What is the most potent way of creating an unforgettable customer experience? Sandy Carrannante shows the way

PwC has a point of view on how to go about generating customer loyalty

I have been reading an article by PwC  titled “The Key to Customer Loyalty: The Total Shopping Experience” and in this article one particular paragraph caught my attention:

“The most potent way to create an unforgettable customer experience is by investing  in knowledgeable staff and making the most of front-line employees. In fact, PwC found that staff members’ product knowledge and recommendations accounted for almost one third of all good experiences related to service support. Contrastingly, only 1% of the shoppers surveyed ranked rewards programs alone as the top influencer of purchase.

How do you make the most of front line employees?

My experience shows me that my most potent (memorable) customer experiences have ALWAYS involved effective front line staff.  In these encounters I have noticed something that stands out: it really helps if the customer facing staff (that have served me) are knowledgeable and yet that really is a secondary factor.

The primary factor (for me) has been the being of the front line staff: being present, being patient, being considerate, being generous with their time and knowledge, being helpful.  I have noticed that my most delightful customer experiences have occurred in the presence of front line people who LOVE people – they are people people.  And my most disappointing customer experiences have occurred in interacting with front line staff who have occurred as being indifferent, inhuman – treating me as any object and not as a fellow human being.  I have also noticed that there is vast difference in the context from which front line staff operate and therefore how I, the customer, show up in their world and how they treat me.

We are always operating from a specific context and often we are simply not present to the context which gives us being and thus determines what we do and importantly how we do what we do.  Sounds abstract, right?  So allow me to make this concrete by showing you an example – please take a look at the following picture:

Do you notice that the central ‘figure’ in the ‘ABC’ sequence and the ‘121314’ sequence is ambiguous?  The interesting thing to note is that when we are embedded and operating in the context of the alphabet the central, ambiguous, figure automatically shows up for us as B – we do not have to think about, it happens automatically.   What happens when we are embedded in or coming from the numeric context?  Then the central, ambiguous, figure shows up for us as 13 – automatically.   Context is like hidden magic – it determines what we perceive, how what we perceive is interpreted by our minds,  gives us being and shapes/drives our behaviour.

In my experience front line staff that have delivered delightful customer experiences (for me) have been coming from the context of ‘being of service to their fellow human beings‘.  That really should not be a surprise for any of us.  If you are the kind of person who comes across as ‘loving people’ then you are likely to operate from the context of ‘being of service to my fellow human beings’ – they go together like two sides of the coin.  More accurately they are one and the same.

What does that mean for business?  Go to great lengths to make sure that ALL your customer facing staff ‘love people’ and operate from the context of ‘being of service to my fellow human beings’.  AND make sure that you put in place a organisational climate (management style, business policies, HR practices, environment, tools…) that calls your customer facing staff to operate from the context of ‘being of service’ and put into play their love of people – their customers, their fellow employees…

Sandy Carrannante delivers another delightful experience

I drove my son to Edgbarrow Sports Centre this morning, like I do just about every Saturday morning so that he can do Archery and Karate. As it is the first day of the ‘new term’ I needed to pay for his archery lessons for this term and it was my good fortune to be served (again) by Sandy Carrannante – the Deputy Manager.  As soon as I saw Sandy I found myself to be in a great mood why?  Because I remember that about a year ago I turned up around 8:30 was greeted by Sandy and she helped me out.  You might be wondering what is exceptional about that?  allow me to illustrate:

1) Sandy’s eyes sparkle, her face glows and she smiles.  Her whole being says “I am happy to be here doing what I am doing including being right here to help you. How can I help you?”  When I say ‘being’ I am referring to the total condition – physical, cognitive, emotional, spiritual – the whole person is present and all the parts are congruent.

2)  The way that Sandy makes eye contact, asks questions, talks with me and goes about doing her job shows that she cares about people and nothing is too much when it comes to serving / helping her customers out.  She likes her customers.  She likes serving her customers.  Even more – she is open to striking up a conversation with customers (if they are so minded) and if customers enter into the dance of conversation then Sandy is a great partner to dance with.  She keeps the customer informed and apologies if something is not working or taking to long.

3)  Sandy has high standards.  She insists on doing the job at hand right.  When I am with Sandy I can tell that whatever task Sandy takes on it will be done right by Sandy.  There is a certain attitude and commitment about how this work and that they should be done perfectly.

4)  Sandy is knowledgeable.  That is to say that Sandy knows what there is to know.  How do I know?  Because when I ask her questions she provides credible answers first time and without hesitation.  She knows how the sports centre operates, she knows how the IT systems that she needs to use (to serve customers) operate.  Even more delightful she know me – she remembers our previous interactions.

5)  Sandy knows (at an intuitive level) what matters to us customers – that extra that creates the human bond / generates delight.  She is attentive.  And today she blew me away by sharing her point of view on my son.  I left our encounter thinking “Sandy sees and know my son.  And that was great compliment that she made about my son!”

Lesson

People matter especially the people on the front line serving customers.  Make sure that recruit people like Sandy to do the front line role and then do EVERYTHING in your power to let them be great with customers.  And one thing that you should definitely do is to thank them (now and then) for being great (day in, day out) and making a positive contribution to the lives of your customers, their customers.

Question

How many Sandy’s joined your organisation and then wilted due to the management style, business policies, pay and working environment that you have put in place?

Voice of the Customer: following in the tracks of CRM?

I am noticing that there is a lot of buzz around Voice of the Customer (VoC).  There are lots vendors out there who will supply you with the frameworks and the technology to get access to the VoC.  There are even companies out there that will do it all for you.

To my skeptical mind the promise and the buzz sounds remarkably like that of CRM in its early days: heaven on earth or put differently profitable and enduring relationships out of the box.  So what is my concern, what is my issue, what is keeping me awake?  In a nutshell, the hype, the overblown expectations.

The digital world is overflowing with data.  The first challenge is to gather the data from the various fields in which it grows and bring it together in a useful way.  Having been involved in data mining and predictive analytics I can tell you that it is not as easy as it sounds.  The next challenge is to find patterns in this data.  The bad news is that technology alone will not cut it: notice that Google has just changed its algorithm to deal with the loophole found and exploited by Vitaly Borker.  So human being are required.  Human beings who understand the process; who understand the technology including it’s limitation; who understand the business; and who understand customers.  Then the fun really starts.

Having found the patterns and interpreted the patterns from the VoC these wonderful human beings have to convert these patterns, these insights, into a language that the people in the business can understand.  Believe it or not this is not as simple as it sounds.  The people who are often best at finding the patterns in the data really struggle to convey their insight in a way that the business people get. Incidentally, finding people who are good at turning data into insight is not easy.

Now we get to the really serious problems.

Human beings have a strong tendency to discount anything that does not fit in with their view of the world, their values, their goals, their self-interest.  This is particularly so when these people have been completely divorced from the process of gathering, integrating and making sense of the data. So it is not at all guaranteed that the wisdom that has been gathered from VoC will actually be accepted by those who have the power to act on it.

Next we come to the central problem and it is this: knowing really does not make the difference.  Think of all the obese, unfit, people in rich societies and then think of all the mountains of ink that has been written on eating the right foods, in moderate amounts and the need for exercise.  I have known for many years that I need to exercise more, yet I did nothing until I had a blood test that frightened me a lot.  Now I exercise for at least half an hour a day, every day.

So where am I going with this?

First, all the work and cost associated with VoC is only worthwhile if there is real hunger in the organisation (started with the Tops) to use it to improve the lot of the customer and to improve the effectiveness of business operations.  I have worked in an organisation which spent considerable amount of money and effort on conducting NPS surveys.  Whilst one set of people were passionate about the process, the bulk of the European organisation (at all levels) was not.  As a result, nothing significant changed from one survey to the next.

Second, there is absolutely no substitute for the Tops (the Csuite, the elite) getting away from their offices and walking in the shoes of their customers and of their people who have to interact with and serve these customers. I believe that was the lesson of the Undercover Boss tv series.  So by all means do VoC but not at the expense of having senior and middle managers walk in the shoes of customers and front line staff.  If I absolutely had to choose between the two, I would drop VoC and insist managers work on the front line regularly.

What do you think?