Customer Experience is Dead – the case for the prosecution!

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Over the last ten years, I have observed and been part of a tidal wave of focus on Customer Experience. Despite the fact that customer journeys have always existed (although few actually realised it) and customers have always been willing to give feedback, it is only since the start of the new millennium that organisations began to recognise that doing the right thing by their customers might make sense. In 2014, we are seeing more companies than ever before ask us to tell them what we think. Businesses all over the globe are creating millions of wonderful looking customer journey maps. More employees than ever before have a remuneration package that is affected by improving customer perception. A whole new profession has been created, culminating in the founding of the Customer Experience Professionals Association – we even have a professional qualification in the form of CCXP – Certified Customer Experience Professional. Now more than ever should be a wonderful time to be a customer……………right? Or wrong?

In this blog post I am going to defend the indefensible – I am going to say that my previous statement is wrong. I am going to state a case for claiming that rather than being very much alive, Customer Experience is actually dead (if you will excuse the bluntness of the expression). Rather than being a great time to be a customer, we are sadly having more and more negative and unacceptable customer experiences on a daily basis. Using my own experiences as collateral, let me put forward my case for the prosecution:

Exhibit 1 – the broadband provider

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Two and a half weeks ago the Golding family lost Wi-Fi connection at home. Our Wi-Fi has always been a little bit hit and miss, but it has worked to a degree that we have not had to ask for help for over two years (since we switched from another provider). You do not realise how critical Wi-Fi is in your home until you lose it – a fundamental change in customer needs since the turn of the millennium. As soon as we lost connection, we contacted our provider for assistance.

In the subsequent two and half weeks, we have been lied to, fobbed off, and subject to inept customer service. We were initially advised that there was a problem on the line and it would have to be investigated by Openreach. We were told that someone would contact us when this had happened – no-one did. On re-contacting our provider, we were told that there was not a problem on the line and it was probably our router that was causing the problem – it was nice of someone to tell us. We were told that a new router would be sent, and given a delivery date.

You guessed it – that date arrived, but the router did not. On re-contacting our provider, we were told that a router had not actually been sent. By now, Mrs Golding was getting rather frustrated and upset. I am fortunate to know senior leaders in Customer Service or Customer Experience roles for many large UK companies. Our experience was so poor, I had to resort to contacting the Head of Customer Service for this company via LinkedIn – I hate to think how long resolution of our problem would have taken if I had not done this.

The new router arrived a day later. We finally thought this would bring an end to our Wi-Fi purgatory. You guessed it…..the new router did not work. To cut a long story short, the provider finally agreed to send a Broadband engineer to our home – he sorted the problem in thirty minutes. Why it took two and half weeks for this to happen is beyond me. This experience was as bad as experiences can get for customers. The experience generated a huge amount of unnecessary effort. The experience cost us money. The experience left us feeling frustrated and upset. We will not be customers of this Broadband provider for much longer. This company appears to be ‘sitting on the beach’ whilst the tidal wave of Customer Experience roars on past!

Exhibit 2 – the satellite TV company

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My family is not having much luck with technology at the moment, and around the same time we lost our W-Fi, we also lost the use of our satellite TV. Television, like many things, has changed beyond belief in the last twenty years. When I was the same age as my children, I was very happy to make do with four channels and a machine called a video player! In 2014, we have access to hundreds of channels, with the ability to view and record using the same ‘machine’. We can access ‘box sets’, watch recently released movies, and even view online TV services (such as BBC I-Player via Wi-Fi (if we had Wi-Fi that is!).

Unlike twenty years ago, the customer also has a great deal of choice. We can choose to watch TV for free (technically in the UK it is not free as we pay our TV licence) using a digital ‘freesat’ or ‘freeview’ box. If you want access to more channels, you can choose to buy your service from a number of different providers. We have been a customer of one of these providers for over ten years. In my book, this makes us a loyal customer. Our satellite box came to a grinding halt over two weeks ago – much to the distress of the Golding children (they do not watch much TV, but what they do watch is not available on freeview). Once again, we sometimes take for granted the things we have – once it is gone, you realise how much you rely on it. Like the kids, we do not watch much TV either – we tend to record a small number of things and watch them when we want – it is infuriating when that ability suddenly disappears.

On contacting the company concerned, it was confirmed that the box, which was over seven years old, had come to the end of its life. We were given the option to replace the box – but to do so, we would have to ‘upgrade’ to a new package. This would cost us £5 more a month than our current package. In other words, if you want a new box, you have to pay us more money.

I have been a customer of this company for over ten years. I have the potential to continue being a customer for another ten, twenty and possibly more years. Yet when I ask for the replacement of the box that provides the service, I am forced to ‘upgrade’ to a package I do not want! I felt as though the company were holding us to ransom – each time I phoned them I was given a slightly different story. It took two weeks of conversation for them to offer me a ‘compromise’ – we will pay £1.80 more a month for the new package we did not want in the first place. They will also replace the box for ‘free’.

Customers should not have to fight to remain a customer. I have always thought it wrong for new customers to be offered a better deal than long-standing loyal customers. The whole experience has left a very sour taste in my mouth. I do not trust this company and do not like the way they treat their loyal customers. When the deal comes to an end, they will lose this particular customer for good – and with it, the opportunity to receive twenty+ years more income from me.

Exhibit 3 – the ‘4 star’ hotel

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It is not just the world of technology that has served up unacceptable experiences for me over the last two weeks. Last week, I stayed for two nights on business at a stunning hotel in Surrey. I say stunning as from the outside, that is exactly what it was. I would go as far to say as it is one of the most beautiful looking hotels I have ever visited. Very sadly, the inside of the hotel is very very different. Stunning it is not.

Regular readers of my blog will have viewed my standard ‘Customer Experience Review’ format. I wrote a review of this hotel – if you want to read the detail, you can do so here. If you do not want to read the detail, I will briefly summarise. The hotel is part of a group that promises to deliver ‘quality, service and attention to every last detail’. You are right in guessing that they radically fail to deliver on all of these promises.

In three days and two nights, I received unacceptable service from disengaged employees. The accommodation was outdated, of poor quality and lacking on comfort. Basic facilities – such as the only lift on the hotel – did not work. I even bumped into a friendly cockroach in the hallway. I have read a number of publicly available customer reviews on this hotel – I am not the only one who has thought badly of it. I have also experienced other hotels owned by this particular group – my experience across two of their hotels is sadly consistent.

This hotel group have obviously missed the tidal wave of Customer Experience – either that, or their definition of ‘quality, service and attention to every last detail’ is VERY different to mine!


So there it is – my case for the prosecution. Broken promises; disengaged employees; unnecessary effort; customer dissatisfaction – sufficient evidence to suggest that Customer Experience is a very long way from being embedded in the culture of businesses. The question is, is this enough evidence to suggest that Customer Experience is therefore dead altogether? You will be pleased to hear that there is also a case for the defence – a case to prove that Customer Experience is very much alive – I will save that evidence for a future blog post.

As someone who benefits from helping organisations that have a desire to transform their organisation to deliver better customer experiences, I should be pleased that there are still so many businesses falling short of doing so. It actually gives me no pleasure to highlight examples like those you have just read. In doing so though, I genuinely hope that I am able to bring to life why a focus on Customer Experience is not yet something that we, the paying customer, can expect to receive on a regular and consistent basis. Despite the fact that the last ten years have seen a Customer Experience tidal wave, the wave is only gaining height and speed – it is yet to break. Customer Experience is not a fad – it is not a project. Customer Experience is why our organisations exist – failure to recognise that could be fatal. Customer Experience will never die – it is the businesses that fail to recognise the importance of it that will.

Do you have more evidence for the prosecution? I would love to hear it if you do. Just to re-iterate – I will be writing the case for the defence very soon!


Wotton House Hotel – Customer Experience Review

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One of the occupational hazards of being a Customer Experience Specialist is that I have to travel a lot. Both in the UK and abroad, I am no stranger to the odd hotel. Sometimes selected by a client, sometimes selected by myself, the range of hostelries I have frequented over the years is extremely broad. This is the first time I have conducted a Customer Experience Review of a hotel using my new review format. If you have not read one of my reviews before, it is important to clarify that they are intended to act as a completely independent qualitative assessment of the organisations I interact with. They are based on my opinion as a Customer Experience Specialist, and will hopefully help the companies being reviewed, as well as others, understand what can positively and negatively affect customer experiences. You can read all of my reviews here.

Date Review Conducted 23rd May 2014
Hotel Visited Wotton House, Guildford Road, Dorking, Surrey – a Principal Hayley Hotel
CX Review Total Score 25/50
Stars Awarded 2.5/5

Wotton House is part of the Principal Hayley hotel group. The following paragraph is proudly displayed on the Principal Hayley website:

At PH Hotels, we are proud to present a collection of 22 truly individual hotels and conference and event venues across the UK and Europe; from city centre Victorian grandeur to country estates to modern purpose-built conference and training venues. Truly inspirational spaces located just where you need them to be and with the transport links to get you there. Though gloriously eclectic, there are three things that mark each as quintessentially PH Hotels: the quality, the service and the attention to every last detail.

Please allow me to draw your attention to the last sentence – ‘quality, service and attention to every last detail’. In the world of Customer Experience, something publicly stated like this comprises a promise – the question is, did Wotton House live up to the promise? If you want to find out, please read on!

Accessibility – CX Review Score 3/10

In my review process, the definition of accessibility is ‘how easy was it for me to do what I wanted to do’ with the organisation I have chosen to transact with. I have awarded Wotton House 3 out of 10 for this category – There are many reasons to describe why this is so.

Before I describe why, I must make it clear that the decision to stay at Wotton House was not mine. Along with 40 other delegates, the hotel was selected by the company I am working with. I therefore did not personally experience the reservation process. However, having investigated the Wotton House website, the process and experience seems to be relatively intuitive and easy to find/use – the process is common for all Principal Hayley hotels.

Wotton House is located in Dorking, not too far from London or the M25 by car, and just over an hour on the train. It is not the most accessible of locations, but if you are looking for a conference venue, or a country location to have a weekend away, or indeed a beautiful setting to stage your wedding in the Surrey area, it is ideal.

On arriving at the hotel, you would be forgiven for thinking you had been transported onto the set of Downton Abbey. To say that the Hotel and setting are stunning would be an understatement. It is simply beautiful. As you drive down the half mile long driveway, it feels as though you are visiting a National Trust property rather than a hotel.

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If you are looking for the 10 out of 10 first impression, then you cannot beat it. So why have I only awarded a score of 3 out of 10 for Wotton House? Walking through the front door of the hotel, I was full of optimism about my two night stay. But within seconds this optimism started to erode.

As I approached reception, I noticed that the receptionist was on the phone. We were the only two people in the reception area. Without making eye contact, she continued her telephone conversation for three minutes – I know because I timed it. The conversation she was having (making no attempt to hide it), was with a colleague. They were discussing why they were continually booking customers staying for more than one night into different rooms for each night of their stay. From the tone of the conversation, they both found this rather amusing.

To keep a customer waiting for three minutes is not great. To do so whilst having an ‘internal’ conversation with a colleague borders on rude. To have a conversation highlighting how your hotel ‘get’s things wrong’ is remarkably unprofessional. To make matters worse, when the phone call was brought to a conclusion, I did not even receive an apology for being kept waiting. Stand still for three minutes and tell me if it does not seem like a very long time!!

The issues do not stop here. Having been checked in, the receptionist pointed me in the direction of my room. What she failed to tell me was that I would be walking through a building site to get to it. As I rounded a corner, I was met with dust sheets, rubble and workmen. I thought I had gone the wrong way. Surely I should have been advised of this at check in?

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Having finally found my bedroom (which took a few minutes due to poor signage), my feeling of disappointment continued to grow. The room was by no means the worst I have ever stayed in, but it was a million miles away from the expectation set by the grandeur of the building and the publicly stated promise of quality. The room was very dated – in decor, furniture and equipment. I have not seen a television like this since 1995!

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My bathroom had a flickering light – I could not summon up the will to contact my friend on reception to report it. The room was largely clean, but it was clear that the room had not been introduced to a vacuum cleaner for a while. For a hotel group that claims it pays ‘attention to every last detail’, more flaws quickly became apparent. As a hotel largely used by business people during the week, it is very likely that most if not all of them will need to use the desk to work. Work in 2014 means using a laptop that will need to be powered by electricity. This detail is obviously not factored into to the thinking at Wotton House, as the only plugs by the desk are already in use!!

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There is more!! The mattress on my bed was akin to lying on a soggy sponge – I hate to think how old it was. I am a gym user. When visiting a hotel, I will always investigate the facilities that may be available. I actually did not realise Wotton House had a gym – it is not that easy to find this information on the website. Having discovered that there was, I was disappointed to learn that it was only open between 7am and 10pm. These hours do not suit my requirements – I like to go to the gym early – i.e. at 6am. Another detail that this hotel failed to address during my visit was a broken down elevator. In the three days I was present in the hotel, there was no evidence that it was ever going to be repaired.

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As with all my reviews, I am simply stating the facts. This hotel – a hotel with a most amazing asset – its building – is radically failing to get the details right. There are so many things that are obviously wrong, I have to question whether the general manager, and/or Principal Hayley management have ever stayed a night in it.

I actually consider a score of 3 out of 1o to be generous. The cockroach I found in the hallway on my way to dinner sums up the experience I was having…

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Range/Choice – CX Review Score 5/10

Wotton House has six categories of room available to guests. Standard Double and Twin rooms are quoted as being:

Charming and cosy, our Standard Rooms are thoughtfully furnished to create a relaxing environment after a long day of work or exploration. Stay productive with our working desk or make use of the free WiFi on offer. Whether you’re travelling on business or for pleasure, our Standard Room is an ideal choice with its exceptional value and luxury.

If you have read the description of my ‘accessibility’ category, you will realise that the person who wrote this has never stayed a night in a Standard room at Wotton House – luxury it is most certainly not.

Maybe if I had stayed in a Double Superior room, my experience would have been different – but I did not. Wotton House do provide rooms that can accommodate families of 4. My family contains five human beings – the only way Wotton House would be able to accommodate us is in two rooms. Adapted double rooms are on offer for guests that require easier access – the website states that these rooms are located ‘conveniently near the lift’ – I guess the author banked on said lift actually being operational.

So whilst there is choice on offer, I am awarding a score of 5 out of 10 for this category.

People – CX Review Score 5/10

The people category also scores 5 out of 10. I have already described my unacceptable welcome to the hotel – the lack of engagement between guest and receptionist was sadly consistent in all my observations of staff at the hotel. In my three days at Wotton House, not one member of staff offered me a ‘good morning’, ‘good afternoon’, or even a ‘hello’. Staff were more keen to avoid eye contact altogether than ‘connect’ with the customer. I visited the restaurant twice for breakfast – on both occasions I received no welcome at all.

This morning at breakfast I waited twenty minutes – I repeat – twenty minutes – before a member of staff got close enough to my table for me to ask for a cup of tea. On asking for the cup of tea, I was met with ‘ok’ as a response. I do not, and never will, blame employees when I am met with behaviours like this. Every member of staff I came in contact with seemed to have a ‘slumped shoulders’ expression. I did not see anyone who looked like a manager – in reception, the restaurant, the conference rooms – my observations suggest that a lack of leadership is having a clear detrimental affect on the behaviour of staff.

One of our party left his wash bag in his room the previous evening. He returned to the hotel today to retrieve it. My friend on reception told him that no wash bag had been found. Another of our party left her cardigan in the restaurant. She too was told that nothing had been found. Either someone is not telling the truth, or ‘lost property’ is being disposed of. This is yet another sad reflection of a hotel that is not putting its customers interests first.

Value – CX Review Score 7/10

Wotton House scores 7 out of 10 for value. The ‘cost’ of accommodation is very good considering the location and its proximity to London. The reason that this score is not higher is because the meaning of ‘value’ is more than just the cost. The litany of issues that I have described in this review mean that the relatively low-cost is only reasonable value for the experience received – in my opinion.

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

I can sum this category up in one word – disappointed. An experience that promises so much left me feeling deflated – from the minute I walked through the front door. The promise of quality, service and attention to detail was not kept – they were not even close. One of our party said to me that when they saw the hotel, they immediately thought they should bring their partner for a weekend. Having stayed in the hotel, he no longer has that intention. I also feel sad after my experience – sad that such an amazing building is being so badly treated. Sad that the people working in this building seem so disengaged from their customers. These are not the feelings any organisation wants its customers to have.

Would I use them again? No

You would have probably been able to forecast my answer – I have no intention of visiting this hotel again – unless it is chosen for me by a client. If it is, I will suggest we find alternative accommodation. Not only that – I will think twice before I stay in any Principal Hayley hotel. This is not the first time I have experienced issues like this in one of their properties. Lightning has struck twice for me – I am unlikely to let it do so a third time.

I hope that the management of Wotton House and Principal Hayley read this review. If they are serious about their brand promise to customers, I strongly suggest they spend time experiencing the delivery of the promise as customers themselves. I would suggest they have a long way to go before their promise becomes a reality.

Desire, Character & Togetherness – Lessons in leadership from the Orient – Leyton Orient!

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For almost all of my 41 years I have been a proud supporter of the second oldest football team in London – Leyton Orient. I say almost all, as I am ashamed to say that for a few years at school, I could not admit to my friends that I did not support one of the big ‘top flight’ clubs that they all seemed to.

Regular readers of my blog may wonder why I am writing a post about a football team that is largely unknown outside of Greater London (to the non-football fan), let alone to those not from these shores. I have always wanted to find a reason to write about my football club, and that time has come.

As the title suggests, this post is all about leadership. In order for an organisation to transform itself into one that is truly customer centric, it requires strong, committed, innovative, focussed and inspirational leadership. It is often difficult to find great examples to cite of leaders that fit this description. That is why I want to share with you the story of a little football club in the East End of London, and how leadership can truly transform the fortunes of an organisation.

Firstly, let me give you some context. Leyton Orient was formed in 1881. In the 133 years that the club has been in existence, it has not won anything of any significance. One solitary season in England’s top division and one FA Cup semi-final are the two ‘top’ highlights in an amazingly uninspiring existence.

Leyton Orient is not unique. The majority of football clubs in England and Wales have experienced little success. However, the definition of success to a Leyton Orient fan is not quite the same as an Arsenal or Manchester United follower. In my 41 years, I have seen Leyton Orient promoted twice. In 1989, I celebrated as we won the Division 4 play-off final at Brisbane Road – it was an experience I will never forget – to me it was like we had won the world cup. In 2006, on a sunny day in Oxford, I saw my lovely O’s automatically promoted for the first time in a generation – it took a while for me to get my voice back.

If you do not experience success very often, it feels remarkably special when you do. Most Orient fans see the avoidance of relegation each year as success. Reaching the magic 51 point mark is greeted with glee. This may sound like a ‘cup is half empty’ culture – you are probably right to think it – but that is just what we have got used to.

Throughout its existence, Leyton Orient has walked a tightrope of financial survival. The financial challenges experienced by football clubs are very well documented. Orient last faced challenges like that in 1995. Famously sold to Barry Hearn for £5, the much misunderstood sports promoter has spent the subsequent 19 years turning Orient into a sustainable business. Sustainable does not necessarily mean successful in the eyes of Leyton orient supporters. However, to business owners all over the world, sustaining a business through tough economic times is a huge success in its own right.

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Barry Hearn’s ownership of Leyton Orient is the first example of leadership I wish to share with you. As a qualified accountant, Barry knows how to make and manage money. It is easy to throw stones at a charismatic man who has had a career in the media spotlight. Turning an unfashionable lower league football club into a strong, sustainable business is really not easy.  Barry Hearn has never ‘thrown money’ at Orient – there will be fans who begrudge him that, but he has spent a lot of money ensuring that Orient do not go the way of many others – some of who have tasted big success, only to feel that crushing blow of a very quick demise.

Creating a sustainable football club may have turned Orient into a boring business – we last achieved promotion on 2006. Since then, we have not achieved promotion or relegation – we have not even reached the play offs. However, as the 2013/14 season draws to a close, Orient fans are more optimistic than they have been at any time in the last 133 years. The reason for that optimism is in the second example of leadership I wish to share.

The last time Barry Hearn sacked a manager was in 2010. With the club facing relegation back to League 2, Barry decided that he had to do something. Another trait of a good leader is loyalty – sacking a manager is something that Barry Hearn does not do lightly. Recruiting a new manager is also a very important task. In 2010, Barry Hearn recruited Russell Slade – and what a recruit he has turned out to be.

Russell Slade is a very nice man. Softly spoken and always smiling, he comes across more like a school teacher (his first profession) than a football manager. In his four years as manager of Orient, he has taken them to the 5th round of the FA cup and two 7th placed finishes in League 1. This may not sound like a lot to a Manchester City fan, but to a die-hard Orient supporter, these are heady days.  During this time, Russell Slade has not spent a single penny on players. I repeat, in four years as manager of Leyton Orient, not a single fee has been paid for an incoming player.

On the 25th May 2014, Russell Slade will proudly walk his team out onto the hallowed turf of Wembley stadium – the full contingent of Goldings will be there to see the magic moment. Against all the odds, Russell Slade has guided his ‘free’ team to the brink of the Championship. With a financial budget smaller than anyone else in the league, Russell Slade has not been able to spend his way to Wembley. Russell Slade has achieved something that many leaders fail to do. He has generated success through his leadership. Through tenacity, patience, passion and commitment, he has spent four years injecting a new spirit into Leyton Orient. Russell Slade is a man who understands the importance of people, and his people understand the importance of his leadership.

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In his four years as manager (he is now the fourth longest serving manager in English football), he has taken his time to build his team. Not every player that has joined the club has fitted in to his ethos – and I am sure he would be the first to say that. But as his team assemble at Wembley on Sunday, most of them have been together for at least two of Russell’s four years. Some of them have turned down ‘job offers’ elsewhere – even the lure of more money has not proven to be as attractive as being a part of Russell Slade’s revolution.

Like all great leaders, Russell has a philosophy that underpins his approach – this was recently reported in the London Evening Standard:

“The four greatest values my team have got are our work ethic, desire, character and, above all, togetherness,” he said.  “Those values will be massively important if we are to get into the Championship and we have turned that into a plaque and put it in the tunnel. I put up loads of values on the wall and asked the players what they thought were the most important. The players wrote them down themselves and they were the four things that came out on top of everything. It was not our goalscoring, our defensive ability or anything like that. The players could put anything and they saw those four as the most important. Those are the things that define our team.”

Even if you are not a football fan, you would find it hard not to be impressed by this approach and attitude. As a Leyton Orient fan, it sends shivers down my spine. I have always believed that business can learn a lot from football – or any sport for that matter. But in recent years, as the fine line between business and football has disappeared, I have become less certain as to who can learn from who. As the multi millionaire football chairmen line up to dismiss their managers after a few bad results, it appears as though money is the only important thing. Leyton Orient is different – the whole attitude to football is different. Even if Barry Hearn’s motivation was money focussed in 1995, there is no doubting that his view has become different as well. Barry Hearn has become unusual as the owner of a football club as his love for the team is now greater than his desire to make money from it. You might not believe it, but I completely believe this to be true.

Business can learn a lot from Barry Hearn and Russell Slade. The most important thing is survival – above anything else. We all have a responsibility to ‘get the basics right’ to ensure that colleagues and customers (players/staff and fans) have a business (football club) to interact with. We need our leaders to understand the real value of people – to empower them to be part of the change, rather than have change done to them. Having the courage to allow a team to grow together will make it easier to keep that team together. If you can achieve that, your team will work hard (work ethic), whilst having the desire, character and togetherness to deliver success for themselves and their customers (fans).

I pray with all my heart that this team, and its loyal fans (customers) receive the reward they so richly deserve – it has been a long time coming. Even if we do not win on Sunday, what this organisation has achieved is remarkable, and they have the leadership to pick them up and start all over again with the same group next year. I love Leyton Orient, and I thank them for allowing us to keep dreaming.

Good luck on Sunday Barry, Russell and all the players and colleagues of Leyton Orient FC – I will be there cheering you on.

Up the O’s

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Cost Out – Experience In. The formula for business transformation

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In the last twenty years I have worked for a range of different organisations of varying shapes and sizes. I started out with a small independent invoice finance business in 1995. Moving on to the Royal Bank of Scotland, Deutsche Bank and GE, the businesses that I experienced got bigger and more diverse. I also spent time working for Liberata (outsourcing), Brakes (food service) and Shop Direct (retail) before becoming an independent Customer Experience Specialist in 2012.

Whilst this blog post is not a platform to share my CV, it is important to provide the context that is the substance of the post. Although every company I have worked for has been completely different – culturally; behaviourally; strategically – they have all demonstrated a striking commonality. Whether it is food, invoice finance or a pair of jeans, all of the businesses I worked for continually struggled to juggle two very big balls – can you guess what the balls were/are?

The title of this blog post is a big clue. One of the big balls that every business I have worked for has been constantly juggling is the ‘cost’ ball – not many of us would be able to say that they have not experienced the same. Cost control is a consideration for all businesses, and the rearing of the ‘cost cutting scythe’ is a constant threat.

The other big ball that I have seen being juggled in the same pair of hands is the ‘revenue’ or ‘growth’ ball. All of my employers have had strategies that contained a desire to grow and increase revenues. Once again, I am sure this does not surprise you.

You may have noticed that neither or the balls (an interesting analogy in itself) that I have mentioned include the word ‘customer’. I have not worked for a company that at the beginning possessed a ‘customer’ ball. It was all about cost and/or growth – with one exception. It was not until I started to work for GE that I saw a business look at what they do in a very different light.

When I started the GE chapter of my career, it was in the last few years of the Jack Welch era. One of the most transformational business leaders of all time, the influence he exerted on one of the biggest organisations on the planet has very much shaped who I am as a business professional today. Jack Welch introduced Six Sigma to GE – the much maligned process improvement methodology was a huge part of Jack’s plan to turn the multi-national conglomerate into the most efficient customer focussed set of businesses in the world. The methodology is ‘much maligned’ as many have misinterpreted both its true application, and experienced inappropriate six sigma deployments – you can read more about my views on the stigma behind Six Sigma here

Jack Welch was once quoted as saying the following when reference their Six Sigma Quality Programme - "Control your own destiny or someone else will"
Jack Welch was once quoted as saying the following when reference their Six Sigma Quality Programme – “Control your own destiny or someone else will”

The doubters behind the method have sadly very much missed the point. The reason why Jack Welch believed in introducing a rigorous process and fact driven methodology into his business strategy is that he understood its real benefit. In order to be able to effectively juggle the ‘cost’ and ‘growth’ balls together, you needed to understand how to ‘take the cost out of your processes whilst making the experience better for your customers’. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. When you remember that he started out on this path in the early 80’s, it was revolutionary.

Fast forward to 2014, and most organisations are still trying to juggle the ‘cost’ and ‘growth’ balls. The difference in 2014 is that a growing number have added a third ball into the mix – the missing ‘customer’ ball. Juggling two balls is tough – juggling three is even tougher – unless you understand how best to juggle them!

There is no better way to describe my approach to business than ‘Cost Out – Experience In’. As a Customer Experience Specialist focussed on helping businesses to transform, I do so by helping you to remove unproductive cost whilst putting customer experience back in – or in other words, improving your customer experience. I do not do one or the other – I do both at the same time. Joining them together enables the ‘growth’ ball to fall perfectly into place.

Delivering more consistent customer experiences that meet and/or exceed customer expectation requires less ‘effort’ from you, your company and your customers – which will result in lower costs to serve. Effort = Cost, Simple. Every time a customer contacts you because something has ‘gone wrong’, or because they are ‘dissatisfied’, is costing time and money and creating unnecessary effort. Every time you fail to do what your customer needs you to do across your customer journey is a failure generating ‘unproductive cost’. That is why we believe that to genuinely transform your business, you need to understand your customer journey, and ensure that you have the appropriate ‘target operating model’ in place to deliver it. Once this has been achieved, you will stand a much better chance of aligning your colleagues and your customers’ values to support your brand vision.

What I am describing is what Jack Welch did for twenty years. The concept is not new. It is also not easy – which may explain why so many companies in 2014 are still struggling to juggle their balls. To acknowledge your business needs transforming takes balls (excuse the pun) – and if you need help in knowing how to do it, then do not hesitate to get in contact with me – I’ll help you find out how.

If you fancy a chat about this or anything to do with customer experience and business transformation, please feel to contact me by email at or by phone on 07770736832.

Where Customer Experience meets sales – the sales perspective

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Please allow me to introduce you to my good friend David Hindle. Sales is not one of my strong points – but it is something that David excels at. David is not a traditional ‘business development executive’ – he understands the genuine importance of customer experience, and sustaining long last customer relationships. Having spent over six years with Sennheiser Consumer Electronics, and a further four years prior to that with Toshiba – he knows a thing or two about both sales and Customer Experience.

David is currently the VP of a company called Etail Eye – you can read more about them later in this guest blog post – David’s first – please be gentle with him…..

Many brands today are waking up, often with bucket full of cold Twitter water, to the realization that their reputation is being damaged and their consumers have a negative experience because they don’t have their sales channel under control.

It’s actually in the hands of their retailers and etailers and unless these are aligned to the brand’s strategy, they may be wasting resources and losing sales and market share. We all know as consumers ourselves if we get a consistently bad experience from each point of purchase we visit (think of car dealerships) it can put us off a brand permanently.

Many retailers, often with brands’ money, are investing in the in-store customer experience to try and entice consumers inside and to buy offline. But even then they still have to compete with online pricing. If there’s too great a price difference between online and the store price the consumer will thank the retailer for a nice showroom and order online.

But who would they buy from? What service would they receive? How do your key retailers feel about that?

Retailers aren’t in the business of creating a showroom for the internet – they need to sell and they need margin to cover their higher costs. If there’s no margin, there’s no mission and they will quickly lose patience and delist brands that don’t deliver the operating margin they need.

To win offline you have to win online 

A brand also can’t expect any ROI from a retail investment, whether it’s from POS or training, if there’s no compelling reason for the consumer to make the purchase in the store rather than online. This is when a joined up online and offline sales strategy becomes critical to the future success of the business. A fair playing field for etailers and retailers means you’re much more likely to win offline and keep your place in those key retailers. And importantly have a chance to manage the final customer experience.

Start with the End in Mind

The sales channel has to be aligned to the brand’s business strategy which should also incorporate their CX strategy. Once you have that clear you can define the type of retailers and etailers that could enable successful achievement of this aim. This is the beginning of creating an authorized seller programme; effectively creating a group of retailers and etailers who meet your agreed standards and criteria.

The all seeing Eye

Any kind of authorization programme is only as effective as it is policed and enforced. But how do you monitor the hundreds or thousands of etailers selling many products online?

How could a brand demonstrate to a retailer that it’s making improvements to the market place and should keep its product range? Many brands throw their hands up saying, ‘It’s impossible. It’s too complex. Maybe it’ll go away’. It won’t and if ignored it’ll get worse.

The answer, however, is to use a web tool to monitor the online market place. Etail Eye is just such a tool which I helped develop with former military intelligence analysts to specifically to address this problem. To bring disparate pieces of real-time intelligence together and deliver it in an easily accessible format. The tool can show who’s selling what, where and what price and even monitor competitor products. It can monitor whatever KPIs the brand wishes to measure and displays a ‘hit list’ of the etailers which don’t meet these. The brand can then work through this list taking action be it; test purchases, visits or even invitations to become authorized. This process is particularly powerful in tackling grey market and counterfeit products. This in turn creates ROI benefits which can be measured across the business. Brands have reported saving one hour per day per account manager from dealing with web issues and their retailers have more confidence they are in control of their business and increased their ranging.

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Whatever a brand does they cannot keep ignoring their responsibilities to their employees, shareholders or customers, and hope the ‘internet problem’ will go away. They need to open their eyes now.

If you would like to connect with David and/or find out more about Etail Eye – please do so as follows:

David Hindle

VP Business Development

Etail Eye

Mobile:+44 7912 286624

Tel: +44 1244 325634

Social Media – thorn in your side or invaluable CX insight?

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Five years ago I attended a Customer Service conference. One of the topics on the agenda was Social Media – I cannot remember the specifics of the title or content, but can confidently say that the essence of the presentation was all about the creation and adoption of social media strategy.

Fast forward to 2014, and I am still attending conferences where social media strategy is an agenda item. While the vast majority of organisations recognise the huge impact social media has had on their business – and the way its business interacts with customers – many are still to clearly define how to deal with it.

Ownership of social media from within a company is a consistent theme that still rears its head. Is it the domain or the Marketing team? Should the Customer Service Team be responsible? Should there be a brand new team created especially to focus on social media? I have seen variants of all of them. Where your social media strategy sits in the business is an important decision – some businesses see social media as a vital marketing and communication tool. Some customers see it as a customer service tool. Many customers see Twitter and Facebook as both. The question is – do you know what your customers see social media channels as?

There are a few important things to think about when considering social media – depending on the size and nature of your business. Can social media act as a valuable marketing tool – I am sure you do not need me to tell you the answer to that. There are many great articles online that quantify the benefits – this one is as good as any and features a great infographic. In a recent article in US Hubspot, it was stated that Small- and medium-sized businesses are turning to social media to generate leads and customers. In fact, in 2013, 36% of SMEs attracted a customer from their Twitter marketing campaigns – you can read more in this article

What about customer service? More and more consumers are looking to social media to interact with organisations from a service perspective. Whether it be to specifically ask for help, or just to ‘vent their anger’, social media is becoming increasingly popular to ‘solve a problem’. In our ever more connected world, we as consumers expect businesses to respond to our pleas for help; however we happen to make the plea – even if you do not have a recognised way of dealing with social media. Failure to respond to a tweet could be fatal. The problem is that social media interaction is still the minority, rather than majority perspective of what is happening to your customers. You must know how to interact with customers using social media channels, but you must not take what is said as representative of the customer base.

If organisations recognise feedback and insight as an opportunity, they will see that social media is a wonderful, unsolicited source of customer feedback. Whether it is happy or unhappy reading, it is a vital component that combined with other sources of insight, can really help you to determine what, where and how you need to improve your customer experience. Social media can also act as your ‘early warning mechanism’ – last week I was caught up immigration issues at Gatwick caused by a failure in the Border Force Computer system – the experience was awful. However, if the organisations involved had been monitoring social media channels more closely, they would have been better able to respond to the Chaos that ensued – you can read about the story here –

For those looking for more insipiration and ideas, I can strongly recommend attending the masterclasses run by the CCMA (Call Centre Management Association) and delivered by Martin Hill Wilson – you can find out more about them here Martin is one of the best social media thought leaders in the UK, and published a book with Carolyn Blunt last year called ‘Delivering Effective Social Customer Service’ – well worth a read!

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This article was originally published for Marketforce 20:20 Customer Experience Network – Their CX Summit is on the 1st and 2nd July in London – read more about it here

McDonalds and the 100 year old woman – a story of customer empathy, kindness & caring

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This is Pauline Golding, pictured with her three great-grandchildren, Ciara, Caitie and Jack. On the 1st May my grandma celebrated her 100th birthday. To think that Pauline was born before the 1st World War started (just) is quite astonishing. To comprehend the experiences she has witnessed over the last 100 years is unfathomable. It is a quite amazing achievement to reach a century of birthdays, and I am sure you will join me in wishing her many happy returns.

Getting to 100 years old is an experience that many of us are unlikely to have. As a UK citizen, you are entitled to receive recognition of your ‘achievement’ from the reigning Monarch. A birthday card from Elizabeth II does not just arrive in the post – the potential recipient is contacted by the Department for Work and Pensions roughly two months before the birthday to start the process. The receipt of a card from the Queen was to be the centrepiece of a birthday celebration to be held on Pauline’s birthday itself. The party was to be top-secret – although I suspect Pauline knew that something might happen.

The picture at the head of this post was taken a few days before – unfortunately, due to school and work constraints, we could not get down to London from Chester for the party on Pauline’s actual birthday. I was therefore told what the plan would be. Family and friends had been invited to the sheltered accommodation where Pauline lives. An official was to deliver the card from the Queen, whilst the Mayor of Barnet would also join the celebrations. Everything was planned to perfection. When we visited Pauline for a more private family party a few days before, Pauline was visibly moved by the attention she received. I am told she was equally grateful on her birthday. Surrounded by people who care for her, she quite rightly became Queen for the day in her own right.

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I am sure you are finding this all very interesting, but what has this got to do with McDonalds and the subject of Customer Experience? Having set the scene, let me get to point. Now she has reached 100, Pauline is not able to get out and about by herself. About three years ago, things got too much for her to be confident enough to use public transport. When she was more mobile, one of her favourite haunts was Brent Cross Shopping Centre in North London. For years, Pauline could be seen entering Brent Cross, and at some point would always end up in McDonalds. With her regular order of a coffee and an apple pie, Pauline became a little bit of a fixture.

I remember her talking about her trips to McDonalds. Pauline would comment on how friendly and kind the staff were towards her. On her birthday, they would always put a balloon on the table where she sat. A lovely touch, and perhaps a true sign of caring, empathetic employees. Pauline last visited McDonalds at Brent Cross at some point during her 98th year – they have not heard from or seen her since.

During the birthday party on the 1st May, whilst the celebrations were in full swing, four guests arrived unexpectedly. Pauline’s reaction was of complete amazement – she almost fell off her chair. The four guests were members of staff from McDonalds at Brent Cross. They had brought with them flowers, a card, and more importantly –  a coffee and an apple pie!! The McDonalds manager, Yvonne, had found Pauline – she and her team had not forgotten her, and were determined to show that they were still thinking of her. How they found where she lives is a mystery – but the effect their actions had were immense. It is quite an amazing act of kindness – and an act that meant a huge amount to Pauline.

In a world where we find it so easy to see the negatives in behaviour, it is a fantastic feeling to share such a simple story of unadulterated kindness. These four employees of a multinational corporation are not paid to do what they did. They were not asked to do what they did. They did it because the genuinely care about their customers. I am not sure if I am biased, but it leaves me with a very warm feeling.

Sadly I do not have a photo of the four ladies, nor do I know all of their names, but I would like to think that McDonalds will read this blog post and give them the recognition they very readily deserve. I also think others could learn from their actions. What they did was instinctive – they did what they felt was the right thing to do because they cared enough to do it. If you are looking for an example of genuine empathy, you would do well to find a better one than this.

My grandma will remember a lot of things about her birthday celebrations, but the one thing that will almost certainly leave her with a big smile on her face is the memory of the four lovely ladies from McDonalds and their coffee and apple pies!

Update – 12th May 2014

On the day this blog was posted, the McDonalds Communications Director was kind enough to get in touch with me – today she sent me a picture of Uma, Avril, Rubia and Yvonne with Pauline. Here is an excerpt from the accompanying email:

In your blog you ask how the team knew about Pauline’s Birthday … it was a complete coincidence. As she had been such a regular visitor to the restaurant, practically everyone in the store from the franchisee to the restaurant team, knew her birthday.  They also knew where she lived, so they decided to take a chance and visit on the day of her birthday to surprise her with some flowers, a card, and her favourite treat – an apple pie and a cup of tea.  It was only when they arrived, that they realised a party was happening, and that they had arrived just as she was about to cut the cake: great timing!

And yes we will also be doing some internal promotion and thanks for these ladies – via a number of our internal channels, as this absolutely embodies something we call the Vital Ingredients – our everyday behaviours and actions that help differentiate the experience for our customers and our people. 

Hope that helps – and thanks again for writing about this.  We see so many great acts of kindness from our people, customer service that is over and above their day to day roles within the restaurants, so it is lovely to see some of them recognised

I intend to write a follow up post on ‘Vital Ingredients’ at some point in the near future – so keep reading the blog if you are interested!!

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