keeping the promise, by not keeping me up to date with status, SwissAir made work for me and for itself. I had to call, they had to take the call. I wonder how many customers did that which I had found myself forced to do?

3-Time to Check-In And Get A Boarding Pass For Flight to Zurich

It’s now just less than twenty four hours before the flight is scheduled to depart from London. Son goes to the SwissAir mobile app to do the check-in. Not allowed. Instead instructed to go talk to the SwissAir folks once arrive at London Heathrow. Which means that my son has to arrive earlier (and thus a longer journey) at Heathrow to get this issue dealt with. This is not forking great as my son – due to anxiety – finds travelling stressful. Imagine what my son is dealing with right now.

What does he find at the ticket desk in Heathrow? A queue. And when he finally gets to the ticketing desk, he finds that SwissAir have failed to issue a ticket for his flight!

Get this SwissAir had 2 weeks to issue the ticket. And failed to do so. Then, there, some running around to get the ticket issued so that my son could get a boarding card. And when he did get one, he got one of the shitty seats – as these were the only ones left.

How is it that SwissAir takes the booking, takes my money, and yet does not issue a ticket for the flight? Surely, issuing a ticket is basic, fundamental, business process for an airline, any airline! So, from an CX perspective, this is a huge fail. And, being charitable, I think “OK, it might just be a one-off glitch”

4-Yesterday, Time to Check-In And Get Boarding Card For Flight to London

Guess what happens! Yes, you have guessed it: we go to the SwissAir app to do the online check-in as the flight departs in just less than 24 hours. And we face the same issue: not allowed, told to go see the SwissAir folks at Zurich Airport.

I call Customer Services, I wait only a couple of minutes and get through to an agent. I set out the issue that I am facing. She checks. Sure enough, SwissAir have failed to issue a ticket for the return leg of the trip! How forking incompetent. And inconsiderate with regards to the impact on the Customer!

Can she get the ticket issued there and then? No! The best she can do is to put a high priority urgent request to the ticketing team. And, she tells me that the ticket should be issued in 2 hours so I should attempt online check-in after 2 hours.

Did SwissAir keep that promise? Fork no! It’s around 8pm yesterday and I am on the line with another agent in Customer Services. She tells me that ticket is still not issued. That it is in the queue. And there is nothing she can do about it. That the matter will have to be dealt with the ticket desk at Zurich airport tomorrow.

Conclusion

I am clear that issuing a ticket -correctly and on time – is both an essential and a basic business process. It should happen automatically, and should work flawlessly. It should not be the job of the Customer to chase SwissAir to issue tickets.

Failure, twice, to get this right shows that a hygiene factor in the Customer Experience is broken. And, it shows that SwissAir doesn’t give a fork about the impact on the Customer and his/her experience of dealing with SwissAir.

Once we get past covid and the lockdowns I intend to give carriers such as BA an opportunity to win my business.

Customer Experience Lessons From The Cafe Hotel Greinwald

You travel on business and your expenses are covered such that you can choose to stay at  a 5* hotel (with swimming pools, jacuzzi, sauna, various bars, three restaurants, fantastic lawns outside) or a family owned/run restaurant that is less than half the price and doesn’t have the look/feel nor the facilities of the 5* hotel.  Which do you choose after you have sampled them both by staying there?

Without hesitation I chose, and continue to choose the family owned/run restaurant: The Hotel Greinwald (www. hotel-greinwald.de) – a hotel in Marktoberdorf, Allgau region of Germany.  Why?  In one word: Family!

What I miss most when I travel on business (especially when I am staying away from home 4 nights a week is the feeling of being at home amongst family. And, this is the very feeling that I got from the moment of arrival to departure – every single week.  I would be greeted warmly usually by Gabi; Gabi and Eric, wife and husband, own and run the hotel with help form their son Martin.

Every encounter with the people who work there was a positive. For example, I got to know Quiran – the young man who often brought me cooked breakfast. Or Katerina, one of the waitresses who was such a delight to talk to.  And, not the only one – all the waitresses were.  Unfortunately, I cannot remember their names, though I do remember their faces, our conversations, and their kindness.

If you travel on business, then I ask you this: How many hoteliers have you reached out to since the start of covid=19, just to say “Hello, I wonder how you are doing given covid-19, I miss you and I hope to come back and stay with you as soon travel is possible!”  Zero, is my guess. Well that is the email I wrote and I addressed it to Gabi.

What happened? I got such a wonderful reply from Gabi’s son Martin as he is taking over from Gabi so that Gabi and Eric can do less.  He was delighted to hear from me.  He told me that Gabi and Eric are doing well. The financial impact of collapse of bookings. And the hope that things would get better soon…. And, I continue to think of the folks who own/run, and staff the Hotel Greinwald.  Every time I do, I find sheer gratitude present. And, I wish each/all of them well.

Hotel Greinwald Offers Six Customer Experience Lessons

What is it that makes The Hotel Greinwald excellent? Let me give you some of the moments that stand out:

1-The Welcome. Always greeted enthusiastically. Recognised as a returning customer. Told (and I can see it is meant) something like “I/we are happy to see you again!”

2-Catering for my preferences without even being asked.  There are something like 22 rooms, I stayed in many of them, then I found my favourite. And, I told Gabi about my favourite. From that moment on, I am given that room if it is available. Fantastic – I didn’t ask for it, yet it happens, and I am grateful.

3-The people who work there.  I cannot ask to be greeted by and served by a more welcoming and helpful people. My German is poor. All the staff switched to English to make me feel comfortable. I was greeted with genuine warmth/smiles. They remembered my preferences without the need for any CRM system (there isn’t one!). They danced with me when I opened up a conversation beyond the role. For example, when I asked Katerina about her personal situation. And she told me that she is, divorced  and thus a single mother, with children.

4-The quality of the rooms. The bedrooms that I stayed in were excellent. Yes, there was a bed and a table to work at. And, there was more: comfortable sofa and/or lounge chair to sit in.  The bedrooms were spacious. The bathroom/toilet/shower area was spacious. And, everything was clean.

5-Generosity. When I stay at hotels I have to pay ridiculous prices if I am thirsty and want a bottle of water or a soft drink. At the Hotel Greinwald, this didn’t happen. A fridge on the 2nd floor was stocked with a range of drinks, and we, the guests, could go and help ourselves. No charge. Just a gift from the owners.

6-Exceptional care, going beyond the expected. One evening, I was downstair in the cafe/restaurant. I was with a group of people. We ordered.  The starter came, and we ate them. Unfortunately, it happened to be a Monday evening and every Monday 8pm I have a call that I do not miss because it is with a very special person in the US. As the clock hit 7:50, I left instructing my colleagues to ask Gabi to put the meal, for all of us, on my tab.  Whilst I was up in my bedroom, on the call with my friend, I heard knocking on the door. I opened it to find Gabi holding a tray with my meal on it. Surprise! Delight! Gratitude!

Recommendation

If you happen to be visiting the Allgau region of Germany, then I wholeheartedly, and without reservation, recommend staying at the Hotel Greinwald.  I have yet to come across a better people, a better experience – I have tried a number of hotels, and none comes close.

Finally, My Take On Where Corporates Are Going Wrong With The Customer Thing

Much of that which I see in the CX arena occurs as misguided to me.  Put bluntly, you can:

  • invest all you want in technology (e.g. CRM systems), and it will not make any real difference customer loyalty;
  • spend a lifetime designing and redesigning processes and you can keep an army of consultants busy/happy yet not make a dent in customer loyalty; and
  • change the organisational structure, play around with people’s job description, tinker with the performances etc and this will not make a dent in customer loyalty.

Why? Because your and your organisation are ‘in love with’ just about everything (revenues, profits, KPIs, strategy, processes, technology etc) but with those that truly matter:

  • your people – those who are vital to co-creating the customer’s experience; and
  • your customers – by this I mean the flesh & blood human beings (not customer segments, not personas).

Last but not least, you as in you and your organisation lack Soul.  I say Soul is decisive. If Soul is present then customers will forgive hiccups whether due to people issues, process issues, technology issues, or a combination of these. Without Soul, you can do pretty much everything correctly, and make no connection with the human heart – the basis of all loyalty.

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

 

Customer Experience Lessons From Leitner’s Hotel Garni

What is the driving force (as in motivation) for much of that which occurs under the Customer Experience label in many a corporate enterprise?

My experience suggests it is some combination of fear and greed: fear of losing out and greed for higher revenues, higher profit margins, and higher profits.  There is only so much that can be achieved when the underlying motivation/driver is to take from one’s customers.

I was fortunate to come across an exception this week.

This week, all the hotels I typically stay at were booked so I found myself in a hotel that showed up for me as a family run guest house: the Leitner’s Hotel Garni (“LHG”) in Kaufbeuren, Germany.  I can tell you that I will happily return to this hotel the next time I need a place to stay in that part of Germany. Why?

Allow me to deconstruct my experience:

1- LHG was easy to find – even in the dark/rain when visibility was poor – and there was ample parking at or right next to LHG;

2- My colleague and I were greeted warmly by the person at the reception desk, and as soon as I introduced myself this person knew who I was, and how many nights I was staying;

3 – The person at the desk knew that I would need the invoice to be in the name of my employer and so asked me for my business card so that he could make sure that the invoice was correctly made out when it came to check out time;

4 – This person, when he noticed that I was struggling to understand German, switched from German to English – this was and continues to be highly appreciated by me;

5- The room allocated to me was easy/quick to get to, it was spacious, it was clean, it was warm – I could regulate the heating, and it had the essentials;

6 – The bed and the pillows were comfortable and the lack of noise allowed me to get to sleep easily, and no interruption to wake me up;

7 – Every morning/evening the person on reception (whether man, or woman) greeted me warmly and received my greeting – a most welcome human interaction;

8 – Breakfast had a homely feel to it (place/layout/decor/size) and in addition to the buffet there was personal service – someone who walked over warmly and asked if I wanted coffee or tea;

9 – The process of checking out was a real pleasure as in I received a warm welcome, the invoice was ready/correct, paying was quick/easy; and

10 – To my surprise/delight I was given a gift – the gift of homemade jam – as a small thank you.

lhg.jpg

Looking on my experience I find the following lessons:

1-The product matters! The product has to be fit for purpose – the purpose that the customer has in mind.

2-Ease matters!  Make it easy for customers – those who you chose to do business with – to do business with you: respect their time, and minimise the effort they have to put in – aiming for that which occurs as zero effort. Here there is big role for technology for many interactions/processes (like making a booking) can be automated.

3-People matter!  The people who are on the front line interacting with customers matter. Their character/personality matters. Their knowledge matters. The humanity that they put into their interactions matters for there are some of us who value the human touch in the sea of technological coldness/indifference.

4-Personal not personalisation!  There is such a huge different between person and personalisation. What folks like me want is the personal touch and we don’t give a fork about personalisation.  Take a good look at the gift: it is personal but not personalised.

It occurs to me that I have missed out the most essential element: that Herr Norbert, the person with whom I had almost all of my interactions, showed up for me as a Giver.  Not a Taker. As a Giver, his gift (of homemade jam) occurred as a gift, a human touch, rather than a marketing gimmick/trick/tactic.

I thank you for your listening and I wish you the very best.  If this happens to be the last conversation between us before Christmas then I take this opportunity to wish you a great Christmas, and the very best for 2020.

Maz Signature