Travelex: 7 lessons for service excellence and the customer experience

Recently I had overseas friends come over and visit us.  It just so happened that they had a big problem and thus had to make contact with Travelex to get it sorted out.  How did things play out?  What was their experience?  And what can we learn about the customer|company interface/interaction/’relationship’?    Lets use the job-to-be-done approach and work our way through.

The job to be done: get access to the holiday money

My friends had an issue – they had loaded all of their holiday money onto two cash cards and they were not able to use one of these cards.  And that showed up in their world as a big problem that had to be sorted out .  Why were they not able to use the Travelex cash card?  Because they could not remember the PIN.   Why did this issue arise?  A random PIN had been issued with the cash card.  This PIN was not meaningful to my friends so they forgot it and were not able to reconstruct it through trial and error using meaningful dates/numbers.

Given this problem, my friends had a job for Travelex: sort out their issues so that they could use the card, get access to the money that was ‘stored’ on the card.  This job showed up as being particularly important – they were  at the start of their holiday and would need the money sometime during their holiday.  Probably soon.

Website: time-consuming and not useful in addressing the issue

Having access to the internet, my friends turned to the website.   They looked around the website and they did not find any useful information.  They looked around for someone to talk to / help them out on the website.  No luck – there is no LiveChat facility on the Travelex website.  At least they were able to get the phone number for Customer Service and so they were hopeful.

Call-centre:  your call is important to us yet not important enough to answer!

Struggling with getting help via the website they called Customer Service.  And then they waited and waited and waited.  Every so often they were told that their call was important to Travelex.  Five minutes went by, then 10 minutes, then 15 minutes, then 20 minutes.   How did they feel?  Frustrated.   What frustrated them the most:

  • the gulf between the reality of their experience and the voice which kept repeating that their call was important to Travelex…..;
  • not knowing where they were in the queue and how long it would take for Travelex to answer their call;
  • not being presented with the option of leaving a contact number and have Travelex call them back.

After 20 minutes my friends hung up the phone as time was running by and they had to get going if they were to deliver on their promise to their boys and make a day of it at Thorpe Park.

What can we learn from this

1. Companies generate wasted effort and poor customer experiences by failing to think things through from the customer perspective and designing accordingly.   If  Travelex had required my friends to come up with their own pin for the cash card then it is likely that they would have used a PIN that was memorable to them.

2. The cause of many service failures (and poor customer experience) is often zero empathy for customers as real human beings.  Travelex could have foreseen and adequately catered for two critical scenarios.  First, the customer is on holiday and loses his cash card.  Second, the customer is on holiday and has forgotten her PIN.  What makes these critical?  The customer is likely to be in a foreign country, no friends nearby, uncertain and thus stressed about not having access to their money.  Money that shows up as essential to the well being of the customer.

3. In a digital world, service failures hurt the company as well as the customer.  I know that my friends feel ‘unloved’ and are thinking twice about using cash cards and Travelex, in particular. And here I am sharing their story with the world.  Just this morning my wife avoided seductive sales talk (even though she is keen to buy the service offered) by googling and reading reviews by other customers.  In the digital world you cannot escape your reputation – how you treat your customers.  Your reputation acts like an accelerator for making sales or it acts as a brake – your choice!

4. Solutions are often not hard nor costly.   How difficult is it to allow  cash card customers to get access to their PIN via the website?  I say not difficult at all.  Travelex can provide the required  functionality through its website: customer logs in; security check takes place; customer gets to reset PIN on the card.  That is the basic structure – more sophisticated options can be built in. 

5.  Providing this type of critical functionality can help you attract more customers, make more sales – you show customers that you have thought about them, the worst case scenario and you have the right solution in place.  Thus you deal with the barriers, the skepticism, in the way of customers buying.

6. Call-centres and customer service needs radical rethinking and redesign.  What frustrated my friends the most?  Uncertainty.  “Where am I in the queue?  How long before someone answers my call?   Should I hang up or hold on?  If I hang up then when is the best time to call back?”   What would have worked great?  For the call-centre to have picked up their mobile number and rang them back.   Service is not just about the time it takes to answer a call nor about first time resolution.   Customers are multi-dimensional and context sensitive unlike the Customer Services function which seems to be context blind and two dimensional at best.

7. If calls are being deflected onto the self-service channels then these channels have to be designed for real human beings and they have to work.  I suspect that some companies are deliberately under staffing their call-centres to drive customers to use self-service technologies including the web.   The issue is that websites are often in the hands of the folks that want to do brand marketing or selling.   The service dimension is often not given enough importance, is not seriously grappled with and then acted on.  Furthermore, many companies suck at great self-service design.  Airlines, check-in, selection, electronic boarding cards – example of great self-service design.  Grocery stores and self-service checkouts are great examples of atrocious self-service design/thinking.

How to shape customer behaviour and create delight at no extra cost

Anna: the difference between despair and delight

My heart sank when I saw the queue in the bank and I mentally calculated that I could expect to be waiting some 10 – 20 minutes before I got served.  Is it worth waiting that long simply deposit £200 into my bank account because I do not like to carry cash around in my wallet?  Just as the two parts of me (The Rider, The Elephant) were tussling over that question something caught my attention.  One of the three cashiers (Anna) left her seat behind the glass cage, opened the secure door and became a part of us – the customers.

She went up the first person that was waiting and asked her if she was waiting to deposit cash into her bank account.  The old lady mumbled and said she wanted to wait in line.  Then Anna went to the next person – an old man – and asked the same question.  He told her that he was waiting to withdraw cash from his account.  Anna told him that if he had his cashcard then he could withdraw it from the ATM and she would show him how.  The old man made some excuse.  Then Anna went on the next person and the next and after some eight refusal she faced me.  When Anna was facing me I took her up on her offer to show me how to quickly deposit the £200 into my account.

Anna told me that the they (I assume the cashiers) had noticed that customers do not like waiting.  She also told me that most customers turn up and simply want to pay money into their accounts or withdraw money from their accounts.  So they had decided that the best way of reducing the waiting time and educating customers was simply to ‘hold the customer’s hand’ and guide them through the task of depositing or withdrawing money.  She showed me which ATM to use.  Then she turned the work over to me yet standing beside me she guided me through the five simple steps.  In less than two minutes I had completed my task and was simply delighted: delighted with Anna, delighted with Santander, delighted with the self-service technology; and delighted with myself for ‘being open to the new’ and ‘learning a useful shortcut’ that will make my life easier in the future. I thanked Anna and left the Santander branch.  On the way back I pondered some questions and came up with some thoughts that I want to share with you.

Thoughts on customers, customer facing staff and the customer experience

Telling is not the difference that makes a difference. I can remember at least four instances when a Santander cashier has deposited my money into my bank account and then proceeded to tell me that I would do that myself by using the ATM.  Nonetheless, I did not change my behaviour.  In fact I have lost count on the number of time I have been given advice and not acted on it.  Telling is our default mode when we want to remodel human behaviour and it is spectacularly ineffective.  Telling speaks to the Rider (the neocortex) and yet you need to ‘speak’ to the Elephant (limbic brain) to shape behaviour.

Knowing is not the difference that makes a difference.  This is a corollary of the previous point.  The simple fact is that The Rider knew that I could use the ATM to deposit cash into my account.  Yet, the Elephant discounted this knowing.  Why?  Because the Elephant is risk averse. I had not changed my behaviour because my Elephant had taken an emotional position: risky might lose my money; probably will not know what to do and will make a mess of it in public and so lose face; and it is not likely to work so I am going to have to take time to figure out how to make it work and/or go the cashiers to sort out the mess.

If you want to remodel customer behaviour then build a ‘scaffold’Lev Vgotsky who studied cognitive development pointed out that effective learning and development depends on the right scaffold – one that the learner can use to climb higher safely one step at a time.   Think about construction work: the scaffold is a structure that enables the workers to build the building more effectively whilst feeling safe.  One form of  ‘scaffold’ is a ‘more knowledgable other’ (MKO) – someone who has mastered the domain and can act as empathetic guide and coach.  This is why Anna was so effective in changing my behaviour.  She led the way by literally walking to the ATM and then she led the way by guiding me through the process – one step at a time.  If you want customers to use self-service technology then you have to do what Anna did: train them to use it in a safe supportive environment.  And here is a key point: behaviour (doing, the experience) shapes learning much more than learning shapes behaviour.

Design self-service to create value for your customers.  Part of the delight of my customer experience was actually experiencing how easy it was to use the ATM to deposit cash into my account.  That is to say that the designers had cracked the usability of it: it was intuitive and it addressed the kind of concerns that may come up like I deposit £200 and the ATM thinks it is £160. Furthermore, the process consisted of only five steps and could be completed in less than two minutes thus saving me time which many customer value as we never seem to have enough of it as so much occurs as being spent on drudgery.  Simple tasks are great candidates for self-service provided you save the customer time and/or effort and the customers is embedded in the right context.

Treat different customers differently.  Anna offered to help some eight people all of whom refused before she made the same offer to me which I took up enthusiastically.  The interesting thing to note is that all of these customers were older than me.  They struck me as being the kind of people that trust people more than technology and the kind of people who prefer the human touch to hi-tech.  These people are never likely to be the early adopters so the right thing to do is to find the early adopters – the younger people, the busy professionals, the young mums with children – and remodel their behaviour.  Put more simply,  scatter the seeds where they are most likely to grow with the least effort.  Then wait for the followers to adopt this practice by social osmosis.

Being precedes doing so focus on the being.  There is something special in Anna’s being – it is the first thing that I noticed last time we interacted and this time.    Of the three cashiers she was the youngest.  Of the three cashiers she was the only one that smiled and looked happy.  When she came into the customer den – to where we were standing – she was totally calm.  Her whole being exuded the air of caring, helpfulness and competence.  She was not pushy: she was not in a rush to get any of the customers to do anything in particular.  Her totally being was an invitation: “I can make your life easier if you will allow me to do that, will you allow me to do that?”  It was her being( the way she was being) that got my trust and why I took up her invitation to use the ATM.  What am I saying?  You can’t fake caring it is simply who you are or who you are not: if you genuinely care for your customers it comes through and the Elephant (subconscious) picks it up and if you do not care the Elephant picks that up as well.  My advice: hire more people like Anna and create an environment that supports and nourishes their natural being.

Your customer facing staff have valuable insights into your customers.  The Santander cashiers spend their professional lives observing, talking with and serving customers.  So is it any surprise that the Santander cashiers know that that the most frequent service that they are asked to deliver is either to bank cash or withdraw cash for customers.  Is it any surprise that they also know that customers hate waiting?  What else do your customer facing staff know about your customers and your business that if you tapped into would make a difference to your customers and your business results?  Have you created an environment that calls forth these insights from your staff?

If you want your customer staff to improve the customer experience then create clearings for insight to be acted upon.  Have you ever played paintball?  What is it like to move around in a densely wooded area?  Difficult, tedious, painful and slow right?  Well in many organisations it is the same experience for customer facing staff to do the right thing by your customers.  So if you want them to do more of the right things then you have to create ‘clearings’. What is possible in a clearing?  A lot because the space is not cluttered, it is empty.  I am clear that the Santander management at my local branch had enabled the cashiers to act on their insights by creating a clearing: permission to step out of the glass cage and help customers by walking them to the ATM and showing them how easily they can help themselves.

Treat different employees differently.  The employees that are most ingrained in the existing way of doing things are the ones that are most likely to stick with the existing way of doing things.  It is the younger employees those that have not been assimilated into your existing culture that are the most promising candidates for trying out new ways of doing things.  I could not help but notice three things: Anna was the youngest of the three cashiers; she had only been with Santander for a relatively short amount of time; and she is not English.  So it makes perfect sense that the other two cashiers stayed within their glass cage where they are comfortable and Anna walked out of it.  Yet, if all three had stepped out of the glass cage then there would have been no cashiers to serve the older customers who expect cashiers to sit behind glass cages and do stuff for them.

Improving the customer experience and delighting customers need not cost any more.  What extra costs did Santander occur by allowing Anna to leave her glass cage and help me to serve myself?  None at all. The customer experience was improved by simply redeploying the existing resources in a more imaginative / more valuable way.    Incidentally, if you spend much time in a call centre you will find that the bulk of the incoming demand for attention from customers is ‘failure demand’: the call centre is being asked to rectify ‘defects’ introduced into the customer experience by marketing, sales, logistics, finance…… So by improving the customer experience you can take out as much as 80% of the cost of your call centre operations.  How many millions is that in savings?    And in the process your create customer delight simply because your organisation gets it right first time.  To paraphrase Philip Crosby ‘quality customer experience is free’.