How to excel at Customer Experience and customer-centricity: 3 tips

Shift your perspective, embrace being wrong and practice radical empathy

Businesses can cut costs, keep more customers and win new customers (through word of mouth/mouse) if they focus on the customer experience.  That means designing customer experiences that fit customer needs and expectations and which make their lives easier and richer (not just in the money sense).  To do that all the people in the organisation (Tops, Middles, Bottoms) have to shift their perspective, embrace bring wrong and practice radical empathy.  What am I talking about?  All is explained/demonstrated beautifully in the following three TED talks: the first is about shifting your perspective; the second on embracing being wrong; and third on radical empathy.  I hope you enjoy and learn from them.

RavKK:  Shake up your story

Kathryn Schulz: On being wrong

Sam Richards: A radical experiment in empathy

You may be wondering why these practices are necessary and if I am correct in asserting that customer experience design can cut operating costs and protect revenues by keeping customers coming back.  Allow me to share two recent experience with you and give life to what I am saying.

Software4Students.co.uk – they made me work and created work for themselves

On the 10th of Sept I finally gave in and decided to update the software on my children’s computers so that it was the same as what they are using in school.  I placed the order with SoftwareForStudents.co.uk and was happy to do so because the price is reasonable and they promise to despatch it within 24 hours.  I received a package this Wednesday and on opening it I found only Office 2010 discs. That was a both a concern and a disappointment because I had placed an order for Windows 7 and Office 2010: one order, two items.

I emailed the company straight away – pointing out that the issue.  Immediately I got an automated email that told me that the issue would be looked into.  Four days later I received the following email:

“Hi,

Thank you for contacting Software4Students!   Please note the products you have ordered have been dispatched separately.

The status dispatched applies to orders that have been validated and approved as per software manufacturers requirements. Orders are dispatched the following working day. Most customers receive their orders within 3 to 5 working days. However, due to varying factors out of our control, there may be occasions when deliveries are delayed. We are confident that delivery will be made shortly and appreciate your patience.

Should your software not arrive after 21 days from the order date please notify us by email.

If you require any further assistance please do not hesitate to contact us.

Kind regards,

Customer Support Team “

Lets just take a look at what has happened here and the consequences:

  • I place one order for two items and they despatch them separately – the company has doubled its postage costs.
  • Because I was not informed that they were sent separately I became worried.  And  hunted around for the contact number (on their website) and then emailed the support team.  There is just work and concern that I can do without – it is simply a ‘cost’ that the company has put on to me.
  • Software4Students.co.uk incurred costs in dealing with failure demand (demand the company brings upon itself by failing to do right by the customer) because someone in the Customer Support Team had to read my email and then write a response back.

Now look at the email response itself because it is a window into the mind/culture of the company:

  • They have my name and they do not use it to address me even though research shows that your names are dear to us.
  • The email provides only one piece of useful information – that the products have been despatched separately;
  • There are absolutely no commitments on when I will get my order – just vague words around what might happen – and what I can count on them for;
  • It ends with the line that says if your order does not arrive after 21 days then contact us by email.

It is all about the company – about Software4Students.  They simply do not care about me – the customer – and my situation, my needs, my perspective.  Will I continue buying from them?  That depends on what alternatives are open to me and the cost of those alternatives.

Memorybits.co.uk – they make me put in extra work and increase their costs

I placed an order for 4 memory cards (for cameras) and 4 USB flash drives handed over my credit card details including putting in my pin (‘Verified by Visa’) and received a confirmation of my order on Sunday 11th Sept.  So all they had to do was to deliver the goods right?  I thought the same.  The next day I received the following email:

“Dear Customer

We have received your order, unfortunately due to our security procedures we require confirmation of your details before we can dispatch your order.

Please email our verification help desk on sales@memorybits.co.uk to verify your details.

Department opening hours are 09.00 to 17.30 Monday to Friday

Kind Regards

The MemoryBits Customer Service Team”

This email did not create value for me so I sent the following email: “I have received an email from you stating that you need me to confirm my details for security reasons.  Here is the order I placed – please fulfil it or cancel it and refund my money.  Thank you.”  Almost immediately I got an email response back: “Thank you for your email we can confirm that you order is being processed”.  Which left me wondering: “Why did they write the email in the first email?  If there was a genuine security issue then how was it cleared by me writing and telling the company to fulfil the order or refund my money?” Why did they waste my time?  And why did they create work for themselves.

And the next day (Wednesday) I got two emails (received at the same time) confirming that my order had been despatched and was on its way to me via first class post.  The following day, I got the same two emails again which left me wondering what is happening here?  It did not inspire confidence in MemoryBits.

When the order arrived I was expecting to issues a flash drive to each of my children for their schoolwork.  Yet, the tiny package contained only one USB flash drive.  Which left me wondering: “Where is the rest of my order?  And why did they just send me this one flash drive?  Have they made a mistake / misread my order?”  As I had been through the Software4Students experience I decided to check my email confirmation and this is what I found: “Please note that for our own processing reasons, your order may be split into more than one package. If this happens you will not have to pay any additional shipping charges, and you will receive a dispatch email for each package.”

What can we learn here:

  • MemoryBits has a process in place that can and does result in multiple deliveries for a single order – thus increasing picking and postage costs.
  • I suspect it then invites emails and telephone calls from customers wanting to know where the rest of the order is.
  • It fails customer expectations because when we order multiple items – especially small ones – on one order many of us expect to get them in one delivery.
  • Furthermore, multiple deliveries set up multiple failures – what if no-one had been at home?  Then I would have had to make multiple trips to the local post office depot to collect my stuff.
  • You can lose customers by creating work / hassle for your customers – I will not be buying from MemoryBits again.

And finally

One practice I have failed to mention is that of Gratitude – not taking people (and circumstances) for granted.  Let me practice gratitude right now.  I thank you for reading what I write.  I thank you for writing to me and encouraging me to continue writing.  I thank you for educating me.  And I thank you for letting me into your world by commenting on what I write and thus entering into a conversation with me.  I wish you well and look forward to our next conversation.

How the AA excels at delivering the perfect service experience – 11 lessons (Part I)

Value (through the customer’s eyes) = f (Outcome, Experience)

Another way of saying the same thing is to say that if you want to create superior value for the customer (as perceived through her eyes) you have to focus on both the “Outcome” and the “Experience”.  By “Outcome” I simply mean that when a customer interacts with you then she does so because she desires a specific outcome – an end result.  By “Experience” I mean the customers subjective experience of her interaction/s with you in the process of getting to her outcome.

The AA excels at creating value for its customers and this shows up in customer satisfaction ratings

Companies that excel at the customer delight game deliver both the outcome and the experience.  One company that excels at delivering this delight is the AA.  The AA is one of the larger better known breakdown service companies in the UK.  And it looks like my recent breakdown experience (will share that later with you) is the norm rather than an exception – at least according to the following article: “AA takes top two slots in Which? car breakdown assistance survey”

What is a structure of a perfect service experience?

Allow me to share my recent AA breakdown experience as it is a useful guide on what kinds of behaviour work for us as human beings.

Last weekend my car failed to start: I tried once, I tried twice, I tried three time and then I simply used the other car.  The next day I did the same and gave up – the car simply would not start and I could not figure out why as it had been working perfectly.  It is Sunday, I know I need the car for Monday and it just does not start.  So I have a problem.  My desired outcome: the engine starts and I can use that car to drive around.  The job to be done: an engineer to come out, take a look and fix it so that it works and I have my desired outcome.  The time had come to call the AA – as I have taken out the home breakdown cover.

One of the most infuriating experiences is the experience of needing to contact an organisation and not being able to find the right contact number.  A great example of a company that falls into that group is Sky: each month I get a statement and there have been a few times that I have wanted to call Sky to discuss something but there simply is no contact number on the statement!  To get that contact number I have to log on to their website and hunt around for that contact number.  And when I do get that number I have to figure out which IVR option it is – sometimes I get it wrong.

With the AA I had no such problem.  I simply took out my membership card turned it over and rang the emergency breakdown number.  How much effort did I need to make? In answering this question what matters is my experience (my perception) and in my experience it occurred as no effort at all.

We have all heard “we are experiencing unusually high call volumes” no matter when we call accompanied by “your call is important to us”.  Does that make you feel better?  Do you believe a word of it?  Well I am delighted to say that I did not receive any of that rubbish when I rang the emergency number.  My call was answered in less than a minute and I remember being surprised at how quickly a friendly human voice was on the other end of the phone.

Once I was talking with the customer services agent (the young lady on the line) I simply had to give my membership number (which is written on my membership card) and tell her of my situation.  She then simply asked me for the car registration number which I provided.  Using that information she identified the make, model and age of the car.  This was all done in a couple of minutes – at most.  Then she read out the time and told me that someone would be with me within an hour.  The way that she said that occurred as deliberate and confident and that inspired confidence / trust in me: this organisation knows what it is doing and someone will be with me within the hour.  I responded by saying that as my broken down car was sitting on my drive my need was not urgent and so if the AA had to choose between getting to me and someone broken down on the motorway then I’d be happy for them to take care of the person on the motorway.  To my surprise, the young lady on the other line acknowledged my generosity and thanked me for it.  That made me feel good!

After my call with the AA lady I settled down to do some work on the computer.  Before I knew it (because I was immersed in what I was doing) the AA mechanic turned up.  I remember being surprised because the response seemed quick: I looked at my watch and it had only been some 35 minutes – the AA patrol man had turned up in half the time that I had been quoted.

I handed over my keys to the patrolman (“Andy”) and he got busy trying to start the car.  Then he asked me the following question “Did you start the car and then stop the car without really driving it?” I told Andy that indeed I had done that simply to rearrange the car on the drive – to free up parking space for guests.  Andy told me that by doing that I had most likely flooded the engine with excess fuel and soaked the spark plugs.  After a few attempts Andy got the engine started and told me to let the car run for about 20 minutes.  And he advised me how to avoid flooding the engine and thus stop my current problem from happening again.

At this point I felt foolish and bad about calling out the AA.  My issue was a non-issue: I could have done what Andy had done to get the car started.  And I felt foolish that I did not know how easy it is flood the engine in a car like mine.  If I had simply carried out a few sensible behaviours I would not have the issue in the first place.  So I apologised to Andy for having to call him out for such a simple non-issue.  To my surprise he replied that I should not feel bad as it is a common problem.  And he finished by saying “We are here to help you!” and the way that he said it (and the way he had interacted with me in fixing the car) occurred as authentic.  He was not following a script or mouthing some corporate slogan – he believed what he was saying.  I thanked him and he left.

In the second part of this post (Part II) I will cover the 11 lessons for crafting the perfect service experience.