Are you really ready? The Customer Experience Readiness Scale

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Have you ever wondered whether there is really any hope for your organisation? Have you ever turned up one day wondering if you are the only person in the building who really gets it? Are you the only person who understands that the organisation needs to do something different to genuinely put its customers first? Have you had days when you can see some light at the end of the tunnel, only for it to be extinguished before you get anywhere near it?

If you have answered ‘yes’ to any of those questions, I can confidently confirm that you are very much NOT alone. In my time as a customer experience professional, I have often wondered if I am completely mad (some of my colleagues would probably say ‘yes’ to this). I have always thought that in my motivation to do the right things for customers, surely everyone else would agree with me. I have never been swayed by politics or selfish ambition – only to do what is right – but too often I have continually hit against brick wall after brick wall.

As a customer experience professional, you become practised at understanding where your key stakeholders sit in terms of their support for your efforts. You know who the advocates are, and are even more clear as to who the detractors are. You learn to never give up and to continue to strive to do the right thing. What you also learn is that every organisation is completely different, and this means that their ability to change is different. Essentially, not every organisation is ready to become customer focussed – even if they think they are.

The more ‘ready’ your organisation is (or the people are within it), the easier it will be to embed an all-encompassing customer experience improvement initiative that can and will be sustained. The less ‘ready’, the more difficult it will be. My experiences have led me to see that there are actually four different phases of readiness. That is why I have created the ‘customer readiness scale’ – a way of self assessing how ready your organisation is to embark on its customer experience initiative. The customer readiness scale allows you to determine where either the whole organisation, or key stakeholders within it, sit in terms of readiness.

So let’s have a look at the different phases of readiness:

1. ACKNOWLEDGE – acknowledgement that the existing state of customer experience is unacceptable and requires improvement

There are too many organisations who are not prepared to admit there is a problem. These organisations sit in this phase of readiness. There are many reasons that could be driving this behaviour. It does not mean it is impossible to introduce a customer experience initiative/programme, but it makes it VERY difficult. You may need to operate very tactically, doing whatever it takes to PROVE that there is a problem, to get ‘heads out of the sand’ so to speak! Many of the retail businesses that have hit financial difficulties in the UK recently may have had individuals who were at this phase of readiness.

2. DIAGNOSE – agreement to both identify and accept what and where problems exist in the customer experience

Once there is acknowledgement, you are then able to determine exactly what is causing the problem. This phase of readiness combines both the identification of the problem AND the acceptance of it – i.e. your leaders saying something along the lines of ‘yes I agree that this is the cause of the problem and something needs to be done about it’! Do not underestimate how common it is for people to become defensive at this stage – readiness here will require honesty and openness to the causes of the problem.

3. ACTION – agreement to implement a series of appropriate actions to address the problems identified in the diagnosis phase

When your organisation is ready to do something about the causes of customer dissatisfaction – you are doing pretty well. That means that there has been acknowledgement of the problem, and identification of the things that need to be addressed. HOWEVER – this is the phase of readiness where the ‘proof is in the pudding’. I have had many situations where I have successfully got past phase 2 – only for the decision makers to ‘change their minds’ when I have proposed the actions that should/must be taken. Phase 3 is the real test of readiness – it is only when your organisation is really ready to take action that you know your customer experience efforts are on the right track.

4. IMPROVE – implementation of a programme of improvement to enable the organisation to continuously meet the changing needs of customers

Starting to take action is great, but it is the sustainability of the action and subsequent improvements that are key to a long-lasting focus on customer experience. The 4th phase of readiness is IMPROVE – the phase that sees your organisation embedding a continuous customer experience improvement programme in its very fabric. This is the enigma – the phase to get to that ensures that meeting and exceeding customer needs is just a way of life. It means that the mechanisms are in place to ensure that whatever needs to be done to improve the customer experience will be forever.

So how do you determine where your organisation sits? To help you make your decision, I have created the readiness scale – a detailed chart to plot your business and key stakeholders on. The scale is used like a map, thus 1D is the least desirable state of readiness, and 4A is the most desirable.

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Plotting your organisation or key stakeholders within it, on this scale is an iterative process. You can move up and down, left and right, depending on what is happening. The objective is to aim to get to 4A. I am not able to tell you where the organisations I have worked with and for sit on the scale – although I would love to!! Buy me a beer the next time you see me and I might!!

Improving the customer experience is not easy – just ask any committed customer experience professional. Understanding how ready (or not) your business is to accept the change needed to become more customer focussed WILL help you plan your customer experience programme more effectively. There is no point creating a detailed customer experience strategy if the board of directors do not think they actually have a problem in the first place! Now you know the state of readiness of your organisation, you can start or continue to plan to address the issues.

Will the customer experience readiness scale stop you from having to bang your head against a brick wall? Regrettably it will not. It will help you to have clarity as to why you might be hitting the wall in the first place though!!

What do you think about the readiness scale? I would love to hear your views.

Resentment is a hard thing to shake off – think hard before you create it

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Resentment. It is a pretty harsh word. It is a word that should most certainly NOT be on your mind when thinking about businesses and organisations that you interact with on a regular basis. However, over the last couple of weeks, a number of incidents that I personally have either experienced or read about have made me realise how much resentment is about – and that is why I am writing this now.

Let me start by giving you the formal definition of resentment from Wikipedia:

Resentment (also called ranklement or bitterness) is the experience of a negative emotion (anger or hatred, for instance) felt as a result of a real or imagined wrong done. Etymologically, the word originates from French “ressentir”, re-, intensive prefix, and sentir “to feel”; from the Latin “sentire”. The English word has become synonymous with anger and spite.

‘Anger’……’Spite’……surely the consumer does not feel that way towards an organisation? I feel I may be opening a ‘can of worms’ here, but in a world where businesses are playing up the importance of customer experience, there are still far too many examples of customer/consumer interaction that generate ‘resentment’. I have counselled the trusted people who are in my network to see what they think. They were only too ready and happy to share their examples of ‘resentment’. So let us look at some of these examples:

#1 ‘Paying to Pee’

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If you have ever been to London Euston, you will recognise this picture. These barriers are nothing to do with ‘priority boarding’ – they are actually the entrance to the station toilets. At Euston station, for the pleasure of performing a natural bodily function, you must part with 30 pence of your hard-earned money. Going to the toilet is one of the things in life that I absolutely resent having to pay for. Network Rail, who I presume run Euston train station, will probably have a number of reasons why they make consumers ‘pay to pee’. They will probably include the cost of cleaning and maintenance, as well as preventing the toilets from being used for alternative purposes. Whatever the reasons, they are certainly not for the benefit of the consumer (or so it seems). If there is a benefit for me – I would like to know what it is – I may be able to at least understand the need for the charge, rather than having to ‘chunter rude words under my breath’ whilst depositing my coins (so to speak!!).

#2 Paying to ‘drop off’

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There was quite a lot of noise in the media last week on the subject of airports charging for passengers to be ‘dropped off’ at the terminal. This interesting article from the Telegraph gives you the essence of the story – Essentially at many British Airports it will now cost you a minimum fee JUST to drive up to a terminal, open the door, get out, close the door and drive away – even if that process takes less than a minute. Once again, the airports I am sure will be able to cite a myriad of reasons why this action has had to be taken. However, as I sit here writing this, I do not know what they are. All I do know is that the action will just generate resentment amongst the millions of passengers who will feel it in their pocket.

#3 Paying to park

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One of the number 1 causes of resentment is car parking. Paying to park your car inevitably leads to more negative emotion than positive. There is a view that paying to park in the first place is just plain ‘wrong’! When asking my network what they thought causes resentment, Graham Maloney, an ex-colleague of mine from Shop Direct said:

Car parking generally everywhere! Visiting my parents in Spain & not having to pay to park, even by the beach, is refreshing!

David Clark (Gartner) looked at resentment with car parking in a different way:

Preventing motorists from sharing a ticket when they leave a car park early because its coded to their number plate is one of those little actions that everyone thought made sense commercially, but starts any citizen experience in a city with a negative perception.  That little emotional high when someone helps someone else makes a difference in the day.

David’s example is a very good one. Resentment can be caused indirectly – essentially anything like this that prevents us (the consumer) from making a decision to do something we were previously able to do has the potential to cause upset. So what about non car parking related examples, or examples that are unrelated to cost or fees?

#4 Not able to try it on

Roger Smith, a fellow avid tweeter resents the following:

M&S formal shirts – can’t try on in store as in packet, buy, drive home, try on. Doesn’t fit, drive back and change. Grrrrrr

Roger’s example is one that creates resentment that could be easily avoided. How easy would it be for a retailer to have a variety of sizes to try on – just to make sure you do not have to experience the frustration of having to bring it back? You can try on shoes, so why not shirts?

#5 Paying for a trolley

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Let’s go back to the airport for the next example. The last time I went to Manchester airport was for pleasure – not business. As I was with my family, we had enough luggage with us to justify me getting a trolley. I put my £1 coin in the machine to get the trolley, and manoeuvred my luggage to the check in desk. Having checked in, I took the trolley back to get my £1 coin safely back in my pocket. Can you guess what happened? You no longer get your £1 back!!!!!!! You now have to PAY just to have the pleasure of using a trolley!!!!! If I had known, I would have left it at the check in desk!! I was flabbergasted – I strongly resent the experience, and will never, I repeat never use a trolley at the airport again. My three children will have to start working on their biceps!

This new policy of charging for the use of a trolley was also cited as a an example of a friend of mine, David Hindle (Sennheiser), who is a regular business traveller. It is always nice to know that it is not just me that finds this kind of think infuriating. I found this explanation for trolley charging on the Manchester Airport website – I’ll allow you to draw your own conclusions –

#6 Paying for Wi-Fi

Oh yes!! I hear you cry. One of the great causes of resentment in the 21st century is being forced to pay to use Wi-Fi. Sarah Povey (Total Gas & Power) and social media guru, Guy Stephens (IBM) both agree that this is not something that makes them smile! Interestingly Premier Inn, a very strong customer focussed brand in the UK recently decided to change their Wi-Fi policy. They had always charged for Wi-Fi, but recognised through their customer feedback mechanisms that this was one of the key drivers of customer dissatisfaction. So Premier Inn decided to ‘listen’ to the customer, and provide free Wi-Fi…………but only for 30 minutes a day! Nice start, but maybe not enough……Why could they not go the full hog and just make it free all the times?

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#7 Repeating and re-repeating information

This will have happened to you. You have finally selected the right option on the automated phone system… have told the computer your name, account number etc…….listened to the lovely musak………..only to get through to an agent who asks you to say your name and account number all over again! Chris Cunningham (Lithium Technologies) explains it much better than me:

‘spending several minutes telling an automated IVR my inside leg measurement, credit card number, my mother’s maiden name and my blood group, to only be asked all the same questions AGAIN when I get to talk to a human…..’

Do we agree that this is indeed annoying to the point of resentment?

#8 Waiting and paying in restaurants

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What about the restaurant experience? Richard Piatkowski (Interactive Intelligence) resents ‘having to ask more than once for the bill, and then even worse, having to wait to actually pay it’. This has happened to me and is hugely annoying. And do not get us started on the ‘mandatory service charge’ for parties of 8 or more – something that Nick Govier (NG Interiors) finds irritating – especially if you are ‘crammed around a table that would normally seat 6!’

I could go on and on and on – I have not even included the old chestnut of having to pay to get money out of a cash machine – an irritation brought to my attention by Samantha Lee from Percepta – I must admit, being made to pay to get your hands on your own money does take the biscuit!! I am hoping by now that you get the gist! Organisations do too many things that create resentment. In an environment where the consumer has no choice, it is difficult to influence change. However, if you are an organisation that interacts with customers who DO have a choice, you would be well advised to take heed of some of the examples detailed above. Once you start to resent a company, it is very hard to get you to think differently. To stop this from happening, make sure you understand your customer journey, and the way your customer feels about the journey ‘end to end’. If you need to change something due to operational or cost constraints, make sure you understand the IMPLICATIONS of the change on your customer. How will it make them feel? If it will make them resent you, maybe you need to think again!

What examples of resentment do you have? I would love to hear them.

Sometimes the experience just does not matter – the example of Sports Direct

You approach the front of the store with an element of trepidation. Unsure what will happen inside, you are weighing up the odds of coming out alive. It is like the latter stages of the famous children’s book, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, as you tip toe into a deep dark cave, to be confronted with a not best pleased Bear! This could be the opening of a similar short story – alas, I fear that my writing skills are not competent enough. I must therefore reveal that this is what it sometimes feels like to me when I make the decision to visit Sports Direct.

Sports retailers have never excelled at delivering fantastic customer service. In fact they are often at the bottom of independent consumer studies. A Which survey conducted a year ago saw JJB Sports, JD Sports, Sports Direct, Blacks and Millets all in the bottom ten ( Since the survey was conducted, JJB Sports has ceased to exist. Blacks and Millets were purchased by JD Sports after they went into administration. Even now, life for JD Sports is a struggle, with a recent announcement of a drop in profits – I often wonder what ever happened to Olympus Sports – the high street sports store that was around when I was a boy.

There are many reasons for the demise of companies like JJB. Poor service is just one of them. Another is the huge increase in competition from new, innovative online retailers like Wiggle and Not only are these retailers able to offer vast ranges of sporting goods for almost any discipline, they can do so more conveniently and often at a better price.

One high street retailer that seems to have bucked the trend (of struggling financially that is) is Sports Direct. Hands up if you have never visited one? Most of us have. I did myself yesterday with my son Jack. Like all growing five-year old boys, his requirement for new clothing is relentless. Yesterday it was a new pair of Crocs that was on the necessary list of purchases. For ease, we visited a local retail park (it is free and easy to park, unlike the high street). We went in to three specialist footwear retailers. None of them sold Crocs. One sold their own cheaper (and nastier) version. So it was inevitable that we would end up entering the cave like labyrinth of Sports Direct.

I am not a fan of Sports Direct as a shopping experience. In fact, in my opinion, as an experience, it is as bad as it gets. Not only is it dark and dingy, it looks like a cross between a jumble sale and a liquidation fire sale. It is often difficult to tell where the floor is. What staff you can find are generally pretty disinterested, and sometimes look as confused as their customers. So why when I am such an avid protagonist of great experiences would I allow myself to be subjected to an experience like this?

One word, and one word alone explains it – BARGAIN. To me, that is what Sports Direct is. It is a place to go to get a bargain. Once we had navigated our way through the maze of clothes, shoes, umbrellas and the like, we found a rotating display of Crocs. We managed to find a navy blue pair to fit Jack – the price – £12.99. The same pair of Crocs is currently on sale at John Lewis for £19.99. It may be difficult to find what you want, but why wouldn’t you give Sports Direct a go if you can get the things you want for so much less?

Mary Portas, the well-known retail expert wrote an article for the Daily Telegraph earlier this year – she sums it up pretty well (and interestingly uses that same ‘Cave’ analogy as me) – Whilst specialist expert sports retailers can offer you great advice, why would you give them your hard-earned money if you can use the advice they give you to get the same products much cheaper somewhere else? It appears that the success of Sports Direct is a combination of eroding competition on the high street, and a very effective supply chain that has enabled it to offer branded goods at almost unbeatable prices. In the current economic climate, it is a very compelling business model. That is why Sports Direct is a business that can and is succeeding whilst offering a pretty poor end to end customer experience. Sports Direct demonstrate that it is indeed possible for the customer experience NOT to matter.

I have visited Sports Direct in the past, and seen customers having full on arguments with staff. I have witnessed the manager of the store in Speke tell a customer ‘I could not care less what you think’. None of it seems to matter – customers keep coming back (I must also point out that I have seen plenty of perfectly pleasant staff). Sports Direct is the sports retail equivalent of Ryanair!!

The ‘pile em high, sell em cheap’ philosophy is what has enabled many businesses to thrive over the years. The question is whether this business model will have the ability to stand the test of time. We seem prepared to accept a ‘sub standard’ customer experience today, so why should Sports Direct need to ever change the way they work? I only go to Sports Direct because there is nothing else like them. I actually far preferred JJB Sports – but that is no longer an option to me. If I want to visit a physical store, my options are limited.

The risk to Sports Direct is that something new will come long that will show the consumer that there is a better option. Something new will appear where consumers can buy the sports gear they need in a far more customer friendly environment with far better customer service. Last year, the Golding family visited northern Spain. In fact we drove all the way to La Coruna on the North West coast. Just outside the city is a huge shopping centre. One of the biggest stores in it is called Decathlon. Decathlon is a sports shop. Unlike Sports Direct it is big, bright and airy. It is also extremely well organised. You can clearly see which aisle contains products for which sport. It is almost like a supermarket for sporting goods.

What is also evident is the competitive pricing – it was remarkable value. I immediately started to make comparisons with Sports Direct, and wondered why we did not have any Decathlon stores in the UK. Well, unbeknown to me, we do. I have since found out that Decathlon is a major French sporting goods chain, with stores located throughout the world. It started with a shop near Lille, France in 1976. It expanded to Germany in 1986, Spain in 1992 and the UK in 1999. It is a company that is growing rapidly, and in my opinion potentially poses a big threat to Sports Direct in the UK.

You need to ask yourself the question – ‘if there was a credible alternative to Sports Direct’, would I shop there at all? If there were a Decathlon in Chester, I would not be visiting my local Sports Direct in a hurry. There are other competitors, but they tend to be smaller, and more specialist, and often cannot compete on price (as per the Mary Portas article). But something of the size of Decathlon could seriously eat in to the dominance of Sports Direct.

There is nothing to stop Sports Direct transforming themselves into a retailer that delivers bargains AND a great experience. But whilst they can do one and not the other, why would they bother. Nothing lasts forever though! At the end of ‘bear hunt’ the children and their parents end up under the bed covers wishing they had never been on the hunt in the first place – could that happen to Sports Direct? Ignore the customer experience at your peril, or your customers will eventually stop coming back.

What do you think? I welcome your comments and debate.

Outsourcing your contact centre CAN improve customer experience – a perspective from the inside

Last week I wrote a blog post about O2’s decision to outsource its contact centres to Capita – . The response to the article has been huge – and may I say almost entirely positive (at least the people who have commented or spoken to me about it have been positive!). As I expected, it prompted a very healthy debate about the benefits of outsourcing. I was therefore delighted when a good friend of mine asked if he could write a response to my post. Those of you who have followed my blog for a while will know that I am always keen to feature guest bloggers, and on this occasion I am genuinely excited to be able to do so.

Steve West

I have had the pleasure of knowing Steve West for the last five years. Steve is one of the people in my network that has inspired me to do some of the things I have up until now in the customer experience world. Not only does he know a lot of people, he knows a lot of things – about customer service, customer experience and contact centres. He has over 20 years experience in B2B Sales & Marketing, New Business Development, Customer Experience Management, Customer Relations and Commercial Management across a wide range of industry sectors including Customer Contact Outsourcing, Marketing, Business Support Services, Media and Print, Telecoms, Property and Digital Communications!! I am out of breath just writing that lot. But enough about him – the important point is that he has extensive experience of working within the outsourcing industry – so let’s hear what he has to say:

Firstly, thank you Ian for writing a well-balanced and stimulating piece that has attracted some excellent responses from both sides of the fence. I’m a true believer in the phrase ‘you can’t please all of the people all of the time’ but in this instance you’ve gone a long way to ensuring that Capita, O2 and their employees have all been well represented. I’d also love to see some comments from customers of O2. How do you feel about another company handling your enquiries?

As is always the case when I am asked to represent or comment on the contact centre industry I will take a pragmatic approach to answering the questions you have raised in your blog post. However, I feel I am unable to give an unbiased answer to the question ‘What examples are there to demonstrate how improving customer experience and delivering cost savings go hand in hand?’ and suggest this comes directly from a company that has formed a successful outsourced contact centre strategic partnership. More on that in due course…

My experience is that opinions on the pros and cons of outsourcing contact centres are often misguided; influenced by low quality customer experiences delivered by low quality contact centres irrespective of whether they are outsourced or not. And yes, my experience of working in and around contact centres for many years has proved that no matter how hard the industry tries to change the negative perception held by so many, there will always be a maverick operation that spoils it for the rest of the hard-working, regulated and ‘customer obsessed’ people that are a true representation of the tens of thousands of contact centre professionals in the UK. Reader, please do not be deluded into thinking that BBC 3’s ‘The Call Centre’ is in any way what really goes on in most contact centres. It’s not. And whatever solution Capita have agreed to deliver for O2 I am certain it will be professionally managed and resourced by individuals that are committed to delivering great customer service.

Also, I feel it’s important to challenge the assumption that all contact centre outsourcing is undertaken simply to reduce costs. Of course it’s a major factor, but the following are all common reasons cited for choosing to have another organisation manage your contact centre:

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Now, about those questions. Before I answer them I must drop in the disclaimer that I do not have any insider understanding of the commercial agreement between O2 and Capita, the outsourced contact centre solution they will be delivering or any KPIs or SLAs that will form the basis of the service provided. Instead, I offer up the following as a representation of the considerations that should be made to deliver a consistently positive customer experience. For ease of reading I’ve used bullet points and, be assured, my answers are by no means exhaustive so please contact me directly if you would like more information on a point.

What are the ways that outsourced contact centres can embed the values of the brand they are serving? How do you get your employees to feel that they are working for the brand as well as for the outsourcer?

My belief is that the ability to deliver a client’s brand promises and positive customer experience through each and every customer interaction is dependent on 3 things – great people, efficient and effective processes and appropriate systems.


Contact Centre Agents dedicated to one client brand – if someone is handling calls for lots of different companies can you expect them to remember to switch brand values on each call?

Recruitment and selection, matching the client’s brand values to an individual’s personal values.  Get this right at the very start and it will go a long way to creating a culture and environment that is reflective of the client’s brand values.

Client led inductions will help agents live and breathe the company’s brand values. The best results come from a cross-section of internal brand advocates.  Also use physical and visual reminders of ‘what matters most to customers’ and how to convey the right brand message.

Use multi stakeholder training and knowledge sharing.  You’ll be amazed at how input from often overlooked areas of the client’s business, such as marketing, supply chain, administration, etc., can help a contact centre agent fully understand the customer journey and recognise what could potentially cause customer dissatisfaction.

Conversely, allow the contact centre agents to give direct feedback to the client on customer satisfaction.  By giving agents this freedom you encourage continuous improvement and creative thinking.

Include an element of ‘brand understanding’ in your coaching, training and incentivising.  Your ‘scorecard’ needs to measure the contact centre agent’s understanding and delivery of the brand values alongside the obvious performance metrics.

Encourage relationship building. Client / outsourcer review meetings are not just for managers. Contact centre agents need and want to be immersed in the rapport and discussions of the campaign to check their own personal learning and development.

Include the outsourced contact centre agents in company incentives, discounts or service/product promotions.  The contact centre agents should feel like they are an extension of the client’s brand and organisation, so give them the chance to be part of the team.

Be as unscripted and natural as possible.  Of course you need to be able to direct and inform callers but do it in a way that is as human as possible.

Finally, have fun!  Contact centres (both outsourced and in-house) are renowned for running competitions, incentives and games to motivate and educate call-handling agents. Designing experiential sessions that investigate what the client’s brand values look, feel and sound like bring them to life and really engage people into living them.


Process map the entire customer journey (from ‘outside in’) to cover all current customer contact touch-points and create a planned process map of what it will look like during and after the move to the contact centre outsourcer.  An often overlooked element of the transition of service, this will highlight where potential ‘moments of truth’ that could damage the brand can be prioritised and closely monitored.

Use the transition of service as an opportunity to review all current customer contact processes, rather than simply ‘lifting and dropping’.  Consider whether there are any processes that can be improved, removed or consolidated to improve the customer experience.

Core customer service processes should not differ between the client and the outsourcer.  Customers want consistency so there should be no change to the way they’re dealt with, whoever they speak with.

Meet with the client’s process management team and frequently review the efficiency and effectiveness of processes. Customer demand doesn’t stand still so neither should the way that customers are served.

Where possible, measure customer satisfaction against the client’s in-house operation as a benchmark as soon as possible and develop on ongoing system of measuring and checking CSAT, NPS and brand values between the client and the outsourcer.

Listen to the outsourced contact centre agents’ feedback on the effectiveness of processes.  They are the ones using them every day and hearing directly from customers if they are working and supporting the brand values.

Measure and report on the right things. First contact resolution, customer effort score and CSAT will all give you insight that the outsourcer is delivering the brand message.


Outsourcers often have access to the very latest telephone systems, IVR platforms, speech analytics and infrastructure and have experience of implementing projects for many different clients. Different brands can be best served through different technology solutions and systems so don’t assume that one size fits all.

Technology works at its best when it doesn’t get in the way of common sense and this is never more true than in the contact centre.  Brand values should be easy to deliver so don’t overcomplicate the ability to do this by having too many systems and platforms that can negatively affect the customer experience. Nothing gives you bigger bang for your buck when handling a customer’s call than having a single customer view, with all the relevant information directly in front of you.

Consider a shared single platform.  Ideally, the outsourcer should be work remotely and directly onto the client’s CRM systems to ensure consistency.

Make sure that adequate training is given to the outsourced contact centre agents.  Skimping on this area may lead to some agents not being able to deliver all of the brand values all of the time, so check for learning and understanding.

Give the outsourced contact centre agents access to client Intranets and Wikis.  Being up to date with the rest of the client’s business will allow everyone to share improvements and best ways to convey the brand values.

Finally, it would be comforting to think that O2 and Capita have created a checklist like the one below to ensure that the outsourced contact centre partnership will be successful in delivering great customer experiences:

  • An obsessive focus on O2’s customers – understanding their needs and delivering O2’s brand promises at all times.
  • The outsourced contact centre solution will have a high degree of accountability, ownership and empowerment.
  • All project stakeholders will be O2 brand advocates with a strong understanding of the values of trust, integrity and respect.
  • The value and contribution of the outsourced contact centre to O2 and its customers is realised and openly      communicated.
  • There is a genuine feeling of teamwork with high levels of morale and commitment to the customer.
  • Open communication is vital between O2, Capita, the contact centre operation and the customer – we will all      listen to each other, value what is being said and act upon it appropriately.

Like Ian, I wish O2 and Capita all the best in their partnership. For such an iconic brand it would be a huge shame if the O2 customer experience did deteriorated from a change that can, and often does, improve customer retention, loyalty and advocacy. I welcome Capita or O2’s comments on my response and look forward to any other feedback from you, the reader.

Steve West is Business Development Director with Jaywing ( and a Board Director of the South West Contact Centre Forum ( I would encourage you to connect with him on LinkedIn –

If you are interested in writing a guest blog post, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me at

‘I have an idea – lets outsource customer services’ – Could the quest for cost savings damage the customer experience?

A man works on the stand of mobile operator O2 at the CeBIT fair grounds in Hanover

Disclaimer!! Let me start this blog post by acknowledging that the subject is going to be controversial. There will be readers on both sides of the debate – that is healthy, and I hope you will get involved.

In May, O2 announced their intention to outsource their contact centre operation to Capita. The main reason cited for the move was to save a billion pounds over the ten-year life of the contract. A billion pounds! It has been reported that half the savings will come from “discouraging calls, web chat and encouraging customers to use self-service option online. Sending jobs overseas and closing sites will provide a third, with the rest expected to be derived from productivity gains”. You can read more about it, and the reaction of staff and unions here –

So what? It is not uncommon for organisations of all shapes and sizes to outsource their customer service function to well established ‘experts’ like Capita. Many businesses have hugely successful relationships with specialist outsourcers over many years that see desired costs savings and improvements in service to customers. I am sure that readers of this post will want to share some examples.

However… knew that was coming…….the decision to outsource one of the most significant parts of your business is a very difficult one – and one that is not necessarily made with the right motivation in mind. In all of the articles I have read about the O2 Capita deal, not once have I read anything that talks about the customer. O2 has millions of them. Not once have I seen anything that describes the benefit of this huge decision on the millions of customers that have been loyal to O2 for a very long time. The only references made are in the guise of making life easier for O2 by ‘discouraging’ the use of the telephone, and ‘encouraging’ customers to ‘help themselves’. There is no doubting that enabling customers to ‘self-serve’ is an ambition of most companies – but it is a big risk to do it in a way that prevents the customer from being able to choose the method of contact that they prefer.

The motivation for the O2 Capita deal seems to be financial – although that could just be the way it has been reported. It is a deal that is designed to generate savings that will benefit shareholders. The primary motivation does not seem to be linked to improving the customer experience. Do not get me wrong – I completely understand the need for companies to continuously improve their efficiency and productivity. Tightening belts is essential in the current economic climate. In the world of customer service, that often means businesses must re-evaluate the effectiveness of the business model. As the online/mobile world continues to evolve, the nature of the service function required to support it must do as well. It is therefore a sad but factual reality that if more customers are doing things without the need to speak to a company, that company may not need as many people sitting waiting to help. Leveraging the technology and capability of specialist outsourcers like Capita makes a lot of sense. That is why I have nothing against the principle of outsourcing – as long as the motivation has a dual purpose – improving customer satisfaction BY becoming more efficient and effective, thus realising cost savings.

Before I continue, let me dwell for a second on the company itself – not Capita but O2.

People forget that O2 used to be BT Cellnet. Remember them? Cellnet became BT Cellnet in 1999 which became O2 in November 19 2001. At the time BT Cellnet was rapidly losing market share to its rivals (Orange and Vodafone). Those that remember them will not provide ringing endorsements of their customer service capabilities!! Over the following few years, the company enjoyed what can only be described as an amazing transformation. It grew at a rapid rate, and was acquired by Telefonica in 2005. By 2007 the company had over 18 million customers in the UK. In 2008, O2 was ranked as the sixth best company to work for, and was awarded a three star accreditation denoting it ‘an extraordinary company’. In 2008, as Group Head of Customer Experience for an online retailer. I frequently cited O2 as an example of what we could achieve. I used O2 as benchmark – I know that others did  as well.

Interestingly, when investigating O2’s history, the page on their website that provides the detail stops there. It is almost as though 2009 to the current day did not happen – In 2008, I visited one of O2’s contact centres in Leeds. It was very impressive. Great facilities, brilliant layout, clear communication – the place was literally ‘buzzing’. I was introduced to their by now renowned approach to people. O2 believed that to have happy customers, they had to have happy staff. They even took it a step further. They believed that for their customers to be fans of O2, they first had to get their people to be fans of O2. It makes perfect sense – it is not complicated, but at the time it was revolutionary. Internally, they communicated this to staff through the O2 Fanbook. You can see the video of the Fanbook here  –

It was amazing to see for my own eyes a modern, innovative business that was genuinely so people and customer focussed. Their people loved them, and in turn, customers learned to love O2 as well. The days of BT Cellnet were long forgotten. O2 started to eat up the competition, and all was very rosy.

So why has a business that believed so passionately in the importance of people decided to outsource a huge number of the  to another organisation? What has happened since 2008 that has resulted in the company putting the responsibility for communicating directly with their customers in the hands of someone else? It is impossible for me to answer these questions – only those on the inside can say for certain. But it does seem as though a company that succeeded by putting people and customers first, is now potentially doing the opposite in the quest to ‘save money’.

When you think about the organisations you know of that have outsourced a part(s) of their business, it is very likely that the ‘contact centre’ is first in line. The question is why? Why would a business outsource the function that is often THE ONLY ONE that actually speaks to customers? Customers who generate the sales that creates wealth for shareholders. Customer service is fundamentally a critical stage in any customer journey. By outsourcing this stage of the journey to another company, you are immediately making it more difficult for the delivery of the journey to live and breathe the proposition of the business. Why are companies so quick to outsource customer service when they would never dream of outsourcing their marketing team?

Let us look at another example. Most retailers outsource another critical stage of their customer journey. For online retailers, it is the only stage of the journey that the business has direct physical contact with the customer. That stage of the journey is the ‘delivery’ stage. Whether it is Royal Mail, Hermes, DPD, or DHL to name but a few, the retailer is handing over one of their most important customer touch points to someone else. The company that has been fortunate enough to be granted the honour of making the delivery has a very important job to do. Not only do they need to fulfil the customer expectation by getting the goods to them on time, they also need to maintain the brand values of the company they are working for. Most John Lewis deliveries are done by John  Lewis – they can guarantee that the delivery service is in line with the in store service, the online service, the telephone service. They, up to now, have not handed this over to someone else. It is far more difficult to do when you put a touch point in the hands of a business that does not live and breathe your brand. Again, it makes economic sense to use specialist logistics carriers that have the size and scale to deliver to all corners of the country – if the economic benefits are balanced by customer experience improvements, then an outsourcing partnership CAN be very successful.

If the outsourcer fails to maintain the brand ethos of the company they are working for, it is most likely that brand that will suffer. If a retailers delivery does not turn up on time – it is the retailer that suffers (as a result of declining customer perception) – not the delivery company. Using this as an analogy for the O2 situation, it will therefore become a significant challenge for O2 to maintain the consistency of their brand when they handover the keys to Capita. It will become Capita’s responsibility to ensure that the employees working on the O2 contract continue to live and breathe O2. It will be Capita’s responsibility to ensure that they keep loyal fans of O2 in their contact centres (wherever they happen to be in the world), so that they in turn can help to keep the loyalty of O2’s customers.

As I said earlier in the post, this is not an impossible challenge – but it is a difficult one. The customer does not need to know that the contact centre they are interacting with is managed by someone else – they should never notice the difference. Hopefully in this case they will not. It would therefore be nice to see what the plans are to ensure that both people engagement and customer satisfaction will improve. It would be nice to know that both of these critical things are equal to the objective of saving 1 billion pounds.

It would be great to hear from outsourcing professionals and their views on this. What are the ways you embed the values of the brand you are serving? How do you get your employees to feel that they are working for the brand as well as for the outsourcer? What examples are there to demonstrate how improving customer experience and delivering cost savings go hand in hand?

I wish O2 and Capita the very best of luck. I hope that they can continue to be an example to others of how to collaborate to deliver better, more efficient customer service. Fingers crossed.

A year of great experiences!

If you are reading this, you are almost certainly someone who enjoys reading a good blog. At least I hope that the blog posts you have been reading have been good! It is exactly 1 year since I penned my opening blog post. I started putting my thoughts out in to the ether as a result of advice given to me by a customer experience guru. If you have not come across Mike Wittenstein, I strongly advise you to look him up. Mike runs a company called Storyminers ( – he has taught me a lot in my time as a customer experience specialist.

In May 2012, Mike suggested that I might want to start writing a blog – it is therefore his fault that I sit in front of my laptop just over a year later writing my 64th blog post. It was one of the greatest pieces of advice I have ever been given. It has been a great pleasure writing about the subject I feel so passionate about. I genuinely look forward to writing my weekly blog post. Often, as now, I write them at silly times of the day – today, I am in a McDonalds just outside of Worcester – it is 06:15. Some may think I am mad. You are probably not wrong. To me though, I am doing something that gives me a great deal of pleasure. If even a small proportion of the people who come across my blog feel the same way, then all the better.

To ‘celebrate’ my first year as a blogger, I thought I would post a reminder of my TOP 5 most viewed blog posts. The fact they are the most viewed, suggests that they have been the most popular – maybe you can tell me what you think:

1. ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ – it does not matter what you look like, a customer is a customer – 11th February 2013

My most viewed blog post to date was one that was written by a friend of mine. The story of Helen Kewell and her experience with Sainsburys was one that touched many people. It is a story that everyone can associate with, and one that made many think twice about the way all customers are treated. This was also a blog post that led to a direct response from Sainsburys CEO – Justin King. Like all of my blog posts, I write them to be insightful and constructive. If the organisation that is the subject of the article can take appropriate action as a result, then it just makes my blogging all the more worthwhile. I will always be grateful to Helen for being so brave in sharing her story. If anyone reading this would like to feature in a guest post, please let me know.

You can read the post here –

Justin King’s response can be viewed here –

2. STRATEGY – MEASUREMENT – PEOPLE: a simple framework for managing customer experience – 26th March 2013

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I do not like to get too theoretical with my blog posts. However, In March 2013, I decided to create a post that shared my approach to managing and improving the customer experience. In sharing the customer experience framework that is central to the way I operate, I generated a huge amount of interest from all over the globe. The framework that I choose to use is not exclusive to me. There are so many frameworks that exist, I just wanted to demonstrate that creating a framework for any organisation does not need to be complicated. I have used the framework in a variety of organisations, industries and sectors – I know it works. If you have not had a look, I encourage you to do so and assess the state of your own organisation against it.

You can read the post here –

3. 18 hours – how a loaf of bread helped improve the customer experience – 28th May 2013

Like everything in life, the more you do something, the better you get at doing it (most of the time!!). When I started to write my most recent blog post, I knew that it would be of interest to a great many people. I am often asked how I come up with ideas for my blog posts – especially when I write one on a weekly basis. The truth is that the process is often very impulsive. The idea sometimes just comes to me – and as soon as it does, I just have to write it down. That is what happened last week when I had a ‘bad’ experience in my local Morrisons. What started as a bad experience ended up as an amazingly positive one – one that I had to share with as many people as possible. That is one of the joys of blogging. As long as people are interested in the things I am talking about, it is wonderful to be able to share experiences with people from across the world. The story of my loaf of bread, and the action that Morrisons took is a brilliant example of the new world of ‘social service’ – again, it is a must read…..but I would say that! This is already my third most viewed blog post after just one week – given time, it may make it to number 1.

You can read the post here –

4. £2,160 a night!!! What can we learn from Claridges? – 11th December 2012

If you are lucky enough, you may have had the pleasure of staying the night at Claridges in London. Even if you have not stayed there, you might have had the good fortune of enjoying afternoon tea there. If you have not had the joy of either, I suggest that you convince someone with enough money to treat you! Last year, the BBC aired a documentary series on the iconic hotel. It was brilliant viewing. Apart from providing good TV entertainment, for customer experience connoisseurs, the programme demonstrated what all organisations could learn from businesses like Claridges. Attention to detail, consistency, innovation, training, memories are all words that can be associated with one of the most famous hotels in the world – but they are also words that could be associated with any business. The programme had such a strong effect on me that I decided to treat Mrs Golding to afternoon tea on her 40th birthday. Can you guess what happened? It went wrong!! Not to worry though, the way Claridges dealt with the problem once again highlighted how well they manage the customer experience.

You can read the post here –

You can read about our afternoon tea ‘problem’ here –

5. Attitude, Passion and Pride – do your people have it?

It is fantastic to see that the fifth most popular post in my first year is one of my very first. The story of ‘Arriva Trains Man’, who I later discovered was called Andrew Tyson captured the imagination of many. The post focussed on the importance of employee engagement. Every organisation needs people like Andrew – they cannot survive without passionate, proud people like him. It is regrettable that every day I hear stories of employees being taken for granted. It is so important to care for the most important asset any organisation has – doing so will ensure that what ever your business does, it will be far more likely to deliver a customer journey that meets or exceeds customer expectation. Andrew was understandably delighted to read a blog post written about him – I only hope that his employers recognise the value he brings as well.

You can read the post here –

Just because these are the top 5, does not mean that the other blog posts are of little value. I have enjoyed so much positive feedback over the last twelve months, that I would love to provide a reminder of them all!! Whilst I continue to enjoy writing them, and people continue to enjoy reading them, I will continue to write about the customer experience. We are all consumers. We all experience interactions with organisations on a daily basis. Sometimes these interactions are good, sometimes they are not so good. My job is to help those that recognise that they can be better – that they can deliver better experiences for their customers or clients. It is wonderful to see more and more businesses putting customers at the heart of everything they do. Despite this, there is a very long way to go before the customer experience is genuinely a priority for the majority of organisations across the world.

Thank you for reading, commenting and supporting my blog over the last twelve months – your support for the next twelve will be just as important!!