Are you using the right lens to design the customer experience?

How do you view your business, your industry?

One of the most useful posts I have come across recently is one by Mark Hurst at Good Experience.  It gets to the heart of the matter quickly and I encourage you to read it: “Your industry has the wrong name”

Mark’s key point is worth memorising: “To create a good customer experience, you need to see your job as dealing with people as they deal with your field of work.”

Now if your job is dealing with people then it really helps if you understand a little about people.

There is a big difference between Expectations and Needs

Let’s start by distinguishing between Expectations and Needs.  Too many people lump them together and that is a mistake: they are not equally important and violating Needs has very different consequences to violating Expectations. 

When you are dealing with people then you have to cater for both Expectations and Needs.  Why? Taken as a whole they determine how people (your customers) approach events and situations. And how they are likely to behave in response to events and situations.

Yet, there are also big differences.  Expectations are wrapped around daily events, specific and much more readily available to the conscious mind.  For example, you will have an expectation as to how long you should wait to get your meal at McDonalds.  And this is likely to be very different to your expectations as to how long it will take your main course to arrive at a fine restaurant.  Furthermore, when you make comparisons you will compare McDonalds with other fast food restaurants.  And you will compare the fine restaurant with other fine restaurants.

Needs on the other hand are much more global and they tend to be hidden from view: submerged in the subconscious mind.  Needs arise from our existence as human beings: they concern issues of life and death and how we see ourselves (our identity). If your job is dealing with people as they deal with you field of work then you need to pay attention to three needs in particular:

  • security – the need to feel secure and as such not threatened by harm (physical, economic, psychological);
  • esteem – the need to maintain and enhance one’s self-esteem and social standing; and
  • justice – the need to be treated fairly as a human being of worth.

Why am I making such a big fuss between Expectations and Needs? Two reasons:

First, if you dissatisfy customers by not meeting their expectations, you can still recover.  Whereas, if you dissatisfy customers by violating their basic needs, you are likely to lose them.  Would you do business with a dishonest supplier?  Would you do business with a supplier that made you feel stupid or lose face in public? Would you take the family car in for a service to the garage who failed to tighten the bolts properly last time and as a result your front wheel dropped off whilst you were driving (with your young children in the back)?

Second, I believe that too many customer experience efforts are overly focussed on Expectations and are neglecting the Needs. Even worse, some customer experience designers are improving performance against Expectations at the expense of Needs.

B2C: what matters most to your customers?

So what matters most to customers when it comes to the B2C space?  All kinds of research has been done and you can choose your favourite one.  Personally, I find the following table useful:

At the very top of the wish list is caring helpful staff.  Why is that?  Because caring helpful staff tend to deliver on the three key needs simultaneously: security, esteem and justice.  Put differently, caring helpful staff get that their job is to deal with customers as people whilst these customers deal with your field of work.

The flip side is that if you want your customers to look for another supplier and to speak badly of you then employ uncaring, unhelpful staff.  Or, employ caring helpful staff and then put them in a culture that prevents them from being caring and helpful by tying them up with unfriendly business policies and practices.

For the record, I am of the view, that the real culprits are unfriendly business policies and the associated culture (rather than the employees who serve customers).  You don’t have to take my word for it, read this post from the highly ranked 1to1 Blog: “Do Your Policies Work Against Your Company?”


The value of transparency or why I am no longer mad at BSkyB

Ok, you have just got a new customers and you want to keep that customer happy: you want to keep her and thus build an annuity stream from her.  Looking at the situation from a service centred (and I would argue normal human perspective) you have three strategies available to you:

  • Do your best to make sure that there is agreement on expectations and that you don’t create problems for your customer;
  • Make it easy for the customer to get hold of you by prominently displaying your customer services number;
  • If and when the customer contacts you then deal with her problem or complaint there and then with empathy.

Where is the leverage in this?  Surely the leverage is in the first of the three strategies: doing your best to ensure you and the customer have the same expectations and that you do not create problems for your customer.

So why is it that so many companies do such a poor job of this?  Let me give you just three examples:

  • I know of one brand name etailer that knows that their shopping process causing big problems for them and their customers and yet continues to do nothing.  When you place an order the website forces you to enter your credit card details leading you to think everything is done, settled.  Yet, this credit card data is only processed later when the ordered items are despatched.  As a result some customer payments do not go through because the card is no longer valid or because the details supplied by the customer were incorrect.  Of course this comes as an unpleasant shock to the customer who was left thinking that their credit card had been accepted  – when she had placed the order.
  • Mobile phone companies continue to sell mobile phones that they know have faults.  They know because they keep a track of which phones are failing and sent back by their customers.  They even know what the main defects are on these phones.  Yet they continue to sell them to new customers knowing that it will lead to trouble down the road!
  • When I joined BSkyB and took out a bundled (pay TV, broadband, fixed telephone line) package with BSkyB to simplify my life I found that it did nothing of the kind.  Whilst BSkyB did a great job of setting up Sky TV I had a horrid time getting the broadband set up.  And when I wanted to get the issue fixed or later cancel the order I found myself bouncing between different customers service teams and different customer services numbers.  In the end I was not able to cancel my order because I found out that I had actually been signed up for three different orders – each with different start dates, different end dates and different conditions!

What if these companies practiced transparency?  What might be the results?

Lets take a look at my BSkyB experience – particularly why it was that I was so mad with BSkyB and am not anymore.  What has made the difference?  Well as a result of research I now know what I did not know before.  Specifically, I have found out that:

  • BSkyB has made up of product divisions, TV belongs in one division, Broadband in another and so forth;
  • The contact centres for Sky TV are outsourced to one company, the contact centres for broadband are outsourced to another company and so forth

From this information I can now make sense of my baffling experience.  No wonder that I had to contact one set of people to get the TV services installed and another set of people to get the broadband set-up.  No wonder the SkyTV contact centres did not have a clue about the order I had placed nor about my broadband issues.  No wonder that the Broadband folks had no idea of my total order and were not able to deal with anything other than broadband stuff. 

Being a human I can empathise with the human beings who were on the end of the phone – in some of the most infuriating interactions I recognise that I was talking to the wrong people because I had a faulty map of the territory!

But why did BSkyB not make this clear to me?  Why did they give me the impression on their website that I could simplify my life by buying the bundle of products from them?  Why did they give me the impression that they would take care of it all and I would have a single point of contact?

If they had told me then it is possible that I might not have signed up and become a customer.  It is also possible that I would have signed up and very clear on what to expect and as such would not have experienced a horrid time dealing with BSkyB.

Yet I cannot help thinking that in a structure where customer acquisition is separated from customer retention, this kind of behaviour is simply what occurs.  So the access to transformation in behaviour is to change the structure: to integrate getting customers and keeping customers under the same person, the budget, the same department.