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!

Do you want to improve the customer experience? Wondering where to start? Start here

Where do I start with my Customer Experience programme?

One of the questions that comes up again and again is where do I/we start on improving the customer experience?  Well you can put in place a VoC platform and wait for the results to come in and then act.  You can mine the VoC gold mine that exists in your contact centres if you have call recording in place and if you are adventurous then you can listen to social media.  Or you can map/assess the entire customer experience and then start making changes.

Why not start by making it easy for ‘customers’ to buy from you?

I have a different suggestion: why not start with the broader purchase process.  What do I mean by that?  Here is what I am thinking:

  • Do your target customers know about you?  [Advertising / WOM]
  • Do your target customers want to buy from you?  Have you given them a good reason to buy from you? [Think Nokia and smartphones right now due to OS issue]
  • Do you help your customers to make the right choice: product, price, payment…?  [Options, Configurators, Customer reviews…]
  • Do you make it easy for your customers to buy from you?
  • Do you make sure that your customers get what they bought when they are expecting to get it and the goods are in the right condition?
  • Have you made sure that your product is easy to set-up and use?  [Design, Training, Instructions, Helpline]
  • Does you product actually do what it says on the tin?  [Marketing, Selling, Quality]
  • Have you given the right thought to the returns process?  [Monitoring, Impact, Ease/Difficulty, Cost, Relationship to earlier steps in this purchase process]

I am sure you can figure out the benefit of starting here: by making this process effective you will be helping your company to increase its revenues and profits.  Better still it works for both parties: nothing annoys a potential customer more than visiting your store, making the decision and then finding he cannot buy because you have put hurdles in the way.

If you think you have this sorted then think again

You might be tempted that you have this cracked – that this process (from the customer perspective) is as good as it can be.  As a customer and as a business consultant I can assure you that the vast majority of organisation can do better – a lot better.  Allow me to share two examples with you.

I popped into my local grocery store on Saturday morning at around 8am to buy some milk.  I arrived and was delighted that there was no one there except me and the lady behind the counter.  The only issue is that by the time I had picked up the milk and walked up to the counter ( 1 – 3 minutes) she was no longer at the counter.  I looked around and saw that she was outside arranging the fresh produce.  She saw me looking for her and yet she continued with her stacking. I left the milk on the counter and went to her competitor.  He didn’t leave his counter so I was able to pick up the milk, pay and be out of the shop within two minutes or so.

You might be thinking that this issues is limited to the small ‘Mom and Pop’ stores.  I assure you it is no – as my next example will show.

On Saturday afternoon I was on a mission to get my mother’s house insured and so I turned to Google to find price comparison engines.  The first one I tried is a well known brand.  It looked easy to use so I dived in and started entering all the details.  Once that was complete it went off to find and rate the insurers for me.  The problem was that it seemed to take forever – Internet time forever.  I assumed that something was wrong and opened up another tab (on the browser) and started tapping in the details into another well known price comparison site.    I got to a certain stage where I had to enter my credit card number.  Yet, it would not accept my credit card number – it kept telling me it was wrong.  Why?  The designers had clearly put in a business rule that says that the credit card owner (Maz Iqbal) had to be the same as the person who was taking out the insurance (my mother).  They had not thought that my old mother might not be using the Internet.  Or that she might not have a credit card.  Or that I arrange and pay for her insurance every year as a gift.

By this time I decided simply to go and check out what price her existing house insurer was quoting.  So I went the website and start entering her details so that I could get a quote.  I got to a certain stage and decided to check out the terms and conditions.  Once I had done this I found that I could not go back to the quote process and where I had been.  I had to go back to the start again!  Thinking I had made a mistake I entered the details and this time ‘the system threw me out’ when I started playing around with the options to see the impact on the quote.  So I gave up here and went on to another site.

This site was well designed and the designers had done their homework.  When it came to payment the site spotted that the credit card owner (me) did not match with the person taking out the insurance (my mother).  And the site gave me the option to tick a box that in effect said “I confirm that the owner of the credit card has given me permission to use it”.  And then it went on to ask a number of security questions to confirm that was so.  I ended up buying here because the designers had made it easy to do so.

To sum up: two well know brand name comparison sites and a well know insurance brand  that spend money on expensive TV advertising ‘selling’ how great they are lost out on my business because they made it hard for me to buy.  Instead I went and made my purchase from someone that did make it easy for me to buy.  Which begs the question: How much of their TV advertising is wasted simply because the purchase process has not been designed to make it easy for the customer to buy?

Are you still confident that you have done all that you can do to make it easy for people to buy from you?  Sure?