How the AA excels at delivering the perfect service experience – 11 lessons (Part II)

This post completes the conversation that I started in Part I of this post which you can find here.

11 lessons for crafting a perfect service experience

1: make it easy for your customers to get access to your contact details so that it occurs (to your customers) as no effort at all.  Yes, you can put the number on all of your existing interaction channels.  Can you go further and issue a membership card like the AA does and give the key details including the contact number on that one card? Why not build an app for that?  Yes so that the smartphone user just hits the app and the app does all the work?

2: make it easy for customers to get through to a friendly human voice.  First and foremost it means having the right number of people available to take calls.  And instead of unhelpful messages like “we are experiencing high call volumes”, “check out our website”, “your call is important to us” do something useful.  For example, let the customer know where he is in the queue and how long he is likely to have to wait.  Better still use technology to ring the customer back – when his turn comes up – so that he can do something useful with his time.  My colleagues in the customer management community tell me that the technology to do this exists.  What is missing is the will to do it.

3: use the information that is available to you to make the customer’s life easier.  For example, the AA have clearly sourced vehicle data from the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority) and so I simply had to provide the registration number rather than spell out the details of the car.  This saved us both time and the AA probably had better data on the vehicle than I would have been able to provide.  Incidentally, most organisations can a lot better in this area.

4: make specific, measurable, commitments like the AA lady did when she said that someone will be with you within 1 hour.  When you make nice sounding vague statements I, the customer, simply do not believe you.  When you make specific commitments – especially in a measured, confident tone – then you inspire my confidence in you.  What is more, you reduce my uncertainty, I know what to expect and when and so I can better manage my time, myself.  Specific commitments reduce uncertainty (and risk) in the customer’s mind replacing it with a certain piece of mind – a highly desired state.  

5: conduct a human conversation and look for opportunities to acknowledge and validate your customer.  Let’s face it most of us (if not all of us) experience a surge of joy and affinity when someone who matters to us acknowledges and validates us.  Plenty of people turn to counsellors to experience that feeling.  So imagine the emotional connection you build with your customers when you treat them that way.  Incidentally, that way of treating customers is the ultimately way of letting your customers know that you respect them. The AA lady excelled when she thanked me for offering to take a back seat if someone needed the AA more than me.  It is not just what she said it was the way that she said – genuine surprise and delight.  Incidentally, you cannot conduct a human conversation if you are keen to get them off the phone.  That has the same effect as talking with someone and noticing that he keeps looking at his watch and over your shoulder towards someone else.

6: honour your word.  No doubt you are familiar with “under promise, over deliver” – that is great if your promise is acceptable to the customer.  Yet many times it is not like the companies that quote 2 days to respond to your email when we expect a response in several hours.  The other aspect is that you can honor your word even when you cannot keep your promise.  How?  As soon as you figure out that you are not in a position to keep your word then contact your customer, explain the situation and sort out the mess.  You can only sort out the mess by asking the customer “How can I make this right by you so that we can move beyond this with no hard feelings?”    Incidentally the best way of you losing my respect is for you to repeatedly break your word – to me or to my fellows (think social media and social networks).  Incidentally, honouring your word is all or nothing affair rather like being pregnant – you cannot be half pregnant.

7: do the job that the customer has hired you to do – deliver the desired outcome.  Did I value Andy’s friendly manner?  Yes.  Did I value Andy’ s knowledge of cars? Yes. Yet neither of those attributes would have had made up for my car being stuck on the drive.  The fact is that this was a great experience because Andy got the job done.  He (and so the AA) delivered the outcome that I had hired the AA for when I had joined as a member: my car was working and I was mobile once more. 

8: take the opportunity to educate your customers.  If the customer turns to you to get a job done then it is likely that you have some knowledge that you can share that will leave the customer better off.  For example, if you are selling shoes then you can suggest tips on how the customer can best take care of those shoes.  In my case Andy told me that my car, an old Mercedes, is prone to the kind of problem I encountered if it is started and then not drive for some 10 minutes or so.  So his tip if you start the engine then leave it running for 10 minutes or so.  This is another major failing and an area in which organisations can easily improve if they put their heart into it (I will be writing on this later).

9: no matter what technical job you are doing remember that there is always a human job – to make sure that your customer feels great about doing business with you.  Too often we get wrapped up in the technical task and forget about our flesh and blood human beings.  Andy (and the AA) did not make that mistake.  Andy was wearing the right clothes, he was clean, he smiled and talked with me.  Specifically, he used my language and asked me simple questions that I could answer.  He told me what he was doing.  And most importantly he did not do anything to make me feel foolish.  Even when I felt foolish and apologised Andy reassured me and by doing so he helped shore up my self-esteem rather than diminish it.  If the “experience” bit means anything it means pay attention to the human being and his subjective experience throughout the encounter

10:  there is no substitute for genuinely caring about your customers (and your role).  When you genuinely care about your customers then that becomes part of your DNA and manifests itself in everything that you do.  In every single interaction that I have had with the AA I have been left with the experience that the AA folks care about me (their customer) and the job that they are doing.  The ultimate act of caring was the way that Andy ended the encounter: “We’re here to help you!”  I took that to mean “Don’t feel bad about calling me out over a flooded engine that I fixed in two minutes.  My job, our job, is to help you – whatever help you need big or small!”  He didn’t say that in words because he did not have to – he said it in his whole being from the moment that I met him at the door to the time that he left.  You can’t fake Being.  Yet too many companies that are embarked on the customer bandwagon are doing their best to fake it.

11: the customer facing staff can put on a beautiful show and deliver a great experience to the extent that the backstage people do their work.  One of my sons loves to sing and is in a choir that sang at the Proms (this is a major annual event in the UK) recently.  I can tell you that it took a lot of planning and practice to plan and pull of that event.  It requires a dedication to the cause such that all the details are taken care of.  Too many customer experience folks are focussing on the performers on the stage (and the play) and yet not paying the right level of attention to the backstage: the people, the propos…….As the AA has the Which? award for two years running that suggests that it has taken care of the whole package – the performers on the stage and the stuff backstage.  Who are the most important backstage people?  The people at the top (The Tops) who ultimately set direction, shape culture and management style, make investment decisions, set up KPI’s……….

How the AA excels at delivering the perfect service experience – 11 lessons (Part I)

Value (through the customer’s eyes) = f (Outcome, Experience)

Another way of saying the same thing is to say that if you want to create superior value for the customer (as perceived through her eyes) you have to focus on both the “Outcome” and the “Experience”.  By “Outcome” I simply mean that when a customer interacts with you then she does so because she desires a specific outcome – an end result.  By “Experience” I mean the customers subjective experience of her interaction/s with you in the process of getting to her outcome.

The AA excels at creating value for its customers and this shows up in customer satisfaction ratings

Companies that excel at the customer delight game deliver both the outcome and the experience.  One company that excels at delivering this delight is the AA.  The AA is one of the larger better known breakdown service companies in the UK.  And it looks like my recent breakdown experience (will share that later with you) is the norm rather than an exception – at least according to the following article: “AA takes top two slots in Which? car breakdown assistance survey”

What is a structure of a perfect service experience?

Allow me to share my recent AA breakdown experience as it is a useful guide on what kinds of behaviour work for us as human beings.

Last weekend my car failed to start: I tried once, I tried twice, I tried three time and then I simply used the other car.  The next day I did the same and gave up – the car simply would not start and I could not figure out why as it had been working perfectly.  It is Sunday, I know I need the car for Monday and it just does not start.  So I have a problem.  My desired outcome: the engine starts and I can use that car to drive around.  The job to be done: an engineer to come out, take a look and fix it so that it works and I have my desired outcome.  The time had come to call the AA – as I have taken out the home breakdown cover.

One of the most infuriating experiences is the experience of needing to contact an organisation and not being able to find the right contact number.  A great example of a company that falls into that group is Sky: each month I get a statement and there have been a few times that I have wanted to call Sky to discuss something but there simply is no contact number on the statement!  To get that contact number I have to log on to their website and hunt around for that contact number.  And when I do get that number I have to figure out which IVR option it is – sometimes I get it wrong.

With the AA I had no such problem.  I simply took out my membership card turned it over and rang the emergency breakdown number.  How much effort did I need to make? In answering this question what matters is my experience (my perception) and in my experience it occurred as no effort at all.

We have all heard “we are experiencing unusually high call volumes” no matter when we call accompanied by “your call is important to us”.  Does that make you feel better?  Do you believe a word of it?  Well I am delighted to say that I did not receive any of that rubbish when I rang the emergency number.  My call was answered in less than a minute and I remember being surprised at how quickly a friendly human voice was on the other end of the phone.

Once I was talking with the customer services agent (the young lady on the line) I simply had to give my membership number (which is written on my membership card) and tell her of my situation.  She then simply asked me for the car registration number which I provided.  Using that information she identified the make, model and age of the car.  This was all done in a couple of minutes – at most.  Then she read out the time and told me that someone would be with me within an hour.  The way that she said that occurred as deliberate and confident and that inspired confidence / trust in me: this organisation knows what it is doing and someone will be with me within the hour.  I responded by saying that as my broken down car was sitting on my drive my need was not urgent and so if the AA had to choose between getting to me and someone broken down on the motorway then I’d be happy for them to take care of the person on the motorway.  To my surprise, the young lady on the other line acknowledged my generosity and thanked me for it.  That made me feel good!

After my call with the AA lady I settled down to do some work on the computer.  Before I knew it (because I was immersed in what I was doing) the AA mechanic turned up.  I remember being surprised because the response seemed quick: I looked at my watch and it had only been some 35 minutes – the AA patrol man had turned up in half the time that I had been quoted.

I handed over my keys to the patrolman (“Andy”) and he got busy trying to start the car.  Then he asked me the following question “Did you start the car and then stop the car without really driving it?” I told Andy that indeed I had done that simply to rearrange the car on the drive – to free up parking space for guests.  Andy told me that by doing that I had most likely flooded the engine with excess fuel and soaked the spark plugs.  After a few attempts Andy got the engine started and told me to let the car run for about 20 minutes.  And he advised me how to avoid flooding the engine and thus stop my current problem from happening again.

At this point I felt foolish and bad about calling out the AA.  My issue was a non-issue: I could have done what Andy had done to get the car started.  And I felt foolish that I did not know how easy it is flood the engine in a car like mine.  If I had simply carried out a few sensible behaviours I would not have the issue in the first place.  So I apologised to Andy for having to call him out for such a simple non-issue.  To my surprise he replied that I should not feel bad as it is a common problem.  And he finished by saying “We are here to help you!” and the way that he said it (and the way he had interacted with me in fixing the car) occurred as authentic.  He was not following a script or mouthing some corporate slogan – he believed what he was saying.  I thanked him and he left.

In the second part of this post (Part II) I will cover the 11 lessons for crafting the perfect service experience.