Customer Experience: 6 lessons from personal experience

The Post Office: the personal touch makes a huge difference

My son is an eager eBay trader and had a large bunch of parcels to post.  Being an empathic human being (most of us are) I decided to help him out.  I took eleven parcels and headed to the local post office – which just happens to reside in the back of the local grocery store.  Truth be told I don’t particularly like going to this local post office because the grocery store is rather dull, the people behind the counter don’t greet anyone coming into the store and I have to navigate around people and shelves to get to the post office counter and inevitably there is queue.  This time I timed it perfectly and there was no queue.

The woman behind the counter greeted me with a smile and we struck up a conversation – a plain old-fashioned conversation.  I shared that I was helping out my son who loves business – buying, selling, dealing with customers, earning a fair reward for his risk taking and hard work.  She went on to tell me that she knew my son, that he’s  such a gentlemen, that he helps out at the local charity shop, that he is likely to be a millionaire.  What really touched me was “You should be proud of him!” Our conversation took around fifteen minutes – it takes that long to ship eleven parcels.  By the time I left the place we were both smiling and each of us wished the other well – genuinely.  I am still smiling inside and out and I can clearly picture that woman in my mind and she has a place in my heart.

Lesson 1:  never underestimate the power of the human touch to deliver a great customer experience and build goodwill between your customers and your organisation

McDonald’s: there is more to good design than making stuff look pretty

My ten year old daughter turned 11 this week and where did she want to go for her evening meal?  McDonald’s.  So that is where we headed and when we got there (around 7pm) it was almost empty.  Whilst my daughter was ordering for the family I was busy taking in the look and feel of the ‘restaurant’.  I got the green, healthy thing by looking at the furniture and the menus.  I also noticed that the seating area was smaller as a young childrens play area had been put into one end of the store.  Whilst I got that the place was in tune with ‘green, healthy, children, family’ mantra I could not help but notice that it felt cold.

With the food trays in our hands we headed to the seating area where the five of us could sit together – two on either side (on the wooden benches) and one to the side on a round stool.  Getting seated was harder than you might imagine.  I had to navigate around the round stool and slide onto the bench on one side of the table.  It was not easy, I struggled – there was not enough room between the bench and the table!  Then we found that we could not place our food trays on the table.  Once I got past my frustration I realised that McDonald’s had reduced the width and the length of the tables. And reduced the distance between the tables and the wooden benches on either side.  I did not enjoy the eating experience and was delighted when we left.

Lesson 2: there is a lot more to human-centred design than looks – you also have to make it easy for your customers to easily (and comfortably) do what they came to do

Radissan SAS: deliver the core services that your customer expects

Whilst I was doing some consulting work in Ireland I stayed at a Radissan SAS.  The hotel was ideally placed for work – only twenty minutes walk from the client’s offices.  The bedroom was clean and spacious. The hotel had free wi-fi, room service was prompt and the hotel staff were friendly and helpful whenever I approached them for some request.  So why am I writing about them?  What are the some of the key moments on the customer journey?  Let me suggest a few: arrival and check in; getting a good nights sleep; breakfast and dinner; and checking-out. I noticed that each time I came to check in (it was in the late evening) there was no-one at the check-in desk and no instructions on how to get hold of someone.  On several occasions there was no-one to ‘great me and seat me’ for breakfast and dinner.  Yet, what ‘upset’ me the most was not being able to get a good nights sleep.  Why?  Because I found that the pillows did not work for me.  I could not help thinking why the Radissan does not offer the option of different types of pillow.

Lesson 3: customers hire you to provide services, figure out what these services are (it is not that hard, really) and get them right including building in flexibility so that you can treat different customers differently.

Santander: be human and helpful

I rang up Santander to request a new chequebook and pretty quickly got through to a friendly chap.  He was patient and friendly with me whilst I walked about the house finding all the stuff I needed to get through the security details.  When I mentioned that I was not in a hurry but I might be driving up his AHT we told me to relax and take my time.  And we talked about call-centres – he works in one and I help improve the way call-centres work to improve the customer experience.  Once he had ordered the chequebook I was ready to say thank you and hang up.  My friend on the other end was not finished.  He had noticed that I had failed the IVR security check and so he asked me if I wanted him to send me over new security details that would allow me to navigate the IVR.  He went further and told me how I could work the IVR in case of certain scenarios – information that I found useful.  Most of all I really appreciated that he was helping me rather than selling stuff to me.

Lesson 4: put yourself in your customer’s shoes and provide information, advice and tools that help your customer – do this without being asked, sense the need/opportunity and resond appropriately.

PC World: don’t assume, check

I order the wrong PC fan from Amazon and did not have time to send it back and wait for a new one.  The issue was not the fan but the connector.  So I headed to the nearest PC World superstore and started to look for a converter – something that would allow me to convert a three pin into a four pin.  I found something that looked like it might work.  Wanting to make sure that it did work I headed to the service/repair desk and asked for help.  The chap on the other side of the desk was cheerful and helpful.  He categorically assured me that it would work so I opened the bag an tried fitting the converter onto the fan – it did not work.

The chap behind the desk got into action. He left his counter and went looking for other converters.  He found one and told me that it should work – I opened the bag tested it out and it did not fit.  The friendly chap recognised his mistake, took his time and found another converter.  He was categorical: this will work – no doubt about it.  I tested it out: it should have worked but it did not work the designs were compatible but bits of stuff got in the way and so the converter would not fit onto the fan cable.  The friendly chap was not put off – he went to work and found another converted.  This time he opened up the bag and tested it out with my fan.  It worked!  I thanked him – truly grateful for his help – and left the store.  Next time I needed something I headed to that exact store and looked for that friendly chap.

Lesson 5: don’t assume, check – build a prototype, try it out, check what does and does not work, refine until it does work; and remember what should work in theory does not necessarily work in practice.

Lesson 6: if you want to cultivate gratitude and generate repeat business then focus on being totally committed to helping your customer get his needs met.

Customer Experience: what matters most to customers?

Customers are demanding greater product quality in tough times

In my last post I set out the key organisational attributes and barriers that organisations face in excelling at crafting and delivering a positive multichannel customer experience.  But what do customers want?  What matters most to customers?  In Jodie Monger’s latest post she looks at the analysis performed on calls into call-centres (automotive, appliance, electronics indudstries) and points out that customers are demanding greater product quality in tough times.  Specifically, she writes:

  • Economic hardship is causing customers to seek to repair instead of replace products.
  • There is a growing perception on the part of customers that things are no longer “made to last.”

What about efficient customer service and low prices?

I have been reading the Customer Experience Consumer Survey Report published by Econsultancy this month.  Across five industries (Banking, Mobile Phones, Retail, Travel, Gaming) the attributest that matters most to consumers are:

  • Efficient customer service
  • Low priced products;
  • High quality products.

Looking at these responses through the lens of my customer value formula this makes perfect sense. Efficient customer service increases value (for the customer) by reducing the effort involved in dealing with the company (buying, using, troubleshooting).  Low priced products help the customer to make their budget stretch further. And high quality products increase the benefits received by the customer.

Let’s dig a little deeper to see what the variations were for some of the industries.

Banking – what matters to customers?

Mobile Phones – what matters to customers?

Retail – what matters to customers?

Travel – what matters to customers?

Gaming – what matters to customers?

What do I think about the findings?

First of all I find it interesting that customers do not hold out the expectation that companies put their needs first.  I interpret this as customers are living in the real world and they have a pretty good grasp of reality – most companies put their needs first and customers are used to that.  However, that does not mean that you cannot differentiate yourself by putting your customers first.  Remember that consumers were not asking for or expecting coloured computers – when Dell provided them their sales took off.

Second, customers are simply asking and expecting companies to get the basics right.  Provide me with good value (product quality, price) and make it easy for me to do business with you – take the hassle out, save me time.

Third, the ‘fancy’ stuff that so many commentators focus on and which matters most to companies (joined up experience, consistent branding, relevant and timely communications) does not matter that much to customers.

Finally, never take consumer research at face value.  Why?  Because consumers are not that great at figuring out what really drives their purchasing decision and what really influences them.  .  If you were to ask consumers if advertising mattered and influenced them most would probably say no.  Yet, advertising does influence hearts, minds and behaviour. If you spend time counselling people and you will be amazed at how little insight many of us have into our lives – what matters to us, what drives our behaviour.

What are your thoughts?

How to cultivate strong customer relationships: focus on the “sliding door” moments and ATTUNE

Don and Martha say practice the Golden Rule

In their latest post – “Empathy, Self-Interest and Economics” – Don Peppers and Martha Rogers spell out the importance of the Golden rule.  They point out that at a behavioural level only psychopaths conform to the view of human nature taken by neo-classical economics.  To business leaders they say:

“Companies that want to earn their customers’ trust have to be willing to act in their customers’ interest—sometimes even when the customers’ interest conflicts with their own (at least in the short term). This is why i-Tunes will remind you that you already own a song you are about to purchase, for instance. And it’s why USAA won’t sell you more insurance than you really need, even if you mistakenly ask to do so.”

“The point is that having empathy for others is a critical part of human nature, and if you want your business to succeed, then you have to show empathy for customers, also. That means treating a customer the way you’d want to be treated yourself, if you were that customer.”

Is the UK utility industry listening to Don and Martha?

It doesn’t look like the Tops in utilities industry in the UK are listening to Don and Martha.  Npower has been slapped with a £2m fine by the regulator Ofgem.  Why? According to Marketing Week:

“Ofgem says Npower failed to record all details of the complaints it received and did not put in adequate processes to deal with complaints. It was also accused of not giving dissatisfied customers enough information about the Energy Ombudman’s redress service.”

Now you might be tempted to think that this is a one-off, an aberration.   Well British Gas (the major player) was fined £2.5m back in July.  Why?  Well in the words of Marketing Week:

“Ofgem’s investigation found that British Gas had failed to re-open complaints when the customer reported and unsatisfactory resolution; failed to provide customers with key details about the service provided by the Energy Ombudsman and failed to put in place adequate processes and practices for dealing with complaints from small businesses.”

And Marketing Week goes on to write EDF Energy is also currently under investigation from Ofgem over the way it handles its complaints.”

So where are we at?  Two of the six big players that dominate the gas and electricity market have been fined for mishandling customer complaints and a third player (EDF) is under investigation for the same offence.  What does Npower have to say:

“A small number of processes were not correctly adhered to. Ofgem is now satisfied that all problems have been rectified and we are fully compliant with our obligations to our customers. We have zero tolerance for this type of issue and we’ll continue to work hard to make sure our customers are put first.”

I don’t know about you but to me that sounds like a load of bull: if Npower really did have a zero tolerance for this type of issue then it would have made sure that an effective complaints management process, team, system was in place.   When you lookmore deeply at the industry you see that the structure has been designed to extract profits at the expense of customers: complex pricing, too many confusing tariffs, bills that are difficult to understand……

Making the customer relationship work: what we can learn from John Gottman

I you do operate in a competitive industry then you might be able to learn from the research of John Gottman – he is been studying what makes marriages work (or not) for over 40 years.  In a recent article he sets out the key things that he has learnt:

“What I found was that the number one most important issue that came up to these couples was trust and betrayal. I started to see their conflicts like a fan opening up, and every region of the fan was a different area of trust. Can I trust you to be there and listen to me when I’m upset? Can I trust you to choose me over your mother, over your friends? Can I trust you to work for our family? To not take drugs? Can I trust you to not cheat on me and be sexually faithful? Can I trust you to respect me? To help with things in the house? To really be involved with our children?”

“.zero-sum game.” You’ve probably all heard of the concept. It’s the idea that in an interaction, there’s a winner and a loser. And by looking at ratings like this, I came to define a “betrayal metric”: It’s the extent to which an interaction is a zero-sum game, where your partner’s gain is your loss.”

“But how do you build trust? What I’ve found through research is that trust is built in very small moments, which I call “sliding door” moments, after the movie Sliding Doors. In any interaction, there is a possibility of connecting with your partner or turning away from your partner.

In his article John provides a good illustration of such a sliding door moment when he saw the sadness on his wife’s face.  Here is what he says about that:

“I had a choice. I could sneak out of the bathroom and think, “I don’t want to deal with her sadness tonight, I want to read my novel.” But instead, because I’m a sensitive researcher of relationships, I decided to go into the bathroom. I took the brush from her hair and asked, “What’s the matter, baby?” And she told me why she was sad.  Now, at that moment, I was building trust; I was there for her. I was connecting with her rather than choosing to think only about what I wanted. These are the moments, we’ve discovered, that build trust.”

ATTUNE: how you cultivate trust and build strong relationships

John Gottman’s graduate student has taken their work on trust and broken it down into the idea of being in attuenment and has come up with an acronym (ATTUNE).  If I replace “partner” with “customer” we have:

  • Awareness of your customers’s emotion;
  • Turning toward the emotion;
  • Tolerance of two different viewpoints – yours and your customer’s;
  • trying to Understanding your customer – to look at the situation through his/her eyes;
  • Non-defensive responses to your customer;
  • and responding with Empathy.

My take on this

How you handle a complaint from a customer is a “sliding door” moment.  It is also a great opportunity to practice ATTUNE as complaints are high emotion events that you can use to build or rupture emotional connection.  Given that is so I continue to be surprised at how few companies do well in the complaints process.  If Npower and British Gas had taken such an approach (call it a customer friendly approach) to the complaints made by their customers then they could have: gotten insights into customer needs; learned where their business practices were failing customers; built a better relationship with customers; and avoided a fine.

Customer Experience: what is in unlimited demand yet in limited supply in the modern world?

The Customer Value Equation

My approach to the Customer is fundamentally one of creating superior value for the Customer.  In an earlier post I spelled out my formula for creating superior value:

Value = Benefit – Effort – Risk – Price +/- Treatment

If you want to create more value for the Customer then you can focus on any of these five levers.  In this post I want to focus upon the last one “Treatment”. Fundamentally “Treatment” is how you leave your Customer feeling.

The Values Proposition:Do Small Things With Love

In Why Is It So Hard to Be Kind? William C Taylor shares the story about how his father was treated as an economic object (“I-It” in  Buber’s terms) by his Cadillac dealer even though he had been a loyal Cadillac customer.  Then William contrasts this to the way that he was treated (“I-Thou”) by a Buick Dealer.  To cut a long story short the Buick dealer: honoured an expired loyalty certificate that the Cadillac dealer would not honour; allowed William’s father to take the car for the weekend – without being asked; and then built an amazing bond with William’s father.  How? In William’s words:

“Monday rolled around and my father found himself being rushed not to the dealer but to the hospital, with what turned out to be a medical problem that required surgery (He’s doing great now, thanks.) As he was lying in his hospital bed, thinking about whatever it is we think about in these moments, he realized that the Buick Lacrosse was sitting in his garage! So he called the dealer from the hospital and asked how he could get the car back. “Don’t worry about the car,” he said. “Just get better.” And the next morning, what should arrive at the hospital but a lovely bouquet of flowers and a nice note from the Buick dealer!

In a follow up post William shares his visit to a retinal specialist and this is what he says about his experience:

“This doctor did an utterly competent exam, explained my situation, and offered a sound course of action. So I’m fine. Yet I keep thinking back to the experience, not because of the quality of the medical care I received, which was superb, but because of how uncaring the experience felt.  As I sat in the waiting room, it seemed more like the offices of a payday lender or a bail bondsman than that of a highly credentialed surgeon. “If you arrive late, your appointment may be rescheduled,” one sign warned. “Copay is due upon arrival,” another signed explained.  My fellow patients and I were nervous, anxious, worried about our eyesight. Yet it felt like the doctor thought of us as a collection of truants, tightwads, and general layabouts.”

William goes on to write:

“There is a temptation, amidst the turmoil, for pundits to conclude that the only sensible response is to make bold bets — new business models that challenge the logic of an industry, products that aim to be “category killers” and obsolete the competition. But I’ve come to believe that a better way to respond to uncertainty is with small gestures that send big signals about what you care about and stand for. In a world defined by crisis, acts of generosity and reassurance take on outsized importance.”

“Nobody is opposed to a good bottom-line deal,” I concluded at the time. “But what we remember and what we prize are small gestures of connection and compassion that introduce a touch of humanity into the dollars-and-cents world in which we spend most of our time.

“As the value proposition gets rewritten in industry after industry, it’s organizations with an authentic VALUES PROPOSITION that rise above the chaos and connect with customers. Few of us will ever do “great things” that remake companies and reshape industries. But all of us can do small things with great feeling and an authentic sense of emotion.”

James G. Barnes said something very similar when he published his book Secrets of Customer Relationship Management.  What was the subtitle? “Its All About How You Make Them Feel

What does Frederick Richheld have to say?

In Profiting From the Golden Rule Frederick Richheld stresses the importance of the “I-Thou” orientation.  In his words:

Our system of financial accounting rewards quarterly profits, but struggles mightily to place a value on ethical behavior

“Reputation is earned through the simple, age-old concept of the Golden Rule: treat others as you yourself would want to be treated. Each time you live up to the Golden Rule, your reputation is enhanced; each time you fail, it is diminished. And the mathematics of long-term financial success — revenues, profits, cash flow — square perfectly with this scorecard.”

“We all want to be treated with honor and respect in ways, large and small, that enrich our lives. Such experiences not only make us happy, we want to share them with people we care about. By recommending an experience, we’re signaling our trust that our friends will be treated similarly. Recommendations also signal to businesses how customers view their relationship with the company. When customers feel so well treated that they enthusiastically recommend a company to friends, they are promoters. When treated so badly they recommend avoiding the company, they are detractors. Both have direct and measurable economic consequences.”

What is in unlimited demand yet is in limited supply in the modern world?

We strive to deliver something for which there is unlimited demand–being treated with honor and respect. There seems to be a very limited supply of that in today’s world.” CEO Dan Cathy, Chick-fil-A (an award winning US company)

Improving the customer experience: which approach, which levers to use?

Need to improve the customer experience?

Sometimes a real world example of poor customer experience comes along that allows you to explore real world challenges in improving the customer experience.  I am thinking of the  recent report on the treatment of elderly patients in the UK hospitals which has caused quite a fuss even though relatives of elderly patients have been complaining of poor treatment for many years.

Let’s say that you want to improve the customer (patient) experience.  Where do you start?  There are all kinds of opinions on the root causes that have ‘driven’ compassion out of the failing hospitals.  If you read the papers or have listened to the radio (as I have) you will notice that the finger is being pointed at the following:

  • The nurses do not care (they do not have the aptitude) and/or are badly trained;
  • The focus of hospital staff is on filling in the forms, ticking the right boxes, processing patients and not getting into trouble with management;
  • The Top are not exercising the right kind of leadership;
  • Demand exceeds resources and so expensive nurses have been replaced by cheap Care Support Workers to balance the books;
  • The focus of the hospital leadership is on hitting targets set by Central Government rather than caring for patients;
  • Elderly patients are difficult to care for and many of them should not be in hospital but in care homes…..

So where do you start?  Which levers do you use to improve the Customer Experience?

I have developed a simple model (I do not claim that this model is the truth, it is simply a construct) that helps me to answer that question:

If you are like most organisations you take the operational approach.  This means that you make changes to the People, Process, Data and Technology dimensions.  So in the case of the NHS you work on the nurses (People) – perhaps through training and performance measures; you work on the way that work is done (Process); you might introduce some new technology to improve the process (Technology) etc…  This is the default approach and leaves the bigger picture (the context) that lays the grounds for all organisational behaviour untouched.  As a result the improvements (no matter how impressive) rarely endure and in some cases the short-term improvements turn out to be the longer term cancer that degrades performance.

The road less travelled is the strategic approach.  This is where the Tops exercise leadership and ask themselves the question: what is our contribution to the behaviour, health, performance of the system?  And then they set about shaping/nudging the levers that ultimately shape the behaviour of their organisation and its destiny.  What are these levers?  I can think of four:

  • Leadership – everything that the leaders communicate through verbal and non-verbal language.  It is worth bearing in mind that it is impossible for leaders (all of us in fact) not to communicate.
  • Culture – the taken for granted ways of thinking, feeling, talking, decision making and behaving.  What (and who) is and is not considered real, important, worth discussion.  Not only what is done (and not done) but also how it is done or not done.  I think of this as the ‘operating system’ of the organisation it determines the collective ‘performance’ of all the components of the organisation.  The Tops play a huge role in shaping culture – whether by actively shaping it or by simply neglecting it.
  • Mission & Strategy – the mission (call it purpose) articulates why you exist and the strategy is the high level approach you will be using to achieve your mission.  Let’s be honest the vast majority of missions simply do not inspire anyone in the organisation or anyone dealing with the organisation.  Why?  Because the mission is simply to fulfil shareholders needs / demands.  They are the equivalent of ‘selling sugared water’ rather than putting a ‘dent in the universe’.  So the challenge is to come up with an authentic mission that makes people proud to be a part of the organisation.
  • Business Model – this is simply the configuration of elements that create value for all the stakeholders and ensure the viability and strength of your organisation.  At the heart of the business model lies the value proposition and the people (target market of customers) that this value proposition has been designed for.   How well does your business model meet the needs of the various stakeholders?  What changes need to be made in order to take into account the change in customer behaviour especially the rise in customer power?  Does your business model take into account the multiple roles that customers can play all through the value chain?

What separates the Customer Experience leaders from the rest?

As I have studied the Customer Experience leaders (Starbucks, Amazon, Apple, Zappos, Zane’s Cycles) I have been struck by the thought that all these companies did makes changes to the People, Process, Data and Technology dimensions but only as a subset of the strategic approach: Leadership, Culture, Mission & Strategy, Business Model.    That is to say any operational changes (People, Process, Technology, Data) were nested and a part of the bigger organisational context that was shaped by Mission & Strategy, Culture, Business Model and Leadership.

I have this feeling that the people who run the NHS in the UK will go for the operational levers (‘the one bad apple’ defense/approach) rather then the strategic approach.   What do you think?  What is your experience?