First Impressions – how an airport can demonstrate the importance of creating the right ones!

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I am writing this blog post late into the night on the 30th April 2014. For a while I have intended writing a post that uses an airport as the analogy for getting the start and the end of the customer journey absolutely bang on. My experience this evening has meant that I must write that post NOW!

Before I get into the detail of what has stimulated me to write this NOW, allow me to explain what gave me the inspiration in the first place. Last year I had the pleasure if chairing a Customer Experience conference in Dubai. One of the speakers was the Head of Customer Experience for Dubai Airports. The fact they have a Head of Customer Experience is a good sign. If you have ever been to the airport in Dubai, you will know that they take their airport rather seriously.

Dubai airport is unlike any I have ever seen. Some would describe it as overly opulent – the baggage hall is enormous with magnificent columns with gold shimmering against thousands of mirrors. There are employees everywhere with clearly identifiable uniforms on hand to help you if you need guidance. It is quite an experience just seeing the sheer scale of the operation. Like most things in Dubai, the airport could be perceived as being another ‘show of wealth’, yet having listened to someone who works for the airport, there is a far more important and significant reason behind it.

Sheikh Mohammed is a national leader who is passionate about his country. Sheikh Mohammed has an ambition to bring more people into his land to experience it and enjoy it. What is amazing is that he has a clear understanding of the concept of the customer journey – he recognises that the first impression a new visitor to the UAE will have is of his airport. That is why he has invested so much money in creating the most amazing airport experience he can. If guests (yes guests) to his country have a fabulous first impression…..and last impression, then they are more likely to return.

Let me now fast forward to today – 19:15 this evening to be precise. When my flight from Budapest landed at London Gatwick, little did I know how far removed from Sheikh Mohammed’s vision my experience arriving back in the UK would be. As I walked from the gate to border control, I started to sense something was up. In all my years travelling to and from the UK, I have never witnessed a queue for passport control quite like it. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people were snaking around the airport building. Everyone looked rather bewildered. ‘What is happening?’ I could hear English speakers asking. Many foreign languages could be heard – I hate to think what they were saying about the country they were trying to enter.

As the queues got longer, I got more frustrated. As I started to Tweet and post on Facebook, I discovered for myself that there was a computer problem. Yet for the 50 minutes I battled through the queue, I heard not one announcement, and not one member of staff from either Gatwick Airport or the border force bothered to make themselves visible to help or advise passengers. As I started to get closer to the desks, I noticed a number of them that were not even manned by a member of staff.

It was a huge shambolic mess – passengers were pushing in, unclear as to where the queue was actually supposed to start. Credit should be given to the thousands of customers who quietly and diligently stood in line. I personally did not witness a raised word despite the shambles – there was almost a sad acceptance that this happens in the UK – and that is sad! The experience was not made any better by finally arriving at a desk. As my passport was taken out of my hand, I was not greeted by an apology, or even an acknowledgement of the wait. Instead, I was told that ‘this is not my fault, it’s the system’ – I kid you not. David Walliams’s Little Britain character is alive and well and working for the Home Office in the UK. I do not hold these hard working people responsible for the failure of a computer system. I do not hold them responsible for there clearly being no contingency plan in place. However I do expect that they should be able to empathise with the people they are serving. Who knows how far some of the passengers had travelled – to be greeted by chaos.  An apology and some empathy would not go amiss. The first impression that these valuable tourists had this evening is completely unacceptable – you would not have guessed that we live in a supposedly developed country.

Interestingly, I have just received a text message from Easyjet – the airline who transported me to Gatwick – the text states:

“We would like to apologise for any delay you may have experienced or are experiencing through the immigration process upon your arrival. Although this delay is out of our control we understand it is not a nice way to end your journey and we would like to thank you for your patience and understanding while UKBA rectify any faults they are experiencing”

Very empathetic – and a great lesson on how to communicate with customers for the two organisations who should be apologising – the UK Border Authority who caused the problem, and Gatwick Airport for completely failing to support passengers in their airport!

Passengers tonight will have paid more than just having to stand aimlessly in a queue. Some will have missed trains to onward destinations. Some will have been unable to travel further into London as a result of the Tube strike – who is going to compensate them for that? No one.

So ask yourself this – would this have happened in Dubai airport? Maybe it is an unfair question, but I doubt very much that it would have been handled in the same way. I can guarantee that there would have been plenty of people on hand to help, support and look after valuable guests. The customer journey is what makes the customer experience – if it starts and ends well, the customer is very likely to retain positive memories about it. I can only hope that the UK learns from what happened today – whilst computer systems may be out of the control of humans, the behaviour of people is not. One thing I can confirm – I shall not be using Gatwick Airport again.

To read the news articles about the ‘computer glitch’, please follow these links:


John Lewis’s greatest challenge – the omni channel customer experience!

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It is difficult to find anyone who does not like John Lewis. It is difficult to find anyone who does not trust John Lewis. The UK department store with the distinctive green and white logo has been the undisputed retail King of customer satisfaction for many many years. In my 42nd year, I can still recall as though it were yesterday my mum telling me how great John Lewis are – regularly purchasing things with the confidence that if something was wrong, they would take it back without any problem. Founded in 1864, the chain is known for its policy of “Never Knowingly Undersold” which has been in use since 1925.

Many have put the success of John Lewis down to its Partnership model – a business that is owned and run by its staff has a unique culture. This no doubt has a very positive and significant effect on the way it’s people behave. The undoubted ‘trustworthiness’ of the brand is also a key factor. Additionally I would argue that it is the ability of John Lewis to deliver a consistent customer experience – a consistently good customer experience – that has seen it stand out from its competition. Being recognised as one of the best ‘customer experience’ brands in the UK is a hugely positive thing – but the challenge is to sustain that position. In 2014, I believe that John Lewis are facing head on in to their greatest ever challenge – the challenge that has already put paid to the fortunes of many retailers – the omni channel experience.

Before I go any further, let me clarify the term ‘omni channel’. The best definition I have come across is as follows:

“Technology, processes and systems integrated and aligned so that every channel behaves in the same way, to the point it makes it difficult to distinguish between them”

The bit I like about this definition is the second part – ‘to the point it makes it difficult to distinguish between them’ – the phrase omni channel has entered the business dictionary because we, the consumer, have put it there – unknowingly!. Derived from the word Omnis which can mean all or universal, omni channel is our perception of everything an organisation does. We expect to be able to interact with an organisation in any way we want – whether it be in store, online, via a mobile, or on the telephone. Not only that, we expect to be able to use all of those channels in  any one transaction. The issue for businesses is that the consumer does not see a business as a series of interaction channels. The consumer sees a business as ONE BUSINESS – and as such, they expect that when we use the channel of our choice, it connects to the same business and will result in the outcome we need and expect.

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Today, John Lewis’s channels are not integrated. Whilst the John Lewis online offer may look exactly the same as it’s in store offer, the two channels do not operate in the same way – and this is the greatest threat they have ever faced. At the moment, the Golding family are experiencing the problem first hand, and as usual, I would like to share our experience with you.

Two years ago we purchased some garden furniture from John Lewis – a table and six chairs. Naomi spotted the set in our local John Lewis store, and thought it would be perfect for our little garden. Whilst the table and chairs were spotted in person, we actually purchased them online as they were not available at the time in store. Last year we noticed that the table and four of the five chairs were starting to discolour. One of the chairs has still remained the pristine white it was on the day it arrived. The remainder of the set has completely rusted. Last weekend, we decided to go back to John Lewis to voice our disapproval – it is quite clear that there is an issue with the finish of the furniture.

The in store experience was good – despite us not having the receipt. Naomi was told that we should bring the table and chairs back – the assistant agreed that it was not acceptable. Naomi could not remember if we purchased the set online or in store, but she was told not to worry – bring them in. When she got home, Naomi checked back through our records. Eventually she found the online order – which confirmed the table and chairs were not purchased in store. Naomi contacted John Lewis online – by telephone – to check what we should do. The experience was very different.

Naomi was advised that she could NOT take the table back to the store as it was not purchased in store. The in store and online businesses are different she was told. Not only that, Naomi was advised that no one could help her (on the Saturday she called) – she would have to wait until Monday to talk to someone about the issue. If Naomi had taken the table in store, she was advised that they would have sent her back home with it. This is quite clearly a demonstration of a business that is not joined up. This is a demonstration of a lack of channel integration. Whether the table is legitimately ‘returnable’ is not the issue here. The issue is that we purchased a table from John Lewis. We want to return the table – what difference should it make how we choose to return it. We do not see John Lewis online being any different to the store – John Lewis is John Lewis.

As I write this blog post, the issue has not yet been resolved. I am sure that John Lewis will accept the return, and that we will either receive a refund, or be allowed to select a replacement (the rusted table and chairs is not available for sale any more). Yet despite this fact, the feeling we will be left with is one of frustration and inconvenience. I used to think that dealing with John Lewis was easy and hassle free. I always used to think that no matter what, John Lewis would sort a problem out for me. I used to think that John Lewis would do anything to put my interests first. These thoughts have been dashed. Whether their channels are integrated or not, surely they can allow customers to return a purchase made online to a store – without going through hoops?!

Earlier this year I chaired a retail customer experience conference. The conference was opened by an interview with Andy Street – the Managing Director of Jon Lewis. During the interview, Mr Street spoke of John Lewis’s omni channel challenges – he is an impressive, honest and open business leader – he said the following:

“Multi channel and omni channel are different – multi is disparate, omni is joined up. The rigour around delivery of process in the omni channel world is what drives the customer experience”

Andy Street recognises how important it is to deliver seamless omni channel experiences, and he knows that they have someway to go to achieve that ambition – I only hope we do not lose faith with the brand we ‘love to love’ in the meantime.

Small print – big impact!

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Every now and then, articles in the news catch my eye – usually because they have an undoubtable link to the world of customer experience. Whilst I like to think that I have an opinion on most things, there are times when I feel that others are more qualified to talk about certain topics than me. This is one of those occasions. Mark McArthur-Christie is a very intelligent man, who is helping organisations communicate better with customers. When I saw an article that was dedicated to the subject of ‘the small print’, I immediately thought he would be the perfect subject matter expert to pass comment – I hope you enjoy reading his thoughts as much as I have…..

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According to the Beeb (, car insurance small print is ‘longer than a novel’ and consumers hate it.

Apparently, a set of Endsleigh’s policy documents managed to run to 37,674 words. To give a little context and perspective (something the authors perhaps lacked), there are just 4,500 in Magna Carta, 2,106 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a mere 1,321 in the Declaration of Independence.

It’s not intentional.  Despite what customers think, no-one sits down with the aim of making the material they send customers impenetrable.  It’s because of two simple reasons:

  • First, the industry tends to assume that customers know more than they do about the principles behind the products they buy.
  • Second, there’s a tendency to undervalue everyday, functional, process-driven customer communication.  Stuff like statements, policy docs, renewal notices and admin emails.

But this material has a huge impact.  It’s the stuff that generates completely unnecessary query calls, complaints and questions.  And sorting those out costs firms serious money.

Sure, some firms have realised just how much they can save by communicating in a way customers can understand. But the rump of the industry still hasn’t tackled it. Thing is, times have changed.  And with them, so has the balance of power in the FS firm – client relationship.

Things are changing

In the bad old days, it was all about maximising income from charges, hidden in nefarious things like “capital units”.  Who cared if the client didn’t understand? What were they going to do about it?  After all, it was only those of us on the inside who had access to the real figures in the Money Marketing tables.

Financial services firms need to walk in the customers’ shoes

Things are very different now.  Consumers have access to tools that, even ten years ago, industry insiders would have killed for. They can get information, interpretation and apparently independent advice at the tip of a mouse. At the same time, consumers can drag you into the social media arena and beat you senseless – very publicly and embarrassingly indeed – with your own Ts&Cs.

The industry really needs to start spinning up its communication turbines and begin educating financial consumers with every single communication they send out. That means four things:

  1. You’re a specialist talking to a non-specialist; it’s your responsibility to use that specialism to help and guide the consumer. So produce communications that start where the consumer is, not where the industry is .  Ask what the consumer wants to know and tell them clearly and simply.
  2. Don’t just give people the basics they need for a transaction; give them context as well as content and they’ll start to see the relevance of products as part of a comprehensive portfolio. Realise that educated consumers are likely to favour the business that educates them and buy more, stay loyal, ask fewer questions and complain less.
  3. Consumers are interested in money. Very interested indeed; because it’s their security for the future.  That means there’s an emotional aspect to financial communication. So if you’re changing rates or Ts and Cs, realise the emotional impact that will have and reflect it in the way you communicate.
  4. It’s the little things that matter.  Even the smallest things have a big impact.  Call a price rise a ‘price change’, and with that twitch of the weasel word’s whiskers, your client starts trusting you that little bit less.

Consumers are looking for information, guidance and help with every purchase.  That’s good news – because it means you’ve got the opportunity to use every communication you produce, from statements to renewal notices to administrative material  – to really educate and inform.

Consumers are struggling to trust financial services at the moment.  This is just one of the ways the industry can start to win them back.

Mark is Managing Director of customer experience consultancy Rubuss – You can reach him at or 07775 856154. You can also follow him on twitter @markchristie

Ryanair – Customer Experience Review

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It is important for me to admit at the start of this review that I have never been an advocate of Ryanair. Many have heard me state that I would rather swim than use the airline that has built a reputation over the years for putting the balance sheet a long way ahead of its customers interests. However, it is also true to say that up until recently, Ryanair has been one of the most successful airlines on the planet – despite its reputation. You can only be successful if you are able to offer your customers something that they are willing to pay for – and this has been the case with Ryanair. Consistently efficient with absolutely no frills – it seems as though millions of consumers have wanted to put up with whatever Ryanair has chosen to do to them in the name of ‘low cost’.

Recently though, Ryanair’s fortunes have taken a turn for the worst. Customers have been ‘fighting back’ against some of its perceived ‘draconian’ policies and procedures. The airline has recognised that it needs to change the way it interacts with its customers if it is to retain their business. A new advertising campaign highlights some of the changes – So has Ryanair really changed? How does the experience stand up against other airlines?

Last week, the Golding family enjoyed a week of glorious sunshine in Lanzarote. Whilst I looked forward to our Easter sojourn, I was rather nervous about the prospect of being transported to our destination by the airline I said I would never fly with. When Naomi told me that they were (and I quote) ‘the best option’, I did shoot back a rather mangled expression. In this review of our Ryanair experience, I will endeavour to provide as balanced a report as possible – and hopefully describe why Ryanair was the ‘best option’ on this occasion.

Date Review Conducted 12th and 19th April 2014
Flights Experienced Liverpool to Lanzarote (Arecife) Return
CX Review Total Score 30/50
Stars Awarded 3/5

The task of booking holidays in the Golding household is one performed by my extremely organised and efficient wife. Naomi has become an expert at finding the most suitable and economic vacation options for our family, and never ceases to amaze me in sourcing everything we need to create wonderfully memorable experiences. We do not fall into the category of consumer entitled ‘package holiday’ – that is really not our bag. As a result, Naomi compiles the various components that make up our end to end journey – from airport transfers, to flights, to car hire, to accommodation.

Lanzarote is one of our favourite destinations – almost guaranteed good weather, and plenty to entertain adults and children alike. Over the years we have travelled to Arecife airport using a variety of airlines – Thomson Fly, Thomas Cook, Monarch and Easyjet have all successfully taken us to and fro. I was fully expecting one of these carriers to fulfil the task once more. I was wrong. This Easter, we travelled with Ryanair – I never would have thought it possible. So why did Naomi convince me that Ryanair was the right choice? To find out, let me start with the review:

Accessibility – CX Review Score 4/10

In my review process, the definition of accessibility is ‘how easy was it for us to do what we wanted to do’ with the organisation we have chosen to transact with. I have awarded Ryanair 4 out of 10 for this category – and there is a lot to talk about. One of the changes the company has made recently is a revamping of their website – we cannot comment on the previous version of their internet portal – however, their web experience is ‘fine’ – not brilliant, but ‘fine’. It does what we needed it to do. Booking and checking in was ok. One of the biggest changes Ryanair have made is the glorious introduction of allocated seating! Gone is the awful rugby scrum of passengers fighting each other to get on the plane first to secure the seats of their choice. This was always one of my biggest issues with Ryanair. Getting on the plane is now no different to any other airline – in fact, I found it very ‘un-stressful’. I think they have been quite clever with the way they now handle wheeled cases as well – the first 90 passengers with wheeled cases can take them on the plane – after that, they put them in the hold for no extra charge – I may not be describing this particularly well, but I think it works – and no passenger struggled to find space for their hand baggage. Ryanair now also allow passengers to take two pieces of hand luggage on the plane – hurrah!

However, the biggest failing in the accessibility category was unfortunately experienced by us. When checking in online, customers can choose to book specific seats, or be allocated seats automatically. If you choose specific seats, you have to pay 10 or 15 Euros (per passenger) depending on where the seats are on the plane. As a family of five, we like to sit together, so we chose to book 5 of the 10 Euro seats. On the outbound flight, we did not have an issue with the seats we paid for. The way home was a different story. With three children, there is always a debate as to who gets the window seat. Jack (being the youngest member of the Golding family) always seems to negotiate the window seat in both directions. On the way home, he was very excited to be by the window again – or so he thought. As we arrived at our seats, we were greeted with one of only two rows on the plane that did not have a window. I cannot describe the distress that followed – if you have a six year old, you can probably imagine – the picture below says it all! With seats that are very close together, it did feel as though we were sitting in a blue and yellow cheese press. Whilst I cannot blame Ryanair for the design of Boeing aircraft, I can blame them for not highlighting the fact that the seats we PAID for did not have a window – all of their planes are identical – they should indicate on their website that there is no window when checking in.

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There were other accessibility issues. Both of our flights were delayed. Ryanair claim that 91% of their flights were on time in February – as we experienced, it is not much fun being the other 9%. On the outbound flight, we boarded the plane on time. Despite that fact, we were advised that we had ‘missed our take off slot’ – I am not sure why or how. We were told by the pilot that we would have to wait 1 HOUR before being ‘pushed back’!!! We did not hear from the pilot again for 60 minutes – we did not hear from anyone in fact for that period. Stuck on a hot, stuffy plane with no communication was rather irritating. After an hour, the pilot decided to speak again, this time telling us that there had in fact been a technical fault, and that we had missed our slot again!! We waited another 25 minutes before being pushed back.

Once again, I cannot comment on why the delays occurred – if there was indeed a technical fault, I am delighted that it was addressed. What I do take issue with is the complete lack of communication from either the pilot or the cabin crew – the latter of whom stood ‘chatting’ at the front of the plane throughout. We were also delayed by 45 minutes on the return journey – this was blamed on air traffic control issues over Spain. The delay meant that there was no time to re-stock the plane with food and drink. The crew was also lacking credit card machines – so unless you had cash, or had brought your own, you were not going to have any sustenance on the return flight.

Finally on the accessibility front, I must mention the interior of the aircraft – beyond Jack’s lack of window. There is not a lot of room in between seat rows. The seats do not have pockets on the back of them – which every other airline I have ever been on do – to put stuff in!! If there had been a pocket, most people would have had to bury their knees in them. The seats do not recline – a good thing in my book, or your nose would be pressed up against the seat in front!! Due to the lack of cleaning in between flights, the aircraft are not particularly clean – especially the tables. Our advice is to take anti bacterial wipes with you!

Range/Choice – CX Review Score 9/10

This category is a relatively easy one to describe and score. The choice of flight to your chosen destination is an important factor in the decision making process. On this front, Ryanair performed very well. Not only did they fly on our chosen days, their flight times were better than anyone else. They fly on a variety of days throughout the week, and flight times are reasonable – i.e. you do not have to arrive at your destination at 3am! We flew out at 2:30pm (although due to the delay we did not leave until 4pm), arriving in Lanzarote in time for dinner. On the way back, our flight was to leave at 7:25pm, arriving back in Liverpool at 11:30 pm. Due to the delay, we did not get in until a quarter past midnight. Ryanair also fly to Liverpool – another factor in our decision making – it is slightly closer to Chester, and a smaller airport – we prefer it to Manchester. So whilst not perfect, I have awarded Ryanair a score of 9 out of ten for Range/Choice on this occasion.

People – CX Review Score 3/10

Like my previous review for Currys PC World, I was less than impressed with Ryanair’s people. For clarity, I am only commenting on their people who fly and serve the aircraft itself – not the ground staff, as many of them work for outsourced organisations. I have awarded a score of 3 out of 10 for this category – largely because I felt as though the staff were completely disengaged from their customers.

On the outbound flight, the crew were quite frankly totally disinterested. During the delay they did not communicate with passengers at all. They rarely summoned up a smile. Their behaviour was robotic – not empathetic. I fly on a lot of aircraft – I have never been on one where the pilot says so little – you could almost have been forgiven for thinking the plane was flown on autopilot from beginning to end. It was clear that most of the passengers did not believe his explanations for the delays.

On the return journey, there was a slight improvement – one of the crew was particularly friendly. The lack of customer empathy was still evident though – rather than being welcomed on to the plane, the first thing the cabin crew manager said to me was that my duty free bag MUST go under the seat in front of me – not even a hello! The staff also looked rather ramshackle – with creased uniforms and non matching lanyards, they looked more motley crew then cabin crew. On arrival in to Liverpool, there was not even an apology for the delay. All in all, for a company that professes to provide the ‘best customer service’ I would suggest that Ryanair needs to invest significantly in developing its people – customer service is a lot more than just the functional things of on time flights, fewer cancellations and no lost bags!


Value – CX Review Score 10/10

When it comes to value, I cannot award Ryanair anything less than 10 out of 10. This was the key decision making factor for Naomi convincing me that they were ‘the best option’. At £800 less than any other airline – I repeat £800 cheaper – there really was very little debate to be had. The only thing that would have still made me think twice was the lack of allocated seating – but now they have sorted this, it was and is impossible for me to justify spending £800 on any other airline flying to this destination. Ryanair’s competitors are not worth £800 more. Quite simply, Ryanair was AMAZING value.

How did it make me feel? CX Review Score 4/10

So all things considered, how did my Ryanair experience make me feel. Being completely honest, it did not make me feel great – and my score of 4 out of 10 has nothing to do with my previous perception of the airline so many people love to hate. I did not enjoy the delays – being kept in the dark by uncommunicative, disinterested staff. The plane was cramped and uncomfortable – and do not get me started on the lack of window!! I will not look back with fondness on my experience – but it did what we needed it to do – and at a fraction of the price of anyone else.

Would I use them again? Yes

So here is the ‘killer question’ – will I use Ryanair again? The answer – which may surprise you – is YES. As I have already said, when it comes to value, on this occasion, Ryanair could not be beaten – in fact no one got within a country mile of them. Now they have changed some of their processes and procedures, much of the Ryanair experience is the same as any other airline. However, the weaknesses in the experience are an issue. I am not convinced that they truly understand what it means to be customer focussed, and the behaviour and attitude of their people underlines this. If I were faced with booking a flight in future and Ryanair’s prices were similar to a competitor, I would NOT choose Ryanair. If Ryanair genuinely want to continue changing and improving, it will not take a huge amount of effort or money to address the issues we experienced. If they do, they can really start to challenge anyone in an industry that continues to struggle to deliver consistently good customer experiences.


Common Sense – the not so magic ‘customer experience’ ingredient

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Last night I stayed in a rather lovely hotel in Wimbledon. At £275 a night, you would expect the experience to be worthy of such a hefty price tag. The building, décor, facilities, public areas and bedrooms were all extremely well appointed – as you would imagine. So why am I telling you this? Having checked in, I was escorted to the lift – something that does not usually happen in most hotels. On arriving at the lift, the receptionist had to ensure that I was clear in understanding that my bedroom was on the first floor. Confused? I was…..until I realised that my room number was 217. The rooms on the ground floor all began with a 1. The rooms on the 1st floor with a 2, and the rooms on the 2nd floor with a 3. Utter madness!! Three members of my party ended up on the wrong floor, either ignoring their instruction, or pretending to listen – they will not have been alone. If you owned this hotel, what would you do? Personally, I would change the room numbers!

This serves as the perfect example to help introduce a blog about common sense – or the absence of common sense in so many experiences we encounter on a daily basis. The example is one of a lack of common sense in experience design, but what we unfortunately experience far more often is a lack of common sense in customer experience execution.

Recently I have been contacted by two very good friends expressing their exasperation at experiences delivered by two rail operators. I have nothing against rail operators, but the recent trend suggests that the British consumer is not having much fun on our rail network at the moment. Both of my friends stories demonstrate how common sense is lacking in our daily lives – the question is why – but before you come to a conclusion, please allow me to share their stories with you:

Lack of common sense exhibit 1: the not so ‘electronic’ ticket

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This is an image of a new Greater Anglia mobile ticket. It is a good sign that a rail operator has finally managed to catch up with the airlines in being able to offer a paperless experience. As we are now well into 2014, some would say it is about time. You would imagine that a company that has started to adopt paperless travel would be encouraging passengers to use this method more frequently – in fact you would assume that they would positively support the elimination of paper. You would be wrong in making that assumption.

At the end of March, my friend booked a ticket with Greater Anglia. Booking his ticket at the last minute, he opted to have his ticket emailed to him (as the mobile ticket option was not offered on this route).  My friend wrongly assumed that having a ticket emailed to him meant that it acted as an electronic ticket. Not reading the small print (as many of us would not), he did not realise that he needed to print out his emailed ticket on an A4 sheet of paper. His failure to read the small print would end up having significant consequences.

To cut a long story short, customers of Greater Anglia who are travelling on an email ticket but who do not print the ticket out, will not be permitted to travel. Even though the customer is able to show the email on their electronic device, unless the ticket is printed, you are going nowhere – unless you buy a new ticket that is. Greater Anglia are not prepared to help you by allowing you to print the ticket in the station – you will be instructed to ‘find a printer yourself’. Ultimately, the only way you are going to be able to travel in this scenario (if you cannot locate a printing service) is if you buy another ticket.

Interestingly, at no time did Greater Anglia staff dispute that my friend had purchased a valid ticket. In fact the duty manager on his return confirmed that ‘this happens all the time’! So why did they insist that he purchase another ticket? Greater Anglia stated in their response to his subsequent complaint that their staff correctly conformed to their processes. They may well have done, but are their processes appropriate?! It was quite clear that a ticket had been purchased, so surely it would have made sense to advise the customer of what they needed to do in future and let them travel. The stress, time and effort that has since been exerted by the customer and company could have been avoided. This is a classic case of the application of a complete lack of common sense.

Greater Anglia have since acknowledged that the ‘product needs to be reviewed’ and that they ‘want to make travelling with Greater Anglia easier’ – whilst they are setting the bureaucratic wheels in motion, maybe they should empower their customer facing staff to apply a little common sense in future.

Lack of common sense exhibit 2: the friends and family ‘not so friendly’ railcard

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My other friend (I do have more than two by the way) had an equally frustrating experience on Virgin Trains recently. She frequently travels from the North West to London with at least one of her two children – often doing a return trip on the same day. When travelling with the kids, she uses her friends and family railcard, On this particular occasion, she was travelling down to London with a child, but returning by herself. Unsure whether or not she should use her railcard, she contacted Virgin to find out what she should do. She was told that as long as she purchased a return ticket for both her and the child, she could use her railcard. In this case, it was more expensive for her to do this than buy a single adult return ticket, but for ease, she went ahead and purchased a return ticket for one adult and one child.

You can probably guess what happened. On trying to board the train at Euston, a ticket inspector advised her that her ticket was not valid as she was not travelling with a child. Despite her explanation and protestation, the inspector would not listen. She even tried to explain that the cost of these tickets was greater than the cost of a single, but her explanation fell on deaf ears. She was given no option but to run to the ticket office to buy a new single adult ticket. She ended up catching the train by the skin of her teeth.

The behaviour of this member of staff is in my opinion completely unacceptable. With no interest in listening to reason, the insistence on the black of white application of process meant that no common sense was applied. The result was a very distressed and upset customer.

So what exactly is going on? Why are we experiencing so many scenarios like these? Why does it appear as though employees of companies have no ability to use their heads?! Customer experiences cannot be delivered without people. People ensure that your proposition (if you have one) is delivered to meet and hopefully exceed the expectation of customers. The most customer centric organisations delivering the greatest experiences are those that TRUST and EMPOWER their people to do what is RIGHT for the CUSTOMER. They are not constrained by process – they are guided by process and appropriate behaviours and values to ensure that where the process is not suitable or acceptable, an appropriate solution is found to the benefit of the customer. In both of these cases, it is clear that the employees involved are not trusted or empowered to do what is right. They are managed and measured to strictly apply process – even if it makes no sense at all – BONKERS!

People are the glue that gels customer experiences together. If companies do not invest in their people and make them an integral part of the experience, they will find it very difficult to deliver consistently good and continuously improving customer experiences. It is fair to say that not everyone has the ability to use common sense – but most of us do possess the natural ability. I hope for a world where the companies we work for encourage their people to just do what is right – and if you are not sure, check with someone before you do something to your customers that you would not dream of doing to yourself. Rose tinted spectacles? Maybe, but I can dream!




Currys PC World – Customer Experience Review

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Many congratulations to Currys PC World for being the first to feature in my new series of ‘customer experience reviews’ that will become a staple on my blog going forward. As regular readers of my blog are all too aware, I often use real life stories to bring the subject of customer experience to life – so what better way to do this than to produce a critical, independent review of the organisations I interact with.

The reviews will follow a standard format, looking at 5 experience ‘areas’. I will be scoring each ‘area’ on a scale from 1 to 10, enabling each organisation I review to achieve a total of 50 points. For every ten points scored, I will award a star – get 50 points, and you will be awarded 5 stars – easy!!

The review principle is exactly the same as a review conducted by a restaurant critic – it is my opinion – whether you agree or disagree is completely up to you! I will be applying my specialist critique and using my considerable experience in making my judgement!! So let’s get going – what did I think of Currys PC World?

Date Review Conducted 6th April 2014
Store Visited Chester, Sealand Road and Online
CX Review Total Score 30/50
Stars Awarded 3/5

I am unfortunate to be writing this review on a laptop that has seen better days. Continually mocked by my colleagues and peers, it has become mildly embarrassing to remove it from my bag in public! The Golding family is not blessed in the laptop department – Naomi has been working on a different laptop without an operable letter ‘e’ for the last twelve months. On Sunday we decided enough is enough – we needed to purchase not one, but two new laptops!!

Our ‘customer journey’ started with us having the need to make a purchase. The next stage was for us to decide where to go to make that purchase. Naomi’s parents recently bought a new laptop from John Lewis. Interestingly, they were not over awed by the experience and felt that Currys PC World had greater choice. No other retailers were mentioned – the desire to want to see, feel and touch the technology was paramount, and these two were foremost in our minds. The power of feedback and recommendation genuinely has an effect on the decision making process – we decided to visit Currys PC World and not John Lewis.

Accessibility – CX Review Score 8/10

Living in Chester, we have very easy access to Currys PC World. Located on a retail park in Sealand Road, the store is very easy to find, and ample parking is available. The store is located near supermarkets and restaurants, so you can combine your visit with other activities – something we did ourselves on Sunday. The website is easy enough to find on a laptop or mobile, and the site is mobile enabled. All in all, Currys PC World scores pretty well on the subject of accessibility.

Range/Choice – CX Review Score 8/10

Currys PC World score well on range and choice. On entering the cavernous store, it was pretty easy to locate the computing ‘department’. Banks of tables were laid out with all sorts of device on show – from touchscreen laptops, to tablets to multi functional things where the screen detaches from the keyboard. It is great to be able to see, feel and touch the product – one of the things that is important to me is to get a sense of the weight and size of the machine. There was a good range of different manufacturers, and only a couple of displays were empty. If nothing else, I would strongly recommend visiting a Currys PC World to ‘check out’ what you might want to buy – whether or not you end up buying it from them is another matter.

People – CX Review Score 3/10

Sadly, this is where our experience started to go wrong. Purchasing one laptop (let alone two) is not a regular occurrence. Most people will require help and assistance in making the decision as to what might be right for them. Despite the fact the store was not very busy (even on a Sunday), there were only a handful of staff visible. We were pleased that eventually a lady approached us and asked if we required help. This would have been agreeable…..if the lady were actually capable of fulfilling that request. When you are enquiring about a technical purchase, it is a basic necessity for the staff serving you to have knowledge of the technology you are interested in. This lady regrettably did not. Whilst she was pleasant, she could not answer a single question posed to her, and was even not open to going to find out. We ended up trying to research the answers to questions on our smartphones whilst she stood watching us. Eventually she disappeared to ‘serve’ another customer – I guess she got bored with the Golding’s. This lady is not the only cause of the low score for people. I did ask another member a staff a technical question about a particular laptop. Whilst not bothering to look up from what he was doing, his response was negative and dismissive – not in the slightest bit helpful. This store needs to focus on its people – the customer experience is being detrimentally affected by them.

Value – CX Review Score 6/10

On the value front, we were quite impressed by Currys PC World. With products to suit all sizes of pocket, they certainly had the type of product we would be interested in buying. However, when making a purchase of this nature, we always look online to see if we can get a better deal. We did find a couple of better value products with other retailers. However, in the main, Currys PC World are pretty well priced. The reason why I have awarded a 6 for value, is that today (one day later) I have noticed that they are running a Big Easter deal price matching offer – no one in the store had the courtesy to mention this. I did not notice if the offer was advertised in the store. I feel slightly duped – I might have purchased something that I could have found cheaper elsewhere and might never have known – that I do not perceive to be great value.

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How did it make me feel? CX Review Score 5/10

So how did I feel at the end of the experience. Well with the little assistance offered by the unknowledgeable and slightly ignorant staff, I certainly did not feel great. I did not feel awful either though. I had achieved part of what I wanted – I had been able to see a variety of laptops that will help us to make a purchase. The key is that it will help me to make my purchase elsewhere. The majority of the experience is good – yet the most important element provided by people is very poor. All in all, this leads me to give Currys PC World a score of 5 on the ‘feelings’ front – very middle of the road. Just remember, we tend to remember the very good or the very bad experiences – this one will very shortly be forgotten altogether (once I have finished writing this review).

Would I use them again? No

So the big decision – will I return to Currys PC World? My answer is slightly confusing – because I would not hesitate to go there again……to have a look. But based on my experience yesterday, I will not be handing over my hard earned cash to an organisation whose people do not know what they are doing, or do not care enough to provide customers with the help they really need. My experience tells me that whilst the organisation has largely got its product offer right, it MUST start to invest in its people – they need to understand and empathise with the customers that cross the threshold – whether that be online, in store or both.

Currys PC World Response – Received 7th April 2014

“Having read the review, I am pleased to see that we have scored highly in a couple of areas, but not so good int the main areas. This is certainly food for thought and we will be certainly be passing this back to the store and area manager as feedback. We thank you for taking the time and trouble for highlighting the strengths and weakness of the store.”

What do you think of Currys PC World? Does my experience reflect your own? Do you think I am being overly critical? Your views are as important as mine, and would be gratefully received.


Innovating the market research industry – a startup perspective

One thing is certain in the environment we live in today – innovation is essential if organisations want to achieve sustainable growth. Innovation will help ensure that our ever changing and more demanding needs as consumers are met. In this guest blog post, I am delighted to introduce you to Ben Claxton – Ben is the Founder and CEO of a new, innovative company called nativeye – a mobile research platform that in his words ‘helps your business stay relevant’. Ben talks us through his thoughts as to how innovation can help to transform the way we seek feedback from customers…..

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Anyone who has tried to get traction for an innovation – whether startup or internal initiative – will recognise the challenge. You have a view of a better future for your customers, if only you can convince them. Sticking doggedly to your grand vision on the one hand may not bring along enough people to achieve market success, while being too customer-centric limits your potential and fail to deliver the game-changer.

The trick of course if navigating a third way of market-driven innovation that meets people’s unarticulated and unmet needs – giving them the thing they didn’t even know they wanted but from which there’s no going back.

The following are some personal experiences from the last 3 years of launching and growing a mobile research platform – a tool that seeks to transform the market research industry. The examples are specific but hopefully the lessons are relevant to anyone trying to get their innovation off the ground.

Mobile – the next frontier in market research

When asked at the recent Insight Innovation Exchange in Amsterdam when the time of mobile market research is coming, Ray Pointer of Vision Critical replied, “About 18 months ago”.

This anecdote gives you some insight as to a market that has been hotly tipped for a while now but is still waiting to catch fire. (that said Survey Monkey recently reported that they had seen x14 increase in their mobile traffic in the last 3 years).

The case for mobile is various but includes: massive smartphone penetration and usage, an intimate and ‘in the moment’ channel,  the richer data made possible by smartphones’ communication, multimedia and location functions. This all adds up to a new way of engaging and learning from customers. At nativeye we talk about doing research that doesn’t feel like research.

Predicting real need is hard but vital

Prior to coding a single line we put together a clickable prototype and received strong encouragement to proceed. However those nodding heads we had initially were not necessarily our first customers. In fact, some are only starting to buy now, 3 years on. Possibly there was more we could have done to validate need, but there are a whole host of other factors beyond your control that dictate when people are ready to buy.

A clue to validating real current need is to look at whether people are already trying to solve the problem right now. They might be using other products, hiring people or inventing workarounds to try and do the thing that your product does.

Find your tribe

Some people resist just change (including new technology). This is certainly the case in the market research industry. Either because it requires effort to learn new techniques or because people feel threatened by it (which is probably justified if you are an Amazon warehouse picker). David A. Aaker advises innovators to ‘beware the pessimist’ that will attempt to derail innovation projects based solely of their irrational fear of the new (interesting to note that he also mentions to be aware of the over-optimist).

Some people you’re just not going to win over. The best you can hope for is to quickly identify them and move on. For others to try something new the Benefit must > Pain. Pain comes in many forms – the mental effort to work out where your product fits, the risk of an untried approach, bugs in a new product.

However, some people are much more inclined to give something new a whirl – the benefit to them being the potential transformation of their day-to-day. These people are like gold and will be your champions. I think Seth Godin provides the best advice here which is, “find your tribe and grow out from there.”

Learn to explain innovations in terms people currently understand

Of those that do embrace technology, many initially consider it in old frames of reference. Initially nativeye was seen as a mobile survey tool. Common questions included, “How will I get all the survey questions I want on a screen that size?” This made our spirit sink somewhat as we didn’t see nativeye this way – we saw it as a two-way customer channel that captured people’s experience in unprecedented richness and timeliness.

It’s sometimes frustrating when trying to push things forward only to be pulled back into old frames. But if your product is truly transformational and you can get people to try you out, then this should bubble to the surface and they will tell others of their great experience. In the MR world a tool has to deliver on old measures such as ‘response rate’ before people will countenance the new stuff. It’s a reality that you have to navigate this while still not losing track of the larger potential.

Don’t sell features, solve jobs

Clay Christensen talks about innovating by solving the jobs people want to do. Selling in these terms also makes your proposition much more compelling whereas only talking about features leads you to sell yourself short. This is why about 18 months in we started selling “relevance”. This is the bigger benefit that helps bring people on board by speaking language they can understand. As a customer, I don’t know if I want a ‘mobile research platform’ or to ‘open up a channel to my customers’ but I certainly want my brand to stay relevant to its customers.

Ben Claxton is the founder of nativeye, a mobile research platform that helps your business stay relevant.

Contact Ben for ideas on how nativeye can help you

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