Does a promising future await Service Design and Customer Experience?

Are Service Design and Customer Experience in the same boat?

This week I was talking to a fellow professional who is passionate about service design.  What showed up in our conversation was his recognition and disappointment between the talk and the reality of service design. Yes, there is a small community of theorists, ‘gurus’, and practitioners in service design. And in the bigger world of business the landscape is not friendly to service design. First, most business folks do not understand what service design is.  Actually, it is worse than this. Most business folks do not accurately what makes up a ‘service’.  As such, the world of business is mostly a barren place when it comes to opportunities for service design. And yes, there are a small number of small organisations doing great work on service design.  Why are these organisations small?  Could it be due to the lack of listening for, receptivity towards, service design?

In the course of our conversation I shared my experience. And it occurred to me that the same applies to the field of Customer Experience.  First, it is not well understood.  Second, where business folks do talk about customer experience they are pointing at that which occurs in the Customer Services function.  Third, the majority of talk on customer experience takes place via a relatively small community of people who are passionate about customer-centric business and the critical role of customer experience.  Where, perhaps, there is a difference it is that the IT vendors are looking to make hay in the customer experience space.  They are not doing the same in the service design space.

What does the Michael Lowenstein say?

Sitting in this place I came across this recent post by Michael Lowenstein. In this piece Michael is reflecting upon the findings of the recent Oracle study.  I want to draw your attention to the following paragraphs:

… over 90% of executives said that improving customer experience is a top priority over the next two years …. and a similar percent said that their companies want to be customer experience leaders. However, just over one third were only now beginning with formal customer experience initiatives, and only one-fifth considered their customer experience program advanced.

In the Oracle study, fewer than half of all executives surveyed thought that customers would defect due to negative experiences, nor did they think that customers would pay for great experiences. That finding is yet another huge divide between ‘conventional wisdom’ of executives and the realities of customer behavior.

Reasons identified for not moving forward on these initiatives include inflexible technology, siloed organizational structures and systems, low investment, and inability to measure initiative results. This slow adoption, or non-adoption, seems to be not so much a reflection of stagnant international economy as it is of significant, historic corporate conservatism and risk aversion.

Is there hope for Service Design and Customer Experience?

It occurs to me that Service Design fits under the umbrella of Customer Experience. And as such it is not a surprise that they are facing similar issues. By now you should also know that I am passionate about the need for and value of taking a customer-centric orientation in doing business. And customer experience has a huge role to play in a customer-centric orientation.  So how am I left being?  Yes, a part of me does from time to time become downhearted with what is so in the business world.  And there is another part of me that gets me present to the wise words of Werner Erhard:

Life never needs to turn out predictably. Human beings have the capacity to intervene in the orderly unfolding of circumstances, to produce an outcome which is basically unpredictable given those circumstances. Most of us don’t know that…..

Clearly,  Vernon Hill, the Chairman of Metro Bank in London, and the retail-oriented entrepreneurial executive who made Commerce Bank a regional marketing force in U.S. banking for several decades get this.  Why do I say that?  This is what Michael Lowenstein writes in his post:

In his recent book, “Fans! Not Customers” (Profile Books, London, 2012), Hill stated: “We want our customers to be passionate about doing business with Metro Bank, to become Metro fans. Our philosophy is more than just a corporate mission statement: it’s a way of life. Our corporate spirit – something we’ve made a unique part of our social fabric – enables us to succeed. We are fanatically focused on delivering a unique customer experience. Over-investment in facilities, training and people, a focused geographic management, and countless mystery shops a year ensure that we always exceed our customer’s expectations”.

As Hill observed, “You don’t have to be 100 percent better than the competition in order to beat them. You have to be 15 percent better, and you have to get better all the time. It’s all about standing out from the competition…..”

Customer Insight & Analytics Exchange: highlights from Day 2

If your read my last post you will know that I have been participating in the Customer Insight & Analytics Exchange that took place on the 10th and 11th July in London.  In this post I want to share with you what caught my attention from Day 2.

KBC Bank: getting marketers to make good use of analytics is not that easy

This is what I took away from listening to Patrick Glenison, Head of Customer Analytics and Market Research at KBC Bank:

Marketers and marketers are not analytically oriented.   Propensity models created by the analytics team were not used by the marketers.  Furthermore, marketers and the marketing function is not analytically oriented and as such the marketing function has under invested in business intelligence tools.

The open comments, in the customer surveys, are a rich source of customer insight.  I took this to mean that the quantitative questions whilst allowing a scorecard to be put together  are not helpful in working out what is not working for customers and what changes need to be made.

The challenge is to get the various parts of the organisation – product, marketing, sales, call-centre – to play together so that there is a noticeable impact on the customer’s experience of the bank.

Westminster City Council: use insight to engage the public and manage expectations

Neil Wholey, the Head of Research and Customer Insight for Westminster left me with the following:

Benchmarking is not necessarily useful.  If your organisation does better than the average then everyone in the organisation is content and put their feet up.  If your organisation is average then just about everyone in the organisation is satisfied with that.  On the other hand, if your organisation does worse than the average then the stance is that the survey is wrong!

You can increase the satisfaction of your customers even if you cannot cut the price (taxes), cannot increase quality of services, and may have to cut services.  How? By entering into a conversation with your customers so that get a better appreciation of what you are doing and why – including the constraints that you are operating under.

An effective use of customer insight is to open up new avenues for people within the organisation to undertake operational and marketing campaigns to do new stuff or do things differently so that this impacts your customer positively and they think more of your organisation.  He gave an example: saving money by recycling.

How about engaging customers, genuinely, around stuff that matters to them like decisions around services – which should be kept, which should be cut etc?   Engagement itself is valued by customers and thus positively affects their perceptions of your organisation.  Engagement also means closing the loop: letting your customers know what you have done with their input.

Metro Bank: “Lots of people talk about customer experience, few do it”

My favourite session of the day was listening to Anthony Thomson the co-founder and Chairman of Metro Bank.  Why?  Because he illustrated that competing on the ‘customer experience’ is a business model issue.  And it involves a specific business philosophy that is embodied through a distinct set of practices.   Here are other highlights:

Metro Bank is competing on the basis of the customer experience and that means competing on convenience and service.  This convenience and service has to be paid for in some way by the customer.  And so the bargain made with the customer is that the customer gets lower rates of interest.

Convenience means being there for the customer when the customer wants you to be there.  So, Metro Bank is open when the other banks are not open – it’s opening hours are designed to suit the lives/needs of its customers. Metro Bank is open 7 days a week: from 8am to 8pm from Monday to Friday; on Saturday it is open from 8am to 6pm; and on Sunday it is open from 11am to 5pm.  More accounts are opened and business transacted when other banks are closed than when they are open!

Transparency matters.  Metro Bank does not engage in the misleading/manipulative marketing practices that the UK banks practice day in day out like offering attractive headline rates of interest and taking them away through the small print.

Metro Bank is channel agnostic.  The focus is on allowing the customer to use the channels that work best for him or her.  And to provide a great experience across any/all channels – the stores, the internet, the call-centre.

A customer can walk and open an account within 20 minutes and that includes issuing the customer with a debit card to operate the account.  For some customers this is too much, they do not believe it is possible and so they go and use it at a non Metro bank ATM to make sure that it works.  This shock is understandable because it can take up to four weeks for other banks to open an account and issue that debit card.

Great attention is given to hiring people who are a good fit with the business philosophy of Metro Bank.  People who want to and are good at generating a great customer experience.  At start-up Metro Bank interviewed 3,500 people for 60 posts.

Getting the Metro Bank customer facing staff to get that they are empowered to do what it takes to generate a great customer experience requires the Tops showing/modeling what that means.   It is not enough simply to tell them that they are empowered to deliver a great customer experience.  If that customer has clocked up a £8 parking charge as she has been in the branch for three hours what is the right course of action?  Should the teller contribute anything towards that cost?  If so then how much?  In this case the teller thought he should contribute 50% toward that parking charge.  And Anthony had to show the teller that £8 is only £8 and that the right thing was to pay for it all.

Saying no to prospective customers is part of the process – not all customers are right for Metro Bank.  Where Metro Bank is different is that the customer gets told “No” rapidly and delicately as opposed to being made to go through many loops and finding out after four weeks that the decision is no.

Members of staff are awarded £10 every time they identify a ‘stupid bank rule’.  Why?  The commitment of Metro Banks is ‘no stupid bank rules’.

And finally

I noticed several times that many (if not all) of the participants are firmly gripped by two notions:

  • that customers will take advantage of and exploit any generosity, any humanity, put forth by the enterprise; and
  • being customer-centric and doing what is right is in conflict with making money (revenues, profits, margins)

And I sense that this is the heart of the issue when it comes to the chasm between the talk and the reality.   ‘Business as usual’ means managing companies to make profit and everything else is secondary.   Whatever will help make the numbers gets done, what doesn’t gets cut.  Whereas in a genuinely customer-centric business the profit is a byproduct of everyone, including the Tops, being focussed on doing something well/great for the customer.  Think Apple, think Amazon, think John Lewis…….


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