Customer Experience – It’s pre-determined by culture!

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It is the 15th August 2013. We are slap bang in the middle of holiday (vacation) season! Friends, family, colleagues and associates are travelling by train, planes, boats and buses to destinations near and far. Some will stay within easy reach of home, others  will embark on exotic journeys half way around the world. I myself am desperately looking forward to our family holiday to Northern Spain and the South of France.

There are a number of inevitabilities about going on holiday. We will return poorer – having spent our hard-earned money on eating out, visiting the sights, buying souvenirs we really do not need, and indulging in copious amounts of ice cream (if you are me anyway!). We may return with a tan (obtained healthily and sensibly of course). It is even possible that we may be more relaxed at the end of the holiday than we were at the beginning (although this very much depends on a large number of factors – especially if children are involved!!).

One thing is for absolute certain – everyone enjoying a holiday this summer will be having a large number of experiences – customer experiences with a variety of people, companies and organisations. We will experience things at the very beginning of our holiday, right until the very end. The beginning and end will start in the country we reside in. The taxi ride to the airport. The train journey. The car parking experience. Those of us travelling abroad will fill our holidays with experiences interacting largely with people from a different country – and it is this point that has got me thinking (dangerous, I know!).

When you think about the customer experiences you have had in the past, or those that you are currently having, how different have the experiences been depending on which country you are in? Is the level of service you receive, or expect to receive, different depending on where you are in the world? Are the experiences we have as customers pre-determined by culture?

Last week we had a lovely meal with friends of ours. The friends in question are not native Brits. The husband is a national CEO of an international company. He has spent many years travelling all over the world on business. When I mean all over the world, I mean literally all over the world – he has visited well over 100 countries. When we go out for dinner, customer experience always pops up in the conversation (another one of those inevitabilities – much to Mrs Golding’s irritation). We started to talk about customer service and how it differs from country to country, culture to culture.

I asked where him where he has received the best customer service and the worst customer service on his travels. The Far East – was his immediate response for ‘the best’ – Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Japan – you can always rely on attentive, caring, respectful service. If I think of my own experiences of those countries and cultures, I would have to agree. I will never forget our first trip to the Maldives – the service and experience was second to none (even apart from the fact that the product – the beautiful golden beaches and crystal clear waters – was fist rate.

I will not tell you which part of the world he categorised as ‘the worst’ – that would not be fair. What I can say is that it was a very interesting conversation. Think about the countries you have visited yourself. The USA – famed for its ‘have a nice day’ culture – has always been proud of high levels of customer service and customer experiences. Like anywhere in the world, improvement is needed, but the underlying US culture is driven by good customer service, manners and respect.

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The UK is much more reserved – the British ‘stiff upper lip’ deems that sometimes service in this country can seem a little brusque, with less of a smile. Although customer service is regularly good,  I often feel as though there are too many people who interact with customers in the UK with a level of indifference that is reflected in society.

When you move into mainland Europe, culture differences are even more stark. I have always found customer service in Spain to be a little ‘direct’, sometimes appearing to be quite rude. Doing what I do for a living, I am sure that there is absolutely no intention of being rude, it is just the way things are done in that particular culture. In Germany, customer service is remarkably efficient (as you would expect), but sometimes delivered expertly without any perceived emotion or feeling.

A few years ago I delivered a training course in Singapore. I was treated like a king – wherever I went. It was a wonderful experience. There was an inherent pride in their culture that translated into the way they interacted with everyone. There are many other countries in the world that I have never visited. They will all have their own cultural differences that translate into the way they deliver customer service and customer experiences.

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Customer Experience is important wherever you happen to live on the planet. I have chaired and presented at conferences all over the world. But is the underlying culture of a country significant to the customer experience efforts of companies? Will your ability to deliver great experiences depend on which country your company operates in? In my opinion, the answer to these questions is yes. The culture of a country will determine the expectations and needs of customers within those countries. Customer experience programmes will need to be tailored accordingly.

So as you embark on, or return from your summer break, have a think about the experiences you had, and the customer service you received. Were there cultural differences? Do those differences suggest that customer experience is really a question of culture?

This is my last post before I leave for my own summer vacation. I am therefore taking a two-week break from blogging. I am pretty sure I will have lots of experiences to write about when I get back!

‘Brilliant Basics or Magic Moments?’ What should you be focussing on?

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‘What does my business need to do better?’ A pretty simple question that many business owners, shareholders, boards of directors, senior managers and employees all over the world will ask, or be asked on a regular basis. Although the question is simple, the answer is often not. A number of methods, tools, techniques and strategies have, and continue to be deployed to assist in responding to the question – some have worked very successfully, some have failed dismally.

As a customer experience professional, it is always my hope that something is added to the end of the question. That something is ‘for customers’ – ‘What does my business need to do better for customers?’. This sounds pretty obvious, but in reality, what is obvious, is not always what happens. Other variants to the question include ‘What does my business need to do better to give my shareholders a better return on their investment?’; ‘What does my business need to do better to increase profits?’; What does my business need to do better to save money?’ Sadly, the variants are probably still more common than my suggestion.

Many business leaders now recognise that doing things better for customers will lead to improved top and bottom line, greater rewards for shareholders, and happier, more motivated employees. But what exactly is it that they should focus on when it comes to ‘improvement’.

Have you ever heard of the phrases ‘brilliant basics’ and ‘magic moments’? They are not new, and not phrases that I can claim as my own. However, they explain very neatly what any organisation could/should determine as their focus in attempting to meet and then exceed customer expectations or needs. How good is your business at getting the basics right – the things that your customers just expect you to do, and to do very well every time you do it. Meeting your promises; doing what you said you would do – these are the basics of your customer journey that you must and need to do brilliantly.

Understanding how ‘capable’ your customer journey is  at doing what your customers ‘expect’, will allow you to understand how brilliant you are at delivering ‘the basics’, or not as the case may be. You can read about my recommended approach to measuring the customer journey in this blog post –

Getting ‘the basics’ right is not as easy as it may seem. It is why methodologies such as Six Sigma came in to existence. In fact the principle of ‘continuous improvement’ centres around your ability to know how good you are at doing something today, and understanding what elements of whatever it is you do, need to be addressed to get better at doing it. Although Six Sigma is no longer the business ‘fashion statement’ it was in the 1980’s and 1990’s, it is still as valuable an approach to improving your customer journey and its enabling processes as ever.

I was inspired to write this blog post as a result of seeing an advert on TV. The advert was about an App that was launched by Barclays Bank last year. The App is called ‘Pingit’ – you can view the advert here –  I do not have a problem with the App itself – the Pingit application is a demonstration of continuous improvement in the Barclays customer journey. It has created a simple way for customers to transfer money – potentially leading to an even better solution that enables customers to pay for goods using their mobile phone. The App is a great example of a ‘Magic Moment’ – something that differentiates the Barclays Bank customer journey from other banks. It is not something that customers traditionally expect from the Barclays customer journey – it is an added bonus. Here is the Wikipedia page on the Pingit App –

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If you watch the advert, you will notice that it makes a very big deal about the fact that you can transfer money with a photograph/image. I remember hearing about this on the radio last week. At the time, it instantly made me question why anyone would want to transfer money to someone with a photograph/image. It seems to me to be completely unnecessary, and not what I would describe as a Magic Moment. The danger of creating and designing things for customers is that you go a step too far. You end up creating something that makes your customer question why you have devoted time and money to creating something that is unnecessary. You potentially put your customers in a position where they start to question why you are playing around with the unnecessary, whilst not fixing ‘the basics’.

Below is a small selection of reviews of the Pingit App (Android) – you would hope that ‘the basics’ being highlighted by customers as not working well, are the priority. Surely it would be better to advertise how the App is being made even better in response to customer feedback, rather than focusing on the inane pointlessness of sending payments with a photograph or image?

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I am not saying ‘Magic Moments’ are not necessary. I actually think quite the opposite. Magic Moments are the very special things that occur throughout your customer journey that your customers will remember. If you do the basics well, your customers should not even notice. If you do the basics badly, they will remember forever. You want your customers to remember the magic – for it is a combination of not having to worry about the basics, and the sprinkling of ‘fairy dust’ that will inspire you to come back for more.

Last week, I noticed a re-tweet about Metro Bank. It is now common knowledge how customer focussed they are. The content of the tweet caught my attention immediately. The tweet said something along the lines of:

‘Opened an account with @Metro_Bank and found a random £3 in my account. The note on my online statement says “Coffee on Us”‘

Now that is a nailed on example of a ‘Magic Moment’. It is not something that Peter expected, but you can bet your bottom dollar he will never forget it. You can almost guarantee that he will tell a lot of people about it. Metro Bank is still a very young company. It is an organisation that was designed with customer service as its number one reason for being. They are already pretty good at delivering the basics. As a result, they are able to focus on delivering Magic Moments like these that make them stand out very clearly from the crowd.

All businesses need a combination of ‘Brilliant Basics’ and ‘Magic Moments’. Doing the basics brilliantly is essential (not optional). The better you do the basics, the more likely it is that your customers will be able to trust you and rely on you. The better you do the basics, the more likely it is that your customers will keep coming back. Get the basics wrong, and you will have a hard time holding on to them. If you do not know how good you are at delivering the basics, you need to find out – and fast.

Magic Moments are the ‘fairy dust’ to sprinkle over the basics of your customer journey. They are your differentiators. A company that does the basics brilliantly, but without any magic, may lose customers to companies that do. If two coffee shops are on the same street, two doors apart and serve the same brand of coffee in the same environment – one has free Wifi and every now and then gives a little treat to regular customers (like a free coffee or biscuit), whilst the other does not – which coffee shop is likely to be more successful?

Barclays Bank, like many of its competitors (Metro Bank apart), has been through a turbulent period in recent years. This article in the Telegraph summarises it nicely Would it not be better for Barclays to rigorously get the basics right and restore trust and confidence with its customer base, rather than focussing on mass marketing a Magic Moment with a little bit of unnecessary sparkle? I certainly think so. What about you?

Buying shoes online or buying a car – which is the better customer experience?

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There are a finite number of significant purchases we will make during our adult lives. By ‘significant’, I mean a purchase that has a minimum of four figures in it, with the first figure likely to be greater than 2. The first of these purchases will probably be the acquisition of our first vehicle – either car or motorcycle – a pivotal point in our development from teenager to ‘young adult’. We may then move on to purchasing a property – something that is proving more difficult to do for younger adults in the current economic climate, but something we aspire to do all the same. We will at regular intervals purchase a holiday – the older we get, the more expensive this particular purchase becomes as one adult turns in to two, and then potentially starts adding in children.

There are of course other ‘significant’ purchases along the way depending on your interests. Some may buy a boat (if they can afford it). Others will buy expensive and elaborate entertainment systems for their homes. Buying a house is only just the start. Once you have purchased it, you may want a new kitchen or bathroom. It is very possible you will spend a significant sum of money on tradespeople to get the house up to the standard you require.

One purchase that I am a long way from making is related to retirement. It is perhaps the most significant purchasing decision we are likely to make in our lives. What do we do with the funds we have saved in our pension? Explaining annuities is most certainly not a subject for this blog post (or any I am likely to write for that matter), but please take my word for it that deciding on what to do with your hard-earned money for the rest of your life post retirement is rather important.

So why am I going on about these ‘significant purchases’? Let me stick to the big two to explain. If you think about the ‘customer experience’ of buying a car or a house, what immediately comes to mind? Do you ‘well up’ with emotion remembering how wonderful the company was who sold you your last car? Do you think back with admiration to the support and empathic service provided by your estate agent? Are you thinking ‘I cannot wait to have to go through these experiences all over again’?

Speaking from my own experience (although I would love to hear about yours), I sadly do not look back fondly on the experiences I have had spending vast sums of money relative to what I do every day. I have often wondered why the experience of buying a pair of new running shoes online or in a shop is so much easier, convenient and downright nicer than buying a car or a house. The level of service or attention I tend to receive on purchases of approximately £100 is far superior to the purchases I have made of £10,000 or more.

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Think about it – why is it that estate agents have in general such a bad reputation? Of course they are not all bad (my brother is one!) – some are excellent – but a profession does not earn a negative perception overnight. Surely when we are considering parting with huge sums of money, the experience should be exceptional, and superior to what we expect day-to-day.

Regular readers of my blog know that I encourage people to feature as a guest. This post is no exception. I used to work with Miles Tilley. I did not know him personally, but he became a firm advocate of customer experience when he became engaged in the work I was doing. Miles has kindly shared his recent experience of buying a car – it is a great story (expertly written) that brings to life the points that I have been making in this post:

It’s quite simple really – when buying a car, you want to be able to believe and trust the salesperson to sell you the best car at the best price. But what if you don’t even get as far as seeing that salesperson? Coming from Malvern – a small town where little ever happens, becoming 18 and being able to visit the local bars was very exciting for my friends. I was more concerned with turning 17 and finally being able to have my own independence in the form of a car. It meant that I could easily work and socialise out-of-town and 3 months later my driver’s licence changed from green to pink.

Fast forward 6 years, 5 clapped out cars, some savings and a redundancy cheque and I’m now at a point where I want to buy a brand new car. This is exciting for me. None of my previous cars have ever been particularly “nice”, but this was all about to change. Like a child looking through a toy catalogue for Christmas presents, I spent months of flicking through websites and had finally decided that I would like to take my search for a new car to the next level. I wanted to test drive a Fiat 500 S edition.

Sunday morning came and Fiat’s website pointed me in the direction of “Bristol Street Motors” an authorised car dealership in Worcester which comes under the Vertu Motors PLC umbrella. On arrival I browsed the cars for around 5 minutes or so, peering in windows, kicking tyres and wondering how long it would take for someone to approach me and ask if I needed any help. A few more minutes and a little impatience later, I decided to venture inside the dealership – something I always felt should be reserved for the people who wanted to sit down, discuss figures and drive their hardest bargain.

Inside, sat at a large desk, was a receptionist who I approached and asked if they had any demonstration Fiat 500’s in the “S” edition.  Politely she said she’d have to find out for me – Fair enough, it seemed that she wasn’t based in sales and therefore may not know all of the specific models of the car. She then popped round the corner and asked what I assumed to be a salesman who was sat alone at his desk absent-mindedly clicking away. His response was simple – “No, we don’t sorry”

Taken aback slightly at the short and unhelpful response, I asked the lady if they had another dealership that I could visit and was told that the nearest one was in Cheltenham. The conversation ended there, I politely thanked them for their (little) time and left. A few stunned seconds later and I was back in the car. The more I thought about it, the worse the whole experience seemed to be. I wasn’t once approached and offered any help, guidance or even recognition.

Frustratingly, later in the day, I found out that each dealership had been sent a special edition Fiat 500 GQ which had been designed by the men’s magazine under the same name – based on the Fiat 500 S. My experience of working in a sales environment is limited to managing a team of temporary Christmas Sales Advisors for a home shopping company, but even I knew that I had practically handed the salesperson a lead to sell me a car, with the possibility of up-selling me the new more expensive special edition model!

I did actually end up visiting Bristol Street Motor’s sister dealership in Cheltenham, where unfortunately the experience wasn’t much better. This time I waited for 15 minutes before I was acknowledged by a rushed salesperson with “Give me 2 minutes and I’ll be with you”. Eventually I did get to test drive a car similar to the one I wanted, but again this was delayed further by having to stop for fuel. (Why wasn’t this done before?) Post-test drive, I was told that unfortunately, the salesperson had another appointment with another customer, but he (so kindly) offered to email me a quote which would “probably be tomorrow now”.

As frustrating as this whole situation was, I don’t feel that it wasn’t entirely the salesperson’s fault. He admitted that he was rushed off his feet due to having “skeleton” staff in on Sundays and that he had worked 5 Sunday’s in a row. I’m not a service delivery expert but you would assume that Saturdays and Sundays are going to be the busiest days for buying cars (especially during the summer months where people get out and about more). If you know Sundays are going to be busy, why not manage a rota to include more staff on this day?

Annoyed and frustrated, I headed for my local Nissan dealer to look at a second car which took my interest and I’m happy to let you know that not all car dealerships are the same. Within 30 seconds of looking at the car I liked, I was greeted by a young sales person who shook my hand, introduced himself as Jamie and asked if it was that particular model I was interested in. 3 minutes later I was inside being shown around the model in more detail and 10 minutes later I was test driving one. I left the garage with a detailed quote of the model I wanted with all the extra specifications that I liked, and Jamie’s business card to give him a call if I wanted further information.

The whole experience reminded me of a speech Ian Golding once gave where he said that customers will go back to the places (or companies) where good memories are made. Now I may not necessarily buy the car from Jamie, (I’m quite hard to please and I wasn’t particularly blown away by the drive of the car); but I would however consider Nissan for future purchases and even recommend them to other potential buyers. The whole experience was quick, easy, non-pressured and not once did he start a sentence with “My boss would kill me if he knew I was telling you about this incredibly good but top-secret deal that we have…”

A couple of years ago, Fiat launched a trial initiative where you could actually purchase a Fiat 500 wholly online which was supported by a small number of pop up stores in shopping centres which contained an example model. Although this may have been a PR stunt, I’m amazed that Fiat – one of the largest and demonstrably forward thinking car manufacturers in Europe does not have more involvement in the way its cars are sold in franchised dealerships.

In an industry where competition is rife and potential Car Buyers are looking to spend thousands of pounds on a product that is so integral to daily routine, Car Dealerships should try not to get ahead of themselves. Maybe Vertu Motors’ mission statement about providing “an outstanding customer motoring experience through honesty and trust” is a bit too low-level and requires them to step back and review their strategy. As we all know, you can provide the best sales and aftercare process, but if you can’t acknowledge your customers and get them through the door, it’s unlikely that they will hang around for the latter stages of the customer journey.

An alternative title for this blog post is ‘bigger does not always equal better’ – a reference to the fact that the bigger the purchase, the better the experience does not necessarily become. The ’emotional experience’, or in other words ‘what we remember about the experiences we have’ is a key factor in determining loyalty and future buying behaviour. Miles experience clearly shows how a poor experience will inevitably damage the credibility of the brand, and drive a valuable customer to a competitor. The fact that a significant purchase is more likely to be remembered than normal day-to-day interactions, means that it is even more important to ensure that your customers remember the experience for the right reasons.

I must re-iterate, there are exceptions to the rule in every industry. Fords of Winsford (, a used car specialist in the North West are famed for their customer experience. We purchased our last car with them – it is by far the best experience I have ever had buying a car. However, they seem to be the exception rather than the rule. I can only hope that the automotive dealers and estate agencies start/continue to build customer led strategies, rather than purely sales driven ones that out the customer at the bottom of the list of priorities.

Many thanks to Miles for sharing his story. You can follow him on Twitter at @lezjc

I would also be delighted to hear of any examples of great experiences related to significant purchases.

We won the argument….but lost the customer!

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In a break from convention (a change is as good as a rest), I have decided this morning to write a ‘blogette’ – a short blog post (story) about customer loyalty. The story is inspired by one of my social media gurus – the only problem, is that I am not sure which one! It is likely that it was one of the people featured in this article Whoever it was, I thank you for the inspiration!

The inspiration came from a quote. The quote sounded something like this:

There is no point winning an argument if as a result you lose a customer

It is (in my opinion) a very thought provoking quote. It makes me think of all the times I have interacted with organisations who have either argued with me, or disbelieved my point of view. One such event happened yesterday. My parents were visiting the Golding clan for the weekend. Before they returned to London, they very kindly wanted to treat us all to dinner. We decided to visit a lovely pub local to Chester. As there were seven of us, and because we know the seating area in the pub is small, we decided to book a table – we did not want to risk turning up, only to find out there was no space available.

On phoning the pub, we were told (politely I might add), that ‘we do not accept table bookings’. A relatively long conversation followed. We explained that we were a large group. We explained that my parents had a long drive back to London and that we could not risk not getting  a table. Even when they advised that they were not that busy ‘at the moment’, there was still no budging. WE DO NOT TAKE TABLE BOOKINGS was the stance, and there was absolutely no chance they were going to change their mind.

So can you guess what happened? I reckon most of you will have guessed correctly. Yesterday evening, this particular pub lost out on 7 meals and a couple of rounds of drinks. They can obviously afford to lose that kind of custom. It is very likely the next time we decide to go out for a meal, we will not even consider that establishment as a possible location. They won their argument, but very much list an customer! Was it worth it? You decide.

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I completely acknowledge the need for rules and policies. However, the best organisations – and when I mean best I mean the ones that are the most customer centric – the ones who genuinely put customers before anything else – are the ones who are willing to break the rules to do what is right for the customer. I am reminded by a famous quote from Sir Richard Branson:

“You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling  over, and it’s because you fall over that you learn to save yourself from  falling over.”

So think about that quote the next time you are either having an argument with a customer, or when you are the customer being argued with – is it really worth it?

Normal service (i.e. a normal length blog post) will be resumed later this week.