14 Customer Experience lessons: how you can improve the customer experience and help yourself

What is the ‘anatomy’ of a great customer experience?

What makes a great customer experience – the kind that one remembers, talks about and possibly writes about?   The logical answer is that each of us is different (even from one interaction to another) and so there is no definitive answer.  So let me ask a different question: what is the ‘anatomy’ of such an experience for me, Maz Iqbal?  So let me share my latest experience with you.

I travel, nowhere near what I used to in my younger days, yet I still travel.  On my business trips my trusted companion is a piece of Samsonite luggage (“cabin suitcase”) which I find useful and easy to use.  So you can imagine my disappointment when I lifted my ‘trusted companion’ to put it into the boot of taxi only to hear a loud pop and notice that the handle had become useless:

Given that the suitcase is both in a good condition and it was a birthday gift from my sister, I made my mind up to get it fixed.  That is when my wife mentioned that Samsonite offer a lifetime guarantee.  So I went online to find out about the lifetime guarantee.

Samsonite: the online experience sucks!

I found lots of vague, ambiguous, words and what occurred as lots of exceptions.  This just left me confused and thinking that the lifetime guarantee was anything but a lifetime guarantee.  You could say I was left thinking that the lifetime guarantee was simply the usual marketing bull****.

Lesson 1:  If you are going to make a promise of any kind then describe it clearly so that you customer knows exactly what you are and are not promising – be specific, use simple and unambiguous language.  For ordinary people “lifetime” means “for the rest of my life” and not 3, 4, 5 years.  Furthermore, when you litter your promise with a long list of exceptions then you create work / confusion / anxiety for the customer.

On the website it took me a little time to find the right people to talk to.  Once I got to the Contact Us page it was poorly laid out and I had to work to find out who to contact.  When I finally clicked on the right link I had to specify “country” and “city” to get the location/address of the nearest repair centre.  When I got there this is the information I saw:

 American Tourister
Samsonite
k2 global
unit 11, cordwallis business park
sl6 7bz maidenhead
+844 8809989

At first I was confused, can you figure out why?  Look at the number – which country is associated with country code 844?  Then I used my contextual knowledge to figure out that as the repair centre is in the UK the number was most likely: +44 844 8809989 or simply 0844 8809989.

Lesson2:  Design your website so that it is both usable and useful.  That means figuring out what jobs your customer has in mind when he comes to your website.  It also means using a web agency that gets usability (including information architecture) and as such puts forward a layout and signposting that is in alignment with how users use websites.

Lesson 3:  Some of your content is so much more important (to you, to the user, to the customer) than other content.  As such the impact of getting this content correct or incorrect has a higher impact on revenue, costs and the customer experience.  Therefore you need to put in place stringent quality control mechanism to make sure that this content is correct and up to date.

The K2 Global customer experience: an almost perfect experience!

I rang K2 and immediately I was talking to a helpful lady.  After listening to me describe my problem (unusable suitcase) and the job I wanted done (fix the broken handle) she clearly explained that it would not be easy for me to get the repairs done free of charge as I did not have the necessary documentation: proof of purchase and or completed warranty/registration card.  I told her that I was prepared to pay and asked her how much the repair was likely to cost. She told me that she could not tell me until the engineers had a taken a look at it.  I told her that I lived locally, she invited me to bring the luggage into the repair centre.  She went on to tell me the opening hours (7am to 3pm).  Before hanging up she advised me not to come at lunch-time as the workshop was busy and I would have a long wait.  I confirmed the address, thanked her and hung up.  How was I feeling?  Happy – this lady had been helpful and presented me with a route to getting the job I wanted done, done!

Lesson 4:  Make it easy for customers to get hold of you – answer the phone / email / tweet quickly.

Lesson 5:  Make sure that the person who takes calls from customers actually enjoys talking with and helping people out.  Notice that the lady on the phone did more than she needed to do, she used her knowledge to be helpful – she advised me not to come into the repair centre at lunchtime.   If she had not told me this then it is likely that I would have turned up at that time and been upset with the wait time and/or having to go back another time. By being proactive she tilted the scale towards a positive customer experience rather than a negative one. 

Lesson 6: If a customer contact you then he/she has a ‘problem’ needs a ‘job’ done and clearly thinks that you can help him/her get that job done.  Do the job there and then.  If this is not possible then clearly spell out (paint the picture) of the route the customer can take to get his/her job done.  Make sure that this route has been thought through and designed to occur as reasonable and wherever possible EASY!

Lesson 7: Ensure that your customer facing people in call-centres work in an environment where the customer experience is primary and AHT is secondary.  Not the other way around!

Next, I drove to K2 Global’s offices, call centre and repair centre in Maidenhead – a small building in an industrial estate.  Upon entering the office, I found myself confused: there was no receptionist, no signposting to guide me to the right person, just two doors (one marked “call centre”, the other marked “repair workshop”) with number pad locks on them and some stairs leading upstairs.  I tried the stairs and found myself facing another door with the a number pad lock on it.

Using logic and seeing no other way of going about things, I knocked on the door of the “repair workshop” and waited.  No response, so I knocked again, this time I saw a blond lady wearing a pink top.  She smiled at me and waved at me suggesting that I should come into the workshop.  Surprise: the door had a lock (and I had assumed that it was locked) and yet the door was not locked.

Lesson 8.  Take the time to look at your business through you customers eyes and use that to ‘signpost’ correctly. Show the customer what path she needs to follow and in particular make it clear what the next step is.  Poor signposting confuses the customer, causes the customer to experience stress and often to waste time trying to figure out what to do or doing the wrong things. This is particularly important on websites where the next website is just a click away!

Walking into the workshop I was greeted by Stephanie. I showed her the Samsonite cabin suitcase, she took a look at it and told me that she could repair it.  I asked her how much it would cost and she told me it was free if I had the right paperwork.  I didn’t have the paperwork and so I asked her how much it would cost to repair it, she told me between £10 and £15.  That occurred as a reasonable price.   Looking around the workshop I noticed many suitcases lying around and I noticed a man busy repairing a suitcase.  So I assumed that I’d have to leave my suitcase, wait for it to be repaired, get a call then come back, pay and pick up my suitcase.  This was something that I really did not want to do.  So I asked Stephanie if she could repair it there and then.  To my delight she said yes and got busy on the work.  I asked her if I could watch and she said yes so I stood next to her watching her repair by suitcase.

Lesson 9:  Provide that little extra that surprises and delights the customer. Stan Phelps calls this “Marketing Lagniappe”.  It is defined as “a creole word, originating in Louisiana and literally translated means ‘the gift’.  It refers to a small unexpected extra gift or benefit presented by a store owner to a customer at the time of purchase. The people of Louisiana have embraced the term and have broadened the definition to include any time a little something extra is given.”

I struck up a conversation with Stephanie and Peter – the man opposite us repairing the suitcases.  We talked about luggage and how it is possible to own/run a business repairing luggage.  I learned from Peter and Stephanie that the key driver of repairs is the way that luggage is thrown around at airports by baggage handlers.  Now that made sense.  My suitcase had no problems for years because I was carrying it on and off the plane carefully.  Then on my last three trips I had checked it in and hey presto it is damaged!  Now I knew what to do if I want to protect my luggage – take it on the plane with me.  We talked about the state of the economy and the impact it is having on ordinary people, ordinary lives.  We talked about politicians…. We LAUGHED together.  And within 10 minutes my suitcase was fixed.

Lesson 10:  Take the opportunity to educate your customers so that you enrich their lives and leave them better off.  If you are any good at your business then you will know more about certain domains of the world than your customer.  You can use what you know to contribute to the lives of your customers – leave them better off.  For example, insurance companies can educate customers on how to take care of their health or how best to deal with health issues just like Shelley Beaumont of HCML did with me.  Amazon has both improved the customer experience and built a sales engine through its recommendation engine……  I strive to do this during my consulting and coaching engagements.

Stephanie punched in the details into the repair system, told me that the cost came to £10.80, printed out two invoices and took me through to the ‘Call-Centre” – she explained that she was not allowed to take payments just repair suitcases.  I thanked Stephanie and promised to write about her (and how marvellous she is).  Then I paid and left with a HUGE smile on my face and spring in my footsteps.  Why? My problem was fixed, the ‘job’ that I had come to get done was done.  I learned something interesting about the luggage business.  I throughly enjoyed the way that I was treated by Stephanie and Paul:  Stephanie, Paul and I had shared views and laughed together!  And all of this in a total time of about 15 minutes!

Lesson 11:  People are the difference that makes the difference so create a context and an environment in which your people can be great with customers.  I have spent 20+ years working in all kinds of businesses and I can state with absolute confidence that most people want to do a good job, to work for a company and people that inspire them, to provide good service and it do it in way that occurs as natural – playful rather than heavy, burdensome, meaningless and stressful.  How many unsung heroes do you have in your business?  I wonder if Stephanie has ever got an acknowledgment for how great she is?  Well, I acknowledge you Stephanie – I hope that this post does you justice.  To me, you occur as fabulous!

Lesson 12:  Bring customers into the heart of your business, let them talk with your people, let them share stories with your people, let them hear the genuine voices of your people, let them see how you do what you do.  If you cannot do this in the offline world then use digital technologies.

Lesson 13:  Laughter is a great sign of an emotional bond between you and your customers. When your customer is laughing with you (and you with the customer) rather than laughing at you then that is a sure sign that barriers have come down: you have entered into each others inner lives (even if just a little) and you have made that important emotional connection.  When is the last time your customers laughed with you?

Lesson 14:  Cycle time matters – do the ‘job’ that the customer is ‘hiring you to do’ quickly.  In the developed economies people have lost the capacity to wait – they expect instant response, instant results.  Furthermore, whilst many in these economies have done well in terms of income they have done badly in terms of time: they are time starved – not enough time to do all that I need and want to do.  So help your customers out and do it right first time and do it quickly.  As I write this I get present to how delighted I was that I simply walked into the repair shop, no queuing, no waiting, just talking to the right person first time and getting the job done in a flash!

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant working at the intersection of strategy, customer, and technology. Combine a tendency to think strategically with a penchant for getting my hands dirty at the coalface of implementation.

10 thoughts on “14 Customer Experience lessons: how you can improve the customer experience and help yourself”

    1. Hello James
      Yes, we can distill it down to that. And that would be meaningful and useful to someone who has experience of what walking in customer’s shoes actually is as an experience.

      Put differently we can tell people to ‘eat healthy’ and those that do will understand that. For the rest it is necessary, in order to be useful, to spell out what ‘eating healthy’ involves at a behavioural level.

      With my love
      Maz

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  1. Further to explaining ‘what eating healthy involves’ to those who need it spelt out, there’s a whole post you could write just on lesson 12.

    Connecting your customers into ‘the heart of your business’ requires transparency and an ability to have trust in your people first, which many employers are hesitant to allow. Companies that only trust a preened marketing department to be in a customer facing role risk missing out on benefitting from situations in which their employee is able to directly empathise with the customer and create the bond you experience at K2.

    Great stuff Maz,

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    1. Hello Luke W
      First of all I thank you for dropping by and sharing your perspective. What can I say except that I totally get where you are coming from. There is a lot of talk and yet when it comes to the follow through it is either missing or it is done half-heartedly at best.

      I thank you for your contribution and invite you to drop by again and make your voice heard on this blog. You are most welcome – whether you agree or disagree with me.

      IN the meantime be great and I wish you the very best.

      Maz

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  2. Hi Maz,
    Of all of the lessons, I would pick number 8 as the most crucial. A different perspective is a wonderful way to gain real insight. Something that you have talked about quite a bit before.

    Adrian

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  3. Hello Adrian

    Lesson 8 certainly is valuable and one that I have mentioned time and again – so thanks for pointing it out.

    The observation that interests me is that you picked out single lesson and doing that you have done a service to me. You have helped me get present to what is so about us / our thinking: there is recipe that requires ALL the ingredients to deliver a delicious dining experience, say, and we tend to choose what we like / dislke, what speaks to us / does not speak to us. The issues is that reality cares not a jot for our opinion. If it take a fully functioning jet, an experienced pilot, a tanker of fuel, runaway etc – then that is what it takes to fly from London to New York.

    Why am I making such a big deal of this? Because it strikes me that this is what we do in business all the time when it comes to customer-centricity, customer service, customer experience, customer loyalty….

    What do you think?

    Maz

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    1. Hi Maz,
      Here’s what I think and I hope it gives you some idea as to why I picked No. 8.

      Many truly giffted artists or musicians make music or art they love and are proud of and know that if they do so then there is a good chance that others will like it too. Many inventors, product designers, creatives, film makers, etc etc are the same too.

      However, the reality is that there are not many of is that are truly gifted and we need inspiration or insight from our ‘audience’ to really guide us and it is that perspective that can take us from being merely average or quite good to being pretty great. Why? Because, we are then in the process of creating something that is tailored and collaborative.

      Doing that does not happen enough and there are too many of us that believe ourselves to be more gifted than we are.

      Does that make sense?

      Adrian

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  4. Hello Adrian

    My thanks for entering into and continuing the conversation. I get where you are coming from and getting at. I get that there is value in collaboration, in co-creation, in feedback. The phrase that comes to mind is that “we is smarter, more powerful, more enduring than I”.

    Cannot say that I am in agreement with your third paragraph when you write “..reality is that there are not many of us that are truly gifted and we need inspirtation from our ‘audience’ to guide us…”. Why? If you really go down that path then you can easily lose your original voice, your heart – that which moves and inspires you. Instead, you can become a follower, a mouthpiece for what is common, what is taken for granted. I think in politics it is called strategy by opinion poll. Now compare that with Steve Jobs, James Dyson, Tony Hsieh, Chris Zane, Richard Branson. These people live their authentic voice. Incidentally, if you dig into Branson’s history you will find that he had nothing going for him – he struggled at school, he struggled at college, he struggled at university. What he did have was his character and he simply used that.

    Take me as an example, I do not think of myself as gifted and no-one has ever described me as gifted. When I set about writing The Customer Blog I set out with a clear mission: to provide my honest thoughts / views / experiece on the whole customer stuff. Why? Because I was sick of all the snakeoil that passes for information, for advice, for guidance. I made a decision to make a contribution – to put something into the game. When I started I invited quite a few people / colleagues to participate and co-create, co-write The Customer Blog. No-one accepted, they all declined as they could not see any value, any market in it. I wrote it because I was not looking for a market, I was not and am not looking to sell. I write it as it is my vehicle to live my stand (to contribute, to make a difference) and it is a key vehicle for my self-expression: to put myself into the game of life and express who I am and what I stand for. To my surprise and delight I find that some of my fellow human beings get value out of my speaking.

    Sometimes, it simply works to trust in yourself and travel along “the road less travelled”. One you have the joy of being the authentic you and two that road is not swamped with fellow travellers seeking the safety of existing doctrine.

    Maz

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    1. Hi Maz,
      I don’t think I made my point clear enough or left something out.

      Our own voices are essential to help us stand out from the crowd whether that be a local concern or something that speaks to a much larger global audience. As such, I think the process of listening to, responding to and ‘collaborating’ with your ‘audience’ happens on a sliding scale. A bit like the controls on a music mixing desk where we can change pitch, tone, volume etc depending on the piece of music.

      Listening and responding are parts of the creative process, I believe, and when combined with our own voices can create tremendous things.

      Adrian

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      1. Hello Adrian
        Thanks for the clarification. You and I are in complete agreement. I rely on a whole host of people to create that which I create. And I rely on feedback to figure out that which works from that which does not work.

        Maz

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