Halfords Autocentres Co-create a Great Customer Experience

The Situation: An Unexpected Problem Shows Up

I got a phone call to tell me that it had not been possible to get the road tax renewed. Why? Because the MOT had run out. Given that I had asked (and paid for) the car to be ‘road taxed’ over two weeks ago, I was not happy to get this news when the road tax had run out. So I set myself the task of getting the car through its MOT on the next day – the day where I would be working from home.

The Customer Experience

1) Research Phase: Finding A Suitable Local MOT Centre

About 7-8 am I turned up at Google and searched for MOT centres in my part of the world. Halfords Autocentres caught my eye. Why? I know where the local centre is and it is only five minutes drive from my home. And because of the offer.

MOT Only £27.42 – 50% Off

Book Now To Take Advantage Of Our Exclusive Online Deal. Save Today!

The offer – MOT for only £27 and ability to book online – was too good to resist.  So I clicked on the link and ended up on a well designed-helpful web page. Here is screenshot of the middle section of this page:


This one page, answered my key questions-concerns:

1. Can I book online? Yes

2. Can I make an MOT booking for today? Yes, provided there is an open slot at your chosen centre.

3. How long does it take? 45 minutes if no repairs needed, up to 60 minutes if minor repairs needed.

4. What happens if the car fails the MOT?  Most repairs can be carried out at the autocentre on the day of the MOT.

2. Purchase Phase: Booking and Paying Online

Within five minutes I had selected my local Halfords autocentre, entered the details of my wife’s car, selected the ‘MOT’ product, accessed the MOT calendar, found an empty slot for that day, booked that slot, entered my contact details, paid, got a confirmation, and printed off my the relevant documents.  Easy!

3. MOT Phase: Arrival At Local Autocentre

Five minutes before my appointed slot, I turned up at the local Halford Autocentre. Alex was on reception, he recognised me, he smiled, he welcomed me.  I did not have anything to explain as Alex had a copy of my booking.

Exactly on time, one of the mechanics showed up, took the keys and got on with testing my wife’s car; I could see exactly what was happening because the office and service bays are separated by glass.  Whilst the mechanic was conducting the test, Alex and I were catching up when he was not taking calls (from customers) or serving customers who popped in.

4. MOT Phase: Results and Departure from Local Autocentre

The forty-five minutes flew by. Alex went to talk with the mechanics. Coming back he told me that the car had ‘failed’ its MOT and there was nothing to worry about. Noticing my confusion, Alex explained that the regulations had changed and so the ‘state of wiring’ in-around the engine did not meet regulations. And there was nothing to worry about because the mechanics were tidying up the wiring – the job would be done in the next five to ten minutes.

True to his promise, within 10 minutes Alex had my MOT certificate ready. He went through it including pointing out that two tyres would need to be replaced soon. At the end of this review I was expecting to be charged for the ‘tidying up’ of the wiring. Surprise! No charge.

I thanked Alex. I thanked the mechanic who came into the office at the moment. And I wished them both a great Christmas and the very best for 2014.  What did I get in return?  An early Christmas gift. Both Alex and the mechanic said, with a certain genuineness (conveyed by the tone of their voices) “And the same to you, mate!”

What Made This Such a Great Experience?

It occurs to me that the following factors worked together to make my experience a great one:

  1. Compelling offer (price competitive MOT, online booking) that grabbed my attention

  2. Well designed MOT page that is informative, useful and usable

  3. Easy to find local Halfords autocentre, easy to search for MOT slots by day, one click booking of an empty time slot, easy payment-checkout process, online confirmation of booking, ease of printing out the paperwork.

  4. The right hand knows what the left hand is doing – in this case the local Halfords autocentre knew of my booking, had printed off the paperwork, and were expecting me.

  5. Keeping the promise – the MOT was completed within 45 minutes. And the minor repairs ‘tidying up the wiring’ in-around the engine was completed in the 5 – 10 minutes, and in any case less than the 60 minutes quoted on the website at the time of booking.

  6. A friendly face that I knew, who knew me, and who welcomed me.

  7. Generosity – the chaps at Halfords could have charged me for ‘tidying up’ the wiring. And I would have paid. They didn’t. Most importantly, they made no big deal of it. In a world where I expect to pay for everything, this generosity of spirit was and is welcome.

  8. The humanity right at the end – between myself, Alex and the mechanic. I can still hear the genuine warmth-melody of “And the same to you mate!”

And Finally

It occurs to me that:

whilst there is truth in the saying that customers don’t want relationships with companies, this truth turns out to be falsehood when it comes to the human to human level: between the customer and the employees (flesh and blood human beings) who deal with, serve, and help the customer.

great experience designers craft experiences where hi-touch integrates with and complement hi-tech; hi-tech is great for making it easy to get jobs done; hi-touch is essential for calling forth the kind of emotions that cultivate emotional bonds.

Halfords Autocentres have got it right when it comes to the MOT experience – at least in my case, for this specific experience.

Are you confusing marketing focus with customer focus?

Here is what the latest Forrester reports says on loyalty schemes

I just read a piece by marketing week that discusses the key findings of the latest Forrester report on customer loyalty schemes.  Here are the key points that speak to me:

  • “The problem is that many brands fail to set long-term objectives for their schemes and are too focused on immediate sales and customer acquisition.  Instead they need to look beyond tactical activity and study what is driving customer value.”
  • There is little differentiation, poor communication and promotional support, while many programmes are not integrated with the sales cycle or in sync with branding;
  • There are also problems with measuring results and targeting the same consumers too often;
  • The drive for loyalty should fuel a brand’s entire marketing strategy; and
  • Loyalty must be earned and is usually the result of a series of compelling brand experiences which the consumer enjoys over time.

This got me thinking why so many marketing heavy organisations fail to embody customer focussed behaviour.  Is it possible that over the last ten years these organisations, or their marketing functions, have learned little?  Or is it that these organisations and their marketers confuse a marketing focus with a customer focus?

Here is brief reminder of the characteristics of a marketing focussed organisation v a customer-focussed one.

Characteristics of a marketing focussed organisation? 

I had the good fortune to work within a marketing focussed organisation (International Distillers & Vintners) some years ago and since then I have done some consulting to such organisations.  Here are the key characteristics that I have distinguished:

  • There tends to be strong belief that the organisation can prevail through bigger marketing budgets and smarter marketing despite any shortcomings in the product, distribution channels and customer relationships;
  • tendency to assume that they are in tune with customer needs and priorities yet when you dig under the surface what you find is that the ‘research’ is deeply flawed and in effect leads the ‘witness’ to provide the answers the marketers want  – even if this is at a subconscious level;
  • tendency to collapse marketing campaign success with success in cultivating customer relationships, customer value and customer loyalty.  In doing this they ignore the impact on the 80+% of customers that did not respond to the campaign because they did not find it relevant.
  • tendency to be blind to the totality of the customers experience with the organisation e.g. across business divisions, product lines, interaction channels and during the after-sales part of the customer journey;
  • the marketing function has little interest and/or power to shape and influence the customer experience across all the interaction channels and touchpoints. And no-one else is doing that either.

Characteristics of a customer focussed organisation

There are a lot less customer-focussed organisations yet there are enough of them to distinguish some of their defining characteristics.  Here are the ones that are key for me:

  • There is clarity on which types of customers the organisation is best placed to serve well and effort is made to select only those customers to ensure fit and minimise disappointment on the customer side and ‘waste’ in the organisation in terms of returns, disputes, complaints, bad press etc;
  • The business model is centred on retaining customers, cultivating customer loyalty and getting a bigger share of the customer spend;
  • The leaders personally identify and embody the customer-focussed philosophy and this is obvious to the people the work within the organisation and to the customers;
  • The senior management devote considerable organisational resources (including their time) to uncovering customer needs, segmenting customers by their needs and then coming up with and delivering propositions that create superior value for these customer segments on an ongoing basis;
  • A way of speaking and doing things that puts the customer and cultivating customer relationships at the heart of the business;
  • Hiring managers who have an affinity for people and can inspire the best of their employees by providing the employees an environment in which they feel appreciated, supported and rewarded for doing things that make the right impressions on customers;
  • An organisational design that recognises the need to structure around customer segments as much as product families and functional silos; and
  • Technology platform that enables the employees to anticipate and respond quickly and correctly to customer needs.

Making the transition from marketing focussed to customer focussed

When you look at the characteristics how do you feel about making the transition from marketing focussed to customer focussed.    Do you wonder if you can pull it off?   Does it occur as being hard, messy, painful and risky?  It is.  For existing organisations it requires transformation as in the caterpillar into the butterfly.  And that is why it is easier to pretend you are customer focussed whilst actually being marketing focussed!  Which in turn leaves the field open to leaders that ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway.”

What do you think?

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