Verified by Visa – security or stupidity? Are we unintentionally making customer experiences too inaccessible?

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As a consumer, there are occasions when I am interacting with an organisation that my heart genuinely sinks. There are times when I think to myself, ‘oh no – not again’. Sometimes I will even express my despair out loud. More often than not, the cause of my anguish is driven by poor customer service. Incompetence (employee behaviour) is another key factor. In fact the things that make my knees shake are perfectly summarised in the top 5 things that irritate us most as customers – revealed in research I conducted late last year.

Number 5 on the list of ‘irritations’ is ‘poorly designed experiences’, and it is this irritation that I would like to focus on. It is an irritation that is increasingly rearing its head in our ever-changing fast paced virtualised world. As consumers, we expect the experiences we have to be as simple and easy to execute as possible. The reason why many organisations have started to consider ‘customer effort’ alongside ‘satisfaction’ and ‘likelihood to recommend’ is that there is growing recognition that the more complicated the customer will perceive their interaction with an organisation, the less likely it is that they will return.

When we consider the principle of ‘designing’ customer experiences, I often wonder whether businesses do actually design them for the benefit of the customer who will be the recipient of the experience. Whilst many experiences are very well-intentioned, it feels to me as though the organisation delivering them may never have actually ‘been through it’ themselves. How many times have you visited a hotel that has recently been renovated, only to discover that the plug sockets are nowhere near the bed? This infuriates me. Designing great experiences is often about getting the attention to detail spot on.

I like to remind people that all experiences are made up of three core components – components that the Customer Experience expert and my mentor, Bruce Temkin introduced to me a long time ago. The elements are:

  • Functional – does the experience do what you want it to do?
  • Accessible – how easy is it for you to do it?
  • Emotional – how does it make you feel?

Many, although not all, organisations invest a lot of time and effort in getting the functional and accessible experience right. Few invest enough time and effort in the emotional element. However a focus on all three is essential if you have an ambition to consistently deliver customer experiences that do what customers want, as easily as possible leaving them to only remember just how easy and hassle free the experience was. If you do not consider these components when designing an experience, you will be at risk of delivering experiences that will fall short of customer expectation in some way. You could be at risk of irritating current and future customers.

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This is where ‘Verified by Visa’ and the title of this blog post comes in. I remember when I first encountered the online security mechanism a few years ago. Designed to make online transactions in Europe more secure, retailers intentionally adopted the use of Verified by Visa to make consumers feel safer using their credit cards online. The official description of the system is as follows:

Verified by Visa protects your card against unauthorised use and gives you peace of mind when shopping online. Once you’ve signed up to Verified by Visa, you’ll be protected whenever you make an online payment with your Visa card at any one of more than 300,000 web sites across Europe

Sounds great – the intent is very clear – why wouldn’t you sign up? Whilst the intent is without doubt, the execution is very different. rather than giving me peace of mind, Verified by Visa is one of those things that makes my heart sink. As soon as I see the Verified by Visa logo, I sometimes consider whether I can be bothered attempting to complete the transaction at all. Verified by Visa is the perfect example of a mechanism that is designed with the best of intentions, but that makes the experience too difficult (and too much hassle) to carry out. The main issue is that I am not very good at remembering passwords. I am sure I am not alone. The older I get, the worse my memory becomes. Every time I interact with a company that uses Verified by Visa, I have to go through the process of re-setting my password – it is infuriating. I would not mind if it was easy to do – it is not. If you try to use Verified by Visa on an iPad, you cannot even see the characters correctly. Whoever created Verified by Visa, has either never used it, or does not care how complicated it is to use. Verified by Visa fails the ‘Accessible’ component of experience (in my opinion).

Have you ever considered why Amazon is so successful? It is not because of the ground breaking design of their website. It is not because they have the friendliest, most knowledgeable staff on the planet. It is because they are so good and consistent at getting the functional and accessible components of the experience right, all we remember is the satisfaction of how hassle free dealing with them is. Amazon do not use Verified by Visa. In fact Amazon are still the only retailer who can get you what you want with just one click of your mouse. As a famous Meerkat would say ‘simples’. Are we concerned that we do not have to go through a fifteen step (excuse the exaggeration!) verification process? No. We just want to do what we want as simply as possible.

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Last week Mrs Golding wanted to purchase some clothes for our children online with River Island. Attracted by an email she had been sent, Naomi entered their website and spent an hour browsing and selecting a number of items. She was very impressed with the products on offer. Happy with her selection, Naomi made her way to the checkout. If she had been transacting with Amazon, one click later her transaction would have been complete. Two weeks later, and the transaction has not, and will not ever be completed.

The problem started when Naomi selected PayPal as the payment option. We will never quite understand whether it was down to River Island or PayPal – what we do know is that the website links just did not work. Having failed on that front, we selected the traditional ‘pay by credit card’ route. We spotted the Verified by Visa logo, and knew that it was coming. Naomi entered the correct characters for the password, even though she could not see them on the iPad screen. ‘Your password is incorrect’ flashed up in red on the screen. Naomi tried again – the same message was returned. Knowing that a third wrong answer might disable the card, I took over and entered my card details. The same message was returned. Try as we might, this well-intentioned process had made it impossible for us to complete the transaction.

The following day, whilst delivering a customer experience training course (in which I described our River Island experience), I received a message from Naomi despairing that our credit card had been blocked. As the primary card holder, I would have to phone the credit card provider to unblock it. Having waited four minutes listening to music, I was put through to an agent. The very nice man wanted me to quote two digits from my six digit password – I did not even know I had a six digit password!! To cut a very long story short, It took over forty minutes of blood sweat and tears to get the block removed on our credit card. What started as a desire to purchase some clothes from River Island ended in an emotional roller coaster. All I will remember from the experience is that shopping online with River Island is NOT EASY! If only Amazon sold River Island clothes!!

I wonder if the senior leadership team from River Island have actually been through the online shopping experience themselves. I wonder if they have compared their experience to the Amazon experience. If they did or had, they might be able to empathise with the experience we had. I am all for creating a secure trading environment – especially online, but it is important that it is done in a way that enhances the experience. Verified by Visa makes perfect sense if it does not make a transaction mind numbingly frustrating – you cannot excuse its poor design in the name of good security.

So the next time you consider the experience that your organisation delivers, or you act out your own experiences as a customer, consider whether or not the design of the experience is well intended or not. If it is not well intended, you have a problem. If it is well intended, that does not necessarily mean it meets the needs and wants of your customers. If your good intention is to the detriment of the functional, accessible or emotional components of your customer experience, you will need to consider re-designing the journey.

Why would you recommend Virgin Trains? Why NPS should not be the default question to measure all customer experiences

Virgin Trains - why would you recommend them to anyone when there is no other option?
Virgin Trains – why would you recommend them to anyone when there is no other option?

I am very fortunate to work with and alongside some exceptional Customer Experience Professionals. As a specialist in the profession myself, the ability to continually learn from my peers enables my own development. Whilst I love writing about all things to do with Customer Experience (as I hope you know), some of my colleagues are not as keen as I am to rant on a regular basis. That being said, I often try to ‘twist the arm’ of the experts I know others will be keen to learn from.

I am absolutely delighted that my friend and fellow Customer Experience Professional, Maria McCann has finally caved in and written about an experience of her own. If you do not know Maria, you should. Maria is one of the most accomplished leaders I know in the Customer Experience field, having held senior roles at Red Letter Days, ASOS, Spotify and Aurora Fashions. Her story (which I am hoping you have guessed involves Virgin Trains) is one that I am sure we can all relate to – I know you will enjoy reading it:

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We’ve all been on the receiving end of a train delay. It’s often a no-win situation for the train company focused on getting everyone to their destination safely, while passengers are left feeling impotent and frustrated.  I feel protective of the customer facing teams dealing with confused, sometimes angry customers and the social teams whose twitter handles get put under immense pressure to respond with lightening speed.

However a first time trip using Virgin Trains left me with more steam coming out of my ears than one of their Super Voyagers! Let me set the scene. My train was cancelled. The next one was delayed. Updates from the concourse and on twitter citing reasons outside of the train Operators control. A blameless situation and a communicative company.  All ok so far. Expect in the middle of my chaos, I received a survey asking me how my recent travel experience was and how likely I was to recommend Virgin Trains to a family or friend. The good old NPS question.

When I told them there was zero chance of me recommending them, I was asked why.  This is what I told them.

  1. Why would I need to recommend the only operator that runs this route?
  2. My train is delayed. I wouldn’t recommend anyone right now

I’m going to pivot here for a moment and talk about Net Promoter Score; the methodology that Virgin Trains, and countless other businesses use to measure their customer experience.

I was an early UK adopter of NPS, first implementing it at Red Letter Days in 2007. The reason I used it was a purists’ one. I wanted something we could use to measure organic growth. As a company coming out of Administration, it was crucial we had a sustainable customer growth underpinning our strategy and NPS was a great way to measure this.

Since then I have seen the use of NPS evolve into a benchmark measure for customer satisfaction or experience reaching out beyond commercial markets into sectors with consumer monopolies such as train travel, and even NHS Direct in health.I’m all for having a measure that provides insight which organisations can act upon. However, I would challenge NPS as the default question to measure customer experience in all cases. It was certainly the wrong question to ask about my train experience.

Anyway, back to my frustrated self, standing on the platform. NPS question asked and answered. Check. Algorithm picked up key word, prompting more detail from me. Check. Detail given in form of mini-rant. Check.

‘We’re sorry you experienced a delay’ was the answer to my response ‘If you have been delayed by more than 30 minutes, please click here to download a form to claim for compensation.

WOW! I thought; this business is so sorry that I have to do all the work to pick up the pieces.

My train finally arrived and it was elbows at dusk as two trains worth of passengers attempted what looked like a line of rugby scrums as they boarded. Deciding that standard class was going to be more like cattle class, I decided to seek out a member of staff to see if I could upgrade to 1st, (which took up a third of the train and was practically empty). ‘Upgrades are only available at weekends’ was the flat response.  I had no idea what this meant and was losing my calm. And so I turned to Twitter to see if I could get what I wanted. #Epicfail

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I got no response from Virgin Trains after my final tweet and I spent the rest of my journey calming myself over a gin and reflecting on what I could learn from my experience.

Data gives us opportunities to see further ahead than the customer. So why do we often act out of kilter with our customers’ reality?

When I headed up Customer Service at ASOS, I obsessed over being one step ahead of our customers. Especially on delayed deliveries. Then we developed the capability to predict delays, communicate the failure and refund the delivery charge. All in one smooth service experience. This presented a culture problem. If we refunded 100% of failures, we might refund some customers who didn’t deserve it and we would definitely spend more in refunds.

However we decided to put the right experience over our fears and became one of the first retailers to tell customers of a problem before they felt the pain of experiencing it.  Customers who had previously complained fell, rapidly.  Refunds ballooned but we were able to reinvest the resources we had saved from reduced customer contact, into finding the root of these delays and fixing them for good.

Virgin Trains could have mashed up mine and the train’s data. They could have emailed me to tell me of the delay. They could have reassured me I didn’t have to do anything because they were sorting the compensation. And they could have avoided sending me a survey at the worst possible moment in my experience.

 We love training our teams to be empowered. So why don’t we support them to be autonomous?

I know some of you will be thinking empowerment and autonomy are the same and I’ve lost the plot.  Admittedly my mind can sometimes make quantum leaps of logic so let me try to explain what’s going on in my head…

Empowerment is a set of pre-defined powers handed from manager to employee, usually to manage a set of processes. Autonomy starts from the other end. It is an individual using their purpose, self-reliance and judgment to handle any situation, with their leaders supporting their needs. Talk to me about autonomy and I get inspired.

My experience could have gone differently in a completely autonomous environment. 1st class seats could have been sold without referring to process limitations to those interested in paying. If a totally customer obsessed train manager had been in charge, free WiFi and coffee might have been given to the flagging passengers! Although it was clear the team were empowered to manage the overall situation of the delay, I felt like I’d been shoved through a linear process.

To be fair to Virgin Trains, my overall experience is no better or worse than most consumer face everyday. Most brands are just not brave enough to push the boundaries in how we can use data and support our teams to act autonomously.

So I’ll leave you with this thought …  if we did use data to manage and measure the hygiene parts of our customers experience and leave the awesome parts to our autonomous colleagues, I believe most brands would have a better relationship with their customers as a result.


I am sure you will join me in thanking Maria for taking the time to write this excellent post. You can connect with her on Twitter @mariamccann or LinkedIn

Guilty before proven innocent – how not to treat your loyal customers

I sometimes come across stories that make me question whether or not the principle of ‘customer experience’ is even scratching the surface in society today. Stories that make me question whether or not organisations we transact with on a daily basis even know what is happening to us as we part with our hard earned cash. Sometimes the stories I come across make me wonder whether businesses really do care about their customers – and the story I am sharing with you today is a great example.

The lady pictured at the top of this post is Amy Kewell. Amy is a busy mum with two young children. Like millions of mums and dads, Amy takes her children with her when she visits her local supermarket, often using a double buggy. That local supermarket is Sainsburys and sadly Amy was unfortunate to make a simple and common mistake  when leaving one day. The way she was treated is astonishing. The story you are about to read is one that genuinely shocked me, and I am sure it will you too. There is no better way to tell the story than for the person it is about to tell it themselves. I am delighted that Amy feels strongly enough about what happened to her to write her story and allow me to share it. Amy is not a professional blogger – what she has written is a personal account of what happened to her from the heart. Sit back and brace yourself for what you are about to read:

I never realised how hard it could be to go shopping with children until I had two of my own. Essentially the moment you step into a supermarket with kids in tow, you’re living on borrowed time. Any moment there could be tears, tantrums or toilet training nightmares and so you do everything in your power to get what you need and get the hell out. The bottom line is, it’s really stressful and the majority of the time, thank goodness for online shopping. I mean, why would you ever chose to take two small toddlers into a supermarket if you didn’t have to?

Because…it’s part of life. It’s part of parenting and a task which should be simple enough. There are thousands of parents shopping daily in our supermarkets and to some degree those supermarkets have gone to great lengths to make it easier and more manageable – specific parking spaces, trolleys for one or two children, trolleys for your baby seats and lots more. Huge amounts of value are placed on mum and dad shoppers and quite rightly so, we are one of the biggest spenders in their stores. So why I did I not feel that ‘value’ when I visited Sainsburys in Tonbridge just a few short weeks ago.

It was half term and I had just come out of a soft play centre round the corner and I was doing a mid week ‘top up’ shop for a dozen or so items for family guests arriving that evening. I had walked so I didn’t have a car, just the double buggy with my two little ones both under 3. As ever, I didn’t have much time and I went about doing my best impression of ‘Supermarket Sweep’ using my buggy as a basket, as I’m unable to manoeuvre it and carry a basket at the same time.

After inspecting the bulging queues at the normal tills I decided to head to the self-service checkout. I paid for my shopping and left. At the door, I was stopped by a plain clothes contract security guard who had been watching me. Oh my days – the wine! I had forgotten to pay for two bottles of wine which I had put in the basket underneath the buggy rather than on top, so they wouldn’t fall off and smash on the floor. I was totally mortified and tried to explain immediately how it was an absent minded mistake. I had no intention of leaving without paying and told him I would go straight back in and pay for them.

Following him back into the store, I was held at the Customer Service Desk where I was told to wait whilst a decision to call the police was made. I must have waited ten minutes or more during which time I paid for wine, but no one from Sainsbury’s spoke to me about what had happened. Up until this point only Securitas were communicating with me. I was offered by another security guard to go with him to one of their meeting rooms but I declined. My already twitchy children weren’t going to last that long and I also felt that this was somehow admitting to the crime I was being accused of. From the moment I was stopped I was resolute in my defence – it had been a mistake.

So after another long wait, the first security guard came back and told be that he had spoken to the manager and they had agreed not to call the police on this occasion. At this point I asked to see the manager, upon which I was told he was too busy to come down. Instead I was issued a rather threatening letter outlining a lifetime ban from all Sainsburys stores. I was absolutely gobsmacked. At no point was I given an opportunity to explain what had happened. In their eyes, I was guilty of trying to shoplift and I was absolutely not welcome back in any of their stores. Ever.

During this whole experience the Customer Service Manager who was present throughout, did not make herself known to me. I expressed over and over that it had been a mistake, an accident, an error of judgement but she did not once speak up. I maintained my innocence and was incensed when they issued the ban. I asked if the CCTV footage could be viewed to help try to prove that I had no intention of trying to steal or conceal anything in the buggy and a half-hearted offer to carry this out was made. In their eyes, the decision had been made and I should just leave.

I have to say, this affected me more than I ever thought something like this would. I found the whole thing hugely distressing, not least for being accused of shoplifting in front of my children and the upset it caused them seeing me so angry at the way I’d been treated. When I got home I sought out other people’s views. People urged me to appeal so I contacted the Sainsburys Customer Care Line a few days later to find out the appeal procedure and wrote a letter. As a consequence of all the social media interest, the local paper picked up the story ( and Sainsburys jumped out of their skin. Unsurprisingly, they did everything they could do to pacify the situation which by that point was receiving quite a bit of attention.

To be fair, the piece which ran in the local Courier for Kent and Sussex was pretty straight. I had stressed to the paper that I understood very well the legal issue around shoplifting but for me, it was about more than that. The incident whilst it was obviously hugely regrettable, it was unintentional so what I really wanted to know was, what was Sainsburys procedure for handling this kind of thing? Would they have treated an 80 year old in the same way? I seriously doubt it, which means they would have had the power to exercise an element of judgement and common sense making it NOT always a black and white issue. Surely by not calling the police they had made a decision that I wasn’t a shoplifter, so why treat me as one.

Above all else though, I feel there is a much wider point to make, about helping all the thousands of parents out there every day shopping with children, to not run the risk of potentially being caught for shoplifting. So many people I have spoken to have done or nearly done exactly the same as I did – beans in the bottom of the buggy, biscuits stuffed down their baby’s blanket – it goes on. Supermarkets need to help their mum and dad shoppers not penalise them for shopping with kids. The buggy is not a tool for stealing!

For me this isn’t even about shoplifting – it’s about poor customer service and a failure to treat customers as human beings with individual needs. It’s also about a fundamental lack of alternative. Sainsburys see the buggy as a threat, parents see it as the only option to shop in their store, as there is no alternative. There are disabled trolleys, trolleys for car seats – they need an option for the thousands of parents who go shopping whilst pushing a buggy every day. People are going to forever need to shop for groceries whilst pushing a buggy and we need to see a solution for exhausted parents and valuable customers who live our lives in the supermarkets.

Amy’s story should serve as one that reminds us that ‘customers are human beings’. As Amy rightly states, life is not black and white, and the ability of organisations to use their judgement and common sense in situations like this is critical. Sainsburys, and other supermarkets should see this story as an opportunity – an opportunity to solve a problem that is proven to exist. Shopping with a baby in a buggy is very difficult – and as yet, there is not a sensible solution to make it easier for customers who have no choice but to shop in this way. Rather than chastising a loyal customer who made an honest mistake, why not work with that customer to find a way of making life easier for her?

Amy’s ban has been lifted – mostly because of the visibility the story through the powers of Social Media. What happened to her will live with her for a long time. Despite what has happened, it is unlikely that the men and women who lead Sainsburys even know this has happened. It is unlikely that the process of dealing with scenarios like these has been reviewed. It is unlikely that the staff involved have been coached to behave differently in the future. If Sainsburys are a customer focussed organisation, they will look to solve the root cause of the problem, rather than continuing to brand honest, loyal customers as guilty. Wouldn’t it be great if together with Amy, they could design a solution that makes it easier for mums and dads shopping with buggies, and that also makes it harder for real shoplifters to use this as a method for stealing products?

A huge thank you to Amy for being brave enough to share the story – her courage will hopefully lead to many future consumers not having to go through the same experience. What do you think about this story? Has something like this ever happened to you. What do you think Sainsburys should now do?

White Paper – Designing & Improving the Customer Experience in Financial Services

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I am delighted to have co-authored my first white paper with the University of Exeter Business School. The white paper reports on the results of a two-year research project that investigated how leading financial services (FS) organisations design and improve the customer experience. The research was led by Fred Ponsignon, a Research Fellow in Service Management at the Centre for Innovation and Service Research (ISR). The white paper was also co-authored by Roger Maul, Professor of Management Systems at the Centre for Innovation and Service Research (ISR) and Phil Klaus, Professor of Customer Experience and Marketing Strategy.

The white paper is free to access and can be downloaded by clicking on this link – Designing & Improving the Customer Experience In Financial Services

Guest Post: 5 Customer Service Tactics to Increase Sales You Didn’t Know

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I am delighted to introduce another new guest blogger to you this week. Naomi Shaw is a stay-at-home mom from Southern California. After being a stay-at-home mom for seven years she works full-time as a freelance writer. She enjoys blogging about mommy tips and DIY crafts providing insight, advice and more! Naomi and I very much hope you enjoy reading her article:

Do you want to attract every type of customer? Think again. Do you want to be seen as an honest business? Avoid transparency. Increase sales by using these 5 smart customer service tactics that veer far away from standard expectations:

1. Loss and Gain

  • Derek Halpern, founder of Social Triggers, a top marketing psychology blog, says to explain to a potential customer what they can gain or lose if they choose to use your services or not. For example, say you’re trying to convince a client to use your company’s marketing tactics to boost sales on their website. If you convey to them what they won’t gain without your skills, they’ll see that not using your expertise is a form of loss or missing out.
    • Human beings place more value on a dollar they already own vs. a dollar they can possibly gain.
    • People respond better to the concept of missing out on a potentially rewarding decision than to hearing what they’ll gain.
    • Tell your potential clients about both concepts: what they’ll gain and what they’ll lose if they choose another direction.

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2. Break It Down

Giving each of your employees a customer service section to excel in, like educating or informing your customers versus damage control, will guarantee higher customer satisfaction and therefore higher sales. For example, a customer who feels like it’s your sole priority to satisfy their needs will be much happier than one who feels like they’re simply a distraction from your other duties at the company.

3. Keep It Mysterious

Some companies think that their transparency will bolster an honest reputation and therefore attract more customers. This may be true sometimes, however, a little mystery can go a long way, especially if your company starts doing really well. Take Apple, a very secretive company, into consideration. There are thousands of sites dedicated to speculating about how they make their products. What does this do? It directs more attention towards Apple. More attention equals more customers.

  • Keep your sales tactics and how your business works to yourself. If you’re doing well, customers, and even haters, may start openly speculating about how your company is growing.
  • This will generate attention on it’s own and direct more potential customers towards your website or physical location.

4. Happy Customers = Good Referrals

Employees treat every interaction with a customer as an opportunity to ask for a referral, chances are the interaction will be way above par. If a customer seems especially satisfied with your services, asking for a referral can be as simple as asking them to write a Yelp review or fill out a customer testimonial that you can later post on your site. It is the little things that can make the most impact, like using your manners, seeing what other companies do and take it one step further.

For example, a house painting company might come and paint your house and do a great job and be done. But a paint company that goes above that will clean up all the debris and check and make sure everything is put back and cleaner than it was before they started. This extra ten minutes of clean up will make it easier to ask for a referral.

  • Every time you’re on the phone with a customer, every time you meet or email or interact with them in some way or, pretend as if you’re going to ask for a referral at the end.
  • No matter how large or small your company may be, every customer should be seen as enormously valuable.
  • Build an army of advocates to speak positively of you and your business. Consider that one good referral can bring in at least three potential clients.

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5. You Can’t Please Everyone

Similar to developing a good experience so you can ask for a referral, if you cater to the right clientele, they can become your most enthusiastic fans. For example, trying to please everyone means your company’s mission will likely have less backbone. Strive to stick to your guns and the customers who believe in you will stand by you.

  • Businesses that try to please everyone are less successful than those that aim for a specific customer.
  • Halpern discourages diluting your message or toning down the uniqueness of your services in a useless attempt to cater to everybody.
  • Pay attention to your best and loyal customers and they’ll likely boast about your business to friends, family, and acquaintances.

Implement these 5 tactics into your customer service operation and you’ll be sure to witness an immediate, positive response from individuals and an increase in sales down the line.

If you have enjoyed this post, Naomi would be delighted if you would connect with her via Google+ or Facebook

Was everything ok with your stay sir? Why welcoming all types of customer feedback is so important

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As consumers, we are asked our opinions on a regular basis. On any given day we could be asked if we are happy with the product or service we have received on multiple occasions. I have often wondered if the people enquiring about our happiness (or not) are actually interested in the response. I am regularly asked the ‘was everything ok sir?’ type question, and it is regularly delivered in an almost automated, robotic way. It seems clear to me that should you ask the question, you should genuinely be interested to know what the answer will be – and be prepared for the feedback to be in all shapes and sizes. Some might be very complimentary. Some might be negative. Some feedback might point out issues that may help other customers if rectified.

A recent experience of mine highlighted to me how important it is for organisations to get this right. Last week I stayed in a hotel near Northampton. It is not relevant which hotel I stayed in – I only hope they may one day read this blog and recognise the issues highlighted in it. I was staying in the hotel with a client. I travelled by train, and the client travelled by car. When I arrived at Northampton station, I entered the postcode of the hotel into my smartphone. I had not had a chance to check how close to the station it was located. When I checked on my smartphone, I had a minor panic when I was advised the hotel was 48 miles away!! I approached the taxi rank in trepidation, worrying how I was going to explain the taxi receipt in my expenses submission.

I was delighted when the taxi driver told me that it was only about 5 miles away, and would take fifteen minutes. I did not think any more of the issue until I arrived at the hotel. My client had been due to arrive at least an hour and half before me. I was very surprised when the lady on reception advised me that she was still on route. She told me that my client had got lost, and had been in telephone contact to try and guide her in! As I finished checking out, my client finally walked through the front door. It transpires that she too had issues with the postcode. In her case, she was directed to a spot roughly four miles away from the hotel. It certainly did appear that there were ‘sat nav’ issues with the post code – more on this later.

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There were a number of other problems encountered during our stay at the hotel. The signage was awful – from the start I did not quite know where to go from reception to get to my room. The staff were pretty hapless too – not quite knowing what to do or how to act in a professional manner. I asked reception when the gym opened in the morning. 6am was the confident response. When I checked the information in my room, it quite clearly said 7am – as did the sign on the door of the changing rooms.

At dinner I was asked if I would like a drink. I asked for sparkling mineral water (I am a cheap date) – the waiter was not sure what I meant. He eventually returned with sparkling mineral water served in a branded beer pint glass – maybe he was trying to tell me something! Whilst all the staff were very nice, the hotel was just not very well run (in my opinion), and it was clear that the little details were not being thought about. The staff were obviously not trained to a very high standard, and many of the issues should have been spotted and acknowledged if someone in authority had experienced what they do as a customer for themselves.

Despite the issues, I actually slept very well. As I approached the reception desk to check out, I braced myself for the inevitable ‘robotic’ question. ‘Was everything ok with your stay sir?’ said the lady behind the desk. It is at this point that I made the all important decision (as will all of us every time we are put in this situation). Will I tell her about the issues I encountered, or will I keep them to myself? I decided on this occasion to do the former – and tell her about two of the issues. I told her that there may be problems with satellite navigation systems picking up the postcode. ‘It has always worked on my sat nav’, came the very curt response. It was clear that this lady was not prepared to receive negative feedback from guests. There was no apology. There was no, ‘I am sorry to hear that sir’. There was no offer to have a look at the sat nav dvice used to confirm what the problem was. This lady instantly dismissed my response to her initial question as ‘the customer is wrong’.

I decided to move on to the issue of signage. Once again, the lady was not willing to listen to a negative response. ‘Oh it is very easy to find your way around in this hotel sir’. Did she not hear what I said? Was she intentionally ignoring my opinion? Why did she ask me if everything was ok if she could not care less about my response? By now, I was infuriated – to the point where I decided not to say anything else. I could not even make eye contact with her. My decision had already been made – I would never cross the threshold of this hotel again. Whilst my issues were actually minor, her attitude and behaviour in listening to my feedback had ensured that I was a customer never to be seen again.

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I know I am not alone in having an experience like this. If you want to know what I think, I will tell you – but do not assume I am just going to tell you the things you want to hear. I came across a great quote when pulling together this blog post from Darren Kahneman:

True intuitive expertise is learned from prolonged experience with good feedback on mistakes

To me this says it all. If you genuinely want to know what a customer thinks, than be delighted if that customer takes the time to tell you – good or bad. Even if the customer is wrong, your ability to demonstrate that you take their feedback seriously will have a serious effect on that customers decision to use you again and again. I have since learned that I mistyped the post code of the hotel into my smartphone. I was wrong – if only the receptionist had taken the time to have a look at the issue with me, rather than dismissing me out of hand. Not only would I not be writing this blog post, I might be booking a night in their hotel next week!

CEO – Chief Executive Officer or Chief Experience Officer?

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I am asked many questions about customer experience on a weekly basis. Some questions are delivered face to face, others are in the virtual world. Whilst most questions are different, one or two sit in the box of ‘most frequently asked’. One question that is firmly in this box is:

Who in an organisation should own the customer experience?

It is a very simple question. Like many in the world of customer experience though, it is not necessarily that simple to answer. There is certainly a significant difference depending on whether the person posing the question wants to know ‘who does’ or ‘who should’. So to answer the question, and thus explain the context of the title of this post, let us look at ‘who does’ own the customer experience in most organisations today.

The majority of organisations who have a customer experience focus (which does not necessarily make them customer centric), will have someone at the highest level who is ‘responsible’ for the customer experience. Typically that person is responsible for the Sales & Marketing function, the Customer Service function, or the Operations function. In writing this, I am not yet saying if I think any of these functional leaders are the ‘correct’ owners of customer experience, I am merely stating the facts.

Some businesses have gone a step further than this and have given the honour to an individual at the highest level to be clearly seen as the ‘owner’ of customer experience. These individuals have been awarded fancy titles such as CCO (Chief Customer Officer) and CXO (Chief Experience Officer). There are many Customer Experience Directors – some also sit at the highest level, but many are at least one layer below the board. Whichever title is held, the minority rather than the majority of senior leaders responsible for customer experience have only that as their remit – often, they will also ‘own’ part of the customer journey, whether it be sales, marketing, customer service or another part of the operation.

In my own personal experience, ownership of the customer experience has been even more complicated. At one point, I reported into the Group HR Director of a business – a clear sign of lack of buy in and ownership – it was quite comical really. I have also reported into Sales and Marketing Directors, Chief Operating Officers, Customer Service Directors and Operations Directors in my time.

So if that is ‘who does’ own the customer experience, ‘who should’ own it? To answer that, I would ask you to consider whose responsibility you think it is to deliver and improve the customer journey that in turn delivers experiences to customers? Is it the responsibility of one person and one function, or is it the responsibility of the organisation collectively? The answer is obviously (obvious to me anyway!) the latter. The customer journey is made up of a series of touch points which are owned by a number of functions in the business – from sales and marketing, to e-commerce, to customer service, to logistics etc.. These functions are additionally supported by central functions – HR, finance, IT – all of whom are essential to enable the journey to work. The customer journey and experience that it creates is a collective effort, and as such, I believe that it must be OWNED collectively by all.

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The owner of customer experience must have the ability to ‘hold the mirror’ up to his/her peers and the whole organisation. With an approach that is both fact based and without politics, the individual must be able to influence all colleagues to clearly understand the customer strategy, and everyone’s role in achieving its goals. It is very difficult to do this if the owner of customer experience is also an owner of part of the customer journey. It is very difficult to remain truly independent when you are having to hold yourself to account as well as others. I have seen examples in the past of ‘spats’ between the board member responsible for customer experience and his/her peers – ‘how can you tell me that I need to improve – look how bad your bit is’!

I think there is one person that we tend to overlook in a business who is best suited to being the most effective owner of customer experience. The one person who sits on the board with the responsibility for everything the organisation does, but is not responsible for the day to day delivery of any part of the customer journey. This person has the highest level of authority to insist that the customer voice is heard on a level playing field with that of the shareholder. This person can genuinely hold the mirror up to the team as a collective, and influence change in the right direction. This person is the CEO – an acronym that I believe should stand for BOTH Chief Executive Officer AND Chief Experience Officer. I have worked with CEOs who are passionate about customer experience, but they have not gone as far as saying that they ‘own’ customer experience – why not – in reality they do.

I am sure there are CEOs out there that would consider themselves the Chief Experience Officer – Jeff Bezos of Amazon may well be one (although I do not know him personally to be able to ask regrettably!). Jeff Bezos is the CEO who demanded that there always be a seat at his table to represent the customer. Mr Bezos wanted to ensure that his team were conscious the effect their collective decisions would have on the customer. That makes him a Chief Experience Officer in my book. You can read an interesting article about Jeff Bezos here

Over the next few years, it will be interesting to see how many leaders of businesses decide that there is no-one better to lead the customer experience in their organisations than themselves. They can have as many customer experience directors and customer experience managers as they like – but ultimately the buck stops with them. Their organisation exists to serve customers. Their organisation exists to deliver experiences to customers. As the ultimate leader of their organisation, they are therefore by default, the Chief Experience Officer.