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!!
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:
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:
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.
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!!