What does it take to generate ‘employee engagement’? (Part V – the ‘dark side’ of the being of human beings)

We are only falsehood, duplicity, contradiction; we both conceal and disguise ourselves from ourselves.”  Pascal

Truly it is an evil to be full of faults; but it is still greater evil to be full of them and be unwilling to recognise them, since that is to add the further fault of voluntary illusions”  Pascal

I have a confession to make.  So far (part Ipart IIpart IIIpart IV) I have deliberately given you a one sided – positive – picture of the being of human beings and thus your employees.  If you have read Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novels (especially The Brothers Karamazov) you will get the true richness of the being of human beings.  And that includes the dark side – a side that the enlightenment and the humanistic philosophers and psychologists do not address adequately if at all.   In this post I want to address this darker side of being human in our age, in our organisations.

Why is it so hard to call forth ’employee engagement’?

To create a contexts which calls forth ’employee engagement’ is one of the hardest feats in traditional organisations.  Why?  There are two key reasons.

First, people – leaders, managers, employees – who have worked for more than a couple of years in command & control organisation have accepted and habituated in a particular mode of being and behaviour.  And it is difficult for them to change.  Why?  Because, contrary to accepted wisdom, human beings don’t have behaviours; behaviours have them!  When I write this I am thinking of both categories of people in organisations:  the managers and those who are managed and have come to expect to be managed – one category cannot exist without the other as they co-create one another.

The headmistress of the local Montessori children never takes on teachers that have gone through the traditional system and taught in traditional schools. Why?  Because she has found from experience that it is too hard to arrive at a place where these teachers embody the Montessori philosophy in their way of being in the classroom and the world.  After teachers have been teaching for some time in the traditional system it is practically impossible to get them to leave behind their way of being and making the shift to the Montessori way of being.  In a lots of ways these long timers experience the same kind of experience and success rates of feral children.

The second reason that it is so hard to get ’employee engagement’ to show up is to do with the ‘dark side’ of being human that is always present and which we, with our obsession with the rational image of man, fail to acknowledge, accept and work with.  Let’s take a look at this ‘dark side’  – the shadow that is always with each of us.

The dark side: is this what really drives how human beings show up in the workplace, in the world? 

Peel back the onion to examine human behaviour and you might just find that the ‘machinery of being human’ seems to work to the following ‘four prime directives’ when it comes to dwelling with fellow human beings:

  1. Look good, avoid looking bad;
  2. Be right, avoid being wrong;
  3. Strive for control and dominate, avoid losing control and being dominated;
  4. Justify self, invalidate others.

It is worth pointing out that these four prime directives work at the level of the individual and the level of the tribe.   It is also worth pointing out that the root driver of these prime directives is most likely to be fear.  Fear of being excluded/ostracised like the lepers were.  Fear of being ridiculed.  Fear of being victimized/oppressed…..

How the drive for ’employee engagement’ tends to play out

If these ‘four prime directives’ are not acknowledged and dealt with then the drive for ’employee engagement’ tends to be a wasted effort at best and most often just a sham.  Why?  Because just about everyone in the organisation is first and foremost protecting himself.  That means those in manager roles don’t really let go of control – if they do then things might not work out and this will reflect badly on the manager and put his reputation/future at stake.  On the other hand those in the role of taking orders (including managers – junior managers take order from middle managers…) do not rise up and take responsibility for the fear of being setup to fail, being ridiculed…..  Now this dynamic does not just work at the individual level it also applies at the team level: marketing, sales, customer service, logistics…..  And it applies at the business unit level.  If you want a detailed understanding of the mechanics of this mutually reinforcing behaviour works then I recommend reading Power Up by Bradford & Cohen or The Responsibility Virus by Roger Martin.

In the next post I will share with you an effective process for generating employee engagement that has been used successfully by the corporate arm of Landmark Education.  It has a lot to do with ‘truth telling’ in the context of ‘creating a future that works for all parties at the table, none excluded’.

And finally

It is worth remembering that customers are human beings.  And as such they are also subject to these ‘four prime directives’.  Once you get this, really get it, then you have an access to all the stuff that you are doing as a corporation that is driving your customers nuts.  And how/why they are responding as they are responding.

Corephone: a great example of the service ethos, customer experience and customer centricity! (Part I)

If your smartphone or iPad needs fixing then contact Spencer at corePhone

It is rare that I come across a person, a company, a business that has cracked the customer-centricity code.  It looks like Spencer and corePhone have done just that.  All you have to do is to take a look at the website (the entire design of it) and read the testimonials to get that Spencer / corePhone is a world apart when it comes to the customer experience they generate and the delight they engender in customers.  So if you have a broken smartphone or iPad then you should contact Spencer at corePhone (www.corephone.co.uk).

Have you noticed that smartphones have a design flaw?

Smartphones are easy to use & useful so they are heavily used.  In the process of using them we drop them and that is when we find out that smartphones have a serious design flaw: they are fragile, they don’t bounce.   Have you dropped your smartphone?  What thoughts/feelings did you experience?   I dropped my iPhone 4 and was shocked to find that the expensive case ‘fell apart’.  Yet, thankfully, it did that when it hit the ground and so my iPhone was ok.  I let out a sigh of relief as I was not looking forward to paying £400+ to get a new one.  Some of us are not that lucky.   Recently one of my colleagues dropped his iPhone, allow me to tell you his story using his words:

“We’ve all either seen it happen or had it happen to us…shiny iPhone one minute, a moment of clumsiness / butter fingers and the next minute it looks like this…

This is what happened to me today. I have no idea how it happened but I saw it all take place in slow motion and I was left cursing …. To make matters worse, my iPhone did have a bumper on it but as happens when you drop a piece of buttered toast on the floor, my iPhone landed face down……. I couldn’t even answer the phone when it rang as the cracked screen had affected it ‘touch screen ability’!….

Luckily sense prevailed and I left the screw drivers and claw hammer in the draw and Googled ‘iphone 4 cracked screen and Portsmouth’…..and bingo!! I came across a helpful chap called Spencer.

A quick phone call later he gave me his address and instructions to be there at 6:30pm (no earlier please as he has his tea at 6pm !). By 6:45pm I skipped out his front door £60 lighter but with what was effectively a new looking iPhone. All fixed, cleaned and shiny !

…… If you find yourself in a similar situation I cannot recommend Spencer enough. Whilst he’s an air traffic controller by day, he’s running a handy side line fixing iPads, Blackberrys, Nintendo’s, Camera’s, laptop screens etc.. by night.   A link to his site is below…probably worth book marking!  As I live local to him I’d be happy to hand deliver your broken item to him should you want me too!     Core Phone

Let’s take a closer look at Spencer / Corephone: testimonials to die for!

It is not often that I read that kind of review, that kind of delight, that kind of enthusiasm, that kind of advocacy.  So I took a look at the CorePhone website to see if my colleague’s experience was exceptional.  It is not.  I was totally blown away by the testimonials – specifically the way that Spencer  is treating his customers, how he is making them feel and the impact he is having on their lives.  Here are a selection of testimonials (I have highlighted what speaks to me by ‘bolding’):

I cannot start without saying how amazing this company is! My iPhone was smashed front and back and my home button was faulty after dropping the phone. Spencer replied quickly to my request of a repair and he offered me a next day service. In addition, he offered an amazing price for all jobs. When the repair was conducted, it was an amazing job, the phone looked brand new and Spencer even cleaned my earpiece and other ports out of courtesy. And even more amazing, it was fixed in 20 minutes! I would definitely use this service again and would recommend all to use corePhone for any iPhone repairs as the service you will receive is first class.     Gary Coldwell, Hampshire, March 2012

“Many thanks Spencer. It is nice to find such a genuine guy who could repair my iPhone. I texted Spencer to see if he could repair my iPhone. He texted me back and booked for the repair to be done Monday night. I waited for the repair to be done and could not believe how fiddly it was, but it was soon all put back together and looks like a new phone. Phone this guy; you cannot go wrong.    John Tucker, Titchfield, September 2011

“I would like everyone to know what a fantastic service spencer(corePhone) extended to me. I texted spencer at 7:40 am on Saturday and he replied straight away. I asked if he would take a look at my I phone 3G home button as it hadn’t worked properly for a while. He allowed me to come to his home at 8am and had my phone all fixed and ready to go by 8:15am !! Nice, friendly, quick & professional service is worth every penny,especially at Spencer’s fair rates. I recommend this service 100 %.    Jim, Pickfords Segensworth, January 2011

What can we learn from Spencer / corePhone?

The testimonials show that Spencer / corePhone create superior value for people who have damaged their smartphones.  Let’s take a closer look at this superior value.

Customer Insight

The central insight that corePhone is built upon is the understanding that customers are attached to their smartphones.  Smartphones break – especially the screens.  Getting these screens replaced through the high street retailers is both time consuming (long delays) and expensive.  Customers want a fast turnaround and more affordable repairs.

Value Proposition

The value proposition is what converts people with a problem into customers who reach out to you and buy from you.  So what is corePhone’s value proposition?  According to the website, “affordable iPhone repairs”.  Read through the testimonials and you will find that this is a compelling value proposition.  Customer after customers speaks about the fairness, the reasonableness, the affordability of the repairs when compared to Apple and other high street retailers.

The Customer Experience

It is the Customer Experience that generates delight, indifference, disappointment and/or anger.  It is the Customer Experience that generates advocacy, word our mouth recommendations, customer loyalty and repeat business. Why?  Because this is where you keep or break the bargain that you struck with the customer through your value proposition. This is the area that Spencer / corePhone excel in.

If you reach out to Spencer / corePhone then Spencer responds quickly even on a Saturday morning at 7:40am or Sunday when he is out shopping.  And Spencer fixes your iPhone quickly – one customer rang at 7:40 am Saturday, was at Spencer’s workshop at 8am (that day) and left delighted at 8:15.  That is the next clue:  Spencer fixes your iPhone quickly – seems to be between 15 minutes and a half-hour.  Furthermore, by the time the iPhone is handed to you it looks new, perfect.  Finally, it looks like Spencer does more than he has to (‘”cleaning out ear pieces and ports..”) and treats his customers well – his customers like him as a person not just as a professional.

In short, the Customer Experience exceeds the value proposition.  The value proposition only talks about affordability and sets that expectation.  The Customer Experience delivers that extra: responsiveness, speed of turnaround, the intimate contact – being with /watching Spencer fix your iPhone in front of your eyes!  What must it be like to see a master craftsmen open up your iPhone before your eyes and convert it from a wreck to a work of beauty?  And how many of us want to take a look inside our iPhone and see how it is put together?  This is all included in the Customer Experience!

Have you noticed that corePhone doesn’t have a loyalty or social media program to generate advocacy?

At a recent CMO dinner I asserted that companies that create superior value for customers through compelling value proposition/s and delightful customer experience do not have to pay the tax of customer loyalty.  Show me a company that has a loyalty program and I will show you a company that is selling ‘me too’ products, services, solutions.  Please notice that corePhone is not having to go out and bribe customers with customer loyalty and social gimmicks.  Why?  Because it is a strong value proposition and it delivers an amazing (wow!!) customer experience.

Part II coming next

Enough for today, in the next post I will take a look at the corePhone website, extract and share with you the lessons for building a website that works for customers.  Very few websites do that especially if they belong to a big company!


giffgaff: what impact will the 8 hour service interrruption have on brand reputation and customer loyalty?

The giffgaff network: 8 hour service outage

Last Friday (16th) the giffgaff network went down and it stayed down for 8 hours.  It is not unusual for a mobile network to go down, it happens and many of us don’t even notice it because the outage last a couple of hours.  The giffgaff outage did get noticed – it got noticed by my wife, my son and plenty of other customers.  In our case the impact was not earth shattering.  Yes, my son who was feeling unwell was left hanging around outside for 50 minutes because he could not reach his mum.  As he said, it was annoying to have wait for 50 minutes when you are feeling ill but it’s not a big thing. For me, it is no big deal as I have two phones and had access to a second network that was working fine.

I think about switching until I get this email

The interesting thing is that the service outage did get me wondering as to whether I should switch the family over to say O2.  That was until Fri 16/03/2012 21:24 when I got this email:

We’re sorry

You may have experienced loss of service today (Friday 16th March), we’re sorry for the inconvenience this may have caused you.

This was due to a burst water pipe which took out the power at one of our 3rd party suppliers. Engineers have been working on this and have put a fix in place which we are now monitoring for stability. During the period where service is restored you may notice that your service is intermittent.

We’re continuing to work on this issue and regular updates will be provided in the community Noticeboard. Additional information is also available via our Blog where our CEO Mike Fairman has popped up a quick update.

Once we are sure that full and stable service has been restored for all members we will look at ways to make it up to you.

Again, sorry for the inconvenience.

Regards,

The giffgaff team”

Upon reading this email my reaction was “I’m sticking with giffgaff!”  Why?  The email struck me as the kind of response that I would expect from a decent and professional human being who had mistake and was now doing everything to make things right.  No, that is not enough.  It occurred to me that this is the kind of email that can only come from someone who has heart – who cares about doing the right thing.  Specifically:

  • The subject header is exactly right -“We’re sorry”.  Isn’t that what we expect and what our friends/family say when they have messed up?
  • The cause of the outage is explained;
  • It provides reassurance (we are continuing to work on it) and access to more information (Noticeboard, blog) for those who need it;
  • The line “Once we are sure that full and stable service has been restored for all members we will look at ways to make it up to you.” is a perfect line.  giffgaff get that whilst it is important to make it up to their customers, it was even more important at that time to deal with the issues (e.g. number porting) that had piled up (and were impacting) customers.
  • The email doesn’t just start with sorry it also ends with sorry.

What does the customer base think?

I trawled through the comments left by customers and the ratings of the comments.  Based on that I’d say that the customer base is split into two camps – polar opposites of each other.

The first camp is not happy with an 8 hour outage and it is best characterised by the following comment:

“I’m with the people who are wondering how this can possibly happen.

We get it, accidents happen, you can’t plan for everything etc… but for one water burst to knock out your entire network is unacceptable. Sure a lot of people just couldn’t text their friends or whatever, but some people might have had an emergency and were without a phone.

I’m glad I had the foresight to buy myself a backup pay as you go orange sim card in case this happened, I would never have done that with any other network…but with giffgaff, I felt it was necessary.

You can’t keep customers with your amazing prices alone, you have to provide a good and reliable service.”

The other segment of customers get that the service outage was a pain and yet give giffgaff full credit what they are about (the value proposition) and how they went about addressing the service outage.  This is best captured by the following comment:

“Thank you GiffGaff employees for getting our network back up and running. Was a hell of a pain without service but hey these things happen, maybe it can be classed as a learning curve for the future. I love GiffGaff and won’t leave you because of the occasional hick cup. Im sorry that so many people feel the need to complain, we have all suffered one way or the other because of this, but for god sake people find something to moan about that really is worth moaning about. You get great value from GiffGaff and they work hard for us when things do go wrong. So stop whingeing and give them a cheer and a big thank you for working so hard to fix the issue.

THANK YOU GIFFGAFF AND ALL YOUR EMPOYEES FOR WORKING SO HARD.”

What are the implications for giffgaff?

If I have read the comments correctly then I’d say that giffgaff have not burned their bridges with the bulk of their customer base.   To the contrary, most of the comments were positive about giffgaff.  Yet giffgaff does have an issue.  Why?  The phone is not just a device, it is THE device for most people; once customers sign-up with a network they expect it to work perfectly and all the time.  They might not notice short service outages, they definitely notice longer service outages: 8 hours is a long, long service outage.

My advice to giffgaff? You have done a good job in the way that you handled the service outage.  And that kind of service outage should not have happened.  So you should do the following:

  • take this opportunity to learn what needs to change (technology, processes, people….);
  • let your members (customers) know what you are doing to make sure that this kind of outage NEVER happens again;
  • invite (and engage) your members to play their part in what needs to happen – that way it becomes something that we do together, that way the ‘ownership’ of giffgaff continues to be distributed;
  • keep your promise and make it up to them – you can use this as an exercise to build more rapport with your customer base if you go about it in the right way.

Final observation

The impact of the  CEO’s post setting out the position (status) and offering an apology is interesting: many customers found that comforting / reassuring  and as a result it generated goodwill for giffgaff.  That strikes me as being an example of a leader leading.

Customer Experience tale: how humanity and inhumanity shows up and the impact it makes

Whilst some of you loved my last post,  some of you found it a little too philosophical.  “Look Maz, we live in the real world.  How does what you say apply to us in the hard world of business?  OK, this post is for you.  I will share with you how humanity and inhumanity shows up in the world of the customer and the impact that it has.  Allow me to share my story with you.

I need to go and see my Dentist

Some days ago I started to experience toothache whilst eating.  I meant to do something and when the pain became painful enough I did do something. I rang my dentist only to find the line engaged so I opted for the ‘ringback’ option.  To my surprise and delight within two minutes of hanging up I was on the line to the receptionist.  We talked and she booked me in for Wednesday morning 8:45am.  At the end of this encounter I was left feeling that the Receptionist got me as a human being in pain who needed help and she played her part in helping me solve my problem.  On Wednesday morning I turned up at the Dentists.  The Receptionist greeted me warmly, told me to wait upstairs and showed me where the stairs were.  Excellent, I am now in the waiting room – all by myself.  Then I wait for around fifteen minutes for the Dentist to see me.  This waiting could have shown up in my world as a pain and it did not as I was busy on my smartphone doing email.

My “I-Thou” encounter with the dentist: my dentist oozes humanity!

Before I knew it I was with the Dentist.  He greeted me with a warm voice and smile and mentioned that it had been a while since we last met, “two and half years to be exact”. I told him my issue, he listened and said “That is the issue you came in with last time and I put a filling in there.  Let’s take a look.”

He started looking: he prodded here, he prodded there.  Then he told me that he could not see any issues with any of my fillings.  “I wonder if it is do with the fact that you have sensitive teeth?”  I replied that I did not think so.  He suggested that we do a test and see if he could recreate the pain I had been feeling on previous days.  So he blew a jet of air on the side of my gums and sure enough I felt pain but not the kind of pain I had been experiencing and that is what I told him.  His response? “OK, there might be something there that I am not seeing so let’s do some x-rays!”  So he did the x-rays.

Looking at the x-rays my Dentist showed me how there was no difference between the state of my teeth since my last visit.  He could not see any issues.  Nonetheless, I told him that I had experienced pain. Did he ignore me?  No.  He suggested that it was possible that I had a crack and that was the cause of my pain.  He went on to tell me that he could not see it and the x-rays would not show it.  So he recommended that I use the teeth on my right hand side more than I had been using them (I had been using the left side because that side was not in pain) and if there was a crack then that would show up quicker.

He gave me advice on how to brush my teeth and he gave me some toothpaste for my sensitive teeth.  Why did he show me how to brush my teeth?  Because he noticed that I had been overbrushing my teeth and he knows I have sensitive teeth.  He showed me a way to brush my teeth that would work better for me.  Why did he give me the toothpaste?  So that I could smear it on the sides of my teeth /gums so as to provide some pain relief and protection against pain.

As I was getting ready to leave he recommended that I see the Hygenist.  I noticed that I was hesitant and he looked at his records.  “I see that you don’t like visiting the Hygenist.  Why is that?  What’s the reason for that?”  So I told him that it occurred to me that all the Hygenist was doing was making my teeth look white and pretty.  And that I had little time for vanity – I simply had not been brought up that way.  I ended by saying that I was open to being persuaded if I had got things wrong.  So he told me.  He spent about five minutes explaining the benefits to me – healthy teeth and gums – of seeing the Hygenist once a year, starting there and then.  I found his education persuasive and I agreed to see the Hygenist. [ Now here is the interesting thing: during our conversation on the merits of using a Hygenist I was fully engaged in the conversation.  The Dentist did not have to use gimmicks or tempt me with prize competitions or entice me with an online game…  He simply invited me to enter into a conversation that mattered to me – my teeth, my health.  And by doing so he had my full attention and participation.]

Then it was time to leave.  I looked him in the face, smiled, shook his hand and thanked him for being great with me.  He smiled and wished me well.  “What a great experience?  He really cares about me!  He listened to my concerns.  He did more than that he educated me in an amazingly friendly, non-condescending way!”

I encounter that helpful Receptionist again!

I take the paperwork (that my dentist has given me) and head downstairs to the Receptionist.  She smiles and asks me if I want to book in an appointment with the Hygenistt. “Yes”, I say.  “When?” she asks. “Can you do this Friday?”.  “No, the Hygenist does not work on Fridays.”  I look disappointed and say “Oh”.  The Receptionist, seeing and hearing my disappointment, says “How about today, right now?  She is free for the next half an hours!”  I agree and she shows me into ‘Hygenist’s office’.

Hygenist: an excellent model of inhumanity, of the “I-It” encounter

The Hygenist does not greet me.  She does not smile.  She does not use my name.  I notice that she has not noticed me – not as a human being, not as the dentist did only some 20 minutes ago. She tells me to sit down in the chair.  I sit, she reclines the chair and gets busy working on my teeth.  Have you been to see a Hygenist?  If you have you will know that it is not the most pleasant of experiences.  She prods here, she scrapes there, she pokes here, there and everywhere.  In the process of poking around, vigorously, she pokes one of my upper teeth on the right hand side.  EXCRUCIATING PAIN.  EXCRUCIATING PAIN.  When she stops doing that momentarily I raise my hand, move my head forward and empty the contents of my mouth – mainly blood into the little sink next to me.

I tell her. I say “That was incredibly painful.  It is the most pain I have experienced for a long time!”.  And move back into the position.   “I am sorry.  That can happen sometimes.  Do you want me to stop? Or I can carry on?  I promise to be careful so that I do not touch that tooth there again.  What do you think?”  That is what I am expecting her to say.  That is what I would say in that situation and mean it.  And that is what my dentist would say and meant it.  What does the Hygenist do?

In my world it occurs that she has ignored me! How? Why? Because she does not say a word.  She gets straight back to work and guess where she goes back to work?  The exact spot that had caused me that pain!  So there I am again: excruciating pain – though less than the last time.   I am captive, I cannot do anything whilst she is doing what she is doing.  And shortly after that it is all finished.  I am grateful that my torment is finished.  There must be some humanity there I say to myself.  So I say “It must take great skill to be able to do what you do in such a small space!”  In a flat, cold, voice she says “Yes, it does.”  The way that is said I tell myself “This person is not a people person.  She is not interested in conversation.  She is here to do a job and that is it.  Everything else is simply ‘waste’.  Clearly she has been to the six sigma school of business: do the job as effectively and efficiently as possible and when that is finished get on to the next job.” I am convinced that in her world I do not show up as human being.  I bet that to her I occur as a product that has to be processed.  This is not that much of a surprise – one of my best friends is a doctor and I remember him telling me (a long time ago)  that after a little while human beings simply show up as ‘pieces of meat’ to be processed and sent on their way.

I thank the Hygenist.  She does not look at me.  She does not smile.  She does not wish me a good day. She does not offer any advice.  I walk out of that room and make a promise to myself.  I will NEVER go and see that Hygenist again – no matter what!

How does inhumanity show up?  Inhumanity is simply indifference to the humanity of our fellow human beings.  We get on with the ‘task at hand’ and completely ignore the person in front of us. We do not acknowledge, we do not validate, we simply ignore the other as a human being.  The leave us experiencing that they have been experienced as objects – not as fellow travellers on the path called life.

What does it take to put humanity into the game?  When I mentioned the excruciating pain a humane person would have:

a) acknowledged that I was in pain – “So when I was cleaning your top teeth you felt a tremendous amount of pain.  On a scale of 1 – 10 how painful is it?”;

b) validated me – “10! That is amazingly painful.  I don’t know how you managed to keep so calm, so still.  If I was in that much pain I would not have been able to do what you just did.”;

c) worked with me to address my pain – “I have only a little bit more work to do on your teeth.  Are you up for that today?  I promise, I will stay clear of that tooth that is causing you so much pain?”

d) left me feeling as one human being interacting with a fellow human being who gets me and who cares about me. 

Final words

You might me tempted to dismiss the example that I have shared with you here – you might label it “extreme” or an “exception”.  If you are serious about cultivating that personal emotional connection with your customers then I counsel you to recognise that inhumanity (the “I-It” mode of encounter) is pervasive – it is the default condition.  And you have an opportunity to differentiate yourself simply by moving from “inhumanity” as the default to “humanity” as the default.  As I said in my previous post, Zappos and Rackspace have become extremely successful businesses in competitive industries simply by the amount of humanity (genuine caring for customers as fellow human beings) that they put into the game every day.

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!