Tales of Customer Experience: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly?

giffgaff: Wow! What A Delightful Experience.

Youngest, daughter, has ‘lost’ her mobile phone. So she logged me into her giffgaff account on the website. I clicked the “Help” tab. Then I clicked “Lost & Stolen”. Then I chose “Lost Both My Phone and SIM”.  At this point I was expecting to be told that the phone and SIM had been blocked. And a new SIM would be with me in a couple of days. That would have been a good enough experience: got the job done in a couple of minutes.

That is not what happened. Once I selected the “Lost Both My Phone and SIM” option I was informed that the phone and sim were now blocked. AND I was informed that I could get a replacement SIM activated immediately instead of waiting for one to arrive in a couple of days.  How so?  By getting hold of and activating an existing giffgaff SIM – one that had not been activated to date. How is that possible? giffgaff, as a matter of course, sends extra SIMs to members. Why? So that they can give them to those who they think would benefit from being members of giffgaff.

As a result of this capability, I was able to hand over a fully working mobile phone on the giffgaff network to my daughter in less than five minutes – start to finish!  That was my desired, real, outcome. And arriving at this desired outcome in five minutes as opposed to several days left me delighted; I am a protective parent!

What is unconcealed here?  The starting point for customer-centricity is authentic care for one’s customers.  When this is in place then the folks in the organisation will exercise thoughtfulness. In so doing, these folks will make it easy and enriching for customers to do business with that organisation.  And in the process the organisation will both generate customer loyalty and reduce waste – doing stuff that costs money but does not create value for customers from the customer point of view.

What can I say? I love the folks at giffgaff. I love how thoughtful and smart they are. I love how easy they make life for me.  I’d happily recommend giffgaff and have done so many times!

RAC: Regulation of Call-Centre Agent Behaviour Is What Matters, Not The Customer Experience

Youngest son bought a car and in the process he was about to buy breakdown insurance. I told him that he didn’t need to do that as I’d put him on my existing breakdown policy with the RAC. I rang the RAC expecting a brief conversation of the following kind:

Me: I’d like to put my son Marco on my existing breakdown policy. Here is the policy number. What is the cost?

Call-centre agent: The cost is £x. Does that work for you?

Me: Yes, here is my credit card number.

Call-centre agent: That’s done for you. We’ll send out a membership card to your son in the next couple of days.

Me: Thank you.

How did the conversation actually go?  It took some time. I found myself frustrated. I found myself raising my voice. I found myself angry. Why? Once the helpful young man had verified who I was he proceeded to ask me stupid questions.  What made these questions stupid?  He already had the answers to these questions. He was asking about the services that my son would need. And I told him those on the existing policy: roadside recovery, home recovery, onward travel, and European travel.

So why did this friendly professional (sounding) call-centre agent ask me questions to which he already had the answers?  Because he had to: the ‘designers’ of the call-centre operation had come up with a script and he had to follow it to the letter so that he would be in compliance with the script.  After all the phone call was being recorded and the quality folks would be listening in to ensure compliance with the script.

What a waste! What a waste of my, the customer’s, time. What a waste of the intelligence of the call-centre agent. What a waste of valuable call-centre resource: the time of the call-centre agent. What a waste of an opportunity to deliver a great customer experience and generate goodwill.  What a waste!

What is unconcealed here?  There is a conflict between the way organisations are designed to operate (regulate the behaviour of the folks in the organisation so as to facilitate command and control) and the flexibility (of response) that has to be in place in order for the customer facing folks to respond intelligently to this particular customer, at this particular time, as regards this particular context.

 Sainsburys Bank: A Good Experience Turns Ugly

Eldest, son, asked for help in signing up for a suitable credit cards. I did the research and identified several providers. In the process I found three providers which appealed to me. I signed up for each of these providers – one of these being Sainsburys Bank. All three providers made it easy to sign-up. All three did the background checks on me, verified me as sound credit risk, approved me as customers and gave me a credit limit.  Two of them, at the end of the process, invited-encouraged me to setup an online account with them so that I could manage my account online.

Several days later I got the paperwork through from all three providers.  Two providers sent me confirmation paperwork, terms and conditions, and the passwords/codes I’d need to use the credit cards. One provider – Sainsburys Bank – didn’t. What did Sainsburys Bank send me?  It send me a bunch of unappealing (black and white) paperwork to read and sign!  This struck me as such a disconnect!  How antiquated in comparison to the other two providers! What a great way to foul up a great digital experience! The whole point of digital is that stuff can be done there and then, in real-time.

What is unconcealed here?  Some folks just don’t get digital. Some folks just don’t get mobile. Some folks don’t get social. Some folks just don’t get how to use the various customer interaction channels intelligently. More importantly, some folks don’t get customers. A customer who chooses to interact with you through digital channels is looking for a digital experience. A customer who chooses to ring in to the call-centre is looking to talk with an intelligent-friendly human being – not navigate a frustrating-inhuman IVR.  You get the idea.

It occurs to me that established organisations have a long and difficult path ahead of them if they are to compete on the quality of the Customer Experience.  On the Customer Experience path the advantage lies with the younger, greenfield, organisations which do not have to deal with the legacy of relational and technical debt.  And  that is food for a future conversation.  Thanks for listening.

Why marketing should not lead the drive towards authentic customer-centricity

Should the Marketing function be leading the drive towards customer-centricity?

The accepted wisdom is that the marketing function and marketers have the best grasp of customers – their lives, their desires, their concerns…..   Along with this is another piece of accepted wisdom: that the marketing function and marketers are customer-centric or they are the function/people who are the most customer-centric in the organisation.  If you accept “accepted wisdom” then it is natural to say and expect the marketing function (and marketers) to take the lead, even take charge, in moving your organisation to become a customer-centric organisation.

I say don’t assume.  I say don’t accept “accepted wisdom”.  I say check and challenge the “accepted wisdom”.  I say try on Karl Popper’s dictum that instead of looking for evidence to prove your hypothesis, and/or your taken for granted view of how the world works, look for evidence the shows your hypothesis is wrong.  Here is how the concept of “falsification” (which is what I am talking about here) is described on Wikipedia:

“The classical view of the philosophy of science is that it is the goal of science to prove hypotheses like “All swans are white” or to induce them from observational data. Popper argued that this would require the inference of a general rule from a number of individual cases, which is inadmissible in deductive logic. However, if one finds one single black swan, deductive logic admits the conclusion that the statement that all swans are white is false. Falsificationism thus strives for questioning, for falsification, of hypotheses instead of proving them.”

Looking at my experience I say that it is quite possible that the existing conversations and practices around marketing and the role/function of marketer it is almost certain that the marketing function (and marketers) are “not customer-centric”.  I can spout theory or I can share experience.  Allow me to share experience with you.

My recent experience with Amazon

I buy regularly and often from Amazon: I buy books (physical and electronic) and electronics.  This week I placed at least six orders for various items.  And I am happy to be do business with Amazon because it works out well for me: it is easy to place the order from the PC, the Kindle, the iPhone; the prices are reasonable; the items are delivered promptly; and on the rare occasion there has been an issue it has been easy to sort out.  If you asked me “Would you recommend Amazon?”  I’d say “Yes, and I have done so many times.”

So why am I displeased, to put it mildly, with Amazon?  A more accurate statement is that the emotion of disgust/contempt is present right now when I think Amazon.  Why?  Because of the recent email I received that offers me a “£10 promotional gift certificate”.  You might be wondering why I am not grateful with receiving a £10 promotional gift certificate?  Take a look at the email:

Thank you for purchasing from Amazon.co.uk.Your recent order 203-9422174-0673902 entitles you to a promotional credit which we have added to your account. This credit can be applied to your next qualifying purchase.

Promotion details:

Additional information on this offer can be found here.

A £10 promotional gift certificate has been added to your Amazon account to spend on Amazon Fashion.

To redeem this promotional gift certificate, add at least £40 worth of eligible clothing, shoes, jewellery and/or watches sold by Amazon.co.uk to your basket from the selection in the link above. Checkout and £10 will be deducted from your order total.

The promotion code must be used by 09 December 2012. This offer is subject to Terms and Conditions.

Thanks again for shopping with us.

Amazon.co.uk


Have you noticed the issue?  “The promotional gift certificate” does not show up as such in my experience.  My experience is rather like the experience of my sister and her husband when they moved into their flat in a manor house.  Shortly after arrival several of their neighbours knocked on their door, smiled, engaged in chit-chat and handed them a “Welcome Pack”.  Upon opening the “Welcome Pack” my sister and her husband found no welcome.  What they found was a list of all the things they were not allowed to do.  And a list of what they were expected to do.  In short, there was a mismatch between what the language of their neighbours had set them up to expect and what actually showed up.  Furthermore, they felt a sense of the neighbours being “dishonest” and “manipulative”.  That is exactly my experience.

What exactly is the issue? A gulf between the marketing orientation and the customer-centric orientation

I say that if Amazon’s marketing function was operating from a context of authentic customer-centricity then they could/should have done the following:

  • Thanked me – which they do in their email;
  • Let me know of the £10 promotional gift certificate – which they do in their email’;
  • Given me the choice of how I want to use it; and
  • Entice me to check out the Fashion section perhaps by making the £10 promotional gift certificate count a £20 if spent in the fashion section.

Now if Amazon had done that then I would have been delighted and grateful.  That would have occurred as a gift, as generosity, as recognition that Amazon get that I spend a lot of money with them.  And that would have occurred as a “Thank you for doing business with us through action/generosity and not just words”.  It is also possible that with that approach I would have checked out the Fashion section and maybe bought something.

Instead, the email communication has left a sour taste in my being.  Why?  I am clear that Amazon wants me to spend money with them in the Fashion category.  And this is their way of making me do what they want me to do.  As such it occurs to me that Amazon is treating me as “an object”, a “resource” to be milked.   Yes, I know that I am putting my interpretation on an email, I am making a story of it.  That is what we do!   Human beings swim in language and practices.  And one thing is for sure: in our existing practice a “gift” does not tend to show up as a “gift” if there are strings/conditions attached.

So we come to the core point.  The function of the marketing function, given the existing conversation/practices around the role/contribution of marketing, is to get customers to try out stuff and spend money on the categories that are of interest to the business at a particular point in time.  Put differently, it is to shape customer demand to meet the revenue/profit demands of the business; it is to shape the customer to sing to the ‘organisational tune’.  And this context/stand/mode of being and operating is the antithesis of the customer-centric orientation.  I remember joining Peppers & Rogers many years ago.  On the first day, the IT manager sat down with me, told me what budget I had to spend, what laptops were supported, and asked me to let him know what laptop I wanted him to purchase and set-up for me.  To this remember the thought/feeling “WOW”: these guys practice what they preach!  That is authentic customer-centricity in action.

And finally,

A simple thank you (with no “promotional gift”) that showed up as genuine would have left me delighted.  Many years ago Amazon sent me a “cheap plastic” coffee mug that I did not care for much.  The letter that came with it left me delighted.  What was great about it?  The UK MD of Amazon thanking me for being one of Amazon’s most valuable customers and wishing me a great Christmas.  It showed up as authentic and that left me feeling great about being an Amazon customer.

If you are the CEO then my advice to you is this: if you are serious about your organisation being/becoming authentically customer-centric then think carefully and skeptically about putting the marketing function and the marketing folks either in charge of the effort or even leading it!