Competency: The Untapped Lever For Improving the Customer Experience And Cultivating Loyalty?

It took me over nine months to get my eldest son to consult Sandra about his shoulder/back pain. It took only one consultation for him to book another four sessions with Sandra. Why? Because Sandra is excellent at what she does.

How does Sandra demonstrate her excellence? In her greeting. In how quickly-easily she spots what the underlying causes are. In how effortlessly she causes the necessary adjustments. In how keen and effective she is to communicate with, inform, and educate the folks that go and see her.  In short Sandra is competent in that which matters.

What are the sources of her competence? This is what I have distinguished. One, she has been doing what she has been doing for forty years. In her early years. Two, she is really into her chosen field and so keeps up to date with the latest research. Three, she is open to learning  – including learning from the folks who are her clients.

I say competency matters. I say that competency can provide powerful access to improving the customer’s experience of you and your organisation, and cultivating meaningful-enduring relationships. And I say that competency is neglected. Why? It occurs to me that the assumption is that folks / processes / technology are competent. Is this assumption valid?

Allow me to give you examples of incompetency that I have come across myself:

Many if not most marketers are incompetent. Some are not adequately skilled in the creative side. Many are not skilled in the data/analytical/digital side of marketing….

Most sales folks are not competent in the craft of selling.  Some lack commercial acumen. Others lack an adequate grasp of their customer’s industry/business. Some lack a through grapes of the product/solution that they are selling. Others lack the ability to focus on the clients/deals that matter. Some suffer from all of these handicaps.

Most of the folks that I have found to be in retail stores are incompetent. Some are not skilled in greeting / welcoming customers. Others simply do not have the requisite product knowledge to answer the customers’ questions. Some cannot work the technology that they need to be able to work quickly-easily to serve customers promptly….

Most of the folks in call-centres are incompetent. Some simply do not have the requisite listening and speaking skills. Others do not have the knowledge-understanding to provide the right answers to customer queries. Some are not adept at working the range of systems that they need to interact with to deal with customer queries. Others lack a sound understanding of the company’s processes.

Most managers are incompetent. Some are incompetent in the task dimension. Most are incompetent when it comes to working effectively with people and calling forth the best from their people.

Many of the IT folks are incompetent. Some do not understand the technologies that they are dealing with. Far more and most are unskilled in dealing effectively with human beings or simply bearing in mind that they IT systems must serve the needs of people if these systems are going to be adopted and used effectively….

Most business processes are incompetent – they are not fit for purpose.  Some are simply out of date. Many are too restrictive – they do not allow folks to respond flexibly to the demands of the situation.  So the folks who find themselves amidst these processes have to find creative ways around these processes. Or stick to the script and leave customers with the experience of dealing with robots.  That is is the biggest incompetency of business process fixation: turning resourceful, creative, flexible beings (human beings) into mindless morons.

Most IT systems are incompetent. Some are simply not useful – they do not help the folks to get the job done better, quicker, easier. Others are not usable – they take to long to learn, finding one’s way around the system is not intuitive, they are not accessible when they need to be accessible, or they are not adequately responsive… Most are simply not for human beings with soul. And of course often there are simply too many of these systems and these systems do not talk to one another – thus creating extra work for the human beings.

I say that when you choose to really look at the world of business through the lens of competency you may just be amazed on how incompetency is ubiquitous. I say that the organisational world is wide open for those who wish to make a name for themselves (and/or their organisations) by rising above the general level of incompetency and committing to excellence.  I say that one critical role of effective leaders is to set and live high standards – standards which define competence as being no less than excellence as defined by the ‘customer’ of the product, the process, the system…

Customer Experience: a personal insight into people and organisations (part II)

This post follows on from the previous one – if you have not read it then you may wish to do so, as this post continues the story, the conversation.

Trust – I put my life in the hands of ‘others’

I awaken and notice that I am back in the day ward, what happened, what am I doing here?  Confusion.  My last memory is of being in the ‘operating theatre’: the nurses are hooking me up to equipment and assuring me that they will be monitoring my vital signs throughout the procedure.  The Consultant inserts a needle into my hand, the sedative flows I can feel that it is warm.  Now I am awake, here in this ward.

The nurse offers me a tea and sandwiches, I refuse.  She gently and confidently tells me that the right thing to do is to take the tea and sandwiches.  I agree – she comes across as she knows what she is doing and she is doing it out of care for me.  After finishing the ‘meal’ and the paperwork, she tells me someone will be along soon to take me to another ward until my wife can come and collect me.

As I am wheeled along to the other ward I reflect on what happened today and has happened before.  How many times have I put my life at risk – in the hands of the medical profession?  It occurs to me that trust is present between me, the doctors and the nurses.  I trust that they will act in my best interests, to take care of me, to safeguard my life by doing the right thing.  I can think of two instances where the medical profession saved my life: at the age of 8 when I walked into the path of van and then in my mid-20s when I had a blockage in an artery ……

What is the bedrock of this trust?   I am of the view that the medical profession is  bound by the prime directive: do no harm.  I am convinced that the doctors and nurses are here for me – to serve me, to cater for my needs, my welfare – and not the other way around.  I believe that there are rigorous standards in place to ensure competence – these folks know what they are doing, they haven’t just walked off the street.   What would happen if this trust was eroded?  Would we, here in the UK, end up in the same place as the USA?  Highly likely.  Trust is THE lubricant of friction free relationships between human beings.  Trust is what makes all forms of social organisation possible.

Now compare this with the business world.  What is the prime directive? Can you and I honestly say that the prime directive is to do no harm to customers?  What about the design of the business system?  Is ‘business’ there to serve me and my needs or is it there to find means to sell stuff to anyone who can be persuaded to buy it?  Is it somewhere in the middle?  What about competence?  How sure can you and I be that the business folks we depend on are competent?  I know of a  bank where the vast majority of customer services staff cannot accurately answer the top 10 frequently asked questions.  And then are the customer facing staff in stores – most of them do not have the requisite product knowledge nor the skills to listen to / talk with customers.

Care: the difference that makes all the difference?

The Consultant telling the nurse that he was going to give me a sedative as that was the right thing to do.  And instructing her to find me a bed showed up as care – care for me.

The nurse ringing around, finding a bed, coming back to tell me with a smile in her being, showed up as care – care for me, for my well being.

The Consultant and the team rearranging the operating schedule to put me lower on the list – as I was in lots of pain and not ready to be ‘operated’ on – showed up as care, care for me.

The nurses talking to me, explaining what was about to happen, pointing out that they were hooking me up to equipment to monitor my vital signs throughout the procedure showed up as care – care for me.

The nurse offering/encouraging me to have that tea and sandwich after the ‘operation’ showed up as act of care – care for me.

The trainee nurse coming up every so often to measure my blood pressure showed up as care – care for me.

The nurses on the receiving ward who got that I was not lucid, who first found me chair to sit in and then later moved me to the bed (when it became available) and then put blanket on me showed care – care for me!

What I am present to is the kindness/care of strangers, the kindness of my fellow human beings, the kindness of the medical professionals – at my GP’s surgery and at Heatherwood Hospital.  What showed up in my experience was caring and competence.  Caring is not enough it requires competence. Competence is not enough, it requires authentic caring for the other as  fellow human being. I say that if you care then you make sure that you do all that you need to do to be competent.  Put differently, ensuring competence is a key act of caring and if incompetence is present then that shows a lack of caring, indifference.

Authentic caring involves doing what is right including going against the wishes of the customer if that is the right thing to do.  After the procedure, when I woke up I was ready to get dressed and literally walk home – I felt that fine.  I told the nurses that I would walk to the other ward.  I asked the nurses to leave him outside on the lawn until my wife turned up so that I would not take up a bed that someone else needed.  They ignored me.  Why?  They had a better map of the situation – they knew that I was not lucid, not fit to make decisions, not fit to look after myself.

One other thought occurs to me, the level of caring varied from one person to another.  Put differently, caring did not show up as an organisational quality, it showed up as personal quality.  That is to say that some people cared and showed their caring whereas others did not.  Which suggests to that the organisation is not consciously, deliberately cultivating a culture of caring.

Now lets take a look at the business world, how do business organisations show care for their customers?  Does care show up in the lives of customers?  In what sense do customers feel cared for?  What would show up if genuine care, for customers and their well being, was present?  How would that effect product development, marketing, sales, customer service, logistics, finance…?  Could it be that genuine care will work where all the shiny toys and fashionable tricks are not working?

And finally

I will conclude this series of posts by sharing with you the aspects of my ‘customer experience’ that were not so great and highlighting issues’/factors that need to be addressed.

Service Providers: why trust matters and what you can do to cultivate it (Part I)

Thomas Cook – one of the big brand name UK based travel companies – has seen it share price drop by 85% to 10p and have now bounced back up to 30p.  Why? The shares dived when investors lost confidence in Thomas Cook’s ability to survive.  The shares recovered when Thomas Cook was given a lifeline of £100m.  Competitor – Thomson – has made the most of this opportunity with its latest advertising: “You can smile with Thomson because you’re in safe hands. Another holiday company may be experiencing turbulence, but we’re in really great shape.”  Clearly Thomson is seeking to undermine customer trust in Thomas Cook whilst building up confidence in itself.  This got me thinking about the critical role that trust plays in the commercial relationships – in winning new customers (expanding market share) and retaining existing customers (customer loyalty) – especially in services businesses like travel, insurance, banking, telecommunications etc.

What do we know about trust and why it matters?

We, human beings, do not like to be faced with uncertainty, vulnerability or risk – these three factors take an emotional toll on us.  We prefer to work on ‘autopilot, which is simply another way of saying that we prefer to trust and developed societies work on the foundations of trust.  Just think if you were not able to trust anyone for anything: what would life be like?  Here is what the literature says on trust:

Trust rests on three complimentary pillars: competence, integrity and benevolence

I am likely to trust you if you occur to me as being credible, honest and benevolent.  Said differently: “Customer trust is based on the expectations that the service provider can be relied on to deliver its promises, to care for customer needs and demonstrate competence”.

Everything (all touchpoints) contribute to trust

The organisation (corporate reputation), the front line employees, marketing communications and self-service technologies all play a part in trust.  Trust in the overall organisation (like Thomas Cook) is based on what customers hear and read about the organisation – that includes management polices and practices.  Trust is also a function of the customer’s interactions with representatives of the organisation.

Trust has two dimensions: rational and emotional

Think of trust as a two sided coin, one side of trust is based on a rational process and the other side on an emotional process.  Using the rational process the customer determines the service providers competence and reliability – its ability to keep the promises it makes to customers.  Through the emotional process the customers comes to a conclusion about how much (or little) the company cares about customers and their needs.  Customers look for indicators like responsiveness, flexibility, willingness to compromise and act beyond the profit motive.  This is where being known as a company that values both social good and profit matters – it helps customers form that emotional bond quicker.

Here is my take on this: whilst both rational and emotional matter the emotional bonds matter more.  Why?  I don’t care how competent you are if I suspect that you do not care about me – that you are simply in it for the money.  Given the choice I will look for someone who shows me that they care about me and are competent in their chosen profession.

Building trust takes time

Trust builds up through the accumulation of previous experiences (interactions) with the services provider.  Experience is a lived phenomenon and customers can accumulate these experience by directly interacting with the service provider  and by exposed to / tapping into word of mouth and corporate reputation.  For the first time in history, I, the customer can determine how much to trust you simply by tapping into social media where your customers are already talking about you which is why sites like TripAdvisor are incredibly popular and influential. Last week I drove 60 minutes to see an optometrist when there is one within ten minutes of my home. Why? Because this chap came recommended through my personal network.  I was not disappointed and I’d happily drive 60 minutes to see him again.

Trust takes the risk out – it acts as a safety net

Why did I turn to my personal network for a recommendation and then drive 60 minutes to see the recommended optometrist? Because my son’s wellbeing was at stake and I did not want to take any chances.  This is what the literature says:  “In situations of  perceived risk or vulnerability, trust has the role of a safety net, helping the customer to make a decision by minimising uncertainty and risk. The insecurity about the long term horizon of delivery, as well as the inability to test the service before actual consumption makes trust a valuable decision factor for customers of service organisations.

I will set out what you can do to cultivate trust in Part II (coming soon).