Tales of Customer Experience: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly?

giffgaff: Wow! What A Delightful Experience.

Youngest, daughter, has ‘lost’ her mobile phone. So she logged me into her giffgaff account on the website. I clicked the “Help” tab. Then I clicked “Lost & Stolen”. Then I chose “Lost Both My Phone and SIM”.  At this point I was expecting to be told that the phone and SIM had been blocked. And a new SIM would be with me in a couple of days. That would have been a good enough experience: got the job done in a couple of minutes.

That is not what happened. Once I selected the “Lost Both My Phone and SIM” option I was informed that the phone and sim were now blocked. AND I was informed that I could get a replacement SIM activated immediately instead of waiting for one to arrive in a couple of days.  How so?  By getting hold of and activating an existing giffgaff SIM – one that had not been activated to date. How is that possible? giffgaff, as a matter of course, sends extra SIMs to members. Why? So that they can give them to those who they think would benefit from being members of giffgaff.

As a result of this capability, I was able to hand over a fully working mobile phone on the giffgaff network to my daughter in less than five minutes – start to finish!  That was my desired, real, outcome. And arriving at this desired outcome in five minutes as opposed to several days left me delighted; I am a protective parent!

What is unconcealed here?  The starting point for customer-centricity is authentic care for one’s customers.  When this is in place then the folks in the organisation will exercise thoughtfulness. In so doing, these folks will make it easy and enriching for customers to do business with that organisation.  And in the process the organisation will both generate customer loyalty and reduce waste – doing stuff that costs money but does not create value for customers from the customer point of view.

What can I say? I love the folks at giffgaff. I love how thoughtful and smart they are. I love how easy they make life for me.  I’d happily recommend giffgaff and have done so many times!

RAC: Regulation of Call-Centre Agent Behaviour Is What Matters, Not The Customer Experience

Youngest son bought a car and in the process he was about to buy breakdown insurance. I told him that he didn’t need to do that as I’d put him on my existing breakdown policy with the RAC. I rang the RAC expecting a brief conversation of the following kind:

Me: I’d like to put my son Marco on my existing breakdown policy. Here is the policy number. What is the cost?

Call-centre agent: The cost is £x. Does that work for you?

Me: Yes, here is my credit card number.

Call-centre agent: That’s done for you. We’ll send out a membership card to your son in the next couple of days.

Me: Thank you.

How did the conversation actually go?  It took some time. I found myself frustrated. I found myself raising my voice. I found myself angry. Why? Once the helpful young man had verified who I was he proceeded to ask me stupid questions.  What made these questions stupid?  He already had the answers to these questions. He was asking about the services that my son would need. And I told him those on the existing policy: roadside recovery, home recovery, onward travel, and European travel.

So why did this friendly professional (sounding) call-centre agent ask me questions to which he already had the answers?  Because he had to: the ‘designers’ of the call-centre operation had come up with a script and he had to follow it to the letter so that he would be in compliance with the script.  After all the phone call was being recorded and the quality folks would be listening in to ensure compliance with the script.

What a waste! What a waste of my, the customer’s, time. What a waste of the intelligence of the call-centre agent. What a waste of valuable call-centre resource: the time of the call-centre agent. What a waste of an opportunity to deliver a great customer experience and generate goodwill.  What a waste!

What is unconcealed here?  There is a conflict between the way organisations are designed to operate (regulate the behaviour of the folks in the organisation so as to facilitate command and control) and the flexibility (of response) that has to be in place in order for the customer facing folks to respond intelligently to this particular customer, at this particular time, as regards this particular context.

 Sainsburys Bank: A Good Experience Turns Ugly

Eldest, son, asked for help in signing up for a suitable credit cards. I did the research and identified several providers. In the process I found three providers which appealed to me. I signed up for each of these providers – one of these being Sainsburys Bank. All three providers made it easy to sign-up. All three did the background checks on me, verified me as sound credit risk, approved me as customers and gave me a credit limit.  Two of them, at the end of the process, invited-encouraged me to setup an online account with them so that I could manage my account online.

Several days later I got the paperwork through from all three providers.  Two providers sent me confirmation paperwork, terms and conditions, and the passwords/codes I’d need to use the credit cards. One provider – Sainsburys Bank – didn’t. What did Sainsburys Bank send me?  It send me a bunch of unappealing (black and white) paperwork to read and sign!  This struck me as such a disconnect!  How antiquated in comparison to the other two providers! What a great way to foul up a great digital experience! The whole point of digital is that stuff can be done there and then, in real-time.

What is unconcealed here?  Some folks just don’t get digital. Some folks just don’t get mobile. Some folks don’t get social. Some folks just don’t get how to use the various customer interaction channels intelligently. More importantly, some folks don’t get customers. A customer who chooses to interact with you through digital channels is looking for a digital experience. A customer who chooses to ring in to the call-centre is looking to talk with an intelligent-friendly human being – not navigate a frustrating-inhuman IVR.  You get the idea.

It occurs to me that established organisations have a long and difficult path ahead of them if they are to compete on the quality of the Customer Experience.  On the Customer Experience path the advantage lies with the younger, greenfield, organisations which do not have to deal with the legacy of relational and technical debt.  And  that is food for a future conversation.  Thanks for listening.

What Kind of Customer Experience Builds Genuine Loyalty?

What is the word that best describes or points out the fundamental context/orientation that underpins business as usual?  It occurs to me that the word is “taking”.  Taking as much as possible from the customers.  Taking as much as possible from employees. Taking as much as possible from suppliers, Taking as much as possible from the community. Taking as much as possible from the planet…..

From the context of taking you get personalised emails and direct mail that does not show up as personal. From this context of taking you get the incessant focus on replacing human customer service with self-service and the switch from skilled staff to unskilled and cheaper staff. From this context of taking you get the focus on upselling, x-selling, and increasing wallet share.

I have yet to find any meaningful and enduring relationships that are based on taking. Where the context of taking is present all that shows up is taking. And people coming up with ways of protecting themselves from being taken. This is not the case for giving.

Where actions flow from a context of giving then it is possible to arrive at symbiotic relationships. Symbiotic relationships are ones where each party brings something of value to the other such that both benefit. It occurs to me that the strongest relationships tend to be symbiotic. Symbiotic relationships start with one party giving – giving something of genuine value to the other party.

Why are so many companies struggling to generate meaningful-enduring relationships with their customers despite their investments in all kind of customer stuff? Why is it that a genuine shift towards a customer centred orientation is so difficult? I say it is difficult because all this effort and investment arises from a context of taking.  Whilst this may not be obvious to the people in the company it is obvious to customers – our bodies can tell the difference between those who care for us and those who do not.

Allow me to share an example two example with you. Examples that will illustrate the difference between taking and giving.  Let’s start by looking at the taking orientation.

This week I brought a training course. To make the sale happen the supplier offered a 10% discount amounting to £100 and threw in some extras. Given that it is summer and there is less demand for the course it makes perfect sense for the supplier. And it showed up as an attractive discount for me given that I was going to buy the course with or without the discount. Did this discount build any gratitude, any relationship, any loyalty? No. I am clear that the discount served the needs and interests of the supplier.

Are there any companies that excel at giving?  It occurs to me that giffgaff, a mobile network provider, is one such company. Earlier this month I got a email from giffgaff letting me know that the best tariff for me was the £7.50 tariff. By providing me this information giffgaff gave me the choice of switching from the £10 tariff. I didn’t switch tariffs. Nonetheless, I am delighted with giffgaff – I am delighted that giffgaff is practicing what it preaches, that the folks at giffgaff are living their values.

Let’s take a moment to look at my experience upon receiving the email. First, surprise. Second, delight. Third, gratitude. Fourth, satisfaction in having chosen giffgaff. Fifth, loyalty validated and cemented.  Sixth – advocacy as in writing this post.  Put differently, giving by giffgaff has called forth giving by me. I should point out that it is not just me.  My wife has been telling a similar story to her circle of friends and colleagues.

The lesson? I say genuine-meaningful-enduring relationships are built upon mutual giving. I say you cannot build such relationships from a context of taking – the context that underpins business as usual.  I say that as human beings we are always on the lookout for people and organisations that are trustworthy and on our side – looking after our best interest.

It occurs to me that if the people in companies pursuing customer experience, customer-centricity, even customer obsession, were to focus on giving and not clever ways of taking then they would have more success in fostering customers who are genuinely loyal.

What do you say?

giffgaff: how to generate delight and advocacy without spending a fortune

Occasionally I come across a brand, an organisation, a bunch of people who get it, who practice it as opposed to talk about it.  Who am I talking about?  I am talking about giffgaff – a mobile virtual network operator that works off / is tied to the O2 network in the UK.  giffgaff is unusual/innovative as a brand/organisation and I have written about giffgaff here and here. You should know that my family and I are members/customers of giffgaff.

Delight is the gateway to the heart

There is a school of thought that says that delighting customers is expensive and unnecessary.  I say that if you want to cultivate emotional affinity with your brand, create fans and generate customer advocacy then delight is the gateway that gets you there.   I say that you can generate delight by:

  • being there for your customers;
  • making it easy for the customer to get done the job that the customer needs done; and
  • injecting humanity (high touch) into the encounter between you and your customer.

Furthermore, I say that it is not expensive to evoke delight in your customers. Allow me to share with you how giffgaff has generated delight and cultivated gratitude/loyalty with me and my daughter.

How my daughter and I came to love giffgaff

Talking with my 11 year old daughter I found that her phone was useless as a phone as she had lost the SIM.  It turned out that the SIM had gone missing several weeks ago.  She hadn’t told me because she was thinking that it will cost money to get a replacement SIM and she didn’t have the money; she is great at spending, not so great at saving.

Within a minute or so we had logged on her account.  Straight away we found the link for ‘Lost SIM’ and then from there it took us less than 30 seconds to block the SIM and order a replacement.  My daughter and I were both happy at how it easy it was.  The job that we needed to get done (block the old SIM, order a replacement SIM) was done with several clicks and in less than two minutes.  Easy, easy, easy!  Thank you giffgaff for being there for us and making it easy to get the job that needed to be done, done.

What else did we notice?  We noticed that we were both grateful to giffgaff.  Why?  Because we were expecting giffgaff to charge us for this service yet giffgaff did not charge us.  So giffgaff showed up as generous: a friend helping us out in time of need as opposed to a business intent solely on making money from its customers.

When you have lost your SIM and order a replacement what is your ideal outcome?  That the SIM will arrive quickly, ideally the next day.  Yet, what is likely to be your experience?  My experiences with other companies had led me to believe that the SIM would take 3 -5 days to arrive.  What happened?  A colorful envelope (see below) arrived the next day.  What was our experience?  Surprise and delight.  I remember saying to myself “Wow, these guys care, they have their house in order!”

Notice the language that is being used?  How does it show up in your world?  In our world it showed up as quirky/friendly/even fun.  More importantly, it showed up as the kind of tone/language that a friend, a warm human being, would use as opposed to a corporation.

With my daughter standing by my side I opened up the envelope and this what greeted us:

What was our experience?  Surprise and delight.  What generated this surprise and delight?  The ‘tone’ that is conveyed by the language that is used.  This ‘piece of communication’ showed up as being written by a caring human being, a friend!  This is personalisation that actually shows up as personal and pulls the heart strings.  It occurs as genuine, heartfelt, authentic.  There is so much talk about ‘social’ and so little understanding of ‘social’.  I say this piece of communication is ‘social’.  I say if you really want to get social then study this communication.

What you can learn from this?

1) Ease matters, it makes a difference.  Lack of ease drives up customer frustration, generates customer complaints, drives up costs as customers use the call centre as opposed to using the website.  And lack of ease drives up defection: customers go to suppliers who are easier to do business with.  There are companies that have become giants simply because they have got ease right: Amazon is the giant that it is because the folks at Amazon have made it so easy to buy all kinds of products from Amazon.

2) Speed of response matters.  The faster that you are at responding to customer requests the more of an impact you make.  Customers are human beings, human beings impute – they read stuff into stuff.  When you respond fast customers impute that you care, that you are competent, that the customer is in safe hands.  When you slow in responding customers assume that you do not care about them and that you are incompetent, understaffed, unprofessional….

3) Generosity matters, it is noticed, it touches the heart.   Generosity does not have a big presence in the business world.  As customers we expect to be made to pay for just about everything.  We particularly expect to be squeezed for every penny, every dime, when we have an urgent need and we are at fault.   In such a world generosity gets noticed.   And for many of us generosity generates gratitude.  Most of us are brought up to practice the rule of reciprocity: one good turn deserves another.

4) You can generate delight and affinity simply by using the right language with the customer.  What does it require?  Humanity: getting and treating human beings with dignity, with compassion.  And it is cheap!  How much money would giffgaff have saved by making their envelope bland (not colorful) or using cold, unfriendly, corporate speak?  Sometimes I think that for all the talk about customers and customer focus, what is really missing is ‘love for the customer’ as a fellow human being.  Put differently, what is missing is putting our humanity, the best of our humanity, into the game of business.

What do you say?

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.

Bad customer experience: power to the people?

This is a guest post from Karl Indigne – a marketing professional that specialises in services marketing.

We have a choice, we can do something to effect change

Thanks to social media, you and I, can have an impact on bad customer service.  I agree, it can take a while, before things actually change in a structural way. But we have a choice, we don’t have to stay indifferent, we can do something to effect change.  We all know, it is not always the people that “help” us that are the problem. It is more like the procedures of the company and lack of good alternatives. But sometimes, somebody stands up and than it is not just a company that responds, but a society. Youp van’t Hek is a well known Dutch comedian and he almost, accidentally,  initiated a crusade against bad customer service.  The story starts in Holland in October 2010.

T-Mobile angers the wrong person

van’t Hek Junior (“vKJunior”) the son of Youp, has his mobile phone stolen. So he goes out and buys a new phone signing up to a new long term contract with T-Mobile. This new phone breaks and he sends it to be repaired; he was paying an additional monthly insurance to cover these kind of events.  vKJunior does not get his phone back.  So after a few weeks vKJunior rings the T-Mobile call centre to find out when he is likely to get his phone back.  After a long wait (several hours) he learns that T-Mobile couldn’t repair it and they will not replace it nor pay for vKJunior to buy a replacement.   Why?  Because the mobile phone they have on the system is vKJ’s old phone – the one that had been stolen.  He goes to the store (where he bought the phone) and asks for help – they say they cannot help.  He rings the call centre (again)….  At some point the call centre agent tells him to write into the company and make a complaint if he is not happy with the situation.   All of this takes place over a period of several months and is rather messy – I have given you the simple version.

Eventually, the son calls his dad (Youp) and asks for his help.  Youp, who is preparing for a show in Flanders, calls T-Mobile in an angry mood and asks to speak to the manager in charge of the call centre. They call centre agent refuses – the company policy states that they can’t put through angry customers . In a rage, Youp tweets: “The terror of T-Mobile is funny. For every mistake they apologize and they refer you to the customer service. Wait time 4 hours…” Minutes after his tweet he gets a call by a guy from T-Mobile, with a melodious voice, who wants to settle the matter. This manager tells Youp that vKJ (the son) can get a replacement phone, immediately, from the store. The son flies to the store, gets his replacement and thanks his dad.

The T-Mobile voice calls Youp back to ask if everything is ok now. Youp is furious. “Why can’t you treat all of your customers like this? Why is it that I, who happens to be famous, can settle such a matter so quickly”. He keeps on tweeting, gains 5.000 new followers and hits the news – national television and newspapers cover the story. People start complaining about all kinds of bad customer service especially in the areas of telecoms and energy in the Netherlands. And this spreads to Belgium – the country which shares a border, language and culture with The Netherlands.

“Hello, is it me you are looking for?”

In Belgium, Radio 1 (a national Flemish Radio Station), starts a program inviting people to talk about their bad experiences with call centres. Now, two nations are talking about the subject. Why are customers treated that way? Are call centre employees trained to embarrass customers? Why does the sales story seems like a fairytale and the customer service so awful? Shouldn’t advertising have some truth in it?

Some Belgian comedians play a practical joke. They have a large lorry size container dropped in front of the Mobistar (a Belgian Mobile Operator) car park in the early hours of the morning.  Result: the employees arriving for work cannot get into the car park.   On the outside of the container is a contact number -put there deliberately by the comedians. The security officer of Mobistar calls that number to get the container removed.  Call after call the comedians take the calls, invent excuses, stall, give the security guard the run around, hang up on him and so forth.  In total they stall him for 3 hours and 20 minutes.  Every time the security guard rings they put him on hold and play Lionel Ritchie’s”Hello, is it me you’re looking for”.  You can watch the joke being played here (English subtitles!) – it is funny!  By the way, the guard was congratulated because he stayed calm and polite despite the run around he was given call after call.

Eventually, the Belgian Federal Minister urges companies to do something about the matter. He finds it unacceptable that too much time is lost before getting to speak to a real person. In June 2011 the companies with the largest contact centres in Belgium signed up to a charter: to limit the waiting time to 2,5 minutes and to use a minimum service level. It is not a law, it is an intention.

 Conclusions

Consumers have more power than ever before, a complaint can go viral now, but the transition from bad service to good customer service does not happen overnight.

As a marketer it strikes me that it is very hard to break through silos within a company and put the customer experience first.  In the case of Telecom operators, most customers only have a choice between bad and worse. Consumers have long term contracts, companies are organized in a specific way.

Is improving the service at the contact centre level enough? In my opinion, the issue of good service is too focussed on the management of contact centres.  For example, why can’t the mobile operators select the right, best, call plan for me?  The giffgaff example on this blog, shows the advantage of a more holistic approach.  My point is this: the customer experience goes far beyond the contact centre only – it is the whole chain of the service across all touchpoints on the customer journey.

The core of the problem is that call centres are too often considered as a cost. The whole telecom industry is managed by the same mantra. This means that contact centres have to work efficient and should process a number of calls within a specific timeframe, I’m afraid we have to wait for new entrants to the market… or keep shouting it out on social media.

Final words

In his book Delivering Happiness, Tony Shieh, CEO of legendary Zappos, explains that for them logistics management and the call centre are considered as the core competences of the business. The call centre doesn’t use any script. They are trained to make people happy on the phone by helping them, even if that means they have to refer a customer to a competitor. And that message goes viral too.

giffgaff: where customers are ‘members’ who sit at the heart of the organisation

What makes giffgaff special – worth learning from?

Some customers love giffgaff so much that they are willing to have giffgaff tattooed on them.  If this does happen then it puts giffgaff in the same league as Harley Davidson and Apple – brands that have fans not just customers.   giffgaff won the Marketing Society’s 2011 best new brand award . And in the customer management community some hail giffgaff as representing the future of customer service.  So what makes giffgaff special – different from the pack?

First let me tell you a little bit about giffgaff.  Vodafone, O2, Orange, T-Mobile, 3 – are the main brands that dominate the UK mobile telecoms industry.  giffgaff is an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) that launched towards the end of 2009 and piggybacks on the O2 network.  And in that sense giffgaff is rather like Virgin Mobile (the first commercially successful MVNO in the UK) and say Tesco Mobile.

So what makes giffgaff special?  It is not one thing, one ingredient, it is the entire recipe – the whole business model and organisational design.  In a way it is like the way that Dell (at the start) rethought the PC industry or Ryanair / Easyjet / Southwest Airlines rethought the airline travel industry.  Let’s start with customers.  It would not be too much of a stretch to say that giffgaff does not have customers – at least not in the traditional sense of customers simply as consumers.  giffgaff has members.  Customers are seen as members who are involved in, contribute to and carry out an array of organisational tasks: provide ideas, get involved in new product development, recruiting new members, serving other members (‘customer services’)……  Many pundits talk about putting customers at the heart of the organisation yet few organisations do that – giffgaff is an exception.  There is a lot of talk about transparency, authenticity, mutuality, collaboration and co-creation yet few organisation do that – giffgaff is an exception.  Finally, giffgaff is keenly focussed on its core customer segment (those looking for a great SIM only deal) and the associated value proposition (cheap calls, texts, internet).  If you want to find out more about giffgaff then I suggest you listen to Tom Rainsford, Head of Brand and Proposition, giffgaff.   For the rest of the post I simply wish to share with you my experience of dealing with giffgaff and why I am an advocate.

My giffgaff customer experience

To sign up with giffgaff you have to head over to their website as giffgaff is an internet only operation: there are no retail stores to visit nor call centres to ring.  The first thing that I noticed was that it was easy for me to sign-up and request a SIM: the task was prominently signposted on the webpage and the task was easy as I only had to supply my name, email and address – five fields in total.

Second, I noticed that giffgaff is great value for people like me – people who already have a phone and are happy to keep using that phone.   On Orange, as a pay as you go customer, I had been paying 20p+ a minute and 10p for text messages.  With giffgaff I would be paying only 8p a minutes for phone calls and 4p a text.

Third, despite the fact that I knew absolutely nothing on phone unlocking, all the information that I needed to get my phone unlocked was on the website.  Better still upon entering the make and phone model the giffgaff website provided a list of companies that are able to unlock my phone.  And each of these companies was rated so I could just turn to the best rated one. 

Within two days I received the SIM card and it was easy to register my SIM card: I simply logged into my giffgaff account, entered a six digit code and then purchased a £10 goody bag that bought me 250 free minutes, unlimited texts and unlimited internet.  Within 30 minutes my SIM was activated and I was making calls and surfing the internet.  The process could not have been easier.

In the process of purchasing the goody bag I noticed that the giffgaff website had an automated top-up facility.  I simply had to activate and specify how much I wanted my top up to be and when the balance on my account hit a low of £3 giffgaff would automatically top-up my account thus making sure that I was never in a position where I had run out of credit and thus could not use my phone.  This grabbed my attention because that was one of the tasks that I hated doing on Orange: topping up my phone and the phones belonging to my two sons.  I still cannot believe how such a small feature delivers such a huge benefit to me: always being able to use my phone and giffgaff doing the work behind the scene.

Whilst I was using the phone I got more suprises in the form of useful information: the giffgaff network regularly displays how many minutes I have left if I have bought a gift pack (a bundled package that expires at the end of 30 days).  If I have bought ordinary minutes then giffgaff lets me know how much credit I have left at the end of calls.  Finally, when I make calls to other giffgaff phones then the giffgaff network automatically informs me that the call was free.  This is the kind of information that I had yearned for and never got from my previous provider.  And it got me thinking: if giffgaff can do this then why did my old provider not do this?

About two weeks later I got another pleasant surprise: an email from giffgaff letting me know that they were sending me an additional SIM card that I could give to a friend.  And on the same day it arrived.  When I opened up the envelope I noticed that I was not simply being asked to get a new customer for giffgaff.  giffgaff had thought through the value exchange: once the SIM was activated then the person using that new SIM would be credited with £5 and so would I.  So I was being rewarded for my effort.  How could I refuse?  My wife switched over from Orange to giffgaff.  And she is delighted with the money that she is saving and how easy it is for her to manage her mobile account/relationship with giffgaff.

At the end of the month I was able to view an analysis of my phone usage via the giffgaff statement.  This took me by surprise because on Orange I simply got a list of phone calls I made chronologically.  On the giffgaff site I got that and I got a bar chart type analysis which I found useful – it helped me to figure out what I had been doing with my phone.  I was surprised and delighted by the thoughtfulness of it: giffgaff is providing me with information and tools that help me to be informed and make better decisions. 

Interestingly enough giffgaff beat me to that as well.  Shortly after this experience I got an email from giffgaff telling me that they had done an analysis on my usage and had a recommendation for me.  So I logged on the website and accessed that recommendation.  The recommendation itself was no surprise but the fact that giffgaff was doing this was and is a delight.  It was something that I had wanted from my previous provider and yet was never able to get.  As a consultant I had advised a major mobile telco to implement this practice, as this telco wanted to improve the customer experience, yet management refused because it would have an adverse impact on revenues and profits because most customers were on tariffs that were too high and costly for them.

Now this might not sound like a big thing and yet it is to me: the language that giffgaff use is a human one and that really connects with me.  The other day I got a SMS message which delighted me both because it was unexpected and because of its simplicity.  Here it is “Thanks for helping to grow giffgaff, you’ve earned ….so far. For more information and to check your recommended plan see My giffgaff at giffgaff.com, cheers!”  I have recommended more than once the companies and marketers use a human language that speaks to connects with customers – that is something that giffgaff is doing rather well.

Finally, I recently took my phone to France and got another pleasant surprise.  On landing the mobile connected to a French network and up came useful information from giffgaff.  I cannot remember the exact words yet the message was clear: we don’t want you to have any unpleasant surprises so lets make clear how much your mobile calls are going to cost.  I was told that I would be charged 38p per minute if I was making the calls and 15p per minute if I was receiving calls.  This is the kind of honest, proactive, information that I have always sought and never got from previous suppliers (mobile networks).

Why am I a giffgaff advocate?

I am adding giffgaff to the list of companies I recommend.  Why?  Simply because they have made my life easier by taking hassle out of it (e.g. automating topping up), provide me with useful information (how much credit I have left, how many minutes I have left, how much calls are going to cost…), talk to me in a human way (the simple friendly informal language), provide more value for money (cheaper calls, texts, internet..), reward me for the contribution that I make to giffgaff and the call quality / network coverage is as good as that provided by my previous supplier (Orange).  Finally, I prefer being called/treated as a ‘member’ rather than a ‘target’, ‘consumer’ or even ‘customer’.  How about you?

An inquiry into ‘customer engagement’ – making the abstract concrete

‘Customer Engagement’: old wine in a new bottle or  new realms of possibility?

Customer engagement is the new buzzword.  Whenever a new buzzword shows up it suggests that either we have ‘old wine in a new bottle’ or that  ‘new realms of possibility’ has shown up.  If you fall for the ‘old wine in a new bottle’ you may end up looking and feeling like a fool.  If on the other end the buzzword points to ‘new realms of possibility’ and you do not step into and make full use of this realms then you are likely to go out of business – sometimes it can take a little while.  So lets take a closer look at ‘customer engagement’.

There is no such thing as ‘Customer Engagement’

The English language tempts us into errors by converting verbs into nouns.  So we need to be mindful and remember that there is such thing as ‘customer engagement’.  If you do believe it exists then please bring it to me and I will give you a$1m.  Now if I offered you the same deal for bringing me a table then you would have no issue.   To get to grips with ‘customer engagement’ lets examine the verb ‘to engage’:

“en·gage

  • Occupy, attract, or involve (someone’s interest or attention
  • Cause someone to become involved in (a conversation or discussion)
  • Pledge or enter into a contract to do something
  • Reserve (accommodations, a place, etc.) in advance
  • Participate or become involved in
  • Enter into conflict or combat with (an adversary)”
So we can say that when you engage a customer or a customer engages you then there is some action going on.  Put differently, ‘customer engagement’ shows up as behaviour.  A engaged customer will perform certain actions which a disengaged customer will not.

What engaged customers do

What engaged customers do largely depends on what you allow and what technology enables.  Lets just list the kind of actions that engaged customers can perform with today’s technology:
  • They provide you with ideas and suggestions.   Dell ( Dell Ideastorm) and Starbucks (MyStarbucks Idea) are two organisations that have set-up platforms to let their customers share their ideas
  • They ‘turn up’ to special events.  Harley Davidson is a great example – Harley lay on events for their fans and the fans turn up in droves.
  • They do some of the work, they help out.  GiffGaff (telecoms player) is a great example – the customers provide a lot of the customer service to each other.
  • They write and post reviews of your products and services.  Amazon is a great example – customers review products and this gives other customers more confidence to purchase the right products.
  • They collaborate and co-create with you whether that is new advertising, new products or new services.  In the early days of CRM Nokia and Siebel collaborated to build out the Siebel’s telecoms product.  In the B2C market Threadless is a great example – customer can design T-shirts and get a cut of the sales revenue if these designs take off.
  • They complain when you fail to live up to your promise and their expectations.   You might think this is odd yet research shows that the customers that are disengaged from you simply walk away – they cannot be bothered to take the time and make the effort to complain.
  • They buy from you – they walk into your retail stores, they use your website, they respond to your email and direct mail offers …….This is so obvious that most people take this for granted and don’t make the most of this yet Zane’s Cycles does.
  • They bring their family, friends and colleagues along to your stores and encourage them to buy from you.   A small business that thrives on this is Preston Car Sales which is based in Preston, Lancashire. (Disclosure – I helped design and set-up this business.  It is owned and managed by my brother).
  • They speak well of you to their friends, their social network and even the world through social media (blogs, social networks, tweets..).  I am good example of this – two companies that I have recently recommended include Better World Books and HCML on this blog.
  • They do some of your marketing for you by creating new ads or remixing your content to create new ads and post them to the likes of YouTube.  Amber Lee Ettinger (‘Obama Girl’) is a good example of the kind of impact such a engaged customer can make
  • They provide you with feedback when you ask for their feedback e.g. by taking part in customer surveys.

Incidentally, the possibilities that can be listed here are limited only by your imagination.  In the future, if it has not already happened, I can imagine companies setting up prediction markets and inviting customers to take part in them.

What does it take to engage customers?

I wrote several posts a little while back which give a flavour of what it takes to engage customers:

My take on ‘customer engagement’

The internet, mobile and social technologies have created  ‘new realms of possibility’ around how we can engage customers; how customers can engage with us – the organisation; how customers can engage with each other; and how customers can engage with world wide web.  A few souls are stepping into these new realms of possibility and disrupting the way that things are done.  The majority are simply putting old wine into new bottles and labelling it ‘customer engagement’.

The trick is to figure out the form of engagement that your customers are up for and which if acted upon will build mutually profitable and enjoyable relationship and help you build competitive advantage.  Any as any good strategist will tell you there are no formula’s for that – it requires the artful synthesis of analytical and creative thinking along with some good fortune.  And you have to accept that some things will work out well, some will flop and some will be simply ok.

Please remember that a customer that ticks a box that says he is willing to recommend you is very different to a customer that actually has recommended you.  So focus on creating topic that mean something to your customers, build a platform that enables interaction then listen, learn and adapt.

If I have not spelled it out enough – your existing organisational mindset is the key barrier between you and your customers.  You have not got engaged customers because fundamentally you do not want to engage with customers.  Remember that engagement is a two process it requires a degree of openness and vulnerability which many organisations are simply not willing to step into.

Finally, I thank Peter for asking me to comment on ‘customer engagement’ and thus being the genesis of this blog post.  Peter, I hope that this contributes to you.