Are you delivering a P.L.E.A.S.A.N.T customer experience?

The receptionist at my local physio clinic failed to deliver a P.L.E.A.S.A.N.T experience

Recently, I became a customer of a local physiotherapy and chiropractic clinic.  At the first visit (the diagnostic) everything went well and I was delighted that my ‘consultant’ was able to see me the next day to work on me.  I turned up on the day and walked into reception.  The receptionist did not greet me – interesting that I noticed that.  So I took a couple of steps forward and told the receptionist my name and that I had turned up for my 10:50 appointment.

The receptionist looked into her system and told me that the appointment was scheduled for 11:20.  To which I replied “That’s odd, this appointment was made yesterday and it was for 10:50!”  The receptionist (a young woman in her 20s) simply looked at her screen and replied that the appointment was for 11:20.

What got me was the attitude.  It was an attitude of I don’t care, I am not interested in you or your issue.  Furthermore, it came across that the computer system was right and I was wrong!  I remember thinking how difficult is to say (genuinely): “I am sorry we messed up, does this change cause you a problem?”  And then simply give me the space to air my concern or upset.

Here is simple checklist to help you deliver a P.L.E.A.S.A.N.T customer experience

Polite and courteous – are you using appropriate language to welcome your customers?  Do you say hello, good morning, good afternoon, goodbye, thank you, what can I help you with today etc?  Do you greet your regular customers by name?  In my view this is a neglected area especially with younger members of staff – too many simply do not get the critical importance of politeness and courtesy in human to human encounters. In my case, the receptionist, did not greet me with even a simple “Good morning”.

Look and listen – do you look for opportunities to listen to customers?  Do you give your customers undivided attention?  Do you listen to what is unsaid as well as what is articulated in language? Do you pay attention to your customer’s body language?  In my case, if the receptionist had listened to me she would have got that I was concerned about leaving my children on their own for an extra half an hour.

Eye contact – do you establish and maintain friendly eye contact leaving your customers feeling that you are interested in them and what they have to say?  In my case, at the clinic, the receptionist spent more time looking at her computer then she did at me.

Appearance – do you appear approachable and friendly when faced with a customer in person or on the phone?  Do your clothes make the kind of impact that the customer expects in your setting?  Does the website/retail store make the right impression?  How about the appearance of the location?  In my encounter with the receptionist, I remember thinking “She belongs in a beauty salon or behind a perfume counter, not in a health clinic!”.

Smile – are you genuinely pleased to hear from / see your customers?  Even if you are not, do you put on a smile (not  a big fake grin) to make your customer feel welcome? In my case, the receptionist did not smile once, though my ‘consultant’ made up for this when she welcomed me with a genuine smile (at least it occurred as genuine).

Anticipate – do you care enough about your customers to anticipate and cater for their needs?  I am talking about more than event driven marketing.  For example, why is it that physio clinics provide uncomfortable seats in the reception area?  Do these people not get that the reason most people come to them is because they have some kind of back problem?  Or why do these clinics not go that one step further and anticipate that many customers would welcome access to videos that show them how to do the recommended exercises?  The key to this step is to step out of the ME circle into the YOU (Customer) circle

Nurture – how well do you nurture the relationship with your customers?  Are you eager to hear from your customers?  Do you make it easy for them to contact you with suggestions, questions, complaints?  Do you get back to them with what you have done to act on their suggestions, complaints, questions?  How eager are you to actually serve your customers?  Does this come across to your customers?  Do you remember their birthdays?  Do you say thank you by providing special recognition or offer?  Do you ask for their help in improving / growing your business?

Truth and trust – are you truthful with your customers?   Do you regularly and consistently build trust by delivering on your promises?  Do you acknowledge your mistakes truthfully and set about clearly to make things right and rebuild trust?  Do you give customers all the information that they need to make an informed decision?   Do you publish the ‘bad reviews’ as well as the ‘good reviews’? Do you promise only what you can deliver?

The 6 Elements of Customer Engagement

I have a favourite saying which I have stolen from Barry Oshrycustomers are surviving in a world of neglect. And this neglect is becoming more so , not less, despite all the talk of customer service, customer focus, customer experience and customer centricity.

So it is with interest that I read the latest report by Razorfish: Liminal.  The report identifies 6 Engagement Elements (Valued, Efficiency, Trust, Consistency, Relevance, Control) that matter to customers.  Now the interesting thing is that these needs are fundamentally human needs – they arise out of our existence as human beings in an increasingly complex and some would say ‘inhuman’ (artificial) world.

These 6 Engagement Elements can help jumpstart customer experience efforts as they set out the lens through which all business policies, practices and platforms can be viewed and redesigned.  Now onto my take on the 6 Engagement Elements:

1. Valued (you care about me, wow!)

What is the fundamental human need?  Are you surprised to read that it is feeling valued?  This is how one person put it: “It’s something as simple as calling a person, having them listen, and talking with them.  Just feeling as though they are out there, working on your behalf, that you situation has not been discarded, you are not just another passenger. It’s the personal touch that makes the difference. ”

Now I ask you how is it that companies that profess to be working on the customer experience are taking out exactly the elements that tend to make people feel valued?   Survey after survey shows that customers value caring helpful staff.  Yet, what are many organisations doing ?  They are reducing their investments in these staff – whether that is in the retail stores or the people on the end of the line in the contact centres.

Why are people (and the personal touch) being replace with technology?  During my weekly shopping I enjoy talking with the cashiers and I love the ones that smile and chat with me.  Yet, I now find that these cashiers are being replaced with self-service scanning tills.

2. Efficiency (save me time and effort)

What is one dimension of making customers valued?  Are you surprised to learn that it is a respect for the customers time and energy (physical and psychic) – promptly addressing his needs? Customer prefer to do business with companies that make it easy to do business: to get the job done easily, quickly and ideally without any thinking .

A great example of delivering on this need is the airlines.  They have put in place self-service tools that allows passengers to check in and print boarding cards at home.  And to use self-service check-in kiosks at the airport.

Banks are another great example.  By allowing customers to do many of their banking transaction over the web they have cut out the hassle of visiting the branch, waiting in the queue for 20 minutes or so to get served mainly because there are only two cashiers on duty despite the fact there are four cashier desks.

3. Trust (can I count on you?)

The need to feel secure in an uncertain world is a fundamental need – the people who have failed in this dimension do not tend to leave offspring.  So it is no surprise to hear customers say, “I need to believe that they’ll stand by what they are giving me.  If something goes wrong they will correct it.  I’ll take chances with trusting a company so long as I’m sure they are there for me to correct any problems.” Put differently, customers are more willing to walk the tightrope if they can see, feel, touch the safety net you have put below them.

What does this mean for companies?  It means that they cannot just rely on the established practice of big budget advertising to build familiarity and trust.  It means actually delivering the promise: putting in place policies, practices, processes, people and platforms that deliver what the customer expects and was promised.  Any gap between the advertising (the promise) and the delivery is soon broadcast to the whole world on the internet.

4. Consistency (no unpleasant surprises!)

If the world behaves consistently (even if we do not like the way it behaves) then we feel secure; we know what to expect and how to behave.  Inconsistency wakes us up from our slumber, it puts us on the edge because we have to figure out if danger is present.  And we do not like being disturbed from our slumber.

It is no different when it comes to customers and shopping.  Customers need to feel that the companies that they are doing business with are consistent.  Consistent in terms of the layout of the stores, the products, the staff, the attitude, product qaulity, the communication…….

5. Relevance (know me, offer me what I am interested in)

If you value me then you will only offer and engage me in stuff that I find interesting;  do not waste my time with the irrelevant. Notice, how relevance is also related to Efficiency (above):  relevance respects the customers need for Efficiency.  For example when a retailer offers personalised offers on products and services that they know are of interest to the customer.

6. Control

Razorfish write “..it is noteworthy that in “the consumer is in control” era, Control was the least important of the six Engagement Elements we identified.”  So how did they define control?  “Control is manifested when the customer can determine if, when and how a company will communicate with him or her.”  That may explain it.  Do you really need to control the communication received if you can delete it with a keystroke or put it in the bin without even opening the envelope.

Yet, the acting of inviting the customer to the conversation around control and allowing her to decide what she does and does not want to control delivers on the more fundamental needs of feeling Valued.  And it can build Trust.

Why I finally moved from Southern Electric to E.on

I have been a customer of Southern Electric for as long as I can remember and I can remember back to 1999 when I moved into this house.  When the gas and electricity markets were deregulated I switched from British Gas to Southern Electric for my gas supply.  Furthermore, I was so price insensitive that I did not even bother to sign-up for the dual fuel deals.  And as far as I am aware Southern Electric did not give me any discounts for buying both gas and electricity from them.

So why is it that this year back in September I made the decision to move to E.on?

Some years ago I went all out and trusted Southern Electric completely.  I gave them my bank details and gave them permission to make a monthly direct debit from my account.  I trusted them to make the meter readings, figure out what my annual consumption was and then debit the right amount from my bank account.  As the years went by  I noticed the monthly direct debits going up slowly and that did not concern me.  Then in 2010 they went up dramatically – doubled in fact – and that caught my attention.

Not comprehending how it was that the bills had doubled, not knowing when Southern Electric had lost done the meter readings, and suspecting that I was being taken for a ride on pricing I did my research and made the decision to switch to E.on as the comparison site showed I could cut down my costs by a third.

When Southern Electric found out then someone from their call centre rang me to incentivise me to stay.  Her argument was that I was making a mistake, that the comparison websites could not be trusted and that Southern Electric prices were competitive.  My argument was simple I do not trust you for three reasons.  First, you have never moved me over to the dual fuel deal and given me the benefit of it.  Second, from the paperwork I cannot see when you last did a meter reading.  Third, you have almost doubled the monthly direct debits without any explanation.

As a part of the switchover process I did the meter readings and that resulted in Southern Electric repaying me £782.12 on my gas account and a further £327.75 on my electricity bill.  If we take the gas repayment that represents over five months of direct debits.

Here is the interesting thing.  Once I got these refunds and calculating my actually cost for gas and electricity I figured out that yes Southern Electric is price competitive with E.on.  So Southern Electric has driven me into the arms of E.on by being greedy: by taking out more cash out of my bank then was necessary.

So the lesson is that you simply cannot take trust for granted.  There is no higher level of trust then allowing you deduct the right amount from the bank account every month.  When a customer gives you the permission to do that he is counting on you to:

  • work out what is the right charge each month and deduct only that amount;
  • show him how you came to your figures by showing tangible facts  (last meter reading, recent meter reading, estimated usage, tariff etc); and
  • explain and prepare him for the unexpected especially if it is likely to be unpleasant – like the doubling of the direct debits!

Two more things come to mind.  First, it would have been better for Southern Electric to debit me less each month than I was consuming and then ask for the balance at the end of the year.  Second, if I had seen Southern Electric acting in my interest by giving me the dual fuel deal even though I had not asked for it then I would have been more willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Why?  Because I would have at least one memory where they showed that they had acted in best interests and in the process been willing to forgo short term profits for a longer term revenue stream.