7 Customer Experience lessons courtesy of the horse meat and Amazon scandals

What is the central insight that arises from the discipline of systems and systems thinking?  It is this

Everything is interconnected with everything else

You may be asking yourself, what has this to do with Customer Experience.  Everything.  For one it means that when one is up for architecting/designing/delivering the Customer Experience it is not enough to simply focus on the service delivered by Customer Services.  Nor is it enough to look at interactions, touchpoints, and the front office functions of marketing, sales and customer service. These are the two essential facts that are not adequately grasped, at best, for many, they are simply platitudes.  Let’s explore.

Horse meat scandal: Supermarkets battle to regain customer confidence

By now you must have heard that there is another scandal which started in the UK and now spans Europe.  It is the horse meat scandal. According to the Telegraph, a pro business newspaper:

A hard-hitting report by MPs on Thursday said that the scale of contamination in the supermarket meat supply chain was “breathtaking”. The cross-party Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee said that consumers had been “cynically and systematically duped”, as “elements in the food chain” had pursued profits by substituting beef for cheaper horse meat.

And if that is not enough, the same piece goes on to say:

Although blame for the contamination lies with suppliers rather than retailers, one long-serving senior supermarket executive described the situation as “pandemonium”. “I was around for foot-and-mouth and BSE and this feels like it’s on that scale,”

Think about the Customer Experience.  Has the experience of customers been affected negatively by the scandal? Here is what the Telegraph newspapers says:

Shoppers already appear to be voting with their feet. Meat sales in independent family-run butchers and farm shops have risen by 75pc in some areas while analysts believe sales of cheaper processed meat in supermarkets have fallen sharply. A survey found that almost half of all shoppers will avoid buying processed meat from affected supermarkets.

Ask yourself what has changed?  Specifically, what customer interaction, touchpoint, and experience at that touchpoint has changed?  It occurs to me that from a functional touchpoint view nothing has changed. So how is it that the Customer Experience has changed?  From a customer viewpoint everything has changed. They have found that they cannot trust the supermarkets.  And as such the Customer Experience of supermarkets, at least when it comes to buying meat, has been impacted negatively.

What specifically does the horse meat scandal unconceal for us?  I say that it unconceals the importance of the supply chain in so far as it impacts the ‘product’ that is offered to the customer. Hold that thought.

Amazon scandal: using neo-Nazi guards to keep workforce under control?

Can you exclude examining the supply chain, as a part of your Customer Experience effort, if it does not impact the quality of the product which touches the customer?  The obvious answer appears to be yes.  I say you might just want to think again. Why?

I am an Amazon customer and up to now I have been neutral about the values/impact of Amazon.  As such I have bought a lot of stuff from Amazon over the years.  Now, I am conflicted.  Over the past few days the desire to buy several products has shown up and yet I have not found myself able to buy. Why?  Because I have been given a glimpse into the supply chain practices of Amazon. And what I stand for in this world conflicts with what Amazon is up to in its supply chain.  According to this Independent article:

Amazon is at the centre of a deepening scandal in Germany as the online shopping giant faced claims that it employed security guards with neo-Nazi connections to intimidate its foreign workers.

Germany’s ARD television channel made the allegations in a documentary about Amazon’s treatment of more than 5,000 temporary staff from across Europe to work at its German packing and distribution centres.

The film showed omnipresent guards from a company named HESS Security wearing black uniforms, boots and with military haircuts. They were employed to keep order at hostels and budget hotels where foreign workers stayed. “Many of the workers are afraid,” the programme-makers said.

7 Customer Experience lessons

I say one should not waste the insight that comes from these scandals. So I offer you 7 lessons that show up for me as result of these scandals and my work on Customer Experience.

1. Clearly Customer Experience, as a construct and as a discipline, is more than simply the service delivered by the Customer Services function.

2. Customer Experience is more than individual, or even the sum of, customer interactions with the company at touch points via specific channels.

3.  Customer Experience is the delivery of the promise (value proposition) and the fulfilment of customer expectations across the complete customer life-cycle.

4. The product or service that draws the customer to purchase is a core/critical part of the Customer Experience and cannot simple be taken for granted and ignored.  I wrote a while ago that the Customer Experience folks cannot simply ignore the product. 

5. The supply chain matters as it impacts the Customer Experience, as such it cannot simply be ignored by those of us working on the Customer Experience.

6. Everything is connected to everything else. This means that what happens in the ‘back office’ or ‘out of sight’ of the customer, including HR practices and technology decisions, indirectly impacts the Customer Experience.

7. To excel and compete at Customer Experience one needs to get that Customer Experience has to be the organising doctrine for the whole organisation-  it has to be a way of life for every person, every part of the organisation including its supply chain and channel partners.

And finally

It occurs to me that it is worth sharing this lesson. It is lesson that is not appreciated nor heeded especially by the Tops.  It is a lesson that comes from the nature of systems:

One cannot escape indefinitely the long-term consequences of short-term orientated behaviour. Or as my father taught me at the age of 5, if you ‘steal’ then expect to get caught sooner or later.

Self service is not an easy fix or why I love Kylie

Yesterday I read an interesting article on self service (well worth reading) and this got me thinking about my recent experience with the Home Delivery Network, a parcel delivery firm that operates in the UK.

One day I was handed this card by wife.  She told me that it looked like a parcel had come for me and as no-one had been home the driver had not been able to deliver the parcel.  The first thing I noticed was that the card had not been completed and so I was not able to tell:

  • who the parcel was for as there are five of us living at this address;
  • when the delivery firm had attempted to deliver it and failed;
  • what had actually happened to the parcel –  taken back to the depot or left with a neighbour etc.

What I did notice was 8 digit parcel ID and the instruction to look at the back of the card for contact details.  Reading the back it became clear that I was being urged to go to the website.  I did exactly that and entered both the parcel ID and my postcode.  The website responded with the following message: “Your parcel(s) cannot be rescheduled for delivery, please contact customer services on 0871 977 0800”.  Just to make sure that I had not made an error, I had a second go at entering the parcel ID and postcode and found that I got the same message.

So I called the number and found that straight away (no waiting) the IVR kicked in and once I had entered the parcel ID it spelt out when I could get the parcel delivered.   As it was a Tuesday, I requested delivery on the Thursday and left my home number so that delivery firm could ring me back if there was an issue.    At this point I was happy with the experience as it had been easy to schedule a delivery.

Thursday arrived and departed: we did not get the parcel delivered and we did not get a phone call to let us know that there was an issue.  So I contacted customer services (the IVR) and proceeded to listen to the option and select another date for delivery.  That date came and went: no delivery, no phone call.  Then I made a third attempt and met the same fate.

At this point I became rather frustrated even angry.  Why?  Because I wanted to get my hands on the parcel and I could not.  Every time I dialled the customer services number I found myself faced with the IVR which spelled out the dates when I could reschedule delivery.  I was wondering: how do I get through to a human being who can help me with my problem?

Then I made another attempt to contact customer services.  This time I listened to the IVR and did not opt for any of the delivery dates and found that right at the end I was given an option to speak to a human being.  I selected that option and found myself talking to Kylie.   She greeted me warmly, took my details, looked at her system and was able to tell me that the parcel was addressed to (my wife) and sent by Republic (the clothes retailer).

Kylie also told me that the delivery drivers handheld had failed and so he had not been able to upload the information into the system.  As a result I had not been able to find and reschedule the delivery of the parcel.  Then she went on to tell me that the notes on her system were telling her that the parcel had actually been delivered the very first time.  And clearly that might explain why I had a lack of success in getting the parcel delivered!

When I told Kylie that my wife and I had not received that parcel (despite what her systems said) Kylie went on to clearly explain what I need to do.   She was great and she completely changed my mood and my attitude: she took away my frustration because she had shed light on my situation and provided me with a clear path that I needed to follow to close the matter out.  Above all she had a friendly, helpful disposition throughout our conversation: she made me feel that she was on my side.

So here is my take on self-service technology:

Your self-service technology is only as good as the people, processes, technology and data that sits behind your self-service technology

If you consider my experience, you find that the driver left the card behind even though he had delivered the parcel according to Kylie.  Second, the delivery driver did not fill in the data fields in the card: either he should have filled in the data fields or the data fields should not be there.  Third, his handheld failed to update the data into the delivery tracking system.  Fourth, the IVR allowed me to schedule a delivery even though there was no parcel to be delivered as it had already been delivered.

Give customers an incentive to use the self-service technology: make their life quicker and easier

At first I jumped at the idea of rescheduling the parcel delivery through a website.  Why?  Because, in the past I have had to make a number of calls and/or wait a long time to have delivery depots answer my calls, find my parcel on their system and then reschedule a delivery.  Even when the website did not work, I was happy to use the IVR to schedule the delivery as it was quick and easy.

Give customers an easy way to bypass the self-service technology

It is necessary to give customers an easy to find option to bypass the self-service technology.  Why? Because the self-service technology can fail and does fail as it did in my case where neither the web nor the IVR was able to tell me that there was no parcel left to deliver or to deliver that parcel.  In my case, I made four failed contacts with the delivery firm before I was able to figure out how to get through to a helpful human being – a customer services agent called Kylie.

Also because not all customers can or want to use self-service technology.  A case in point is the UK supermarkets replacing cashiers with self-service tills where the customer has to do the work of the cashier.  I am in that segment of people who do not agree to the proposition that I should do the work of the supermarkets especially as the two times I have made the effort the process has not worked and I have had to wait for one of the supermarket staff to come over and sort out the issues.

The more you replace human-human interactions with self-service technology the more important human beings become

Why?  Because human beings are usually the best at dealing with and sorting out the problems that you create for your customers through the introduction of self-service technology.  This is where Kylie was great: she simply defused by frustration and anger by listening to me, getting where I was at and then helping me through to the solution.

Whilst self-service technologies can improve the functional experience it tends to be at the cost of the emotional experience

At a recent conference I heard several female customers mention that whilst they appreciated the ease and convenience of banking electronically with First Direct they did not feel any emotional bond with First Direct because they never spoke with a human being.   This points to a truth: whilst technology can make life easier it rarely makes human beings feel acknowledged, appreciated, respected, valued.  This is why I love Kylie:  she made me feel all those things when the self-service technology had left me feeling insignificant, neglected and helpless.

Who says you have to be customer centric to thrive?

Is it feasible that companies are not customer centred because it is possible to thrive without being customer centric?  Before you dismiss this out of hand consider the following examples.

Mary Portas: Secret Shopper – last nights episode on the furniture industry

On Wednesday I watched the tv program Mary Portas: Secret Shopper which took a look at the furniture retailing category and found that it was anything but customer centric.

The marketing across the category is either misleading or downright deceptive.   There is one kind of sale or another on almost around the year.  The discounted prices on the furniture are nothing of the kind.  And the price guarantees are absolutely worthless because the retailers know that it is simply not possible for the customer to buy the same product from another retailer.

The focus of the sales staff is selling irrespective of whether the furniture meets the needs of the customers.  The sales folks even convinced themselves that they were customer centric when it was blatantly clear that they simply did not get what it means to be customer centric: to put yourself in the shoes of the customer and thus help the customer to make smart purchasing choices that they will be happy with – no buyers remorse when they got home. In fact it can be argued that the sales folks were doing rather well by not being customer centric: one of them claimed to have earned £57,000 in commission just through standard selling.

Management simply wrote off the people who felt aggrieved about poor quality of the furniture and the poor customer service.  Yet despite the negative reviews on the internet on CSL (the furniture retailer featured on Mary Portas: Secret Shopper) I do not see it closing down because customers are running to its competitors.  Why is that?

Because all the furniture retailers are at it.  They are all misleading customers with their marketing and price promises.  They are all getting customers to buy whatever makes the most commission for the sales folks.  And they are all offering poor customer service.  I believe that I wrote about how easy it is to become customer centric by disrupting category practices

Tesco comes 8th in the latest Which? customer satisfaction survey

Tesco is the UKs most successful supermarket brand.  You might then assume that it would rank highly in any customer satisfaction survey.  Well Which? polled 12,000 consumers and placed Tesco 8th with a customer satisfaction rating of 48%.  Aldi scored 65%, Lidl scored 64%, Morrisons scored 59%.  You can find the full details here.

Does this mean that you can thrive without being customer centric?  Or does it mean that there is little or no correlation between customer satisfaction and financial success?  Perhaps it means that the Which? survey is flawed.  You decide.

BSkyB goes from strength to strength

As far as I am aware BSkyB is not a brand that is loved by consumers.  My own experience of dealing with BSkyB was less than positive.  And yet BSkyB keeps going from strength to strength.  Recently it announced that at the end of 2010 it had over 10m customers (thus hitting one of the key targets) and half-year profits were up 26% on last year.

Is it possible that BSkyB is thriving because it has an effective monopoly on pay tv?  So if you want what Sky has then you have to go and buy it from Sky.  That is to say that BSkyB owns strategic assets that allow it to deliver less than great customer service.  I believe I wrote a post on the value of strategic assets.

Is it because it has branched into adjacent areas: telephony and broadband?  Is it because it offers bundles (pay tv, telephony, broadband) that other players find hard to match?

Or am I wrong and BSkyB is a great example of a customer centric organisation?

TalkTalk continues to be the second largest broadband provider.

TalkTalk is the UKs second largest broadband provider.  The negative reviews posted on this company by customers are legion.  It is a company that was investigated twice by Ofcom (the industry regulator) last year as a result of customer complaints.   And Ofcom found it guilty of breaching telecoms regulations when it charged customers for cancelled services.

If customers are so dissatisfied then why is it that TalkTalk has not collapsed?  Or at least shrivelled significantly?

Is it because they are locked into existing contracts?  Or is it because far too many customers simply are not willing to go through the inconvenience of switching broadband suppliers because they consider them to be pretty much the same.  Does this remind you of the furniture retailing example that I started this post with?