18 hours – how a loaf of bread helped improve the customer experience

It is no secret that I am a fan of Twitter. A regular ‘tweeter’ I have grown to be a fan over the last couple of years. Not only does it allow me to get up to the minute information on essential news and sporting activity (such as the Leyton Orient score – sad but true), the social media channel also enables me to keep up to date on the latest trends and insight related to customer service and customer experience. Increasingly, I have also started to use twitter to ‘communicate’ with companies that I interact with. Twitter has become my ‘customer service channel’ of choice. Over the last 24 hours, I have had another experience that highlights why (if done well), I believe that Twitter has become the most effective way to ‘talk to organisations’.

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post on this subject about Waitrose (http://ijgolding.com/2013/04/18/got-a-problem-get-tweeting-the-story-of-a-fresh-cream-eclair-without-the-cream/) – they were expert at responding to an issue that I had. You would almost expect that from one of the leading customer service brands in the UK. What I would like to share with you in this blog post is that proficiency in dealing with customer issues via Twitter is not exclusive to the Waitroses of the world.

I am going to explain the story as a series of events on a timeline – the story starts yesterday afternoon (27th May 2013) – all times are approximate:

15:15 – The Golding’s have guests in the house – The Frosts also have three children. Sensing that we are low on supplies, Mrs G decides that we need a supermarket ‘top up’. I am dispatched to our local Morrisons in Chester to obtain the essentials.

15:45 – Having got some fruit and milk in my shopping basket, I decided to get a loaf of bread. Morrisons fresh bread is lovely, so I plumped for a fresh Tiger Loaf (unsliced) and took it to the bread slicing machine.

15:47 – Having stood by the slicing machine for a couple of minutes, I could see two members of staff in the bakery area behind the shelving. One of the members of staff glanced at me, but carried on with her work. The other chap (who I now believe was the bakery manager) was on the phone).

15:48 – Finishing his phone call, the bakery manager also glanced at me, but then commenced a conversation with the other bakery member of staff. That staff member glanced at me again, but made no attempt to finish the conversation, or point out that a customer was waiting.

15:50 – I was starting to get a bit irritated. Another customer had started a queue behind me. Neither member of staff had made any attempt to stop what they were doing to come and serve me. At this point, a third member of staff appeared from behind the bread ovens. He seemed surprised to see me waiting. As he immediately made his way over to me, the bakery manager decided that it was time to make his move.

15:51 – Apologising profusely, the bakery manager claimed that neither he nor his other member of staff had seen me – despite me quite clearly noticing them glancing my way on a number of occasions. I expressed my displeasure, and made my way to the checkout.

15:54 – In the time it took me to get to the checkout, I decided that I needed to express my displeasure to Morrison’s directly. What I had experienced is unlikely to have been a one-off. I am a big believer in telling companies when there is an issue (constructively), so that they can prevent another customer experiencing the same thing in the future. Here is the tweet I sent whilst waiting to get through the checkout:

0 morrisons bread

16:02 – As I sat in the driver’s seat of my car I glanced at my phone. I could see that I had a tweet come in – it was a response from Morrisons – 8 minutes it took them to respond to me – 8 minutes!!!! In between packing my bags and getting in to the car, this is what they responded with:

0 morrisons bread1

I will just take a little break in sharing the story at this point. It is important that I summarise the key points so far. I had an issue, I tweeted the company I had experienced the issue with, and that company responded to me almost straight away. Not only did they respond, they apologised (without even knowing the full story), and provided me with a call to action – they want to speak to me about the issue. I do not know about you, but I think that is amazing service. Think what might have happened if I had decided to provide my feedback using traditional customer service channels. I could have spoken to customer services ‘in-store’. That might have worked, but I am always dubious as to whether or not the person on the customer service desk will actually do something. I could have emailed Morrisons…..if I could have found the email address. I might still be waiting to get a response. I could have phoned……if I could find the telephone number. All in all, I cannot think of a channel that would get the information to the centre of an organisation quicker and more effectively.

So what happened next:

16:45 – This is where things get really impressive (in my opinion). The Golding’s and Frost’s had decided to go out for dinner. As we started to drive in to the centre of Chester, my mobile rang. Being the law-abiding driver that I am, I passed my phone to Naomi. The person calling was doing so from a number that I did not recognise. Naomi answered – to our surprise, it was the bakery manager from our local Morrisons. It was less than an hour since I had sent my tweet, and the bakery manager was phoning me personally!! As I was driving, we asked him if I could call him back at a more convenient time. And that is how things were left.

09:45 – Dawn had broken on a typically wet bank holiday Monday. Having been for an early morning run with Mr F, we were preparing the children to pay a visit to the ice-cream farm. I had completely forgotten about my Morrisons experience. As I descended the stairs, my phone rang. It was a local Chester number, so I answered it. I was surprised to find the manager of the local Morrisons store on the end of the line. It was a fantastic five-minute phone call.

Graham (I cannot remember his surname), was brilliant. Although he did not ask me, I explained in detail as to what had happened the afternoon before. If he doubted my story, he did not let on – in fact, Graham was as apologetic as the tweet I had only 8 minutes after the incident itself. Graham told me that he was sent my tweet personally yesterday afternoon. Apparently Morrisons have introduced a new process in the last few weeks – all store managers now receive tweets about their own stores as soon as they come in. This is the first time since the process was introduced that Graham has received one about his store.

Graham said that he was excited to get the feedback – and he genuinely sounded excited. On receiving it, he went in to action immediately – hence me getting a call from the bakery manager within an hour of the incident occurring. Having discussed what happened with the two members of staff on duty, they decided to take some immediate action to prevent the problem from happening again.

One of the issues with the design of the bakery in Chester, is that the racking in front of the bakery is quite high. It could potentially act as a wall or barrier between the bakery staff and the customers. It could potentially mean that it is difficult for the staff working behind the racking to see customers waiting to have bread sliced. Whether the staff had seen me or not, Graham’s instinct was to do something that meant that staff could ALWAYS see customers waiting.

So, last night, before the store closed, the configuration of the bread racking was changed. The height was reduced so that (in Graham’s words), even if a customer was only three feet tall, they would still be clearly seen by the bakery staff. In addition, Graham and the bakery staff have committed to make bread slicing a priority, rather than it being seen as an irritation.

15:45 to 09:45 – 18 HOURS – that is it all it took – from me having a negative experience, to an organisation resolving the cause of the problem, to the organisation telling me about it. I think that is pretty amazing. Constructive feedback via twitter has seen a customer and company resolve an issue that will mean a better experience for hundreds/thousands of other customers. And what is all the better is that I made it happen. Graham feels great because he could do something about it. What Morrisons have done for me in the last 24 hours is demonstrate how a company can become great – but to do it is a collaboration – it relies on customers telling them what is wrong, so they can make things better.

Many people call feedback a gift – it is if you use it properly and well. If you have not tweeted an organisation when you have had a bad experience, I urge you to try it. You do not have to be a tweeter yourself. If the organisation does not do a good job of it, get them to read this blog post so they can see how it should be done.

Well done Morrisons. Well done Graham – you deserve a huge amount of credit for the level of service you are bringing to your business.

If you have had good or bad twitter service experiences, I would live to hear about them!!

UPDATE – 31st May 2013

Just been in to Morrisons in Chester – here is the new reduced height bakery shelving – fantastic to see the end result. I did not get bread sliced this time – I may give it a few weeks before I brave the bakery staff again!!

0 morrisons bread2.png

UPDATE – 31st July 2013

I have now posted a follow up blog to this. Featuring a guest post from Mike Sutton, a social media expert, we explore whether or not my experience was a one off. Are Morrisons able to replicate what happened to me time and time again – have a read here – http://ijgolding.com/2013/07/30/morrisons-customer-service-fluke-or-designed-to-delight/

‘Simplicity is divinity’ – is this what is behind the success of First Direct?

I have always been a little mystified by First Direct. Firstly, it is a bank. What is there to get excited about when it comes to banks? I am one of many who unfortunately has become very apathetic towards banks – I just do not care about them. This may surprise many people – but sadly it is true. My apathy means that I cannot even be bothered to leave the bank I have been with since I went to university. I cannot be bothered to leave a bank that has invested absolutely NOTHING in me as a customer in all that time. So why am I not moved do something when I meet friends and colleagues who tell me wonderful things about their own bank – First Direct. Honestly – I find it more difficult to find someone who DOES NOT like First Direct than I do someone who DOES!! It is my apathy towards banking that stops me from moving – maybe once I have finished writing this blog post I will be inspired to do so!! So what is it that makes First Direct so special?

Let’s start with a few First Direct Facts (since its launch in 1989) – I have taken these directly from their website:

  • first direct has 1.16 million customers
  • 950,000 of them use Internet Banking
  • 420,000 customers use SMS message banking. first direct sends around 3.5 million text messages to customers every month
  • first direct employs 3,200 people in 2,700 FTE roles at two sites, in Leeds and Hamilton (near Glasgow)
  • 44% of first direct‘s sales are via e-channels
  • more than 1 in 4 of first direct‘s customers join because of personal recommendation
  • over 89% of customer contact with first direct is electronic
  • first direct handles around 135,000 telephone calls every week
  • first direct takes over 54,000 calls (40%) outside working hours each week (Monday to Friday 08:00 – 18:00)
  • first direct takes over 1,700 calls a day from abroad
  • first direct has been in profit every year since 1995

Compared to their competitors, First Direct have generated a phenomenal level of satisfaction and loyalty with their customer base. In 2011, right in the midst of the financial crisis (caused by banks), First Direct were quoted by Satmetrix as having an NPS (Net Promoter Score) Score of 61% – second only to Apple in the UK !!

Source: Satmetrix industry benchmark reports
Source: Satmetrix industry benchmark reports

This result is no fluke. The UKCSI – an independent customer satisfaction survey produced by The leadership Factor on behalf of the Institute of Customer Service also puts First Direct right at the top of the rankings. The latest results put First Direct third in the overall table behind ASOS and John Lewis. They scored the same as Waitrose and Amazon (http://www.instituteofcustomerservice.com/10560/UK-CustomerSatisfactionIndexUKCSI.html).

At a time when customer perception of the banking industry in the UK was (and still is) at an all time low, nothing has changed as far as the customers of First Direct are concerned. Searching for verbatim comments online, the positive comments from First Direct are amazing – here are a selection:

“I left my high street bank (sponsor of the premier league) when I took a half day off work to go in to the branch and they were closed for staff training. Unbelievable!! This was a long time ago and I went home that night and set up a new account with 1stD at 23:00. Since that time I have had one or two small gripes but the overwhelming experience has been an exemplar of top quality customer service. Some of their products are not brilliantly competitive but so don’t buy them. They don’t spend ages trying to sell me things and calling them is almost always a pleasurable experience. Well done them.”

“They are brilliant – got thoroughly hacked off with HSBC and moved our account to First Direct (on recommendation of a colleague) and they made it as easy as possible for us to do so.”

“First Direct are absolutely fab. I have been with them for around 20 years. It’s so nice to talk to someone friendly on the other end of the phone. They have always helped me if my account has gone overdrawn/got into problems. I have never been kept hanging on or moved from pillar to post. The person who answers the phone generally deals with the problem. Also if you move your account to First Direct you get £100 paid into your account – not a bad incentive!”

“I think First Direct are great. You always get a real person on the phone. And you can say something like “can you move £100 from my joint account to my personal account” and they get what you mean, without having to quote loads of account numbers.”

Yes it is possible to find negative sentiment towards First Direct – no organisation is perfect. However, the overriding feeling is very positive. So just what is it that makes First Direct so special? How have they managed to sustain such positive customer perception when all of their competitors (including their parent bank) have seen customers turn against them? Last week, along with over a hundred other customer experience professionals, I think I found out why.

This is Mark Mullen. Mark is the CEO of First Direct. I was fortunate enough to attend one of the biggest customer experience conferences in Europe – European Customer Experience World (produced by the Focus Group). Mark was the keynote speaker on the first day. If you have not heard him speak, he is pretty cool. Mark delivered his speech without the aid of slides or notes. He had the audience entranced. Mark spoke of many things – from the importance of good customer data, to the significance of the humble telephone for First Direct when it was launched to the current day.

Mark touched on the very reason why First Direct was created, and why it continues to thrive today. He quoted another legendary business leader, Sir Richard Branson’ to highlight the very essence of First Direct:

‘In order to be indispensable, one must first be unique’

When First Direct was launched, it was the only bank of its kind. It was unique. Today, that differentiator is still alive and kicking. Mark said that he is often told that First Direct has lost its ‘innovation mojo’ as so little has changed in its proposition over the years. ‘Why re-invent the light bulb?’ is his response. If you have something that works, and continues to work for your customers, why change it. This is when Mark came up with another very memorable quote:

‘Simplicity is divinity’

There was an audible murmur of agreement in the conference room. Mark believes that it is First Directs commitment to ‘keeping it simple’ that has ensured it remains as successful today as it was at launch. Why try to do things differently when your customers are very happy with the things you do? The challenge for First Direct is to keep doing the things they do as well as possible, continuously improving – if customer satisfaction is at 94% this year, Mark wants them to move it to 94.1% next year. First Direct have not attempted to get greedy – they just want to stay true to their proposition. Keeping things simple and being consistent at doing it certainly makes a lot of sense. It is difficult to do justice to the quality of Mark’s speech. He is the kind of CEO a lot of people would love to work for. Mark recognises the importance of his people, and together, they are committed to keep doing what customers want.

It is almost ironic that the secret to First Directs success appears to be so…..simple. Obviously the execution and leadership required to deliver it is another matter, but at a time when so many big businesses are struggling, re-focussing on the core business and getting it right consistently, would be a very sensible strategy.

Have I convinced myself to switch to First Direct? Not quite…….but many people are making me realise that there is a better way to do banking – so I am getting closer.

Do you bank with First Direct? Have you switched from another bank? What do you think about them – your views would be very gratefully received.

‘Mind the Gap’ – Is the London Underground the greatest ever customer experience innovation?

As is often the case at the end of a long hard day, I collapsed on to the sofa to watch a little bit of television last night. I noticed that there was a programme on BBC2 at 9pm about the history of the London Underground. The programme was absolutely fascinating, and made me think completely differently about an institution that I have been using my entire life. I am not quite sure when I first boarded ‘the Tube’, but I did use it to get to school when I was 7 years old!! The programme can be seen on BBC iPlayer until the 23rd May http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01sjtzw/The_Tube_An_Underground_History/

So why I am I writing a blog post about a transport system? What does the Tube have to do with the subject of customer experience? Well having watched the programme last night, I strongly believe that many organisations can learn from the 150 year history of the London Underground. To help explain why, I must first take you through a little bit of customer experience ‘thinking’. I have posted in the past about the components that make up an experience. I am a huge advocate of the model created by Bruce Temkin:

The FUNCTIONAL component looks at whether or not the experience you are trying to create does what people want it to do – or in other words, does it work?! The ACCESSIBLE component looks at the ease and convenience of the experience – how easy is it for people to do what they want to do. Finally, the EMOTIONAL component looks at how the experience makes people feel – this is the component that really determines what people will remember. The model can apply to any organisation, and is one that works well as a self assessment of how capable you are of delivering the experience that your customers want and need. So how can we apply this to the London Underground.

150 years ago, London (like today) was getting pretty crowded. Londoners were finding it difficult to get across, through and around the city. The FUNCTIONAL component of the existing transport experience was no longer working. The only way to solve the problem was to think very differently. The only solution to the problem was to do something that had never been done before. It took very bold and innovative thinking to propose creating a transport system that went under rather than over. Making the decision to completely change the way we do business is not an easy one. It takes entrepreneurial and agile thinking to determine a better way. The men that founded the Tube in 1863 were brave, bold and very very clever.

They hit on a solution that worked – it worked so well that within a few years other companies wanted to get in on the act. A whole series of underground lines were constructed by different companies. Demand was unrelenting – the Tube almost immediately became the best way to get about London. The ACCESSIBLE component of the customer experience was looking in good shape. However, like modern businesses today, you must continually evolve. ACCESSIBLE as per the definition of the customer experience model looks at how easy it is for people to do what they want to do. The tube was a great way to travel, but in the beginning, the trains were powered by steam. as trains started to trundle under London, the users, or more appropriately the customers, were finding the experience less and less pleasant. Smoky stations meant that the service worked, but it was not that easy to experience.

The introduction of electricity changed the Tube forever. Electricity not only enabled the service to go deeper and further, it made the experience so much nicer and more pleasant. Now customers could travel in lit trains – a driver on the programme last night suggested that at the time, London Underground trains were nicer than most of the passengers houses!!

The Tube also very quickly addressed the EMOTIONAL element of the customer experience. By making the lives of millions of Londoners easier, the transport system improved the daily routine. In the early 1900s’ many Londoners could still not read or write. That meant that many customers did not know when they had arrived at the right station. The solution – tiled patterns were created on the walls and ceilings of station platforms – using a variety of colours, they still exist today. Such a clever thing to do to improve the experience for passengers.

The London Underground is full of literally 150 years of memories. As many people know, Tube stations were used as air raid shelters for millions of Londoners during World War II. The Tube has been the place where relationships have started and ended. It has been the place where lives have begun, and tragically where lives have been lost. We all have memories of the London Underground – there are not many institutions we can say that about. Personally, my favourite memory is the sight of my brother, Mark, getting his head trapped between the doors at Golders Green Tube station on the way to school. The look of terror on his face should have seen me being very sympathetic – it was instead the funniest thing I have ever seen.

The EMOTIONAL component of the London Underground experience is also demonstrated by what I think is amongst the most consistent and powerful brands ever created. The London underground logo is recognisable anywhere on the planet. The font used for decades is unique to the Underground, but so recognisable and memorable. And then there is Mr Harry Beck – the creator of the most famous map in the world.

The innovation that inspired the look and feel of the tube is what has created such a memorable brand. Despite being 150 years old, the London Underground has stayed true to this today – the fact that the brand is still essentially the same is an amazing credit to the men that invented it.

In 2013, the Tube looks very different to 1863. The trains are new and modern (and continually being modernised). The trains are powered by a driver with no need for guards. The stations have been improved and most can now be accessed by everyone that needs to use them. The ticketing of the Tube has been transformed – the Oyster card – another amazing innovation has made the ACCESSIBLE component of the London Underground experience to become even easier. You can now read this blog whilst travelling deep under the streets of one of the most vibrant cities in the world – the introduction of Wi-Fi is something that I am sure the founders of the Tube would have been proud.

So what can the modern business in 2013 learn from the London Underground?

  1. FUNCTIONAL – if your business model no longer works – then change it – you may not need to go as far as digging miles of tunnels underground, but you may need to be brave and bold and take things in a different direction
  2. ACCESSIBLE – continually make the experience of doing business with you easier – ‘being easy to do business with’ is something that should be a ‘given’ in your organisation – be innovative, agile and flexible
  3. EMOTIONAL – what do you want your customers to remember about their experiences of interacting with you? Ensure that your brand look and feel and tone of voice are consistent across all channels. Do whatever it takes to enable customers to have great memories that they can tell their families and friends all about

One more thing should be noted here – there is a fourth thing that the business world could learn from the Tube. The reason that it has reached the ripe old age of 150 – and is likely to keep going for evermore – is almost entirely down to the skills, strength, commitment, and passion of its people. From the men who dug the first tunnels, to the men and women who drive the trains and staff the stations today. They have spent 150 years helping keep London moving – and they deserve a huge amount of credit and recognition for that. Like your business, nothing is possible without your people.

The tube is so good, that most of us now just take it for granted. We often like to focus on the sweaty armpits in our faces on hot sunny days, or the odd delay now and then. But one thing is for sure – we could not do without the London Underground – it has established something that any business would love – it has established an unbreakable bond – we cannot do without it – it has become a part of the lives of the people who live and work in London. If your business can get even slightly close to doing the same, maybe it too will be around in 150 years time.

Your comments on this or any of my blog posts are very welcome.

‘What do you mean they’re dead?!’ Why communication is such a critical part of the customer experience

I am guessing (and hoping) that this image of a Virgin Media statement is not new to you. If it is, let me just clarify. This is a genuine statement that was sent to Jim Boyden’s father in law. If you have not spotted it yet, Jim Boyden’s father in law is regrettably no longer with us. Despite this, Virgin Media attempted to charge him a £10 late payment fee. As of todays date (8th May), this image has been shared almost 100,000 times on Facebook. This event serves to highlight how critical all forms of customer communication are. This event is a reminder to all organisations that failing to communicate accurately and empathetically can have consequences. It is this unfortunate event that has led me to write this blog post.

The way organisations communicate with customers is a key part of the customer experience. Whether it be electronic communication, or old fashioned printed paper, we all receive stuff in abundance on a daily basis. Very often this communication is ignored by the consumer – especially if it is trying to sell us something. However more important  forms of communication – such as statements cannot just be confined to the shredder. Despite this, when was the last time you looked closely at a statement, or analysed the content of an important letter? When was the last time you looked at a utility bill and tried to understand exactly what it was telling you? When was the last time the organisations who send you this stuff actually determined if their communications and all the content within them made any sense?

A couple of weeks ago our latest utility bill caught my attention. I am very fortunate that my wife (who is also my accountant), deals with that side of things in our household. It caught my attention because of a graphic in the bottom right hand corner (see below):

0 edf bill

I consider myself to be an educated adult. In fact, I even spent four years at university. Yet trying to understand a ‘direct debit balance curve’ challenged me!! It made me question who at this particular energy company thought that this form of communication would be understood by the majority of their customer base. It is almost certainly communication like this that leads us to have so little positive emotion towards organisations. Why can communication not be taken seriously enough that it is designed in a way that a normal human being can understand?

Interestingly, on the back of this statement (which has a huge amount of information on it) is the Crystal Mark – a sign, supposedly, that the form of communication has been approved by the ‘plain English campaign’. I laughed when I saw this – however, on closer inspection, I read underneath the Crystal Mark that it DOES NOT apply to the front of the bill!!! Why ever not! Does that mean that the front is not as important as the back? Does that mean that the front is gibberish, but the back is perfect English?!

0 crystal kite mark

Creating communication that is central to the customer experience and written in language the customer truly understands is not that simple – one should consider it as an art form. Writing customer centric communication requires expert and specialist attention – very much in the same way designing a customer survey does. Last year I was lucky enough to meet one such expert in this field – Mark McArthur Christie of Rubuss (http://rubuss.com/). Mark is a specialist in customer communication and believes that you can transform communication from an overhead into an asset, with better customer engagement, thus smoothing customer interactions.

Mark breaks down communication into six areas, describing their desired state:

  1. Statements and billing – professional high impact invoices and statements that can reassure, explain and help minimise queries and bad debt
  2. Complaints and conflict – fewer conflicts with customers, fewer complaints escalated, and most importantly, turning complainants into advocates through better communication
  3. Email and digital channels – making digital communication to your existing customers sound human, using social media to build customer advocacy
  4. Legal and form based – easier to understand, simpler forms and T&Cs. Happier, better informed customers through clarity and transparency
  5. Standard correspondence – enhancing standard operational correspondence to reflect your brand, reduce queries and increase loyalty
  6. Free form and ad-hoc – consultancy and training for your teams that embeds customer communications culture, gives them the skills they need and the confidence to use them

These six areas almost act as six self assessment criteria – how close to the desired state across these areas is your organisation? Transforming the quality of your customer communication, seeing it as a key element of the customer experience, can have a huge positive impact on your business. Sometimes the adjustments only need to be subtle.

Sticking with the ‘deceased’ customer theme, below is an example of a typical communication sent to a customer – it is pretty direct, with little genuine empathy or emotion:

0 letter 1

The second example below shows how this letter can be re-written with a more customer centric tone – subtle changes – but it is sometimes subtle changes that can make all the difference:

0 letter 2

Last year uSwitch published an article on the subject of energy bills  – basically making the point that they are leaving households baffled and overcharged. 86% of customers were finding them too complicated. 86%!!!!! The article re-iterates the points I am making in the post – you can read it here http://www.uswitch.com/gas-electricity/news/2012/07/23/complicated-energy-bills-leaving-households-baffled-and-overcharged/

Customer communication must be taken seriously. Whether it be a formal statement, or ad-hoc conversations via Twitter. Failing to asses the quality, accuracy and tone of your communications could lead to a PR disaster – such as we saw with Virgin Media. Even if it does not, the cost to your business of not continuously improving communication could be significant. If this is a subject that you could use some help on, you would be well advised to get in touch with Mark!!

Mark McArthur Christie can be contacted on 1993 822 524 or at mark@rubuss.com. You can also follow Rubuss on Twitter at @Rubuss1