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 Is The Price Of Customer Loyalty And Who Pays It?

I say that there is a ‘price’ attached to everything and it is always paid. What is open to influence is ‘who’ pays the ‘price’.  The question I wish to address in this conversation is this one: what is the price of customer loyalty and who pays it?

Let’s leave aside theory for those that specialise in it: the professors, the authors, the ‘gurus’. And look it this question in the concrete – through my lived experience.  In particular, let’s look at two recent events and experiences.

Churchill: The Price of Customer Loyalty is a 70% Mark Up

Recently, I got a renewal reminder through from Churchill regarding the car insurance policy I have with this organisation. The price was was around £320. And I was assured that I was taken care of, needed to do nothing, was in safe hands and this insurance would be renewed automatically.

In the early part of my business life I got a good look inside the insurance industry. What struck me was how the folks in the insurance industry did everything in their power to not pay customer claims including legitimate claims. Where paying out could not be stopped, the focus was on delaying payment as long as possible (money in the bank earns interest for the insurance company) and making an effort to get the customer to agree to a smaller amount than the customer was due.

With this in mind, and a niggle at the back of my mind suggesting that the previous year the premium had been less than £200, I started my due diligence on the insurance comparison websites. Guess who showed up among the most competitive insurance providers? Churchill.  Guess what the premium was? £187

Let’s take a good look at this from a loyalty perspective. The price of loyalty was to be paid by me as follows: increase in premium of £133 which amounts to a markup (on the £187) of 71%.

What did Churchill offer me in return for this extra premium? Nothing. The only difference between the £187 (on website) and the £320 (renewal) was that I got less cover! The £187 premium included free car breakdown insurance, the £320 premium did not.

What did I do? I took out a new policy for £187 and then rang to cancel the renewal. How did the call-centre agent respond? She asked me to allow her to match the best quote I had got elsewhere. I told her that Churchill had already done that. When I explained that I had taken out a new policy via the website she told me that it was normal for new customers to get a better deal especially if they sign-up online.

What else did she do? She told me off. For what? For taking out a new policy and messing up the internal system. What would she have liked me to do? Ring up Churchill, ask them to match the quote, get the renewal premium amended and continue with the existing policy.  It occurs to me that Churchill is true outside-in organisation which understand the customer and focuses on the customer experience. How else does one come up with this radical approach to doing business? Joking!  And sadly, the orientation is the default one despite all the talk.

Lesson for Customers: Never trust a commercial organisation to have your interests at heart. The standard practice is to sell you what makes most revenue-profit for the organisation this year.

Lesson for Enterprises: Given the radical transparency and ease of shopping facilitated by the internet it is necessary to pay attention to your pricing policies; not all customers are lazy, ignorant, or wealthy especially in the current economic climate.

 RAC: The Price Of Customer Loyalty Is A 12% Mark Up

We received a renewal reminder from the RAC. Like Churchill, the RAC assured me that I was in safe hands, had to do nothing, the renewal would take place automatically.  Given the comprehensive cover I have (UK, Europe, Number of People, Services) the sum of £342 did not seem too much.  As I was doing the Churchill search on the net, I did the same for car breakdown cover.

I chose only to look at two organisations: RAC and the AA.  RAC turned out to be just as competitive as the AA. Given my positive experiences with both organisations, I did not mind which ended up providing the cover.  When I plugged in my cover requirements from the renewal reminder into the RAC website, I found the same cover for £322. No big difference.

Seeing myself as a Customer Experience investigator, I chose to call the RAC. I selected the ‘going elsewhere option’ on the IVR. The agent answered the call, I told him the situation. He has helpful and investigated. What renewal premium did he offer me? Better than I was looking at on the RAC website. He offered me a renewal premium of £307. I took up the offer.

So let’s do the maths. The price of customer loyalty is still paid by the customer. It is just that in the case of the RAC the price is much lower: £35 representing a mark up (on £307) of 12%.

Lesson for Customers: Not all enterprises are out to get you to pay every penny. Some like the RAC settle for charging you modest amounts (mark up) in exchange for the convenience of doing nothing – saving you time and effort.

Lesson for Enterprises: Charging modest premiums in exchange for convenience is likely to be better received-experienced by your customers; I view RAC rather differently to Churchill – the latter shows up for me as greedy, the RAC shows up as fundamentally ok. If you do get caught like the RAC did then consider being gracious and generous like the RAC agent. Why? Because, it left me with the experience of gratitude to RAC rather than the experience of getting satisfaction at besting greedy Churchill.

Final Thoughts

It occurs to me that companies have made a mess of customer loyalty as they have viewed this in a selfish (transactional) manner. They have viewed loyalty in terms of getting more money from customers.  And by necessity the cost of customer loyalty falls on the customer: the customer pays to be loyal, stick with existing supplier.

So the opening for those who are up for a radical approach to doing business arises with grappling with this question: how can we create superior value for the customer such that s/he stays with us and is happy to pay a premium?  It occurs to me that Apple has been doing a great job of answering this question through its hardware, software, and ecosystem.  Which may explain why it’s value has rocketed over the last ten years. And why the market in used Apple hardware in eBay is more than all the other PC companies combined.


Are we, the Customer community, living in the land of make believe?

I believe that you and I are in communication because at some level we have a deep interest in improving the customer experience: doing right by the customer and expecting that reciprocity will kick in and the customer will do right by us and as such we all win and in the process create a better world.  Am I right?  Perhaps, that is just where I am at and what I am about.

1999 was the year that I got deeply involved in the whole Customer movement when I joined Siebel to build its consulting practice.  And in mid-2000 I was working with The Peppers & Rogers Group evangelising and consulting on 1to1 marketing.  Even in those days we were selling the following: the need to put the customer first in corporate decision making; engaging in genuine dialogue with customers; cultivating a learning relationship with customers;  putting relevance and personalisation into marketing communications;  gluing up the touchpoints to provide an integrated customer experience;  rising the importance of the call centre – focusing on effectiveness first and efficiency second; creating a single view of the customer by gluing data together from disparate touchpoints and systems; and a smart use of technology where technology enables the execution of the customer strategy and improves the customer experience.

In 2011 I am reading an array of article from customer gurus, customer evangelists, marketing academics, service centred academics and software vendors.  And they are talking about selling the same messages that me and my colleagues were selling over 10 years ago.  Yet, how much of the business world has really grasped and acted on this advice?  Yes, I know that there are a few exceptional companies that live the ‘customer-centric’ ethos and are prospering.  What about the rest?  Why is it that the rest are pretty much doing business pretty much they way they were doing it some 10+ years ago.   I got a glimpse of an answer this week and I’d like to share it with you.

As my wife is French she regularly travels to France with the three children and so I have taken out European Breakdown Cover with the RAC.  Well the annual policy was due to lapse on the 7th August and I had got a renewal reminder letter in the post.  My wife was due to leave on Tuesday 2nd August – earlier this week.  So I rang up the RAC call centre to renew the policy and here is what happened:

I rang the RAC and chose the wrong option: travel sales.  Why?  Because the renewal reminder had “Travel Sales” right at the top in a huge font.  When I got through to customer services agent (CSA) he was not able to help me because I needed to select the ‘Breakdown” IVR option.

Hitting the IVR for the second time I got through to the CSA in the Breakdown team.  I told him that wanted to renew the policy for another year and provided him with the policy number.  He quoted me a price and I accepted it.  Then I handed over my credit card details and the transaction was completed.  So far so good. Then I came across a problem.

The CSA asked me if I had a pen and paper handy.  I asked why I needed it.  He told me that he had a new policy number for me.  I replied that I did not want a new policy or a new policy number – I simply wanted to renew the existing policy and keep the existing policy no.  The tone of the CSA changed abruptly as if I had hurled a personal insult at him or was being a ‘difficult’ customer.  He  asked me what the problem was with a new policy number.  I replied that instead of my wife having one policy number she would have to remember two policy numbers and remember when each policy started and finished.  Life would just be simpler keeping the old policy number.  The CSA told me that was not possible – the ‘system’ did not allow it.

What I took away from this

I can get the difficult involved in putting together a single view of the customer.  There are lots of interaction channels and the proliferation continues.  The organisation is fragmented into silo with each doing its own thing and that is not easy to change easily.  Then there is a whole spaghetti of IT systems some under the control of IT and some not.  So putting together a single customer view continues to be a major undertaking and not every company wants to make that investment, that effort.

But how difficult is it to redesign the IVR so that the options speak in the language of the customer?  Why send a renewal reminder which says ‘Travel Sales” when I should be renewing with the Breakdown team?  Why did the renewal reminder spell out which number I had to contact and which IVR option that I needed to select?

Yet what really got me is the fact that the RAC (a brand name organisation with millions of customers) has not thought through the renewal process from the customer.  It really does not take a genius to figure out that the creating a new policy and a new policy number creates complications and extra effort for the customer.  And it may lead to extra work for the RAC – when customer comes on the line and quotes the wrong policy number.  The thing that has really taken me by surprise is the inability of the system to simple extend the existing policy to another year – thus making it unnecessary to issue a new policy.  Why has this issue not been fixed?  Surely I am not the first customer who wants to keep his existing policy and is it really that hard to make that change?

To conclude it does appear to me that there is huge gap between the reality on the ground and all the evangelising by us, the Customer community.  Are we living in a land of make believe?  Are we like the traditional economists who live in a world of superhuman rational actors and perfect information when the reality is that humans are driven/influenced/shaped by subconscious stimuli and in built biases and who find it extremely difficult to make purely rational decisions and who do not have access to perfect information.  What do you think?

PS:  I am going to join my family in France and am taking a break from blogging for the next 2 – 3 weeks.  If you are going on holiday then I wish you the very best.  furthermore, I thank each and everyone of you for reading what I write, sharing it with your network and by commenting.  I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you upon my return.  And if you are a customer evangelist it may be worth remembering that if the Customer stuff was easy then it probably would not be that much fun and there would not be any competitive advantage in it!

A tale of two car breakdown companies and the six lessons you can learn

I have been a loyal customer of the RAC for over 16 years

In the UK the two main car breakdown companies are the RAC and the AA – they are both reputable.  I have been buying breakdown cover from the RAC for over 16 years.  Each year the RAC send me a renewal quote and I simply let them renew the cover.  I don’t go and check the websites to get quotes from other providers.  Why?  Each time I have needed the RAC they have delivered.  In particular, the RAC won my heart when my wife and 3 young children were coming back from France and their car broke down near Paris.  The RAC made sure that my family was taken care of and got them safely back to the UK even though the car could not be repaired at the roadside.

So when the renewal reminder came in this month I simply accepted that I would renew with the RAC.  Then I got a car breakdown renewal reminder from the AA; I had taken out car insurance with the AA last year and took out car breakdown cover even though I did not need it because by taking it out I got a significant discount on the car insurance premium that more than paid for the car breakdown cover.

How two young ladies brought the AA brand to life and won me as a customer

When I rang the AA call centre I was greeted by a friendly voice and I told her that I did not wish to renew the breakdown cover.  She put me through to the retention team.  My call was picked up straight away by another friendly, bubbly, voice who asked me why I was not choosing not to renew.  I told her that I had only taken out the AA breakdown cover because of the car insurance discount and was a long standing happy RAC customer.  She asked me if I would give her the opportunity to offer me a competitive quote.  Because she was so great on the phone with me I agreed.

She came back with a quote that saved me some 40% on the renewal quote put forward by the RAC.  Because of the value that she had created for me and how she was being on the phone (friendly, enthusiastic, helpful, validating) I agreed to take up that quote.  This young lady then proceeded to ask me questions to provide the comprehensive cover I needed.  At one stage she asked me my wife’s birthday.  When she picked up the uncertainty in my reply she empathised and made playful fun of me / with me.  This little interaction here – a fundamentally human interaction – made the whole experience stand out memorably!

Lesson 1:  if you want to win your competitors loyal customer then you need to create value for that customer.  You can do that in many ways.  The AA created emotional value for me – the young lady that I spoke with made we feel great about talking with her and signing on with the AA.  She was also given the freedom from the AA to create economic value for me by saving me 40% of the RAC price.

Lesson 2: your employees shape the customer’s perception of your brand so choose them wisely. I do not know what the components of the AA brand are.  I do not know how the marketing dept want the AA brand to be portrayed.  I do know that as a result of my conversations with the two AA call centre agents I am left thinking/feeling that the AA is a fresh, friendly, enthusiastic and helpful organisation.  That appeals to me and that is why I am happy to be an AA customer.

How the RAC failed to keep me as a customer

After I signed up with the AA I rang the RAC to cancel the automated renewal.  The RAC call centre agent asked why I was not renewing and I told her.  She asked if I would give her a chance to offer a competitive quote and I reluctantly agreed.  Why reluctantly?  On the one hand I had established an affinity with the AA and was happy on the choice I had made.  On the other hand the RAC had looked after me well for 16 years.  The call centre agent came back and told me that the figure I had quoted could not be right – her system was telling her that it was £10 higher.  I did not take this well because I was thinking I am doing you a favour by letting you quote  and you are implying that I am a liar! So I asked this call centre agent to make sure that my breakdown cover was not renewed and ended the call.

Lesson 3: never imply that your customer is lying – we do not take this well especially when we are telling the truth!

Lesson 4: there is absolutely no point in spending money on CRM systems if you employees are not going to use them when it matters.  If the RAC call centre agent had looked into her CRM system she could have reminded me about the times that I had needed their help and they had delivered.  She could have not played the price game and played the relationship and reciprocity

Lesson 5: if you have not given your customer facing staff access to a full view of the customer’s relationship with your organisation (through a CRM system) then you are asking them to compete in a race (for the customer) with their legs tied together.

Lesson 6:  if you don’t give your customer facing staff the freedom to be flexible and use their judgement then they will not be able to do what it takes to win over customers.  I suspect that the competitive intelligence unit with the RAC had fed the AA prices into the computer system and the RAC agent had to stick with those competitive prices.  And that is how she ended up implying that I was lying on the price I had been given by the AA.

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