127 countries in 2013 – thank you to all my readers!!

2013 has been the first full year for me as a full-time blogger. I continue to be very humbled by the kind words and comments that people leave on the blog and other social media channels. I started blogging because I wanted to write down the things that I have always thought. The blog enables me to ‘let off steam’ about customer experience and customer service. The fact that so many people enjoy reading the things I write makes it incredibly rewarding.

In 2013, 127 countries viewed the blog – I find that statistic quite amazing. I will continue to post my thoughts on a weekly basis – I can only hope that you continue to read and enjoy what I write. I wish every reader of my blog a very happy, rewarding and prosperous 2014.


If you want to see the report on my blog in 2013 produced by WordPress, Click here to see the complete report.

Do you have what it takes to become a CCXP? The new certification programme for CX Professionals

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Are you passionate about Customer Experience? Do you believe that organisations should be ‘customer led’? Do you work in the field of customer service of customer experience? Do you want to be recognised for your skill set, knowledge and expertise as a customer experience professional?

If you have answered ‘yes’ to all of these questions, you will no doubt be interested in understanding more about a brand new Customer Experience Professional Certification programme (CCXP) that is being officially launched in January 2014. The Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA), the global non-profit organisation dedicated to the advancement of customer experience management practices, is concluding the live testing of its brand new programme as we speak. To find out the detail that is available on the CCXP Programme, please have a look at the CXPA website http://www.cxpa.org/?page=ccxp_faqs.

To become a CCXP, you will need to be able to demonstrate an understanding OF and practical application IN six subject areas. So to answer the question in the title of this post – do you have what it takes to become a CCXP – you need to be able to demonstrate that you know about the following:

  • Customer-Centric Culture – Creating and nurturing a culture, through behaviours, practices and standards, that encourages all employees to focus on delivering outstanding customer experiences.
  • Organizational Adoption & Accountability – Driving change and developing cross-company experience accountability from the C-suite to the front line.
  • VOC, Customer Insight & Understanding – Building collective insight into customer needs, wants, perceptions, and preferences through the capture and analysis of the Voice of the Customer
  • Experience Design, Improvement & Innovation – Implementing practices and approaches to continuously improve, design and differentiate customer experiences
  • Metrics, Measurement & ROI – Creation and reporting of the measures of CX success including their use in business cases to illustrate the ROI and business value of customer experience.
  • Customer Experience Strategy – Development of a strategy that articulates a clear vision of the experience that a company seeks to create in support of the company’s brand values, including its direct linkage to CX activities, resources and investments

Sounds pretty simple, right? Wrong! It may be simple to understand in some cases, but far more difficult to demonstrate the practical application in many. It is very important for our profession to continue to build the credibility and authority to influence organisations of all shapes and sizes to put the customer at the heart of what they do. Recognising the skills required to bring these six subject areas to life is an essential step to build both credibility and authority.

As a UK Ambassador for the CXPA, I am greatly encouraged by the advancements we have seen in the profession over the last twelve months. I am now even more excited about the potential 2014 will have. To finally have a formal qualification that proves the credibility of our skills and knowledge will take our authority to a whole new level. I will be taking the CCXP exam at the earliest opportunity. I will not be telling anyone when that might be………just in case!!!

If you are a customer experience professional, I very much hope that you will be as excited by the CCXP programme as I am. If you want to know more about the programme or the CXPA in general, please do not hesitate to contact me. If you want to get more involved in the CXPA, why not attend a local networking session – you will be able to find out more about what it takes to be a CCXP, as well as having the chance to meet like-minded professionals.

Whatever you choose to do, I very much look forward to seeing the letters CCXP being displayed proudly after your name very soon.


‘Could you care less?’ Why ‘caring’ is essential if you want to deliver great customer experiences

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This is a tale that readers of my blog are likely to empathise with. It is a tale of large organisations who purport to talk of delivering ‘world class’ customer service, and continuously improving customer experiences. It is a tale which shows that however hard they convince themselves that they are ‘customer focussed’, they still have an almighty long way to go. As I can often be heard muttering in various forums around the world, ‘talk is cheap’ when it comes to the world of customer experience. It is ‘doing’ that allows a company to go from being ‘average’ or ‘good’ to ‘great’.

To be a customer experience ‘leader’, your organisation from top to bottom needs to demonstrate that it genuinely cares about its customers. You need your customers to instinctively get the sense that you care so much about them, that they trust you to do what is right – whatever happens. Caring builds a bond with not just your customers, but your employees as well. If you care about your people, they will care about your customers – it is that simple.

So where does this tale begin. Let us look at the story of Virgin Trains. I use Virgin Trains a lot – in fact, over the last twelve months, I have almost used them at least once a week. I have spent a lot of money with them! I have had many great experiences travelling between Chester and London. I have met some fabulously friendly staff, and travelled on clean, modern trains. Most of the time the trains have been on time, and I have reached my destination as expected. On occasion they have ‘wowed me’ – including the train manager last week who was keen to dress up in the spirit of Christmas!!

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This chap (I forgot to ask him is name), gave me the sense that he cared. He built a great rapport with his customers early on a Friday morning, and made a standard train journey to London enjoyable and memorable. However, there are times when the experience is memorable for the wrong reasons – it is when things go wrong that you can get an insight into whether the business you interact with cares or not.

In September, I was on a train from London to Chester. To cut a long story short, I heard and saw what I thought was inappropriate behaviour from a Virgin train manager. I felt that the manager was very direct, aggressive and quite frankly rude to another passenger. This individual’s behaviour was not what I expect from the Virgin Trains brand. Doing what I do for a living, if I see something that I consider to be inappropriate, I offer ‘feedback’ as constructively as possible to the company concerned. That is what I did on this occasion. As I normally do, I tweeted Virgin:

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As is pretty normal with Virgin Trains, I received a very swift response. They acknowledged my comment, and asked for my email address. They were keen for me to send them the full detail. I duly did. At this stage, I was of the belief that this company cared. They cared enough to listen to my feedback, and they genuinely wanted to know more. If Virgin Trains had responded in as genuine a way, I would be writing a very different blog post. Sadly, what they did in response, completely destroyed the trust I had with their brand.

On the 23rd September – 6 days later – I received an email from Virgin Trains Customer Relations. As soon as I opened the email, and before I had even read a word of it, I noticed that there were little symbols breaking up the sentences. These symbols were not removed before the email was sent to me. The symbols signify that it is highly likely that this email was ‘cobbled together’ by an email management system. I say cobbled together – what I mean is that it is very likely that the sentences have been ‘selected’ from a list of standard sentences to construct an email response. To me, it is not a genuine response. To me it feels as though I am being ‘fobbed off’. To me, it was a demonstration that Virgin Trains just do not care. Have a read for yourself and draw your own conclusion:

“I was very concerned to learn about the manner of the Train Manager whilst you were on-board the London Euston to Chester service on 17th September. � I understand that you feel that this incident could have been dealt with in a more appropriate manner, and I hope you will accept my apologies.�  We are very proud that, on the whole, we get very positive comments about our staff, so we do take comments such as this very seriously.�  We have invested heavily in recruiting the right staff and in the right training.

As a representative of Virgin Trains, our staff have a responsibility to care for our customers and they do regularly generate the most praise for our services.�  When that care falls below our expected standards, then it’s only right that we should be made aware of it.�  As such, I am very grateful to you for taking the time to let us know about this.

Please be assured that all comments are taken very seriously, and are recorded in detail on our systems.�  This information is then passed to the relevant departments and form regular internal reports.�  These reports are forwarded to any applicable managers for appropriate action to be taken.

I would like to thank you for taking the time to contact us, as feedback of this nature is vital to us.�  We look forward to welcoming you back on board soon.”

This is not the only incident of ‘not caring’ that I have seen in recent months. In November, I received an email from my bank, Nat West. The email was to inform me of changes to my e-ISA account. I have never seen a better example of a customer communication written without any thought or regard to the fact that customers are human beings. The email is one of the worst I have ever read from a company I interact with. It re-enforces why banks are so badly thought of today – again – have a read for yourself:

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The last paragraph is my personal favourite! Amidst all this uncaring behaviour, it is possible to see a very different attitude. Last weekend I was honoured to attend a Christmas Fair at my children’s primary school. Mill View Primary School is a wonderful place. It is wonderful because it is brilliantly led. Its brilliant leadership cares for and nurtures its staff – both teaching and non teaching. The intensity it puts into caring for its staff translates into a deep caring for the children. The children love their school. Most of the parents do too. Everyone cares so much about the school, no-one minds putting in the extra effort to ensure that each and every experience is an amazing a memorable one.

The Christmas fair had an ice rink, amazing ‘Polar Palace’, bell ringers, brass band, gift and craft stalls, fabulous food and drink – it was a brilliant event. It was brilliant because the staff, parents and children cared enough to make the effort. They could have done something far easier – but then that would not have made for a memorable experience – it would have made an ‘ok’ one.

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I think that commercial organisations can learn a lot from a school like Mill View. If you care, you make an effort. If you make an effort, your customers are likely to remember you for the right reasons. This is what makes for a great customer experience.

As always, please do let me know your point of view – even if you disagree!!

What has customer service got to do with me or my firm? Are the ‘professions’ professional enough?

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I am often asked where my passion for ‘the customer’ came from. Where did the motivation to focus my career on helping organisations deliver better customer experiences originate? Well like it or not, we are all the product of our parents. Most of the time that is a wonderful thing – some of the time maybe not so!! Being our parents children means that we often contain many of their characteristics. Some of us look like little versions of our mum and dad. Some of us display the same behaviours and mannerisms. Some of us share their attitudes and beliefs. I am no different!

This handsome chap is my dad – Mr Golding Senior, or Eric to those who know him. Apart from being my dad, he is a committed Leyton Orient fan (maybe he and I should be committed for admitting that), and has spent his entire career as a Chartered Accountant (he is an FCA). My dad and I are both on the same page when it comes to customer experience and customer service. We both believe that organisations should treat customers fairly, honestly, and with an approach that aims to do what customers expect. We do differ on our execution of customer feedback – Eric has a rather more direct approach than me when something does not meet his satisfaction! The difference in approach stems from the fact that our working lives have been very different, as well as the fact that we hail from different generations

Anyway – why am I wittering on about my dad in a blog post? Readers of my blog will know that from time to time I feature guest bloggers. Today, I am delighted to release a guest post from a member of my own family. Eric Golding has worked for over forty years as a Chartered Accountant in practice and in business. Today he works closely with Law Firms. Eric has spent his entire working life in and around the ‘traditional professions’ – professions that may not yet have recognised the importance of delivering customer focussed service – maybe they should read on to understand why it is as relevant to them and how to deliver a ‘professional’ customer experience……

Customer service? What has that got to do with me or my firm?

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I can just imagine professionals like solicitors and accountants sitting in their offices reading Legal Futures or Economia and thinking about the statement at the head of this post.

A typical response is, I have been a partner at this firm for a number of years and never had a problem with my clients, so what are you on about?.

Note the reference to clients and not customers because many professionals, in their ivory towers, would not lower themselves to deal with customers as if they were a lesser class of person. In reality, of course, there is no difference – they are the people who provide professional firms with their life blood; work for which the firm will bill and turn time spent into cash and this enables the firm to pay salaries, expenses etc. and make a profit.

So why is customer service relevant to professionals? Firstly it is important to understand exactly what your client/customer wants from you. The word exactly is underlined because it is not up to the professional to interpret the client’s requirements, it is up to the professional to find out and then act accordingly. Your interpretation may not be entirely what the client is looking for but you conclude the task to be near enough what is wanted and so there are no real grounds for complaint. Nevertheless, the client is not entirely happy and you will probably not see him/her again.

How is this situation overcome? As I said before, find out exactly what the client wants and expects from you and deliver it within the time scale requested. In addition, keep the client informed as the matter progresses even if it is proceeding to the time scale you anticipated. How does the client know what is going on unless he/she is informed? There is nothing a practitioner can do worse than receive a phone call from the client asking how matters are progressing and to be told, “Hold on I will find out” or “we are running a little behind schedule and will finish soon”. Firstly, the client may have been under the misapprehension that you were handling the matter personally and secondly, what does ‘will finish soon’ mean? Not very professional from a professional.

When the matter is concluded ask the client if the service provided was up to their expectations and even if it was, are there any matters arising during the case the client perceives could have been done better. If the service was not as was expected, what could have been done better? After the client has recovered from the shock of his adviser showing such an interest, the question is, where can the firm improve because I can assure you there will have been other cases where satisfaction was not great and the practitioner did not know because the question was not asked!

It is important that the practitioner is transparent with the service offered in terms of requirement, timing and cost.

Breaking down this last sentence, I have already stressed how important it is to understand exactly what your client wants, not your interpretation of the same and the time you expect the job to take. If you believe it will take, say, six weeks and you know the client wants it done in two, this is a recipe for at best the loss of future work and at worst a complaint if you do not discuss, and note the discussion, relating to your timing estimate. Now the question of fees. The business of law has changed drastically in recent years and continues to change. One area which has become more sensitive and competitive is fees. The old days of booking time down on the ledger and sending a bill according to your work in progress records have long gone. Clients are looking for certainty and this means fixed fees. Do not believe this is not possible – it is, providing you know exactly what the client requires and you can, therefore, give a realistic quote not estimate. There is a world of difference.

Having the knowledge of the client’s wants and the information necessary to undertake the work, your quote should be fairly accurate. Another important feature is to keep the client advised on progress and should any unexpected matter arise during the project, advise the client immediately. In these circumstances, there is a very strong possibility you will be able to increase your fee, as everything was set out in your instructions and client engagement letter. Thus, any extras will need to be paid for but be sensitive to the client and his/her situation. The bull in a china shop approach is not appreciated.

Competition is not just about capability and price but added value. If the client receives good timely advice from a professional who takes an interest in the client, it makes a world of difference.

So maybe this explains where my passion for customer comes from! By the way, other than being a Chartered Accountant, Leyton Orient fan and my dad, Eric has a very big claim to fame – if you have a minute watch this – it is not everyone that can say they ‘ran the line’ when Manchester United were playing (fast forward to 4.30 minutes in)….


You can contact Eric at eric.golding@sdgpracticesupport.co.uk or 020 7554 2222. You can also follow him on twitter @sdg_41

Customer experience is for life, not just for Christmas!

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It may have escaped your notice, but it appears as though Christmas is coming. The eagle-eyed amongst us will have noticed Christmas displays being erected as early as August in some retail locations, but it is not until November that the commercial Christmas bandwagon really get’s rolling. By the time we reach the first week of December, it is impossible to avoid it. To most, it is the start of a wondrous few weeks of festive jollity and gift giving – although we must not forget the significance of the religious meaning that started it all – I sometimes wonder if it gets a little lost!

Many retailers talk about Q4 – or the fourth quarter of the year – as the ‘golden quarter’. Why? Well because it is a three-month trading period that is paved with gold – it is the time when retailers make the majority of their annual revenue and profit. Quite simply, without Christmas, retailers balance sheets would look far less healthy. To win in the golden quarter, companies ‘spend big’ to get us to transact with them. Much of the spending goes into marketing and advertising. Over the last few weeks, the Golding household has been playing a game called ‘guess the Christmas advert’. Have you played it? It is actually fabulous fun – and most of the time, we guessed right.

Advertising at Christmas has become so big, that many companies now have official ‘releases’ in much the same way that a Hollywood movie does. The biggest ‘release’ of all this year was John Lewis. One of the UKs most trusted brands, they have become renowned for producing emotional, sentimental TV commercials at this time of year. Not only do they make us feel warm and fuzzy, they often bring a tear to the eye. This year, the advert (in my opinion) is not quite up to their usual standard – it has a wonderful backing track (which is very memorable), but very little product on display. It has had plenty of people talking about it – and maybe that is the point. If you have not seen it, have a look for yourself:


The strap line to the advert is ‘give someone a Christmas they’ll never forget’. The advertising campaign has been reported as costing John Lewis £7 million. Wow. Show’s how important Christmas is to them. Will the advert make me any more or less likely to buy my gifts from them? It will not make one iota of difference. However, this blog post is not intended to debate the effectiveness of TV advertising campaigns. I am neither a marketer, nor qualified to discuss marketing strategy. So just what is the point I am making?

Having worked in retail for 7 years, it always struck me how focussed, efficient, and competitive the industry becomes at this time of year. It is as though all retailers insert new batteries into their strategies, thinking, energies and motivation. Conferences, meetings, brainstorms are abound – all trying to come up with wonderful ways of convincing customers to ‘shop with us’. Smiles and sentiments are ‘turned up’ and we all start being terribly nice to customers. Stores and workplaces are decorated and ‘lit up’. Fabulous offers are created to provide ‘better value’. Operational performance is enhanced – opening hours are extended, delivery times are improved. Retailers compete with each other to see who can have the latest ‘cut off’ for delivery before Christmas day itself. Quite frankly, it is a time of the year completely unlike any other.

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So here is my question – why should we as customers be treated better at Christmas than any other time of the year? I can hear some of you thinking – ‘get real’ Ian! If the majority of your revenue comes at Christmas, of course companies are going to focus their effort in the ways described. I do not disagree. What I do take umbrage at is the fact that we, the consumer, are not just customers at Christmas, although it often feels as though that is the way we are treated. We are, and have the potential to be customers every single day of the year. Whilst Christmas is a special day – it is not the only one. Birthdays occur every single day of the year. Anniversaries occur every single day of the year. In the UK, we live in a multi cultural society with many religious festivals throughout the calendar year where gift giving is important.

So why can I not have a special, ‘super duper’ late cut off delivery in June? Why can I not receive a super watt smile from a member of staff when I buy a birthday present for my daughter in May? Why can I not walk into a beautifully decorated, brightly lit store in February? To me, a consumer who just happens to work in the field of Customer Experience, I believe that we should be treated the same in February as we are in December. The customer experience is a 365 day a year phenomenon. Every time we transact with an organisation we want and need the experience to meet our expectation. It is not enough to ‘just do it well at Christmas’. In fact, it could be argued that just focussing in Christmas can be fatal for a retailer – the demise of Woolworths is an example.

Christmas is a special time in many countries – there is no doubt about that. What that means is that there is a greater volume of customers whose expectations must be met. If the present is not available or does not turn up on time, the effect is amplified. But that is no different to a birthday present, or a christening gift, or a present ordered for your son graduating from university. Whilst other times of the year may see hugely lower volumes of purchases (relative to Christmas), it does not mean that the service and experience offered should be worse.

So my challenge to all organisations is this. As you take your decorations down on boxing day and re-stock the shelves with Easter eggs, think about what you can do to maintain the smiles, and motivation, and energy that went in to Christmas. What can you do to ensure that the experience your customers receive ‘feels like Christmas’ every day – rather than for just a few weeks at the end of the year. Remind your people that ‘customer experience is for life, not just Christmas’. Someone once said that they ‘wished it was Christmas every day’ – why can’t we make it feel that way for our customer experience?

Have a wonderful and successful Christmas everyone.