Belief, Growth and Sustainability – my perspective on the 2014 UK Customer Experience Awards

0 ukcxa welcome

If you follow me on Twitter, it would not have escaped your notice that last week played host to the 2014 UK Customer Experience Awards. It is an event that has firmly established itself in the annual ‘do not miss it’ calendar! I am proud to say that I have been involved with the awards every year since their inception in 2010. As an entrant, winner, judge and award presenter, I believe that Neil Skehel and his team have had a significant influence in evolving the UKs understanding of the ever increasing focus on Customer Experience across all sectors.

The success of the awards has led to the necessity for them to be held in venues that are bigger and better. It was therefore with great excitement that I approached the Excel Arena in London’s Docklands early last Thursday morning. I use the ‘excitement’ word genuinely – every year I continue to be astounded and inspired by the passion, enthusiasm, innovation and incredible acts of influence that organisations of all shapes and sizes share with the panels of judges. The 2014 awards did not disappoint.

The list of organisations entering this years awards reads like a ‘who’s who’ of the business world – yet the names are becoming ever more diverse. From Standard Life, Barclays, Nationwide and Virgin Money to, wowcher, Just Eat and Trip Advisor to Northern Gas Networks, Balfour Beatty and NPower. The UK Customer Experience Awards is for any organisation wishing to share the amazing things they have done in the last twelve months to genuinely put customers at the heart of everything they do.

The longest corridor in the world - at least the longest I have ever seen (three quarters of a mile long!!!)
The longest corridor in the world – at least the longest I have ever seen (three-quarters of a mile long!!!)

On entering the longest corridor in the world (honestly – if you have never seen the corridor at the Excel Arena – you need to!! It is three-quarters of a mile long!!) I wondered what my key learning’s for 2014 would be. If you are interested to know, I am about to share them with you….


It goes without saying that every organisation who entered the awards this year were proud of the things they had achieved in improving experiences for customers. Pride oozed out of every attendee as they paced up and down corridors, huddled nervously around cups of coffee and bustled in and out of rooms along the longest corridor in the world! Proud they should be. Every single member of every single team who played a part in continuing to improve their respective organisations are proving on a daily basis how important it is to become ever more customer centric.

With pride almost taken as given, it occurred to me this year that there is another vital attribute that is required to sit alongside pride – that attribute is BELIEF. Everyone that presented to me; everyone that I spoke to; everyone who accepted an award – they all shared a common attribute – they all BELIEVED passionately in the things they had done. Their absolute belief in doing the right thing – for customers, colleagues and shareholders is what has led all of them to be worthy recipients of recognition. Only a few received the beautiful looking trophies on Thursday afternoon – yet this is not a reflection of the achievements of everyone that participated.

To help organisations continually get better and better at delivering experiences for customers, it is vital that the professionals guiding and leading those organisations are passionate in their BELIEF that it works. We have all struggled to convince sceptics who think that customer experience is the soft, fluffy theoretical thing that has no effect on the bottom line. If only those sceptics could have sat in on the dozens of presentations delivered last week. The great news is that the BELIEF in customer experience is not diminishing – it is growing – every year – and that leads me nicely on to my next learning….


As I have already alluded – the 2014 UK Customer Experience Awards were the biggest ever. At this rate, Neil will need to hire Wembley Stadium to host the awards by 2016! The awards are evolving at the same rate as the world around us. This is the first year where I have noticed the significant increase in pure play online businesses. It was also noticeable how the number of organisations that many may never have heard of has increased, including companies in the B2B space.

This is further demonstration to ALL businesses in the UK that the Customer Experience revolution has already happened! More and more organisations are now realigning their business strategies to INCLUDE customer experience strategies. More and more companies are recognising that the best and sometimes only way to differentiate in the world we now live in is through the end to end experience – not just the product or service. It is wonderful to see…..and long may it continue.

The best demonstration of this growth was in the surprise package of the day – an organisation that the majority of consumers will not have heard of – including many of you reading this. One company won 6 (six) UK Customer Experience Awards on Thursday – that company is Northern Gas Networks. Their wonderful list of wins is as follows:

  • Overall Best Customer Experience Award
  • UK Customer Experience Award for Professional & Government Services & Utilities
  • UK Customer Experience Award for Business Change or Transformation – Simplification
  • UK Customer Experience Award for a Small Contact Centre
  • UK Customer Experience Award for Employee Engagement – Taking the Lead
  • UK Customer Experience Team of the Year – Customers at the Heart

Winning six awards on any day is an amazing achievement. When you consider what Northern Gas Network’s do – it is even more remarkable. I am being rather rude to describe what they do as ‘putting pipes in the ground’ – but that is essentially what they do! Northern Gas Networks is a company who transport the gas that we buy from our utility companies. Could you envisage your utility company winning six UK Customer Experience Awards? NGN are an example to any business – it does not matter what you do or who you are – Customer Experience applies to ANY business. A huge congratulations to their entire team.

Yours truly presenting the team from NGN with their first award of the day
Yours truly presenting the team from NGN with their first award of the day


My final learning from the day is one that NGN should heed – although from the looks of it, there will be absolutely no issue doing so. Many of the companies entering and winning awards on Thursday were doing so for the first time. However the real challenge for every business witnessing the awards ceremony is to ensure that it would absolutely not be the last time. In 2010, I was incredibly lucky to lead the team that won a first UK Customer Experience Award for Shop Direct Group. In 2011 I was humbled to see a member of my team win an award for Young UK Customer Experience Professional of the Year. Since I have moved on from the company now known simply as Shop Direct, the focus on Customer Experience has continued to evolve and intensify.

On Thursday, I sat at a table with some of my ex colleagues and witnessed them win yet another UK Customer Experience Award. It felt as exciting for me as the first time in 2010 – and I do not even work for them any more!!! It is exciting because Shop Direct are a living breathing demonstration of SUSTAINABILITY of Customer Experience. A focus that started many years ago has remained so. Shop Direct will never be finished with their customer experience ‘project’ – because it is not a project – it is in their DNA. The key for every business involved in the UK Customer Experience Awards is to achieve the magic of SUSTAINABILITY.

I do not expect NGN to come back in 2015 and win another 6 awards – although they may prove me wrong! As long as they do come back – that is the point. As long as Customer Experience remains a strategic focus – now and forever, the real winner are their customers. In fact the real winner from the whole awards process are the millions of customers served by the companies who participated – we; us; the poor undervalued customer are finally getting the recognition we deserve – although there is still a long way to go!!

So there we have it – BELIEF, GROWTH and SUSTAINABILITY – three words to sum up the 2014 UK Customer Experience Awards. You can find a list of all the winners and finalists here. If you want to know more about NGN, have a look here.

My final thoughts are as follows. There are still a number of sceptical, non believing, ignorant leaders of business all over the UK – in fact all over the world when it comes to recognising the positive effect improving the Customer Experience can have on the financial performance of a business. These are the ‘it all sounds nice but so what’ brigade. On Thursday, the only disappointment for me was the realisation that so few senior leaders of the companies involved were present at the ceremony. It is such a shame – and something that needs to change quickly. Even Michael O’Leary, the infamous CEO of Ryanair admitted this week that improving the Customer Experience had a positive effect on the financial performance of his business – maybe we will see their first ever entry in the 2015 UK Customer Experience Awards!!

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Emirates Vs Etihad – Customer Experience Review

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Many dinner table conversations about customer experience will end up talking about the airline industry. It is almost impossible to find a human who does not have an airline ‘story’ – and most of the time the stories are not particularly positive. An industry that appears to be amongst the most glamorous has consistently struggled over the years to deliver consistently good experiences. Some of the biggest customer experience horror stories have been served up by airlines. I have already subjected two heavyweight brands in the industry to my Customer Experience Review process – you can read how British Airways and Ryanair fared should you be interested in doing so!

This review is a first for me – rather than reviewing one brand, I am reviewing two at the same time – I see it almost as a two for the price of one offer!! I am very fortunate to travel a great deal as I help and guide organisations on their customer centric journeys. Last week I had the pleasure of travelling to Kuala Lumpur. Due to a complicated schedule, I ended up travelling out to Kuala Lumpur with Emirates and home again with Etihad. It has given me the perfect opportunity to directly compare two brands delivering a similar experience – the results may (or may not) surprise you.

Before I get started, I must reiterate (as I always do with every review) – this process is one that I have developed personally. It is entirely subjective, based solely on my opinion as a seasoned customer experience specialist having one experience with a brand at a moment in time. However, I am confident that the method I adopt can help both the brands involved and others learn about the significance of the end to end Customer Experience. You can read all of my Customer Experience Reviews here.

Date Review Conducted 24th September 2014
Flight Details EmiratesDublin to Kuala Lumpur (via Dubai)Etihad – Kuala Lumpur to Manchester (via Abu Dhabi)
CX Review Total Score Emirates 35/50Etihad 41/50
Stars Awarded Emirates 3.5/5Etihad 4/5

So let’s get started! In the last two years, I have travelled to the Far East with three different companies – Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways. I have never been too concerned about the choice of airline – my primary focus has been on selecting the airline that offers the most effective timings to align to my travel plans. Living in the North West of England, my options are more limited than if I were based in London. I have always thought the experiences I have had with the three airlines to be broadly similar, but it is only now that I have made the conscious decision to formally review my interactions with two of them.

Whilst I usually travel out and back with the same airline, due to me having to start my journey in Dublin and finish in Manchester, I ended up going out to Malaysia with Emirates and back to Manchester with Etihad. Many people think that international travel on business is incredibly glamorous – it may be for the lucky few who end up in business class! I am one of the many who must experience the delights of being a second class citizen (as that is how the airlines often make it feel) in good old economy! To give you the context – in both directions I had to experience two 6.5 to 7.5 hour flights with a layover in Dubai (on the way out) and Abu Dhabi (on the way back). All in all I experienced approximately 30 hours of flights over a four day period – more than enough for me to form an opinion.

I often refer to the airline industry as a great example of the importance of differentiation – when every company in one industry uses the same aircraft flying to the same airports, there has to be something that makes them different. The reviews that you are about to read hopefully demonstrate that it is the end to end customer experience that may provide the answer! So who comes out on top – Emirates or Etihad?

Accessibility – CX Review Score Emirates 6/10; Etihad 7/10

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? In this category, Etihad takes a slim advantage over its rival. The question is why? When you consider the customer journey for interacting with an airline, the start of the journey is usually the identification of suitable flights. With a variety of online sources available as well as the airlines own websites themselves, identifying flights to Kuala Lumpur is very easy. Finding and booking flights with Emirates and Etihad is very similar – I would argue so similar, that it almost makes no difference to the experience at all.

In my experience last week, the first advantage went to Emirates. When flying to another country where a stop over is necessary, the length of the stop over can have a significant effect on the overall travel time. In the case of both Dublin and Manchester, the stop over with Etihad is at least two hours longer than the stop over with Etihad. To make matters worse for Etihad, Abu Dhabi airport is currently being reconstructed – the old terminal buildings do not make for a pleasant environment to spend two to four hours of your time. The length of the stop over will have an effect on the perception of the overall experience – especially when there is little difference in price and travel times.

On the next issue, both Emirates and Etihad share a similar problem with other carriers. Neither airline would allow me to print my boarding passes until 24 hours before my flight was due to leave. As a result, on three occasions I had to beg, borrow and steal to arrange for my boarding passes to be printed. I am an individual who does not like to rely on using my phone as a boarding pass – I like the security a paper copy gives me. I am also a person who does not own a portable printer!! Emirates and Etihad are not alone in this – but until the airlines make it easier for passengers to ‘check in’, I will continue to mark them down on the delivery of the experience.

Similarly, ‘baggage drop’ at the airport is another irritation to the overall experience. In both cases, bags are not permitted to be ‘dropped’ in the airport until three hours before the flight is due to depart – and not a second before!! How annoying!! Why not?!! Travelling to different parts of the world takes long enough – why subject poor customers to standing in a queue for an eternity waiting for ground crew to turn on their monitors?! On my return home in Abu Dhabi, I was able to drop off my bag in the centre of Kuala Lumpur…. 5 hours before departure! Emirates offered the same service. So why can it be done in certain circumstances but not others?

Let us move on to the flights themselves. The difference between all four aircraft was so small, that I am tempted to say that the only difference was the colour scheme! However, Etihad gains the advantage over Emirates for some important ‘attention to detail’ points. Firstly the entertainment system – both airlines have them – the entertainment on them is almost identical. The difference I experienced was in the quality of the screens. The Emirates screens were not particularly well defined and very dark – this made it difficult to watch movies and TV programmes. I was fortunate to have empty seats either side of me on both my outbound flights – all the screens were the same. The Etihad screens were much clearer and well defined. Additionally, the Emirates headphones were awful – the fact they were uncomfortable was minor – the fact that four out of five headphones I tried to use did not work properly was major. The headphones on Etihad were a class above – far more comfortable and worked perfectly – it made for a much more enjoyable entertainment experience.

Everything else I experienced was too similar to be any different – from the meals, to seat comfort to disembarkation etc. However, on both of my Emirates flights, I was seated in a row with a broken table – as I have already stated – due to being on aircraft that were half full, this was not an issue. What would have happened if the aircraft had have been full? I do not expect to have anything being broken, damaged or not working on a flight – it surprised me to experience this on two separate flights with Emirates.

So in summary, both airlines have room for improvement in a number of areas when it comes to making the experience as accessible as possible – 6 and 7 out of 10 are low scores for brands of this calibre. However, in my opinion, the Etihad experience shades it – at least everything worked as expected!!

Range/Choice – CX Review Score Emirates 7/10; Etihad 8/10

I thought it would be very difficult to find any differentiation between the two airlines when it came to range and choice. Both have the same ‘classes’ of travel; the same offers; the same sort of loyalty programmes. As I have already said, they both fly the same routes using the same planes using the same airports. Perhaps I am being harsh on Emirates here – they have a more modern fleet than Etihad with the world’s largest stock of the new A380 superjumbo aircraft – but I was a passenger who could not benefit from the double decker plane on the routes I needed to travel.

The reason why Etihad comes out on top here is because the experience they offer recognises the importance of giving customers the option to have flexibility. Travel plans often change – sometimes well ahead of travelling – often at short notice. The peace of mind that we can get from purchasing flexible tickets is reassuring. Emirates do not offer flexible options (at least I could not find them!) – Etihad do – it puts them significantly ahead in this category in my opinion. I have noticed more airlines going this way – Easyjet for example now offer flexible tickets that enable customers to change their flights up to two hours before departure. Emirates need to emulate this if they are to keep pace with their rivals.

Etihad 'branded fares'
Etihad ‘branded fares’

People – CX Review Score Emirates 7/10; Etihad 9/10

It is with their people that I personally recognised the greatest difference in my experiences with the two airlines. I base this statement on having interacted with four different crews on four flights. Emirates have always been heralded for their ‘world class’ customer service. In fact both airlines during their ‘in flight’ announcements mention the fact that they are ‘award winning’. From the minute I entered the cabin, I noticed a difference between the crews of the two airlines.

Emirates cabin crew are very well presented. With not a hair out of place, they look as though they have walked straight out of a catalogue. However not only do their uniforms look well starched, so do their smiles. Although they said all the right things – ‘Welcome to Emirates Mr Golding’ etc.., it very much felt to me as though it was being said through clenched teeth. In almost 15 hours of flying with Emirates crew, I did not see a lot of smiling going on. They just felt indifferent to my presence – as though they were not that bothered. They were not rude or impolite, just indifferent. I will say that the male crew seemed more indifferent than the female – I am not sure why, but it was evident to me. They left me feeling as though I should not ask them anything; I shouldn’t disturb them from their tasks – not really what I expected from Emirates.

Etihad felt very different. The crew said the same things as Emirates – the BIG difference is that they said it as though they meant it. With warm smiles always present, they glided around the cabin constantly looking to see if passengers needed help. I actually felt more relaxed than on my Emirates flights – it was the crew that made me feel that way. On my fourth flight – my final leg with Etihad, I had the pleasure of being looked after by two lovely crew hailing from Portugal. Maria and Martha were ever smiling, kind, courteous and very helpful.

As can sometimes happen, I was among the last passengers to be served their meal on this particular flight. Being tired and grouchy, I expressed my distinct displeasure to Martha. I must admit, I was a little rude – something I imagine cabin crew have to face on a regular basis.  What happened next exceeded my expectation. Having told Martha that I would take the option I did not want (as I had no choice!), Maria appeared by my side. ‘We are so sorry that this has happened sir’, she said. ‘We have had a look at the crew meals and I would be delighted if you would have the meal that has been secured for me’. I was touched – Maria and Martha had held counsel in the galley, and decided that even though the passenger had been a grouch, it was still their role to try to make me happy. This highlighted for me the significant difference in the way I experienced the Emirates and Etihad crews. As readers of my blogs know, the importance in people delivering empathetic experiences must never be underestimated – Etihad’s people in my experience were a cut above Emirates.

Value – CX Review Score Emirates 7/10; Etihad 8/10

When it coms to value, there is little to choose between the two airlines – the cost of a return ticket to Kuala Lumpur is as low as £500 – not a lot of money when you consider the distances involved. However, Etihad’s ability to offer a variety of fares based on Customers requirements for flexibility gives it the edge again over Emirates.

How did it make me feel? Review Score Emirates 8/10; Etihad 9/10

Prior to thinking about conducting reviews of both airlines, I assumed that I would attribute the same score to both when it came to the way interacting with them made me feel. I did not think that there would be significant enough differences to differentiate between the two. I was wrong.The Etihad experience just felt better to me – almost entirely down to the attitude and behaviour of their people. It was a warmer, friendlier more relaxing experience – I can still recall members of the crew from both Etihad flights – I cannot recall any crew member from my Emirates flights. In my experience, the difference between the two airlines is their people and as a result, Etihad wins the emotional component of the experience.

Would I use Emirates and Etihad again? YES and YES

If you have made it this far, you will have noticed that the Etihad experience has surpassed that of Emirates. Four flights spread over a few days – whilst both experiences were good, Etihad’s was better. As they so often are, people have proven to be the biggest differentiator of them all – and in my experiences, Etihad’s people are delivering a better, more empathetic experience than those of Emirates.

In all likelihood, I will use both Emirates and Etihad again – the key is that if I have the choice to use either – my primary choice would be to use Etihad – this is the most important thing. In an industry were differentiation is so difficult and where choice is increasing, it is often fine margins that will determine the advocacy of your customers. If Emirates want to compete for my business, the next time I board one of their aircraft, the crew need to convince me that they are genuinely enjoying what they do and then sit me at a seat where everything works!


If you have two minutes, please take the time to complete my 2 question survey to find out your personal #1 brand for delivering consistently good customer experiences. I also want to know what makes the brand your #1! The research will be used for an upcoming blog post – many thanks for your time!

You can complete the survey by clicking here

Customer Empathy – ignore it at your peril!

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Have you ever looked up the definition of the word Empathy? I would suspect that you have not! It is not often that we take the time to read dictionaries!! If you read the definition above, it is also likely that you will find it difficult to correlate many of the words used with organisations that you interact with on a daily basis. I often tell people how rare I think it is for companies to demonstrate ‘customer empathy’ on a consistent basis. There are many reasons why this is the case – organisational culture being the predominant one.

Customer empathy is a critical element that will have a significant effect on the experience customers have with a business. The EMOTIONAL component of all experiences (how the experience made us feel) is the one that we are most likely to remember (rather than the FUNCTIONAL or ACCESSIBLE components). We will often forgive an experience that is not as slick as it might be if it is delivered by engaging, empathetic people. Failure to display customer empathy (which can often be seen as the application of common sense!) can have significant detrimental effects on a business.

To bring this to life, I am going to share a story that was shared with me on Facebook yesterday. Brian Ward’s story is one that in principle we should be able to be empathetic towards – what you are about to read is likely to shock you…..or maybe not. I must point out that I do not know Brian, but feel that the story is so compelling, that many should read it to understand the consequences of failing to be empathetic towards customers. These words were posted on Irish airline Aer Lingus’s Facebook page on the 17th September (2 days ago):

It unfortunately has had to come to this. After many years of loyal custom from my parents William & Marie Ward, your actions and absolute disregard of their wellbeing is quite upsetting. My parents book their flights specifically with Aer Lingus twice yearly and up to now your service has never made them question this.

Unfortunately their plans this year were completely thrown off course when in July after a series of tests my dad, William, was diagnosed with cancer. Like any family, this is the news we never wanted to hear. My Dad is currently undergoing his treatment with a rigorous course of Radiotherapy and Chemotherapy.

Albeit not top of the list of to-do’s when anyone is dealt a blow like this, we set about making arrangements to cancel their eagerly anticipated 40th Wedding Anniversary trip. As you would expect their hotel, transfer company and tour agent all were extremely compassionate and assisted in any way possible. They recognised my parents’ loyal custom and they saw them as more than just a number. They completely refunded my parents trip and wished my Dad all the best with his treatment.

This could not be said for Aer Lingus, a company which seemingly prides itself on being customer focused. My dad contacted your reservations team to discuss his options and as you have probably guessed – this was worthless. Apart from claiming back the flight taxes, or swapping flights for a shorter flight option; Aer Lingus have been happy to wash their hands of the reservation and my parents’ custom. My sister has also communicated with your team who were less than friendly on three specific occasions. We have sent an email detailing our parents request on the 26th of August and to date there is still no response.

The way you have treated our parents, proves that Aer Lingus customers are just numbers, your mission statements aren’t worth the paper they’re written on and your powers that be have seem to have never encountered cancer and everything that it entails.

For a company who are on course to match your last year’s profits of €60 million, it’s sickening to think that our parents reservation costing just less than €500.00 is non-refundable. We have been more than willing to furnish a consultant’s letter to confirm the above and his inability to travel.

I would ask you to review the above and to contact me directly to obtain a resolution.

P.S….It might also be beneficial to check out last Friday (12th September) Irish independent letter section, whereby the low cost airline Ryanair dealt quite respectfully with a similar situation.

At the time of writing (00:30 on the 19th September), the post has been ‘Liked’ on Facebook over 8,000 times – is has been ‘shared’ over 1,100 times. I suspect these numbers will continue to rise rapidly. The backlash against Aer Lingus is huge – comment after comment laments the airline. The incident is incredibly damaging – the question is how damaging? Have a look at the Facebook post if you are interested in reading the comments.

This story should act as a lesson to all organisations. If you stick to the ‘rules’, fail to empower your people to do the ‘right thing’ and fail to recognise the importance of customer empathy, in the connected world we now live in, the consumer will bite back. Please share this post and ensure that this does not happen to your business.

Just to conclude the story, Aer Lingus have since been in contact with Brian to resolve the issue – see below:

0 aer lingus response

I join many others in sending my best wishes to Brian and his parents.


The magic of Disney – now that’s what I call a Customer Experience!

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I have often said in the past how lucky I am to have so many people share their customer experience stories with me. Sometimes the stories are difficult to hear. Sometimes the stories are inspiring. In all cases I believe that through the use of storytelling, it is possible to bring to life the significance of the customer experience in the organisations we work and interact with.

This week I am absolutely thrilled to be able to share an inspiring story with you. On occasion I am told a story that sends a shiver down my spine – a story that instantly puts a grin on my face. This is one of those occassions. The little lady in the picture is called Lorna Hann. Lorna is the daughter of the lovely Brian Hann – an ex colleague of mine. The minute I started reading Lorna’s story at the weekend, I knew it was one that had to be shared with many. I am over the moon that Brian was happy for me to do so. I really hope you enjoy reading about it as much as I did.

Two weeks ago Lorna received a Tiana animator Disney doll for her birthday. You can see Lorna holding Tiana in the picture. Lorna has wanted it for some time and Brian bought it for her from the Disney store in Trafford Manchester. Three days later the doll was taken along on a trip. On the journey one of the shoes was lost. Lorna was devastated.

On Thursday the 4th September Brian contacted the Disney Store head office to enquire about buying a replacement shoe. The Disney employee explained to him that they would look into it. That is how it was left – like many of us making an enquiry like this, we would wait in anticipation for a response from the organisation, hopeful (more than expectant) that they may be able to do something.

On Saturday 6th September a letter arrived in the post with a Disney stamp. Brian opened it – wrapped in Disney tissue paper was a replacement pair of shoes and socks, along with a little hand written letter offering Lorna a magical day (and also some frozen stickers).

Wow! That is not what Brian expected. The Disney Store knew all along what they were going to do – they just had their own special way of doing it. What a phenomenal way of dealing with a customer enquiry!! Not only did Brian receive a postal response, he also received the following email:

Disney Store

Response via Email 06/09/2014 10:37
Dear Brian,

Thank you very much for your recent contact with us.

Magical news! Evangeline has been able to find a new pair of shoes and socks for Tiana. These have been sent to the address held on record, and these shall be arriving with your Princess soon!

If you require any further assistance, or have any further queries, please not hesitate to be in touch!

Wishing you an Enchanting day!

With kindest regards,
My Favourite Disney Character is Alice

As Brian said in his Facebook post about the experience – no charge, no hassle, just amazing customer service. This is an absolutely wonderful example of how to deliver empathetic and emotionally engaging customer experiences. Whilst there will have been a financial cost to the Disney Store for delivering this experience, the return that they will receive will be exponentially greater. Disney is a brand that is synonymous with great ‘branded customer experiences’ – this highlights exactly why.

In a world where it is difficult for companies to get the basics right, it is heart warming to read a story of a company exceeding customer expectations in such an emphatic way. I hope that this story is shared with as wide an audience as possible. The Disney Store deserve the recognition. Disney will continue to deliver magic to children and adults all over the world for many years to come – but that magic is not just through the delivery of films and fun – it is also through the magic of amazing customer experiences.

Thanks again Brian and Lorna for sharing the story.



The simplicity of a smile – it’s great for you and your customers!

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Smiling – we all do it. Some of us do it more than others, but it is very likely that we will all smile at some point today. There are actually some very interesting facts about the facial expression we take for granted:

  1. Forcing yourself to smile can improve your mood
  2. Smiling boosts your immune system
  3. Smiling is contagious
  4. Smiling relieves stress
  5. It is easier to smile than to frown
  6. Smiling is a universal sign of happiness
  7. Smiling uses between 5 and 53 facial muscles
  8. Babies are born with the ability to smile
  9. Smiling makes you look prettier
  10. Smiles are the most easily recognisable facial expression

It is difficult to find anything ‘not to like’ about a smile. It is difficult to disagree with these well known facts. Whenever we are greeted by a warm, genuine smile, we feel good. Smiling is so simple – it is also the easiest and cheapest ingredient to put into your customer experience strategy.

Last week I was fortunate enough to enjoy a summer break in Menorca. Just thinking about going on holiday makes us smile and I am no different. The thought of sun, fun, food and relaxation instantly leads us all to start sensing the upward curling of the corners of our mouths. However, thinking about going on holiday also leads many to think about the more stressful and complicated elements of the experience. From getting to the airport; to parking; to checking in; to getting through security; to boarding the plane – holidays are filled with ‘touchpoints’ that can cause blood pressure to rise.

The Golding summer holiday to Menorca featured all the usual ‘travelling’ touchpoints as described. Some of them were not particularly pleasurable (the travelling touchpoints that is). Our first negative experience was at the bag drop. Flying with Thomson Airways, the first sight greeting us at Manchester Airport’s terminal 2 was a queue snaking around half of the terminal building. After forty minutes of walking backwards and forwards, we were greeted with indifference – no apology for the wait and definitely no smile. I refer you to points 1, 3 and 4 of my interesting smiling facts – a simple smile would have made the experience feel significantly less stressful. It would have been so easy for the lady at check in to give us a big smile to improve our mood. Sadly none was forthcoming.

The airport queue - a sight destined to help you lose your sense of humour
The airport queue – a sight destined to help you lose your sense of humour

Smiles at airport security are also sadly lacking. We were fortunate to be able to use the ‘fast track’ security. If we had not been, we might still be in the queue now (a week later!). Once again though, there was a significant lack of smiling going on by any of the staff manning the security gates. Is it not possible to do a serious job and smile at the same time?

We finally got to the point of boarding the aeroplane – excitement was building. The kids had big smiles adorning their lovely faces. The first face that greeted them at the door to our plane did not share their mood. No smile was present as we were told where to find our seats. Other cabin crew made up for the lack of smiling, but I could not forgive the downbeat mood of the lady on the door. In fact as soon as a different cabin crew member started to engage in conversation (with a beaming smile on her face), we felt so much better.

On arrival in Menorca, we gave each of our three children their own passports to show to the man at passport control. Having been to this beautiful Spanish island many times before, we knew they would not let us down – they ALWAYS smile at children! Not this time. The grumpy old man simply grunted and shoved the passports back in their hands. What was wrong with everyone?!!

I do not want this post to sound all doom and gloom. We had a wonderful holiday with amazing weather and plenty of very nice and smiling people along the way. The point I am trying to make is that a simple smile can make such a big difference in the experiences we have in life – let alone as customers. No-one likes seeing an unsmiling face. However the lack of a smile is becoming more and more common in the experiences we have – far too common in fact.

On our return from Menorca, I had convinced myself that I would not see any friendly smiling faces during any part of the journey. I am delighted to confirm that I am/was wrong. The staff in the airport in Menorca were lovely. From the minute we entered the terminal building, everyone we met smiled at us – the bag drop lady; the staff at security (yes, even them!); the staff in the shops and cafes; and the lady at the boarding gate. The crew on our Thompson flight were all very smiley as well. What a difference it made to the return trip. Coming home is always a slightly sad experience – the people we interacted with made it feel much more pleasant. The difference between the airports in Manchester and Menorca was immense – same touchpoints, same processes, completely different experience – made all the better by smiling staff.

The piece-de-resistance though came at Border Control in the UK. My recent experiences of UK Border Control have not been good. Ridiculously long queues, unfriendly staff and definitely no smiles. The man who checked our passports on Saturday afternoon could not have been more different. Not only did he greet us with a warm smile, he was lovely with the children and happy to engage in conversation. I was shocked – I should not have been. What this lovely chap did is what every customer facing employee should do. It is unfortunate that I should be surprised by something that should be the norm. This man made an experience you expect to be unpleasant a pleasure. Why so many of his colleagues find it hard to do is beyond me. It did not cost him anything to do. My main regret is that I did not notice his name – he deserves recognition for the way he goes about doing his job.

The natural human action of smiling is so simple yet so effective (and it costs nothing). Sometimes you just need to look at your colleagues and observe whether or not they do it or not. If you have ever watched the BBC programme ‘The Call Centre’, you will know that Neville Wilshire’s catchphrase is ‘happy people sell’ – the man is bang on. Smiling is such a simple and cost effective customer experience ingredient, you have to wonder why people do not do it more often.