Customer centricity: a tale of two clinics

Yesterday I turned up promptly for my 4:45 appointment at the Ascot Chiropractic Clinic as I had been in pain for several days and needed work done on my neck and back.  Upon arriving at the clinic and giving my name I was told by the receptionist that my chiropractor was running very late: she had to finish with her current patient and then see another two before she would get round to me.  I told the receptionist that I was not in a position to wait, she apologised and I left the clinic highly dissatisfied.

Up to that point I had been delighted with the Ascot Chiropractic Clinic; I have been a customer for about a year.  It is on my way to work – so it is convenient.  I like the receptionists – they are friendly.  I like my chiropractor – she is friendly and professional.  And it is relatively easy to get appointments within a day or so – in case of emergencies. So I was able to justify the relatively high price and the fact that I get charged if I do not give 24 hours notice when I wish or need to cancel an appointment.

Before becoming a patient of the Ascot Chiropractic Clinic I was a customer of  the Harrison Clinic. Whilst it was a pain to go there as it is 30 minutes drive the wrong way from work, I continued to be a customer for some four months.  This was because the receptionists were friendly, the osteopaths friendly and professional, when I needed an emergency appointment I was able to get one on the same day.  So in many ways the Ascot Chiropractic Clinic and the Harrison Clinic are similar if not identical.

Yet there is one huge difference that I have experienced:  the Harrison Clinic is customer centred and the Ascot Chiropractic Clinic is not.  Allow me to illustrate.

It was about 8am in the morning and I was getting ready to go to the Harrison Clinic for an 8:45 appointment.  Just then the phone rang, the person identified herself as Melina Harrison – I later found out that she is the owner.  She told me  that my osteopath had phoned in sick and so my appointment had to be cancelled.   She apologised, she sympathised with my disappointment and the inconvenience .  She went on to say that my next consultation would be free of charge.  I was double delighted.

The first delight was that I was saved from wasting an hour travelling to the clinic and back, not to mention the frustration and resentment that goes with wasted effort.  The second delight was that the next consultation would be free.  Yet, I remember thinking that the free consultation was not necessary.

When I did turn up for my next appointment, several days later, the receptionist identified me and told me that the consultation was free.  So the people in the organisation talked to each other:  I did not even have to recount my telephone conversation to get the free consultation.  Incidentally, at that point I was not thinking of asking for the free consultation as I felt that the Harrison Clinic had done right by me by alerting me promptly and thus saving me a wasted visit.

This behaviour reminded me of an earlier time when I had to cancel an appointment at the last moment: I was not able to drive to the Harrison Clinic as my muscles had seized up.  When I phoned the clinic and explained the osteopath had waived the fee even though he did not have to do that.  I got that the osteopath and the clinic had treated me well – trusted that I was telling the truth and waived a fee to build goodwill, cultivate a relationship with me.

Now why did no-one from the Ascot Chiropractic Clinic phone me and let me know that my chiropractor was running late and give me the choice of turning up later or rearranging the appointment to another date/time?  After all both the clinics have all of my contact details.  Both are in the same line of business.  And both are about the same size.  The simple answer is simply that the Harrison Clinic is centred around customers – customers as people.  And the Ascot Chiropractic Clinic is not customer centred, it is likely to be profession centred, work centred or revenue and profit centred.

Finding organisations that are customer centred is an exercise of finding a needle in a haystack.  So I have a feeling that I am highly likely to go back to the Harrison Clinic and just put up with the long drive there and back.

Why do folks from Marketing lead CRM and Customer Experience efforts?

Time after time I have found that CRM and Customer Experience efforts are housed under the Marketing function and led/driven by folks from Marketing.  This practice is unquestioned: it is simply taken for granted that Marketing is the function that is most intimately connected with and has the best understanding of customers.  Is that actually so? Let’s take a deeper look.

The Customer Services function is taking one call after another from customers. In a large multi-national that ends up with millions of calls every year. And each of these calls has involved a verbal interaction between the customer and the company representative taking the call.  It can even be argued that the Customer Services function can be viewed as an R&D laboratory that can provide useful information on which customers are calling, what customers are calling about, what matters to customers, how well the organisation is doing in terms of acting on and meeting the needs/wants of customers.  And in the process this function can surface both what is broken in the organisation (from a customer perspective) and opportunities.

The Field Services and Technical Support Services function are in similar boat to the Customer Services function.  These function interact – face to face visit, telephone conversations – with and are thus directly exposed to the customer.  The Field Services folks actually enter into the customer’s home.  So it clear that the engineers / technicians will get a good grasp of customers: who they are, their needs, what is not working, opportunities to create new products/services for customers etc.

Lets take a look at the Sales function.  Who can argue that his function and the people are in intimate contact with customers.  These people know who is buying, who is not buying, which products are moving and why, what matters to customers, what changes need to be made to attract/convert more customers, what competitors are up to etc.  Any sales person who is not adept in interacting with customers will not last long in his/her role.

Onwards to the Finance function.  This function is responsible for the oversight of money flows between the customer and the organisation.  As such the Finance folks tend to know which customers are good credit risks, who pays on time, who has to be chased, when to chase customers etc…..

Now lets take a deeper look at the Marketing function.  Who in this function has a face to face conversations with customers?  How about telephone conversation?  Or even email conversations?  The closest that folks from marketing get to customers is when they sit in on a focus group.  What does this tell them?  It simply tells them what a group of disparate people will say in a laboratory environment.  There is ample research to show that what people say and what people do can be dramatically different.  And also the answers you get depend highly on the context – change the context and you get different answers to the same questions.  The other means of the Marketing folks getting customer insight is through market and consumer research carried out by the marketing agencies.

So if it is not the wealth of interactions – conversations – the Marketing folks have with customers then what else do they have that qualifies them to lead/own/drive CRM and Customer Experience efforts?  Perhaps it is their mindset – lets take a look at that.

What is the typically Marketing mindset – the one that is actually in practice not the one that is talked about by academics in marketing texts?  Is it not one of ‘manipulating’ consumption – getting people to buy what the organisation has to sell at the terms that are acceptable / beneficial to the organisation?  And most Marketing functions have done a great job of that.  Put differently, Marketing functions can be great at creating, disclosing and promoting stories (true, false or in between) that germinate in people minds thus encouraging the first trial.  This is called getting new customers – customer acquisition.

What is Marketing’s impact or expertise in retaining customers?  How will even the state of the art (personalised, relevant, timely) piece of marketing communication drive me to continue to do business with the company if I am dissatisfied with the existing product, the difficult to get in touch with Customer Services, or the Field Service folks that don’t turn up on time to fix the issue?

Are the folks in Marketing even aware of the issues that I have with the company?  Do they care?  If so can they actually do anything about it?  Is the Marketing function respected and does it wield influence over the Sales, Customer Services, Field Services, Logistics and Finance folks?  In many organisations the answer to the last question is no.

What does the Marketing function actually focus upon when a new customer comes on board?   The better armed Marketing functions have Customer Insight teams that build statistical models to predict what to sell next, and when, to which customers.  These up-sell and x-sell efforts may or may not work.  That all depends on what the rest of the organisation is doing (Sales, Customer Services, Logistics, Field Services, Finance) in terms of delivering on the first promise that Marketing made to the customer.

I cannot see a logical basis for the Marketing function to own/lead/drive CRM and Customer Experience efforts.  Contrary to the popular understanding Marketing is not a customer centred function.  And the folks that work in Marketing do not have a better understanding of customers.  Arguably they have less than the folks in Sales, Customer Services and Field Services.

What are your thoughts on the matter?  Your reasoning?

More wisdom here than a warehouse full of CRM and Customer Experience books

John Seddon is a management guru that anyone and everyone who is seeking to improve the customer experience should listen to.  This man has more wisdom to share than a warehouse full of CRM and Customer Experience books by academics – usually marketing professors.

I once did work on helping telco that was infamous for the poor service delivery when things went wrong.  Everything that John talks about, I saw in operation:

a) Whilst the espoused value was to serve the customer, the real lived in value was to make the metrics;

b) The metrics were focussed on minimising costs and ended up driving up costs;

c) The people at the coal face knew that the system was absurd yet they were not give the mandate to do the right things – they were expected to do the wrong things righter;

d) The customers continued to bear the brunt of the pain – a poor customer experience.

Here is the link to the video by John Seddon: Deliverology Destroys Service

 

Blind to the obvious – Part III

In the previous post I pointed out that CRM, Customer Experience and Customer Marketing teams are blind to the need to rethink and redesign the deep structure of the organisational operating system.  In this post I want to point out another blindness.

CRM, Customer Experience and Customer Marketing teams (and the elite in their organisations – the Tops) are blind to the fact that customers are more than economic beings or consumers of goods – they are people, they are human beings.

Customers are people:  they are human beings and when dealing with organisations they want, even need, the human touch.  John McKean wrote a book titled ‘Customers Are People: The Human Touch‘ which spells out what the human touch includes: Appreciation (acknowledge me), Respect (treat me respectfully), Trust (your actions must match your promises so that I can trust you).  Personally, I do not believe that John McKean goes far enough.  Today customers have a voice, express that voice through the Internet and want companies to hear and act on that voice – to enter into conversation with them.

Now it is quite possible to acknowledge a person in a way that the person does not feel acknowledged.  Too many organisations are collecting data and passing this onto their front line staff so that they can ‘acknowledge’ the customer.  Yet the humanity of the acknowledgement if missing – try it for yourself with the world ‘hello’.  You can say this word with reverence, with affinity, with care or you can say it in a rushed way or in a robotic way.   This is one practical example of being blind to the fact that customers are human beings with human needs, there are plenty more  – which I will not go into right now.

As a business coach I worked with my brother when he set up his car sales, servicing and valeting business.  At the end of the design phase we agreed some simple rules that drive the way that his business treats his customers:  treat each and every customers as if he/she is father, mother, brother or sister.  As a result of practicing this philosophy all of his business today – several years later – is referral business.  Customers come back again and again and they bring their family, friends and close work colleagues with them.

When you get that customers are people – human beings – you get that Customer Service in the fullest sense is the key: how you greet, welcome, talk with and treat customers when they are buying from you, when they have problems with using your products or service.  In this world, marketing as usually practiced has only a secondary and limited role to play.  Why? To a large extent your customer do the marketing for you – you can make it easier for them to do that by providing a platform like Amazon does to rate vendors and the products.

Blind to the obvious – part II

I asserted in my last post that  many if not most organisations working on customer initiatives are blind to the obvious.  What specifically do I mean?

Organisations of all kinds (including businesses) are blind to the need to rethink and redesign the deep structure of the organisational operating system.  A deep structure that is brilliantly designed for the 20th Century (to push out and push on to customers the products and services that the organisation has produced) and totally inadequate for the needs of today.  A structure which encourages substantial investments in marketing and sales to ‘conquest’ customers whilst simultaneously insisting that every effort is made to cut the operating costs associated with supporting these ‘conquests’ in their post-purchase needs – cuts in customer service, field service, technical support.  A structure in which the right mind does not talk with the left – where Marketing is making x-sell and up-sell offers to customers who have already made complaints to Customer Services.  A structure  where there is talk of customer relationships and customer loyalty (which require a long-term play) yet the focus of effort is to do whatever it takes to make the revenue and profit numbers today.  A structure which spends millions on CRM projects whose impact – on the whole is – customer alienation and higher customer dissatisfaction.  A structure which rests on deception: making a set of promises (to the customer) that the organisation knows that it is unable and/or unwilling to deliver.  A structure that encourages keeping the customer at a distance and thus discourages any form of authentic customer engagement lest that customer see behind the veil of the story that the organisation tells to outsiders.

I will look at another perspective on being ‘Blind to the obvious’ in my next post.

Blind to the obvious

As a participant and observer of CRM, Customer Marketing and Customer Experience efforts I have often been struck by how the focus on data, systems, processes, metrics, revenues, costs, profits etc blinds people to the obvious.

To give you an idea of what I mean view and take part in the following video:

Curse of the functional-activity-efficiency mindset: my British Gas experience

Reading the press I notice that British Gas are recruiting a Customer Journey Manager.  Without a change in the functional-activity-efficiency mindset it is highly unlikely that this personal will do anything that makes any real difference to customers.  Allow me to illustrate.

Functional-activity-efficiency thinking is rife in just about every business.  The business is organised into functions.  The primary units of work that are managed are activities (not task – too small).  And the metrics that are in place to manage the resources linked to activities are mainly efficiency metrics.  The illusion is that this way of thinking, organising and managing business operations is the smart way.

I can categorically state that from a customer perspective it is not – a more ineffective and wasteful way is hard to imagine.  Let me share with you my experience with British Gas – this happened some two years ago.

I was on the phone to the customer services agent at British Gas to inform her that the pipe feeding the main radiator in my living room was leaking and I needed someone to come and fix it urgently.  The job was entered into the system, a date was agreed – the next day and an engineer was booked.  So far so good: I was relieved that my wooden floor would not be immersed in water.  I felt good at having taken out a £400 a year top of the range Homecare agreement with British Gas.

By 18:30 the next day the engineer had not arrived.  I become concerned so I rang customer services.  The agent told me that that engineer had been cancelled as they did not have enough engineers.  To which I asked why I had not been informed given that I had taken the day off work to be at home: it was that important to me to get the leak sorted out.  I did not get an answer, I did get an apology.  And we booked another date and another engineer.

Two days later the engineer arrived.  I welcomed him to my home as my saviour, offered him a tea/coffee and showed him the leaking pipe in the living room.  He spent some five minutes looking at it. Agreed that there was a leak and that it needed to be sorted out.  Great.  Then he told me that he did not have the equipment to do the job.  He went on to say that he would inform the office, place the order and an engineer would come out to fix the leak.  I was not happy.

I rang British Gas customer services and complained that I did not need an engineer to come out and tell me what I already knew and which I had already told the first customer services agent that I had spoken to.  The agent whilst polite was unhelpful – she did not have access to the engineers system so could not see what he had written.

Two or so days later I called customer services again.  I had to explain the issue from the beginning as the original ticket / job had been closed out as completed.  I was overjoyed at having to spend ten minutes or so to put this agent into the picture.  We agreed another date and another engineer.

The second engineer turned up on the due date; a second day that I had to take off work.  I welcome him, offered him tea/coffee and showed him into the lounge.  Groundhog Day!  He did exactly the same as the first engineer: this is a big job, I am not equipped to do a big job, need to order equipment, someone will be in touch to rearrange another date. Well no-one did get in touch so I rang Customer Services after several days.

Surprise, surprise the second ticket / job had also been closed.  So the customer services agent opened up a new ticket / job and I had to share an even longer story: the issue, the first engineer visit and the second engineer visit.

About two weeks after first contacting British Gas, the third engineer came and took a look at the leaking radiator pipe.  This one took a good look at the central heating system.  After about 30 minutes or so he told me that my British Gas Homecare policy would not cover me for the work that was involved – someone would have to dig up my living room floor to get access to the pipe, find and fix the leak – as it involve an engineer for more than two-three hours.  And that if I wanted the work done then I’d have to ring British Gas, make the payment and schedule the work.  He then packed up and left.

Back on the phone to British Gas Customer Services to make a complaint.  I get an apology and another – new – ticket / job has to be set up.  And I have to explain what the problem is and what has happened to date.  At this point I have lost my patience.

The fourth engineer arrived, I offered him a tea/coffee and showed him into the lounge.  He took a good look around like the last engineer.  Then he told me that to fix the problem pipe was a big job and would destroy my living room floor.  So I asked him if there was another way – a way round the problem.  He took another look at the central heating pipes and said yes.  We agreed to just cut the flow of water to that pipe and put in another pipe to feed the radiator.  Excellent – we have a plan.  Not so excellent – he tells me that he cannot do the work that day.  That he has to schedule the work for another day.  I ask him why.  He tells me that each engineer is given only so long to do a job.  And if the engineers make the figures then they do well financially.  If they do not then they lose out financially.

Now it made sense.  Each of the engineers got that if he did what needed to be done to solve my problem then he would end up being penalised for not making his metrics: time taken to do the job, number of jobs done during the day.

I am now in my fourth week and I am waiting for the engineer to cut the flow to the existing pipe and put in a bypass pipe. I have taken another day off work and the engineer has not turned up.  I ring customer services and the agent tells me that the engineer is ill so the work has to be delayed.  I am utterly frustrated at this point.  And decide to continue as I am truly intrigued as how long it will take to get the job done and what more hurdles I have to go through.  Meanwhile, I continue to put buckets to hold the leaking water, use the mop to clean up the water on the wooden floor.

By the end of week six the work is completed. The fourth engineer the one that was helpful, resourceful, truthful came back and spent half about half a day to do the work. I have cut the story short: in the end the job got done because I had got utterly fed up of repeated failure, I had escalated my complaint and finally the field services manager for my region had called me and told me he was sorry for my experience and he took personal responsibility to get my problem fixed.  He was a man of his word, thank you and all the best wherever you are.

Why did it take six weeks to fix a leaking radiator pipe? Why did I have to make numerous phone calls to customer services – each time explaining the whole thing from the start?  Why did it take a total of six engineer visits to do what turned out to be a four hour piece of work?  What was the total cost – customer services time, engineer time, travel costs, field services manager time – to British Gas?

Did I have such a poor experience because the customer services agents or the engineers were incompetent.  No – they were all too competent they did what the system incentivised them to do.  So what did the system incentivise them to do – to make the functional-activity-efficiency metrics.  Specifically:

  • Each customer services agent was keen to make her metrics (time to close the call, first time resolution) so she took the details, booked the engineer, closed the customer services ticket; and
  • Each engineer (except the last one) saw what needed to be done, flagged it up as a big job needed special equipment, made it someone else’s problem and closed the job in his system so he could make his metrics;

So what was missing, if it had been present, would have encouraged more effective behaviour – the work gets done in one engineer visit taking four hour and a satisfied customer:

  • Making one person, one department responsible for the customer – to take ownership of the customer problem, keep the customer informed, see the job through to completion, anticipate and deal with things that can or do go wrong;
  • Looking at the work that needs to be done and the impact that it has from the customers view and putting in the metrics that go with that: for example time from when ticket is opened to when it closed and confirmed as being closed by the customer; number of calls the customer has to make to the customer services; number of engineer visits; number of days customer has to take off work etc

The benefits of looking at the work from an integrated / customer perspective is that it results in less wastage (one engineer one visit rather than four engineers and six visits) and satisfied customers (the leaking pipe could and should have been fixed the next day).

How did the story end?  I did not renew my Homecare agreement with British Gas. Why?  Because when I shared my story with my social circle I found that they had had a similar experience.  Like me they had found that British Gas did a great job of coming out and fixing small jobs – toilet overflow, leaking taps, stuck water valves, annual boiler service – and a poor job of dealing with the more important jobs: boiler breakdown, central heating leaks etc.